Archive for the ‘Misused Bible verses’ Category

1 Corinthians 7:25-31, 1 Peter 1:13-25

Our world recently has had no shortage of crises that have had some impact on us.

The Christians during the first century were no stranger to crises; in fact a significant proportion of the New Testament exists to some extent because of various crises happening either in the church, in the world, or both. Jesus was very clear that the time between his first and second coming – what we call ‘the Last Days’ would be a time of turmoil and tribulation, with God’s people by no means being immune from trouble. Christians are assured that we will be in a battle – a battle with a world which is hostile to Him; a battle with circumstances that comes from living in a world that is under a curse and is full of chaos, danger and confusion; a battle with others within the church who distort or water down the Gospel, or grasp for power; and a battle with the devil and with our own sin.

We are in a privileged position at the moment in Australia, where by and large life feels pretty stable. We all have access to our basic human rights, and can feel relatively secure with a stable government system, a wealthy economy, good law and order, and no major conflicts with our neighbours. For the majority of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world this is not necessarily the case. Many of them are born into crisis situations, and will die never having left them.

We should not become complacent to think that our comfort is going to continue forever for us or for our children or grandchildren. Recent events with terrorism happening on our own shores have reminded us that we live in a bubble – and some are fearful that this bubble will burst more easily and sooner than we might think.

And all of us also, no doubt, have experienced – or are experiencing – crises on a more personal level – in our family, work, community, finances or health. So, how should we view – and respond to – crises?

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

In our first passage, Paul is having a conversation with the Corinthians about the place of marriage. In the midst of this conversation he refers to a principle that should not only shape their approach to marriage, but to all of life:

‘The present form of this world is passing away.’ (31)

This is the reason he gives for why, ‘those who have wives [should] live as though they have none, those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods…’ (7:30) summed up I with the phrase, ‘…those who deal with the world as though they have no dealings with it.’ (31)

At first glance Paul’s words here might seem a little extreme. Is he calling for Christians to dissolve all their marriages, get rid of all their possessions, and live a life of complete detachment from all desires – as if there is something wrong with this physical world and bodies in which we live? When he says ‘the appointed time has grown very short,’ is he implying that Jesus will return within their lifetimes – even within the next week or so, and so they should simply sit and wait for His appearing, and to make any plans for the future is pointless and wrong?

A look at the context of Paul’s comments – both within the letter of 1 Corinthians and in the historical setting – will help us to understand not only what Paul was saying to the Corinthians, but also what God is saying to us, particularly at times of crisis.

What is ‘the world’?

Firstly, we need to understand what he means when he uses the word, ‘world’. Today this word can tend to mean simply the physical reality of the planet in which we live – our location within the universe. Sometimes the Bible uses it in this sense. But in this context, ‘the world’ is referring to the human world, the reality of human life and civilisation and its social, political, religious and moral systems. In and of itself it is not necessarily a negative term, however because of sin and human rebellion it most often is negative – ‘the World’ is a humanity that is living in organised, sophisticated rebellion against God, and whose culture – despite occasional glimpses of goodness and truth and beauty – is by and large striving to topple God from His throne and to set itself up as the masters of the universe. This is the world about which Jesus warned his disciples, ‘in this world you will have trouble,’ but then immediately comforted them by saying, ‘but take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) It is the world about which one day we will see the truth that, ‘the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 11:15)

‘The present crisis’

Secondly, in verse 26 Paul mentions ‘the present distress (or crisis)’. The Corinthians were facing some kind of crisis that was having a significant impact on their lives, causing them to have to think carefully and wisely in their decisions about what would normally be ‘everyday things’ such as marriage, business and leisure. Most likely, this ‘crisis’ was a famine which we know impacted this region around the time that Paul wrote this letter. With a shortage of food also came a degree of social unrest, as people developed uncertainty about their future, mistrust of authorities, and competition with their neighbours. Corinth was a wealthy city, but would nevertheless have been impacted by this famine.

The ‘world’ in which the Corinthians lived was, it seemed, crumbling.

So Paul’s advice about who should and shouldn’t get married is in the context of a particular time of crisis. Getting married was a big event, one that required many resources and much time. The Corinthians were to remember what it meant for them to live as God’s people, and how this living reflected the power of the Gospel. At the end of chapter 15 Paul tells them to ‘be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ He goes on in 16:1 to straightaway talk about the need for them to make a collection to help their much poorer brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He is calling them to be other-person-centred, to think of the needs of others before their own, and so to put on hold some of their own activities for the moment in order to demonstrate God’s generosity to others.

A wake-up call

It is in times of crisis that we are called to reassess our priorities. God’s actions of judgement upon the world are also a mercy and a gift, designed to shake us out of our complacency; to make us wake up to how much we have become engrossed in the things of the world instead of the things of the Lord.

I have recently returned from a trip to New Zealand, where we did a tour of Christchurch and heard stories of the 2012 earthquake. We heard of neighbours developing a closer sense of community as they were drawn to work together to support one another. Apparently some people who used to sleep naked now wear pyjamas, since when an earthquake strikes at night you don’t even have time to put your clothes on. We also heard of the controversies that have arisen as people debate how the city should be rebuilt, with many complaining about the Anglican church not being willing to spend nearly 200 million dollars and 6 years to repair the cathedral (maybe some of those people might also complain that the church has too much money and should be spending their resources on feeding the poor instead of making moral judgements and trying to convert people.)

We had boarded the plane for New Zealand unsure of what was going to happen with bushfires burning in the Mt Lofty Ranges just 20 km from our own home. But even at that time, there was an almost overwhelming response of generosity from people offering accommodation and assistance to those affected by the fires. Possibly the magnitude of this response had something to do with the shock we had felt as a nation just weeks earlier with the Martin Place siege; people realised the importance of standing together as neighbours.

Now, these are examples are of non-Christian communities! These are people who do not necessarily know anything of the power of the Gospel to transform and reconcile. Yet these people are nevertheless people made in the image of God, and while crises can often bring out the worst of people’s selfishness and sinfulness, they are also marked by glimpses of how we should be. God, in what theologians call ‘common grace’ at times enables people to act in a way that is contrary to their own sinfulness, maybe so that people will stop and take stock, and say to themselves, ‘Hey! What just happened – what I did, or what someone did for me – seems to resonate with my humanity. I know that this is the way I should be all the time – so what am I not like it all the time? Why do I by default operate out of selfishness and greed? Is there any way that I might be able, somehow, to attain to this picture of goodness and generosity that I have just glimpsed?’

So we should be willing to welcome crises, knowing that the Father only ever gives good and perfect gifts; and our first response in these times should be, ‘Father, what are you teaching me in this? How are you using this time of trouble to make me more like your Son?’

Looking towards the End

While Paul is referring to this very specific situation here, he deliberately uses the kind of language that is also used to refer to the end of the age, the time of Jesus’ return. ‘distress’ is often associated with the last days. ‘The appointed time has grown very short’ and the present form of this world is passing away’ speak of the expectancy of a soon to come resolution to the turmoil of this life; the kind of language used by someone who is expecting Jesus’ return to be just around the corner. Paul wants them to think not just of their immediate situation, but in light of eternity. Times of crisis remind us that this world does indeed have a ‘use by date’. It is a kingdom that is being shaken, and will one day be completely overtaken by the reign of God the Father through His Son. Crises remind of who is truly King, and enable us to look forward with hope to the goal He has for us and His creation.

And so the reason for the Corinthians to make wise choices about how they live their lives is not simply a moral or ethical one on its own – as if there is some abstract moral standard that makes something right or wrong in itself. Rather, it is about Who deserves – and receives – the glory. And the One who deserves the glory is the One who is the true King of all things. This is a big focus in this letter – and in fact in the whole scriptures. We are created to be for the praise of the glory of God. Ethics and morality is not about conforming to a certain standard; it is about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – or in short, doing all things to the glory of God. Loving God is not about a warm mushy sentiment, but living in such a way that makes much of him, so that people see our lives and say, ‘God is good! God is love! God is gracious! God is my Father who is working all things together for good! God is worthy of all my worship!’

The power of the Cross

We will only be enabled to live such lives when we are able to say, ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ (Galatians 6:14) And we will only be able to say such thing when we have a vision of the cross of Christ. This leads us to our second passage.

1 Peter 1:13-25

In this passage Peter sums up some general principles that Paul applied when giving advice to the Corinthians about marriage: being prepared for action, making wise, sober decisions, all in the light of the promise of Jesus’ return. (13) We are to desire to be holy – not for the sake of holiness in and of itself, but because ‘he who called you is holy’ – in other words, we should desire to have lives that bring glory to God be reflecting His character in our actions. And he reminds us that this world is not our home – we are to see ourselves as ‘exiles’ living temporarily living in the kingdom of this world until we see His kingdom break in.

What is the secret to living this kind of life – one of integrity, love and certainty in hope? It is simply knowing something: verse 18-20 We have been ‘ransomed… by the precious blood of Christ.’ This phrase in itself contains enough significance for a whole series of sermons, but we will look briefly at it, to see what kind of vision of the cross enables us to face crises with a confidence and hope that far outweighs anything this world has to offer.

Firstly, we have been ransomed.

This means that we were once slaves. This is terminology that comes from the slave market; a slave could be given their freedom by having someone pay all the debts they owed, effectively purchasing them and then setting them free. We were once slaves – slaves to sin and to our sinful desires, and slaves to the world and its systems, unable to resist all the empty promises of happiness and power and self-fulfilment that it offers. The world, the flesh and the devil – our three greatest enemies were once our masters, and when they said, ‘jump’ we said, ‘how high?’. Jesus has set us free from these masters by cancelling the debt that stood against us, and for which God, in His justice, had rightfully handed us over to. He has come and fought against the strong man, and has overcome him, and he now has possession of all that is in his household, including us. We are now free. Our citizenship in this world has been replaced with citizenship in heaven, and we no longer have to conform to this world and its demands and desires because we know that the world is passing away.

Secondly, the ransom was at the cost of his own blood.

Jesus taught his disciples, ‘…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’(Mark 8:35-36) He said these words as the one who had already stood in front of the devil, who had offered him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him, and said, ‘“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’ (Luke 4:8). He then did just that – lived a life of total obedience to the Father, that took him to the cross to make that redeeming payment for our sin. This not only shows us the magnitude of our sinfulness – that it requires the blood of the eternal Son to atone for it – but also the great assurance we can have in our freedom, that we have truly been crucified to the world and the world to us. It is not just a metaphor; it actually happened that day at Calvary.

Thirdly, this blood bought ransom is precious.

It was not merely sufficient, something that just got the job done. And it was not just costly – worth a lot. It is precious – a word that means honourable, or held in high esteem. The Father looks at the obedience of the Son culminating in his willing death on a cross and says, ‘That is precious to me! This is the thing that I hold as supremely important over all things, that my Son has given himself as a ransom for sinners.’ That is what is meant in part by the phrase, ‘He was foreknown before the foundation of the world’ (20a). The Father created the world, knowing – in fact pre-ordaining –  the corruption and turmoil that would enter into it, because His goal was that His Son would be honoured and glorified above all things because of his willing incarnation and death to save sinners. Knowing the inestimable worth of Jesus’ sacrifice to the Father should make it of inestimable worth to us also. It should make the crises of this world fall into their proper perspective, when knowing him is far more precious to us than anything in this world that we may lose.

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Dan Doriani writes an excellent take on the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ of Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14 and Luke 21:20:

What Is the ‘Abomination of Desolation’? | TGC | The Gospel Coalition.

I would just like to add my 2c worth…

In Mark 13:14 the sign for the disciples that the destruction of the temple is soon to happen is this ‘abomination that causes desolation’. This term appears 3 times in Daniel 9,11 & 12. In each case it is associated with the putting to an end the sacrifices – ie. the Temple itself will be desecrated, made unclean, so that it can no longer be used for worship, and is no longer a suitable house for God’s glorious presence. In 68AD, with tension between the Jews and Rome on a knife edge, the Zealots (Judas was a member of this group), who saw that the Kingdom of God would be brought in only when they rebelled against Rome and took Jerusalem by force, had the High priest and those loyal to him murdered, installed their own man ‘Phanni’ as High Priest, and turned the Temple into their fortress. The temple was filled with the blood of humans, and became a place of violence, drunkenness and immorality. In response the Romans multiplied their armies, and literally surrounded Jerusalem, until in 70AD they besieged the city, slaughtering all they came across – men, women and children – and destroyed the Temple and all who were in it. They literally trampled Jerusalem underfoot.

So I put it that the Abomination is not primarily the Romans, but the Zealots – those who themselves were Jews had brought desolation to their own Temple!

The Jews saw this as an action for which the wrath of God would come upon the Romans; yet Jesus describes it as ‘wrath against this people’ (23). Just a few days earlier he had stood weeping over Jerusalem:

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:42-44)

This was not about Rome storing up judgement for herself; it was about the judgement that Jesus’ own people had already stored up for themselves by rejecting him as their Messiah. They should have recognised that their responsibility as God’s chosen people was to welcome the Messiah when he came; to recognise Him as the fulfilment, the ‘Yes’ to all of God’s promises to bless them and to make them a blessing to the Nations; yet they forsook this commission, wanting to keep all of God’s blessing for themselves, and cut themselves off from and despised the nations.

Yet God’s promises and plans were not to be thwarted by Israel’s disobedience. Paul speaks in Romans 11 about the necessity of this judgement:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean (Romans 11:11-12)

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

This is the ‘time of the Gentiles’ that Jesus speaks of here (24). The old system of the Temple with all its rituals; the city, nation and people of the Jews, has been brought to an end because now the Gospel is going out not just to Jews by to every tribe and people and tongue and nation.

Trembling, bewildered and afraid at the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection?

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. ’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 NIV)

Just as Mark gives a concise description of Jesus’ death, so he give a concise description of the resurrection. He is not concerned so much with the how, but the simple fact. None of the Gospels give us a statement on the meaning or reason for the resurrection; the writers seem to assume that this is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God, of whom the Father says, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased’; God’s chosen and anointed King who does nothing but what pleases the Father, to his dying breath.

The wages of sin is death (and all have sinned, therefore all die), but also God promises to vindicate the righteous and reward them with life. The Psalmist, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost says, ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.’ (Psalm 16:10) Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the culmination of all Jesus did in his God-pleasing life, the Father’s response to this action is to declare Him to be the Son of God and King by raising him from the dead.

Mark began his gospel, stating clearly that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (1:1), and his account of the resurrection is like him saying, ‘See, I told you!’

Marks original Gospel, I believe, ends with verse eight. 1

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

To us this may not seem like a very satisfying conclusion, especially as we are used to Hollywood movies that end with a moving speech, a song, and the hero riding off into the sunset. However Mark, in his succinct way, is simply stating the facts, and the way he does has a ring of authenticity about it. If someone were inventing the story of the resurrection, and making it the lynchpin of their whole religion (ie. without the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, the whole of Christianity is pointless), we would expect them to embellish the story to make it believable. Instead Mark records the authentic response of the women.

How would you respond after a traumatic weekend of seeing Jesus tortured and killed, expecting to find his body in the tomb, but instead encountering an angel who tells you he is alive? Would you immediately believe, or would it take a while for the reality of it to sink in? This was not just one miracle – the last in a long list of 3 years worth of miracles. Jesus’ resurrection means not merely that the man Jesus is alive again against all odds. It marks the start of a cataclysmic, history making, destiny forming, earth shattering reality of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It meant the resurrection not just of one man but of the entirety of humanity. This will in turn mean a total renewal and liberation of the entire universe. The enormity of this had gripped them, and according to the NIV their response was, ‘trembling’, ‘bewilderment’ and ‘fear’ – three words which have almost wholly negative connotations for us. Yet they do not need to.

The word translated ‘bewildered’ is ‘ekstasis’ – ‘ecstasy’. ‘Fear’ is not terror, but extreme awe. And so their ‘trembling’ (‘tromos’) was not a disturbed trembling, but one of joyful anticipation, like a child may tremble as she stands before the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, or a contestant on X-Factor shakes with overwhelming disbelief as the panel of judges stand to applaud them.

‘They said nothing…’ obviously doesn’t mean, ‘ever,’ otherwise we would not have this account. Rather, it simply means they did not speak to anyone as they fled, as they had been commanded to report to the disciples. They were simply being obedient.

Marl ended his Gospel at this point possibly because of the purpose for which he wrote: it is thought that Mark was especially an ‘Evangelistic’ Gospel – ie. written not primarily for Christians but for non-Christians, who had heard the Gospel proclamation of the crucified, risen, reigning Jesus and wanted more background to the story. He leaves the ending somewhat open – as if to say, ‘What do you now make of all these events? What is your conclusion about Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of Man and the Son of God; who healed the sick, proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and willingly laid down his life to be a ransom for sinners; who predicted both his death and his resurrection?

One writer has suggested that Jesus, his miracles and the resurrection simply give us useful symbols to help reflect on the paradox of life and death. However Mark presents his account of Jesus as historical fact, with geographical and biographical references to confirm this. If the claim of Mark and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus literally rose form the dead is true, as well as the implications it gives for the hope of our own resurrection and the renewal of the entire universe, we ignore Jesus at our peril.

So what is our response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection? It may be rattled off as one in a list of core Christian beliefs, and we may talk about it so often that we end up taking it for granted, and it no longer grips us with awe, ecstasy and trembling like it did the women. However we view verses 9-20, it is an indication that this reality of the resurrection captured the hearts and lives of the disciples, and that they were unable to contain the wonder of all God’s promises being fulfilled – being ‘Yes’ – in Jesus; what resulted was a revolutionary, world and history changing explosion of the Gospel going out to all nations. This is what we are a part of, and God calls us to continue to be part of this explosion.


  1. Verses 9-20 do not appear in the earliest, most reliable copies of Mark that we have, which is why many modern translations have it as a separated section. It probably indicates that it was not part of the original Gospel. The court is still out on this, and Christians have different views on whether it should be considered as 1. Truly Mark’s ending, 2. Not Mark’s ending, but still fully scripture, 3. Not Mark’s ending, and not fully authoritative (yet indicative of the early church’s teaching). My view is in line with no. 3, which makes verse eight Mark’s final words to this account of Jesus. 

redletter

‘Red Letter Christians’ approach the Bible with the premise that the foundation and starting point for understanding the Gospel should be the direct words of Jesus, as quoted in the Gospels. This is a corrective, they claim, to the traditional approach of evangelicals in which the Pauline epistles are the lens through which the rest of the Bible is interpreted. It sounds all good and pious to say that the actual words of Jesus himself should be our starting point, and the rest of the Scriptures be interpreted through them. There are however a couple of problems with this approach:

  1. Not all the words of Jesus have a direct application to us in the same way they did to those to whom he spoke. As with all biblical passages, we need where possible to understand the situational context in which they are spoken, and to understand what they meant to them then, before we ask what they mean to us today. A classic example of this is Jesus’ exchange with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus commands this man to ‘sell all you have, give to the poor… and come follow me.’ Why then do Christians own things? If these are Jesus’ direct words, shouldn’t we all obey them literally and refuse to own any property? No, we understand that these words were given to this man at that time because it addressed both the deepest need and biggest problem he had – loving his riches more than God. This does not mean we cannot learn from this story, nor take action to remove those things in our lives that have become idols; however this example shows us that simply ‘obeying the words of Jesus’ is not always as simple as it sounds.
  2. Sometimes, especially in the Gospel of John, it is hard to be clear on exactly where the words of Jesus end and those of the Gospel writer begin. For example, is the world’s best known verse, John 3:16, (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.) the words of Jesus or John? My Red Letter bible has them in red, and continues the quotation right through to the end of verse 21. However some commentators would suggest that the quotation ends with verse 15 – and 16-21 are John’s commentary on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, directed to the reader. So, we have a problem if we are going to give a priority to the quoted words of Jesus, in that we cannot say precisely what they are!
  3. It’s really a false distinction anyway, to suggest that the direct quotations of Jesus are somehow more authoritative or inspired than the words of the New Testament writers. As Jesus commissioned his apostles, he commanded them to ‘[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19) Along with this, he had already given them the promise that the Holy Spirit would, ‘teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.’ (John 14:26) What this means for us is that the words we have in the New Testament – be they direct quotations of Jesus or the testimony of his apostles – are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and all an accurate communication of all that Jesus commanded.

We need to have an implicit confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit to faithfully communicate the will and mind of God to us in all of the Scriptures, and to avoid making false ‘red letter’ distinctions.

56fc5-dogandpig

Matthew 7:1-29 To Sumarise…

1-5 ‘Don’t judge me!!’

Many people quote the first half of verse 1 without knowing (or ignoring) the second half. Jesus is describing a principle of the Law: reciprocity. We will sow what we reap. We saw this earlier in 5:38-42 where the law says, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ This was not a license to take revenge on someone who hurts us, but a mandate for us to (over)compensate those whom we hurt; the motive is love for our neighbour, and a desire to live with generosity towards them.

When Jesus was confronted with a group of angry men who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), his response was, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (v.7). HIs point: If we recognise sin in another person, we must be willing to recognise that we are no better than them; the judgement we pronounce on them is what we equally deserve for our sin – regardless of whether it is identical to theirs or not.

So Jesus is not saying that it’s wrong to make an assessment of an action, deciding whether it is right or wrong. Rather he is saying that, according to the standard of the Law in which one must be perfect as our Father in heaven, the only thing that qualifies one to judge is that they be without sin. That, after all, is why God has the right to judge the whole earth: because He is Holy and without unrighteousness.

The term, ‘or you will be judged’ is a ‘divine passive’. Because it does not mention the subject (doer), the implication is that it is an act of God. This is no mere ‘karma’ or an impersonal, natural law of ‘what goes around, comes around,’ but the action of God, with a judgement that is moral and personal. How dare we presume to be the judge of another person, when we too will one day stand before the judgement seat of God?

Again, the Law has backed us into a corner. If we use this principle to tell someone who has rebuked or questioned us, ‘Do not judge me,’ we immediately become guilty of breaking this law, because we have judged their action of judging as wrong! The solution to this dilemma is to give up on our efforts to gain righteousness by the law, and instead turn to Jesus, who gives us what the Law cannot: perfect righteousness.

Jesus then illustrates this principle by telling what some suggest is the closest we get to a joke in the Gospels. The word does literally mean plank or log, and is hyperbole designed to emphasise the hypocrisy of taking the moral high ground (Very often our hypocrisy is evident to all but ourselves – which is why it is such a blessing when fellow Christians love us enough to rebuke us for it). The point here is not the action in itself, but the attitude with which it is done; once we have recognised the log of our own sin, repented and received forgiveness, we will then be enabled to come in love and humility to another person and remove their speck. So again, this is a matter of the heart. This if further illustrated in the next verse.

6 Dogs and Pigs

This verse has bemused many people, both because it seems to interrupt the flow of the passage. The difficulty is that Jesus is using images that are foreign to our modern sensibilities, and if they were colloquialisms, they are ones about which we know little or nothing outside the New Testament.

Some have taken it to mean ‘Don’t bother sharing the Gospel with those who are belligerent and openly reject it; you will be wasting your time.’ However that interpretation ignores the context – Jesus is not speaking here about Gospel proclamation, but about the moral demand of the Law on a person. To be true to the context, we must understand these saying as having something to do with hypocrisy and judging others (vss 1-5).

Most commentators suggest that Jesus is offering a balance to his teaching a few verses earlier on not judging; that while we should not be judgemental, there are times we need to be discerning. To me this does not fit the flow and context of this section of Jesus’ exposition of the Law, in which he is emphasising the extremely high personal moral standard that the Law requires. Would he really say ‘do not judge’, and then give us permission to consider a person a ‘dog’ or a ‘pig’?

For the Jew, there were many unclean animals, but among the most dirty of these unclean animals were pigs and dogs; so much so that ‘dog’ was used as a name of contempt for people or groups of people they did not like, such as Gentiles or Samaritans (See Matthew 15:26).

What is going on in the heart of a person who ‘gives what is sacred to dogs’ or ‘throws their pearls to pigs’?

Jesus is speaking of a state of the heart; one where I see myself on high moral ground, and others as inferior. To ‘cast pearls before pigs’ or ‘give what is holy to dogs’ is to do something that highlights and advertises that distinction between me and them, so that I can be confirmed in my superiority. I can then say, ‘See what they did to my pearls? They just trampled on them! That shows that they are nothing but dirty, unclean pigs! Why should I waste my time with them?’ or, ‘Did you hear what that person said to me when I gently and lovingly spoke the truth to them? Their angry, spiteful response shows them to be the dog that they really are. I am much better than that!’

Jesus in his death and resurrection saves us from all of this complicated, destructive and chaotic thinking. He came to us whom he, as the Holy righteous Judge, could by rights call ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’. He took on our humanity, and bore all our sins of judgmentalism and superiority in his body at the cross. His verdict upon us of ‘no condemnation’ (Romans 8:1) sets us free to view others in the same way; even to be willing to fulfil the command to love our ‘enemies’.

What follows is a series of concluding and summarising statements, which capture the nature of all that Jesus has been teaching in this sermon.

7-12 Know that your purpose for living is to know and reflect your Father

God is a generous Father who loves to give to His children. We should be confident to come to him with all our needs, not thinking that we need to earn our way into His favour by our performance.

Having this relationship with the Father will result in a life that reflects His character – which is shown clearly in the Law: do for others what you would have them do for you.

Known as the ‘Golden rule,’ this principle is claimed by some to be at the heart of all religions. Yet, as the table shows, the religions of the world have some statements that look similar, but are actually quite different; they either teach doing good as a way to have good done to you (Taoism), restrict it to those within the faith (Islam), or phrase it in the negative (all others), which simply means a passive ‘avoiding doing something that will harm people’ rather than a pro-active ‘seek to love and do good to others.’

Golden Rule

13-14 Make sure you are on the right path.

Jesus has been showing right through this sermon the human impossibility of being ‘saved’ by our own efforts or goodness. The view that ‘All religions ultimately lead to the same place’ has to be based on this idea, since most religions teach that salvation is through works. Christianity alone teaches that God alone is the one who saves, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus himself said:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:7-9 NIV)

In our cultural climate, saying Jesus is the only way sounds narrow minded and arrogant. However, saying all religions lead to God is actually a very arrogant thing to claim: firstly, in order to make that claim one must have detailed, full understanding of all the religions to be able to make the assessment that they are compatible; secondly, it rests on the assumption that I am good enough to make it – I don’t need to be saved by grace alone.

15-23 Don’t be duped

The main reason why our culture rejects the idea of Jesus as the only way is because it necessarily implies that other paths are wrong; and if they are wrong those who teach them and follow them are also wrong. Yet this is a necessary implication of the Gospel. If we believe something to be the Truth, we must also reject other ideas as being untrue. If Jesus is the Truth, then anyone who teaches or offers a way different to him is not just presenting another option, but is actually deceiving people. What does he mean by ‘fruit’? Other places where this word is used shows us that this refers to the character and lifestyle of the one who claims to be teaching God’s truth, and the character and lifestyle of those whom they teach. Does their teaching produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22)?

Jesus states that these ‘false prophets’ are not only wrong, but will face judgement for the damage they cause in people’s lives. They may profess to know God and speak the truth of His word, but this does not mean that they are doing the will of the Father. SO what does it mean to do the will of the Father?

‘…this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’ (John 6:40 ESV)

24-27 Build your life on the right foundation

God is depicted in the scriptures a the One who both sends the storms of judgement on those who oppose Him (eg. Jeremiah 23:19, Jonah 1:4), and the one who rescues His people from the storms. (Psalm 107:23-32, Matthew 8:23-27). This is the imagery that Jesus is drawing on here. Jesus is the only place of refuge from both the storms of life, and the storm of God’s judgement that all people rightly deserve. A life that’s built on anything less than his words offers no security from either.

So this is both a warning and a promise. To those who reject Him, Jesus says there will be no security, either in this life or the next; however to the one who places their trust in Him, there is a deep assurance that He is able to save, and keep safe.

Temple Destruction

 

This is a passage that has been debated over the years. Does this speak of the second coming of Jesus, or is it describing the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD? Or, some combination of both? Those who argue for the second option (that it was all fulfilled in 70 AD) point to verse 32:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.’

While some suggest ‘generation’ can be translated as ‘race’ – ie. the Jews will continue to exist as a people right up to Jesus’ coming, this requires an obscure use of this word, and also does not match with other similar statements, as we will see in a moment.

Those who argue for the first (that it speaks of Jesus’ second coming) point to 27:

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

This certainly sounds like the second coming. However, it does not have to be; in fact there are similar statements Jesus made that clearly do not refer to his return. The first is in the context of Jesus’ call to discipleship:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:28, emphasis mine)

Obviously everyone standing there as Jesus said these words have long since died. So here he must have been speaking of something that would occur within the first century. Another similar statement is made during Jesus’ trial:

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:63-64)

Jesus says that they will see the Son of Man ‘from now on’ – ie. from that moment. It seems that on these two occasions Jesus is not speaking of an event, as much as a position of power and authority. In fact, He is making an unveiled reference here (and every time he calls himself ‘the Son of Man’) to Daniel 7:

…and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14)

Daniel’s vision is ‘apocalyptic’ – filled with visions and images that are not meant to be taken literally, but which communicate a truth. The ‘Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven’ communicates his status as the divinely appointed King; the One who shines with the power and glory and authority of God Himself. For the Jews, ‘heaven’ was a euphemism for the name of God, which they used to avoid using His name in vain, and so the ‘clouds of heaven’ speak of the cloud of God’s glory that guided the Israelites in the desert; from which the Lord defeated the Egyptian armies; the cloud that covered Mt Sinai while the Law was being given; from which God proclaimed His character to Moses; and which filled the Tabernacle and the Temple.

It is important to see in this passage that Daniel sees this Son of Man ‘coming’ – but to where or whom is he coming? Not to Daniel, but to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) in order that he may be given an eternal kingdom. So the phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven’ is not speaking of Jesus travelling from Heaven to earth, but of His appointment as King of every people, nation and language.

So when do we ‘see’ Jesus being bestowed with this status as the all-powerful, all glorious King?

…the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

All of his in no way discounts the fact that Jesus will be ‘coming’ again – although this event is described by the New Testament more as his ‘appearing’ – ie. an unveiling of the reality that He is already King, is already ruling over the Nations, and is already present, as promised to his disciples as he sent them out on the co-mission.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Currently not every knee bows and not every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord, but that does not diminish in anyway his present Lordship; on the day when all do acknowledge Him it will not be the beginning on His Kingdom, but simply an acknowledgement by all of its reality.

All of this background now helps us to confidently approach this passage and see two things:

  1. How Jesus was preparing his disciples (and those to whom the disciples preached) for the events that were to happen within their own lifetime – the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
  2. How we are to understand the bearing of HIs kingdom on our lives in this world as we await with patience His appearing, especially in times when troubles and persecution come – how then should we live?
1. Preparing for the destruction of the Temple – 70AD

5-7

We know from the other gospels that the ‘some’ who were speaking of the Temple’s glory were his disciples, and that from verse 7 the conversation took place across the valley, as Jesus and his disciples were sitting on the mount of Olives, from where they could see the Temple rising above the city walls. It would have been a shocking thing to hear Jesus say that this building would be destroyed. They had already heard him say (John 2:19–22) ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,’ and understood that he was speaking of Himself in his death and resurrection; Jesus is the true Temple, the true dwelling place of God with His people. Yet if this is true, then it makes the old physical Temple obsolete; the physical Temple had served its purpose, and now that the One it foreshadowed has come, it is no longer needed, and has a use-by date. (Hebrews 8:13). Yet this was something they were yet to realise; we are told it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that they understood (John 2:22). So their hearts must have been burning and in turmoil as they walked through the valley to the place they were staying that night, and we can imagine them wanting to burst as they looked for the opportunity to ask him what he meant.

8-9

Jesus responds initially with a word of caution. There will be terrifying events that will happen in their lifetime, and many will immediately see it as the sign of the End, even claiming to be Jesus physically returned. But he assures them: these events are only ‘penultimate’ – they are a foretaste of the End, but ‘the end will not be at once’ (9) – ie. the final judgement is yet to come; this will be an ‘interim judgement’ with a specific purpose – as we will see, the purpose of the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth and being proclaimed to all the nations.

10-11

This will be a time of great political turmoil – nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom. We might take the ‘earthquakes, famines, terrors and signs from heaven’ as being apocalyptic language, or we may take it literally, but either way it means that this is the action of God’s judgement. Many times in the past He has used nations as His instruments of judgement upon other nations; the Biblical view of wars is not of a world that has gone crazy, over which God has lost control; but of peoples and nations who have been handed over by the sovereign hand of God to the outworking of their sinfulness, and all as an action of God’s wrath.

12-19

Jesus’ disciples are in this world, and so necessarily they suffer along with everyone else in this turmoil of judgement. Yet Jesus speaks of another kind of suffering that will come to them – the suffering of persecution. The Jewish people already faced a difficult time at the hands of the Romans, however the Jewish faith was still an ‘authorised’ religion. For some time the Romans considered Christians as a branch of Judaism, however as the Jews increasingly rejected Jesus as Messiah, and the divide grew between Jews and Messianic Jews, the Christian faith became ‘illegitimate’ in the Roman Empire, and so Christians faced conflict and persecution from both Jews and Romans. This was combined with the escalating tension between Rome and the Jews in the 60’s, and the division among Jews as to how they should respond to the oppressive power of Rome, and meant that being a Christian in Jerusalem and Judea was a very dangerous thing – humanly speaking. Possibly some Jews would have considered the Christians to be the cause of their troubles, by their acceptance and worship of Jesus they had brought wrath upon the nation.

Jesus makes a wonderful promise to the disciples: not a hair of their head will perish (18). This does not mean they will not be killed, as has just said in 16 that some of them would be put to death. But their hope will be one that goes beyond the grave; even though they die they will live; the worst people will be able to do will be to kill their bodies, and in fact the worst will actually be the best, because by this – the laying down of their lives – they will actually gain life (19). Jesus is not saying ‘hang in there and they will not get to you,’ but ‘hang in there, because even if they do get to you you will never die, because your life will be hidden with me in God, and when I who are your life appears, you will also appear with me in glory.’ (Colossians 3:3)

20-26a

In 68AD the Jewish zealots took over the Temple and turned it into a fortress from which to stage their rebellion against Rome. They killed the priests, along with anyone else who opposed their mission, and installed one of their own as High Priest. The temple was filled with the blood of humans, and became a place of violence, drunkenness and immorality. In response the Romans multiplied their armies, and literally surrounded Jerusalem, until in 70AD they besieged the city, slaughtering all they came across – men, women and children – and destroyed the Temple and all who were in it. They literally trampled Jerusalem underfoot.

The Jews saw this as an action for which the wrath of God would come upon the Romans; yet Jesus describes it as ‘wrath against this people’ (23). Just a few days earlier he had stood weeping over Jerusalem:

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:42-44)

This was not about Rome storing up judgement for herself; it was about the judgement that Jesus’ own people had already stored up for themselves by rejecting him as their Messiah. They should have recognised that their responsibility as God’s chosen people was to welcome the Messiah when he came; to recognise Him as the fulfilment, the ‘Yes’ to all of God’s promises to bless them and to make them a blessing to the Nations; yet they forsook this commission, wanting to keep all of God’s blessing for themselves, and cut themselves off from and despised the nations.

Yet God’s promises and plans were not to be thwarted by Israel’s disobedience. Paul speaks in Romans 11 about the necessity of this judgement:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean (Romans 11:11-12)

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

This is the ‘time of the Gentiles’ that Jesus speaks of here (24). The old system of the Temple with all its rituals; the city, nation and people of the Jews, has been brought to an end because now the Gospel is going out not just to Jews by to every tribe and people and tongue and nation. This is the era we are now in; if it were not so, we would not be here this morning, a gathering of gentiles who acknowledge and worship the Jewish Messiah!.

26b-28

What does Jesus mean by the statement, ‘…the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:26-27)? As we have already seen Jesus is using images from Daniel 7. In Daniel’s vision he sees the enemies of God and of His saints being destroyed, and the Son of Man ‘coming’ in order to be installed by the Ancient of Days as the ruler of the Nations, whose kingdom will last forever and will never be destroyed. We have also seen that this event finds its fulfilment not just in some event that is still in our future, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the cross, ‘He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him in it.’ (Colossians 2:15); this is, ’…the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 3:8-10) At the cross all God’s enemies and ours – sin, death and the devil – were defeated, and Jesus’ resurrection is the Father’s declaration to us ‘It is done! I am making all things new! This is my beloved Son, whom I love, listen to Him! Trust in Him! pledge your allegiance to Him! Look and long for His appearing and the day when the heavens and the earth will be made new and will become through and through the dwelling place of righteousness!’

2. How then should we live?

Jesus gives plenty of guidance to his disciples as they anticipated not only this event in 70AD, but as they continued to live in anticipation of the Main Event it foreshadowed: His glorious appearing. How should they – and we – live and respond in this world, knowing that He is the Son of Man who has established the Kingdom in his death and resurrection?

Do not be led astray (8).

It seems almost an annual occurrence that someone somewhere tells us that Jesus will show up on a given date or time; there are still those even today who claim to actually be Jesus in person. Yet one thing we know for sure: when Jesus appears there will be no question it is him. He will not need to advertise in the papers, start his own TV show or buy property in Queensland. Every eye will see Him. Yet we are called to trust in the sovereign plan of the Father, that He is working all things out according to His schedule. There will be a time between the end of the old age and the consummation of the new, and during this time we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and know for sure that the work He has begun he will bring to completion on the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). This assurance in the Father’s sovereignty will save us from being sidetracked by all kinds of fanatical and fanciful date setting and end-time scenario silliness.

Stay awake at all times (34-36).

Avoiding end-time silliness does not mean, however, that we become complacent in the face of all that is happening in the world around us. We are called to live with wisdom and shrewdness as we live in a world of social, moral, political and spiritual turmoil. When disasters come – whatever their nature, and however it impact on us as God’s people – we should not be surprised. This is not only because Jesus has warned us in advance that these things will happen continually until the end, but also because we know that He rules the nations, and nothing takes place in this world that is not ultimately serving His purposes to make the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15)

Take the opportunities that come to proclaim Jesus (13).

Literally, ‘testify’ – the word is ‘martyrion’ from which we get the word ‘martyr.’ We are not holding the fort until Jesus comes and takes over. Rather, we are emissaries, or ambassadors of the King. We proclaim not our own message, but the message that He has given us to declare, and so as we testify it will not be us speaking by Him speaking through us with the full weight of His authority. Do we see opposition to the Gospel – be it something as extreme as the threat of death, or as ‘mild’ as being mocked or ostracised – as a terrible calamity from which we have to be rescued, or as an opportunity to declare the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the good news of His kingdom?

Raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (28).

Faith in Christ is not a cheap insurance policy, nor is it an excuse to retreat into our bunkers and disengage from the world and just wait it out. Yet we do have the sure promise of a new heavens and a new earth; the day when there will be no more sickness, pain, crying or death; and the day when our mortal, weak and frail bodies will be clothed in glorious immortality and our current battle with sin will be a fading memory. Christians are to be characterised as those with heads held high – if not literally, then spiritually; living each day in eager expectation the day of Jesus Christ:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

 

Seek forst the Kingdom

 

Matthew 6:19 – 34 Do you have a stingy god?

Seeing God face-to-face

Jesus has been highlighting the fact that knowing the Father is at its core a relational thing, rather than a works thing. Any relationship that is based on works or performance is not an authentic relationship; or at least not an intimate, personal one.

Three times in the last section Jesus used the phrase, ‘…your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:4). He has demolished the idea that God can be manipulated to ‘pay us back’ for our good works’ and painted the picture of God Who is our Father, who treats us as children to whom he loves to give good gifts, and to whom we may relate in a one-to-one context. Exodus 33:11 speak of God coming to Moses, when he went into the ‘Tent of Meeting’ and ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.’ (Exodus 33:11). At that point this was the exclusive privilege of Moses; yet the New Testament speaks of believers in Jesus as entering into this experience in some way: ‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 4:6), and of the sure hope we have that one day there will be a ‘full unveiling’: ‘ For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This terminology of Jesus, about the Father seeing what is done in secret conveys this idea: to live as one intimately and fully known by God, and to have the knowledge of His knowledge shape and enrich our lives.

This section flows out of this: what is the expected response of someone to this assurance of God as their Father?

19-21 Where is your treasure?

Jesus contrasts storing up earthly treasure against storing up heavenly treasure. He is not saying that earthly possessions are bad in and of themselves; it is the ‘storing up’ of these treasures in the hope that they will fulfill our needs. This is also a direct challenge to a popular idea that the Jews had, that material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, which is upon you because of your good performance in doing ‘righteous’ acts. This idea came from a wrong understanding of the Old Testament Law, in which God promises blessing for obedience, and cursing for disobedience; and hence a poor or suffering person was assumed to have some hidden sin that God was punishing, while a wealthy person was assumed to be in God’s good books. However, these promises were given to the nation corporately; they were never intended to be a ‘prosperity gospel’ for individuals to aim to become rich by observing all the right religious requirements.

What are these ‘treasures in heaven’? It’s important to understand that ‘heaven’ here is not speaking of a place or geographical location, or even a destination we go to when we die. Because the Jews had a prohibition on speaking the name of God (to safeguard themselves from breaking the 3rd commandment ‘Do no use the name of the Lord your God in vain’), they would use a number of  euphemisms to speak indirectly of God, and ‘Heaven’ was one of these. So, in most instances Matthew record Jesus as speaking about ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’, whereas other Gospels have him saying ‘the Kingdom of God’. (Eg. See Matthew 5:3,10,19,20). So the phrase ‘treasures in heaven’ actually means, ‘treasures with God’. This is not a statement about things, but about a person; it’s now about what we have, but whom we know. This means the contrast is not really earthly vs. heavenly, but stuff vs. person.

So if your heart is wherever you treasure is, where is your heart? With that which you treasure the most! Jesus goes on to explain this.

22-23 How’s your eye?!?

This section may seem like an interruption to the flow of the passage. He speaks of earthly treasure in 19-21, and then warns about having money as your master in 24, what is this illustration about the eye have to do with it?

The answer is it’s not an illustration, but simply a phraseology which when translated literally into English needs some explanation. In Matthew 20:-16 Jesus tells a parable about workers who are employes at various times through the day, but at the end of the day they all receive the same wage. Those who work all day complain because those who only worked an hour receive the same as them. The employer’s response is:

‘Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15)

A more literal translation of the last bit is ‘Is your eye bad because I am good?’ A ‘bad eye’ is one that has a stingy outlook; that does not recognise – and is not willing to recognise – the generosity of another, especially God. It views what I have as something to which I have a right, and can demand, rather than as a free, generous gift from God, given to me even though I don’t even deserve it.

This is the idea that Jesus is conveying here. The secret to being ‘full of light’ is in the way we see and understand who God is and how He relates to us.

If we apply this principle to our culture today, it is no surprise that we are a society that is obsessed with rights. The rights of an individual will normally override any notion of moral or theological truth, to the extent that any belief which is seen to possibly threaten my ‘right’ to do as I please is seen as a wrong belief. Is this symptomatic of a culture that has no sense of thankfulness to the Creator?

24 No fence-sitting possible

Unless we think we can sit on the fence, or have a foot in both camps – using God as a means to gain material prosperity or advantage, or thinking that somehow the Christian faith is compatible with a materialist worldview, Jesus makes it very clear. Our loyalty can only be in one place, to one person or thing. And that person to whom we are devoted will be our master – the one we will serve. We may think that money/wealth is simply a means to making life easy, but if it is our focus it will actually master us, because we will submit ourselves to its principles and demands.

25-32 So what would you rather? 

An impersonal master (money/ material wealth) that will require you to submit to its demands with no guarantee that you will get what you want, that will demand all your resources and energy, and in the end give you nothing that you can take with you beyond the grave; or a Father who knows what you need without you asking, who delights to give you exactly what you need (even it it may not be what you want), in whose eyes you are much more valuable than the birds and the flowers, and whose reward it not stuff but Himself – a reward that lasts for eternity?

33-34 A demand and a promise.

The Law demands that we find our full and only satisfaction in God Himself, and that we live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Anything less than this is sub-standard living; and is dishonouring to God because it says that there is something else that is better or greater or more satisfying than Him. This is the third ‘unattainable’ demands Jesus has made in this sermon. He began by telling us we need to be better than the Pharisees (5:20), then he said we need to be as perfect as God Himself (5:48), and now that we should think about nothing by God’s Kingdom and doing what He commands. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ does not mean, ‘make it number one on your list of priorities, before career, financial security, finding the right partner, etc.’, rather it means ‘make it your sole focus; your consuming passion; and see anything else you may receive from the hand of the Father as a bonus.’

Yet for those who recognise that they are unable to live up to the demands of the law, and so put their trust in Jesus who has fulfilled the law in his life and death, this gives a wonderful security and assurance.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

True contentment that comes from knowing the Father ultimately has nothing to do with how much stuff I have, because it is not about accepting what we have or don’t have, but rather being overwhelmed with the riches we have in Him.

There is only one place we have to seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and we are guaranteed that if we seek there we will find it, because it is not a place, but a person. The Kingdom of God is embodied and established in Jesus Christ, who is God’s appointed king; to be a citizen of the Kingdom means being in relationship with him. Likewise the righteousness of God is found in Jesus, not through a diligent adherence to the demands of the law, but by receiving the free gift of God’s righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus’ death on our behalf and his resurrection from the dead.