I teach the youth Sunday School class here at Salt and Light. Having recently finished a study in Daniel, I asked my class where they wanted to go next, if they had a particular book in mind or questions they wanted to explore answers to through God's word. One of my students, suggested Matthew. Since he is a new Christian, recently baptized and Matthew is the first gospel written and the first book in the New Testament, I found it an excellent choice and so we began our study the following Sunday.
As you may know, Matthew was a tax collector. As such, he was responsible for collecting taxes for the Roman government. His pay was any extra money he could extort from the taxpayers. Needless to say, he was not well liked. Yet, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, he dropped everything and followed. His heart recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah that had been prophesied of old. He walked with Jesus, witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy after prophecy and, very probably, was astounded at the Jews rejection of Jesus. Here was the Messiah they had waited for, watched for, and yet they did not recognize Him. He was standing right in front of them and they did not see Him. Their hearts were blind and deaf to the truth of Jesus. To this audience, Matthew directed his gospel. His gospel is full of references to Jesus fulfillment of the prophecies, prophecies he knew they had been taught since birth. Matthew records Jesus first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount and this is where we are studying right now.
I have read this sermon many times. What has struck me this time is what Jesus is saying about the state of the heart. It is all about the heart - the believer's heart. It begins with the blessings that follow a heart that is humble, merciful, righteous and pure. Unfortunately, apart form Christ none of these things are possible. Our hearts, by nature, are proud, selfish, lustful, and about as pure as a landfill of toxic waste. Yet, the Pharisees, Jewish leaders of the time, thought they could attain these blessings on their own. They thought all they had to do was follow the law, the law as set down by God through Moses, embellished and elaborated upon by themselves. They focused on the outward appearance of obedience. Certainly, they did not murder, commit adultery, steal, or outwardly break any of the laws. They kept the Sabbath, loudly and publicly, fed the poor, again loudly and publicly, and to all appearances were righteous men and excellent role models. Yet Jesus called them evil and a brood of vipers (Matt 12:34), hypocrites and whitewashed tombs - beautiful on the outside, but rotting within (Matthew 23:27). He called them these things because for all the outward appearance of piety, their hearts were evil, full of hatred, pride, a love of power and man's praise. They saw Jesus as a threat to their authority and their status in the community and it blinded them to the truth of Jesus saving grace. They did not understand the purpose of the law to show them how much they needed a Savior. They didn't get that outward obedience was not enough,. would never be enough. The law had to be followed perfectly in the heart, in the mind and in the body. The only one capable of that was Jesus, which is why He was and is the only answer, the only Savior, the Messiah, the Christ. That's why Jesus called Himself the fulfillment of the law (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus takes it home to them when He points to the law and then goes on to explain the full meaning of it. When it says do not murder, it is not speaking of just the physical act of taking a life. Murder begins in the heart. It begins with anger, hatred, contempt. Jesus declared that state of the heart murder and commanded us to make peace with one another. (Matthew 5:21-26) He does the same thing with adultery. Adultery encompasses not just the physical act, but the lust in the heart, the desire and impure thoughts. (Matthew 5:27-28) Jesus held up a mirror to the Pharisees' hearts and they hated Him for it. That hatred led to its natural conclusion: the physical murder of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus continued to expound on the true meaning of the law and His word focusing on the state of the heart. He knew that what is in the heart denotes the true state of the man. He told us to distance ourselves from temptation, to be honest and have integrity, to go out of our way for each other, to forgive those who hurt us, to love our enemies, to be perfect. (Matthew 5:33-38) What?! Who can do that?
Let's take them one at a time:
1. Stay away from the things that tempt you, get them out of your life. Writing this, I am convicted thinking of all the times I have run headlong into instead of away from temptation. Simply going to a movie I knew was going to contain things I shouldn't be looking at breaks this one.
2. Be honest and have integrity - let your yes be yes and your no, no. "It's the truth, I swear to God!" How many times have we said that in this life, knowing full well we were lying through our teeth. Yeah, I am guilty of this one
3. Go out of our way for each other. Go the extra mile. How many times have I said no when I could have said yes just because I was tired or didn't want to turn off the TV, put down the book, interrupt my life, be inconvenienced? Or said no because I didn't like the person that much, or know them very well or at all? Too many, even if only once.
4. Forgive those who hurt us, don't retaliate. That is not our first inclination. We get hurt we want to hurt back, retaliate, get a little of our own back. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
5. Love your enemies, be good to those who persecute you, bless those who curse you. This one really hits home. The school bully, the opinionated neighbor, the guy that just cut you off on the interstate, the smelly homeless guy, the ex boyfriend, girlfriend, BFF betrayer...... Ah man, we do not want to have be good to those people. But, Jesus said only loving those who love you back or being good to those who are good to you is easy. Everyone can do that. He wants, no commands us to love the former too.
6. Be perfect....enough said. we have already blown that out of the water.
Our hearts are simply not capable of these things, unless......we have Jesus dwelling there. It is only through Him that we can channel that kind of love and obedience to the will of God the Father. What is in our hearts will out. And if it is not Christ, then no matter how hard we try, we can never measure up to what we should be. Even with Him, we are in a constant battle with our flesh and only victorious through and by His saving grace. No wonder the pharisees hated Him. We do not like to be told the true state of our hearts because if we acknowledge that truth, we know we are in trouble. At that point we have a choice. We can, like the Pharisees, hate the one who holds the mirror or we can embrace the only one who can change the image - Jesus.
I believe words are a powerful tool. God's word has the power to save, restore, edify, create and convict. I have been blogging for several years and find now, more than ever the world is in need of the truth as viewed through the lens of God's holy Word.
I love teaching about the Lord in any setting. From behind the pulpit, sitting in a class or writing a blog, I find fulfillment in sharing my faith through teaching.