Matthew 11:25-30: The Easy Way

Read: Matthew 11:25:-30

After pronouncing woes on cities, Jesus makes some interesting remarks that read in isolation might seem confusing. He starts by praising the Father for not revealing things to the who are “wise” and with “understanding”. It would seem as if Jesus was praising God for only revealing himself to a simpleton. But these words are used pejoratively. What Jesus was getting at make perfect sense in context, namely that there were those among the Jews who were puffed up with “understanding” and “wisdom” and saw themselves as self-righteous according to the law. These were the individuals who rejected John and Jesus as prophecy and the ones that brought woes upon the cities in Galilee. What these individuals had done is take the Jewish law and turned it into a long list of do’s and don’ts and religion ceremonialism such that it had created an impossibly complex religion that was more of a burden than a blessing as it was meant to be. This is why Jesus encourages those who are heavy burdened to come to him and he will give them rest. Jesus did not come to layer on more religiosity, rather he came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20).

Between the praise to the Father and the invitation to come, Jesus reveals something about revelation. He shows that the Father and the Son know one another, but the Father is revealed through the Son, and only to those the Son chooses to reveal the him too. This begs the question, who are these chosen ones? In context, the answer seems to be those who come to Jesus without pretext or an agenda. Those who are willing to submit humbly admit that they are sinners and in need of cleansing are the ones that Jesus reveals himself to. And to these, Jesus takes on the burden of sin for them and shows them that the law was never about trying to get people to follow a bunch of complicated rules, rather it was intended to show them that they couldn’t do it (Galatians 3:21-24).

Jesus is still revealing truth to those who are willing to hear it. Those who come to Jesus humbly and honestly seeking answers with an open heart and open mind can be taught the things of God from his word through the illumination of the Holy Spirit who imparts true wisdom and understanding (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). The call then is to not be a know-it-all, rather to be a disciple of Christ always wanting to learn more and grow into a deeper relationship with Christ. In this, one finds freedom from the bondage of religiosity.

Lord, keep me humble so that I may receive true wisdom and understanding!

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 5:38-42: Overcoming Evil With Good

Read: Matthew 5:38-42

The phrase, and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” most often portrays the idea of vengeance or retribution in most peoples mind. This phrase appeared in the ancient Code of Hammurabi which predates the Old Testament Law which was engraved on a stele. The stele contains this phrase too then outlines a number of scaled punishment that were supposed to be fitting for the crime committed. The Old Testament too in a number of conditions and repayments for various crimes that attempts to capture the essence of the phrase such as repayment for an ox that falls into a pit or a life for a life whenever a life was taken (Exodus 21:12-36, Leviticus 24:17-21) . At the same time though, the Law also describes how accusations and cases were to be settled. Innocence was presumed, so it required the testimony of witnesses in order for one to be declared guilty and a sentence carried out (Deuteronomy 19:15-21).

What happened though was that the people of Jesus’ day had forgotten that the Law was not to be interpreted and applied by one individual upon another. It was the role and responsibility of the government to be the arbiter of justice and Paul affirms this view in the New Testament context (Romans 13:1-7). Interestingly, Paul had just finished giving a discourse in Romans 12:9-21 similar to what Jesus was saying in the Sermon on the Mount about not repaying evil with evil and overcoming evil with good. Jesus was correcting the twisted version of how the people had come to understand law that was to be applied by government as a justification for personal retaliation.

In the same breath, Jesus gives one of his most famous admonitions to “turn the other cheek”. The implication of turning the other cheek was not telling people to lay down and be trampled, rather to endure the persecution and in effect “fight back” with good as Paul says in Romans 12:21 rather than seek to retaliate. This sort of fight shows strength of character that overcomes the evil while retaliation shows weakness of character on the part of the one who really wants revenge.

Christians today still live under the same principles that ancient cultures lived under. Punishment for crimes ought to reflect to the best degree possible the severity of the the crime. But at the same time, the agency of justice ought to be government and innocence should be presumed rather than guilt. And likewise, it is not the place of the Christian to seek retribution, even when one is wronged. Rather one should over come evil with good and in doing so one can win over another through his or her strength of character.

Lord, help me to overcome evil with good!

Matthew 5:17-20: The Law Fulfilled

Read: Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus explicitly proclaims that he did not come to abolish the law, so why is it that Christians are required to give sacrifices at the temple and follow a myriad of other such laws relating to sacrifices, what rituals one should follow to be ceremonially clean, and how the priests were suppose to act? In the same breath, Jesus says that he also came to “fulfill the law”.

So what did Jesus actually fulfill? There aren’t pat answers that can be given to answer this question, but it can be generally addressed by seeing the all the laws in the Old Testament were seen as falling into one or two categories: ceremonially laws and moral laws. Ceremonially laws were seen as those which related to all the ceremonially practices and requirements related to sacrifice, the priesthood, who is and isn’t ceremonially clean, clean and unclean foods, the process for becoming ceremonially clean for various conditions, among many others. The moral laws were those that related to the do’s and don’ts, such as not stealing, not lying, not murdering, and giving the poor, taking care of widows, and being kind for foreigners. All these laws were either dealing with practical and civil relationships between various people or matters of personal holiness. While these two categories exist, there were still some questions lingering in the minds of new believers even after Jesus ascended into heaven. Many new Christians that came out of Judaism, for instance, wanted to maintain portions of the Old Testament law such as circumcision. Large sections of the New Testament, such as much of Galatians, are dedicate to Paul and the other apostles addressing this very issue.

The book of Hebrews unpacks how Jesus fulfills the ceremonially laws by becoming the high priest (Hebrews 7) and being the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18). It also explains how the temple and the tabernacle were “copies” of things in heaven that pointed to the perfect temple and what it contained. Jesus himself is both the priest forever and one and for all sacrifice, so there is no need for daily and yearly sacrifices, priests to offer them, or temple with its altar to offer them on. In doing so, Jesus fulfills the ceremonially law for all times so Christians don’t have to offer sacrifices anymore. With this being fulfilled, what’s left is the moral laws, and the New Testament has many lists of what one might consider moral right or wrong. Even with much of the New Testament dedicated to helping Christians understand what is and isn’t fulfilled in Jesus in the Bible, it’s not always as crystal clear as one would like to it to be. For instance, some Christians object to tattoos on moral grounds while others do not, claiming that the Law forbade tattoos because of the ceremonially law. Some Christians think that others shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is rooted in pagan traditions while other Christians don’t have a problem with it. Paul in light of this gives practical advice concerning this conflict in Romans 14, with what has become known as the “principle of conscience”. Paul says to this matter that one should not become a stumbling block to another by trying to impose such morality that isn’t otherwise explicitly addressed on another as being morally binding.

One thing is clear: righteousness does not come from following the law, rather righteousness comes by faith in Jesus. The Pharisees, however, believed that righteousness could come through following the law and made painstaking efforts to abide by the ceremonial law. Their problem was that they were not following the moral laws. Righteousness comes from faith in Jesus, believing that he is the once and for all sacrifice for sin. When one is made clean by Jesus, he or she is freed up to live a life free from the bondage of the Law and bondage to sin and can pursue holiness not as means to obtain righteousness, rather as response to the great love that God has lavished on it all believers. In doing so believers obey the moral laws and love God at the same time!

Lord, you fulfilled the law for me when I could not! All I can do is love your in return!

Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29: The Wise Builder

Read: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons of all times and the most well known texts in the Bible, chock full of nuggets and saying that are immediately identifiable with Jesus. Categorically speaking, the Sermon on the Mount is wisdom literature similar to the Old Testament genre exemplified by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job. Wisdom literature was seen as a commentary on the Old Testament law that helped one live out the Old Testament law “skillfully”. In fact, the Hebrew for wisdom mean just that: skillful. Jesus ends the Sermon with a parable concerning two men, one foolish and one wise. The wise man builds his house on the rock and it stands while the other builds his house on sand. Jesus likens the rock to his teachings, saying the one who puts into practice what he says is wise and his house (that is his life) will stand against the metaphorical storms.

Matthew notes that what got people’s attention in the sermon though was the way he taught. Traditionally, the scribes would make lengthy appeals to respected rabbis in their sermons to give authority to the message. Jesus was not appealing to anyone else, rather something entirely different. He says a number of times “You have heard…”, then follows it with “But I say…” (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:33, Matthew 5:38, Matthew 5:43). Jesus was speaking against many of the traditions that had been given to the people by the scribes and he was doing so on his own authority.

One of the struggles in the Sermon though is the relationship of the Sermon to the Law. Some of what Jesus says seems to abrogate what the Law says while other things he says seems to uphold to the Law in its entirety. Knowing that this tension exists, it is probably best to handle each topic in the Sermon on a case-by-case basis with full understanding that Jesus himself says in the Sermon that he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). A close examination will show each in light of this statement and how the it applies to the life of the believer today.

The Sermon and the closing remarks on the sermon echo the Old Testament of how righteousness leads to a fruitful life. Psalm 1 speaks to one who meditates on the Law being as one planted by a stream and all that he does prospering. Christians therefore do well to understand the Sermon and how it relates to the Law and apply to their lives so that they may prosper and be like the wise builder!

Lord, let me build my life on what you say!

Luke 7:1-10: God-Pleasing Faith

Read: Luke 7:1-10

The centurion’s faith impressed Jesus. He saw authority in Jesus, acknowledging that just a word from Jesus’ mouth could heal his servant. He understood this because he too would instruct soldiers and they would act. A centurion was an officer in a Roman legion, and in command of around 80-200 men. They were paid handsomely compared to regular soldiers and command the respect of those in their legion. This particular centurion was nameless, but he was well liked among the Jews because he built their synagogue for them and he was apparently God-fearing too. Jesus healed the servant from afar, and remarked on the centurions faith, saying he had not seen such faith in all of Israel. In other words, those who were supposed to have faith apparently did not have faith that compared to this Gentile.

Luke, in keeping with his theme of the gospel being a gospel for all people includes this story to show that even a Gentile can have faith. Saying that a Roman had more faith than a Jew though was a front to the Jews, because they were supposed to be the ones that had faith. The difficulty with many Jews is that they didn’t see Jesus for who he really was. Luke has already shown that Jesus was rejected in his hometown (Luke 4:14-30) and how stiff-necked the Pharisees were when they heard him preach (Luke 5:17-26). Yet even so, Jesus was well received by the people of Capernaum (Luke 4:31-44) and Gentiles were coming to hear him preach (Luke 6:17). Jesus made no exclusions on who could hear the good news or to those he would heal.

Paul explains in Romans 2-3 the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles. God chose the Jews to be the ones to carry the gospel to the world going back as far as Abraham. He wanted the Jews to live in accordance with the Law and witness about God so that God’s name would be made known among the Gentiles. However the Jews did quite the opposite, blaspheming God’s name among the Gentiles by their deeds. But Paul reckons that the true Jew was not the one who is circumcised or a descendant of a Jew, rather one who follows the law (Romans 2:28-29) and that Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith (Romans 3:28-31). Abraham was the father of many nations (Genesis 12:1-2. Genesis 17:4-5, Genesis 17:20, Hebrews 11:2) – not by birth but by faith (Romans 4:9-18).

Faith is how one becomes a child of God. Hebrews notes that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). In other words, it is absolutely essential to have faith to become a Christian and live as a Christian. In the same way that the Centurion’s faith impressed Jesus, so does the faith of all those who call on his name and live accordingly even now. It is by faith that God is pleased.

Lord, help my faith be God-pleasing faith!

Luke 2:39-40: “According to the Law of the Lord”

Read: Luke 2:39-40

Two verses sum up the first 12 years of Jesus’ life on earth, but these two short verses in their context speak volumes about Jesus as a child. Jesus was born into a family with God-fearing parents. His earthly parents were meticulous about following the laws and customs of the Jewish people as demonstrated by their presentation of Jesus at the temple as an infant and their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Luke notes the Jesus as a boy grew strong and was filled with wisdom, which greatly impressed the scribes at the temple later in his life (Luke 2:47). Luke also notes that God’s favor was on him. Naturally, this should be expected being that Jesus was God incarnate, nevertheless Jesus was also a human being that had the same challenges people struggle with, including learning.

It seems that through God’s providence, Jesus was placed in a God-fearing home so that he would indeed fulfill the Law of God. Jesus parents were instrumental in this in that because of their obedience to the law, Jesus was able to fulfill the law and was taught the law from a young age onward similar  to when Jesus underwent baptism to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-15). By fulfilling the Law, Jesus was able to be the perfect and final sacrifice for sin to all who believe (Matthew 5:17-18, Hebrews 10:3-12). When Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations, part of the command is to teach the disciples to obey what he commanded.

Jesus’ fulfillment of the law made him the ultimate example to follow. He also had the authority to make the command to make disciples and that command was obeyed by his disciples onward. Part of disciple making involves parents teaching their children to obey the ways of God as Joseph and Mary did with Jesus. The Bible speaks to this in a number of places: Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 6:7, Psalm 78:1-8, Proverbs 4, Proverbs 22:6, Proverbs 29:17, Ephesians 6:4, Hebrews 12:7-10. Statistics show that when both parents are involved in the spiritual upbringing of a child, that child is more likely to follow in their parent’s footsteps in do the same. It may be hard at times, but the fulfillment of a spiritual upbringing is both life to the child and a blessing for the parent!

Lord, help me to teach those in my care to obey what I have been taught to obey!

Joshua 8:30-35: Remembering the Law

Read: Joshua 8:30-35

After the battle of Ai, Joshua and the people of Israel set a time for remembering the law. Joshua built an altar from a large, uncut stone as the law instructed them to do (Exodus 20:24-25) and made sacrifices to the God. He also and wrote a copy of the law on it. After writing the law on the stone, he read the law aloud – every command, every blessing, and every curse. Joshua and the people were meticulous to follow the law in the procedure they did, they copied the law onto the stone, and they also read the whole thing allowed. The book Joshua goes the extra length, emphasizing the fact that Joshua read all of it in detail and that all heard it: men, women, children, and even foreigners living among them.

The people of God had seen what even a little bit of sin could do to them, and the time of remembering was a necessary thing to remember that God wanted their complete obedience to the law. Another time the entire law was read allowed in the presence of the people is found in Nehemiah 9. Here, the people of God remember the law and confess their sins to God. The law is read aloud. They recount God acting mightily among their ancestors during the days of Moses and Joshua and yet Israel still was stubborn and would not obey God. But they also recall God’s mercy and patience with Israel and they plead for it yet again (Nehemiah 9:32).

The New Testament explains that the law was given to make those who had it aware of their sin (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7). It gives knowledge to what is sin and becomes a “tutor” or “schoolmaster” in the sense that it leads one to Christ and realizes that one must be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). Paul continues to argue that there is no difference between Greeks or Jews, slave or free, male or female – the condition is all the same. When Joshua read the law, it was in the presence of everyone for the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. And there were even foreigners living among them. For Christians, remember the law makes one all the more aware of sin and how desperately one needs God’s grace, just as it did during the days of Joshua and the days of Nehemiah. Often times the law is overlooked in the scriptures, but reading through the law and hearing it is a good practice. If one’s heart is open to correction, it should have the same effect on Christians today as it has had on the people of God through all ages!

Lord, use your law to lead me back to you!

John 19:31-42: Jesus: God’s Passover Lamb

Read: John 19:31-42

Crucifixion was a slow and painful death for the one being crucified. He would have to push up with his legs or pull up with his arms to breath. Breaking the legs of the prisoners on the cross would force them to use their arms to pull up while they were dying, thereby tiring the faster, and speeding up the process. The Jews wanted the prisoners to die faster so the bodies would not be left hanging outside Jerusalem while it was Passover. No Jew would defile himself by touching a dead body on the holiday or else he would not be able to celebrate the Passover. Jesus was already dead, so rather than break his legs, they stabbed him in the side. Jesus would certainly be dead as a result. John reckons this to be a fulfillment of the requirements for the Passover lamb that was slain every year for the feast and was eaten (Exodus 12:46). Jesus was elsewhere called the “Lamb of God” that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 1:36) and the “Lamb” all throughout the book of Revelation.  Peter comments on the matter, saying that Jesus was the Lamb and it was through the blood of the Jesus that men are redeemed (1 Peter 1:18-19). Up to this point, John notes the pseudo trials before Pilate and Caiaphas were Jesus’ guilt is never established. He is crucified not because he is guilty, but because Caiaphas and Pilate had ulterior motives. Jesus’ bones were not broken and he was a certainly without blemish. Through this sort of sacrifice, the law was fulfilled.

John also reckons that in the piercing of Jesus’ side, that Jesus also fulfilled Zechariah 12:10. The passage speaks of a pouring out of the Spirit of God and they will look on the one they have pierced with mourning. This outpouring came in Acts 2 when Peter preached a sermon at Pentecost. Luke records that those who heard Peter’s sermon were “pierced” in their own heart. Certainly, anyone who had just been told that they had just killed one sent from God would have been mourning such a deed because of the conviction that was laid on heavy and thick. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of their sins (John 16:8). The piercing of Jesus was noted here to point to when Jesus would start drawing all men unto himself, much like the fulfillment of Psalm 22 in which the world would turn and worship him.

Joseph of Arimathia asked Pilate for the body of Jesus because he was a follower of Jesus, but in secret. He was afraid of the Jews too. He, alongside Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial and put Jesus in a tomb in which no one else had laid. The tomb was apparently very close to the location of the crucifixion. This was apparently done in haste so that the body would not be left up and to fulfill the law requiring executions in Deuteronomy 21:33.

The sacrifice of Jesus is nothing to be taken lightly. Jesus gave his life so that others may live eternally. The good news about Jesus is that he did not stay dead and is able to receive worship because of this. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that resurrection is possible and that there is a real hope for those who believe. But even with this hope, one should never forget what it cost Jesus. Jesus gave Christians a vivid reminder of his sacrifice in communion. This symbol was a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). His body was broken and his blood was spilled so that he would fulfill the law and make a way for mankind. Jesus was not the sacrificial lamb of a man that was required year after year, but God’s Lamb more perfect in every way than anything of this world. This one Lamb was the once and final sacrifice for all men (Hebrews 7:27). The appropriate response to this should be conviction because it was one’s own sin that put Jesus on the cross. One should mourn this and be sorrowful because of it, but at the same time, be joyful that God loves them and that in his mercy made a way. This is truly amazing love!

Lord, help me not forget what you did for me!