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Introduction to sermon on the mount

January 7th, 2019
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As Matthew introduces Jesus ministry: ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people’ (Mt 4:23).

The dramatic miracles and healing showed that the kingly power of God was now beginning to be revealed in the activities and teaching of Jesus.

He is completely turning upside down our views of God.

Today we will focus on what is called the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is now describing and explaining what life would be like for his followers in the kingdom. This describes and confirms to following generations of new Christians what being a disciple of Jesus means.

It provides a detailed instruction of his key statement:  I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20).

The sermon is an unpacking of what the true relationship of Christians to God must entail, as contrasted with the ways in which their opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, are portrayed as behaving.

After a description of Jesus’ introductory healing ministry the scene is set in his ascending the hill and solemnly sitting down to address his disciples and the crowd of interested bystanders.

In the opening section of his address he sketches in the Beatitudes a portrait of his followers and then commissions them, exhorting them to show ‘greater rightness’ than that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

As with Paul in his letter to the Romans, we have the elusive biblical term ‘righteousness’, or dikaiosune (based on the Greek term dike, or justice). The Sermon on the Mount tells us how a forgiving God takes the initiative in relating to us and how we in turn should correspondingly respond from our hearts to this generous heavenly Father.

The main body of the sermon can then be identified as containing three sections to do with this relationship with God:

one contrasting traditional Jewish moral teaching (of the scribes?) with new moral principles taught by Jesus;

a second on the practice of  ‘righteousness,’ (Mt 6), religious and devotional practices as performed by the Pharisees, are contrasted with true worship.

and a third section, can be read as describing the true righteousness which is henceforth to be found and practiced in the kingdom of God, and the complete trust and single-minded devotion which God’s sons and daughters are invited to show to their loving and protecting Father.

The first thing that needs to be done, Jesus concludes here (6:33), is to seek the kingdom of God and its (or his) righteousness, and everything else will come later.

There follows then some closing warnings on the seriousness of the situation and a parable aimed at emphasising the need not just to listen to the words of Jesus but also to obey them.

In conclusion we are told, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28-29).

His teaching (didache)” is a term evidently intended to be echoed at the end of Matthew’s gospel (28:20) in the final charge of the risen Jesus to his apostles to go and ‘teach’ all nations ‘to obey everything that I have commanded you.’

From what we have seen, the Sermon on the Mount is intended to identify the ways in which the followers of Jesus should behave in living a life of acceptance of God’s gracious invitation to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Lets reflect on this as we read Matthew 5-7

I will make a few comments at the end.

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Message for the Day

Birth accounts of Jesus

January 5th, 2019
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Two of the four Gospels don’t feature the story of Jesus’ birth at all. Mark and John jump straight into his baptism and ministry without reference to how or where Jesus was born.

The remaining two – Matthew and Luke – have very different accounts.

It is important to recognize that the four gospels have different purposes for different audiences. However, they all end at the Paschal mystery of the death of Jesus and the resurrection. This obviously the centre of the Christian message and hope.

Matthew begins with a genealogy to show Jesus’ heritage and then tells of his miraculous conception and birth without any reference to a journey to Bethlehem. Matthew also makes no reference to a stable, manger, shepherds or donkeys. He simply says the Magi came to ‘the house’ after their fateful visit to Herod in Jerusalem.

Luke on the other hand has no genealogy and instead focuses heavily on John the Baptist in contrast to Jesus. The author goes to considerable length to explain the background and circumstances around John’s birth before coming to Jesus.

Mary is much more central to the story than in Matthew with her visit to Elizabeth and her Magnificat in 1:46-55. There is a heavy focus on the naming of John before we’re told of Jesus’ birth.

In Luke, Mary and Joseph start in Nazareth and have to travel to Bethlehem where Jesus is born and placed in a ‘manger’. Here there is no mention of Magi but instead Luke has nearby shepherds coming to visit the young family. There is also no mention of having to flee Herod’s regime in Jerusalem. In fact, Luke says Mary and Joseph actually went to Jerusalem to have an eight-day-old Christ circumcised.

So far from the story being straightforward and well-known, the two accounts are strikingly different. The classic nativity story people hear today is actually an amalgamation of two separate versions. People tend to merge these stories to make them fit together.

The problem is not that either account disproves the other. But the danger is by merging the two we may miss some of what the original authors were trying to get at. This is also true with harmonies of the four Gospels.

Matthew it is believed was a Jewish Christian writing primarily for other Jewish Christians. He wanted to show that the legacy of biblical Israel was fulfilled in the community formed around the memory of Jesus of Nazareth. Now that the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed and Roman control over Jews was even tighter, all Jews had to face the question: how is the heritage of Israel as God’s people to be carried on? Matthew’s answer lay in stressing the Jewishness of Jesus.

Matthew’s emphasis on Jesus’ ancestry reflects his desire to show Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s story. He is the true Israel. And so those communities who followed him continued Israel.
We see that in calling out of Egypt of my son.

This setting helps to explain why Matthew told the birth story as he did. He begins with a genealogy that relates Jesus to Abraham and David, while including several women of dubious reputation who nonetheless highlight the new thing God was doing in Jesus.

Next, he explains how the virginal conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (7:14), and how Jesus the Son of God became the legal Son of David through Joseph. He highlights Jesus as the new David with his birthplace in Bethlehem and his links as a direct descendant.

Joseph hears from angels through Old Testament prophecies that are shown to be fulfilled in Jesus. Indeed the whole account is littered with references to the Old Testament, again highlighting Jesus’ Jewish roots; he is the greater Moses.

Finally, the Magi’s role shows the importance of Jesus and his prominence as ‘King of the Jews’.

The Magi story in Matthew 2 is part of a larger sequence that involves danger for the newborn child and his parents. When King Herod hears about the child “King of the Jews” as a potential rival for his power, he seeks to have Jesus killed.

As a result the family flees to Egypt, while Herod orders the execution of all boys under two years old in the area of Bethlehem.

Besides Jesus, Joseph is the main character in Mathew’s story. Guided by dreams like his biblical namesake, he is the divinely designated protector of Mary and her child Jesus.Only after Herod’s death does the family return to the Land of Israel, though to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem. At each point in their itinerary, the family is guided by dreams and texts from the Jewish Scriptures.

In his story Matthew wants us to learn who Jesus is (Son of Abraham, Son of David, Son of God) and how he got from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Thus he establishes the Jewish identity of Jesus, while foreshadowing the mystery of the cross and the inclusion of non-Jews in the church. The tone is serious, somber, and foreboding.

Luke composed two volumes, one about Jesus’ life and death (Luke’s Gospel), and the other about the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts of the Apostles).

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Message for the Day

Reality Rule 5

December 22nd, 2018
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Previously we have shown we have two grips over our lives. The grip of lostness – or evil. The grip of foundness – with our foundation in Christ.

The two grips on our lives which are opposed to each other are in constant conflict with one another. But this is not like a tug-of-war. The first grip – evil – is a fact. But the second grip – love – is truth, or reality. Or the true identity we have.
In Scripture, just like the two grips existing in one person, sometimes the two grips are represented in one sentence. Notice how this is the case on either side of the comma in

Romans 3:23-24,

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

The fact of the human condition.

24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The reality or truth of who we are in Christ.

The “all” applies to both! See also

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death,

The fact again of the human condition

but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The reality of who we are in Christ.

We have spoken of the two grips on our lives as the false grip and the true or real grip, the bad grip and the good grip.

Another way these grips can be described in Scripture is by the words flesh and Spirit. The flesh is our sinful, broken nature. Our true nature is good as created by God—that includes body, mind and heart. So “flesh” should not be confused simply with “body.” Our created bodies are not bad.

Instead, the flesh describes the grip of evil that infects and corrupts the human body, mind and spirit.

The Spirit, on the other hand, signifies our true nature as created and redeemed sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

Romans 7 shows us the power of the false grip, i.e. the flesh or sinful nature

We as Christians live in the Reality of our foundness. This is the grip Christ has on us. It always has the upper hand. This truth is something we can rejoice in even during the hard times. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

It might be said: “Wouldn’t it be better just to stay positive and focus on the good grip? Why even mention the inferior grip if it is not really Reality?”

That kind of approach sounds right at first. But what happens when the bad grip shows itself in painful, terrible ways? When we act out of our lostness – our false self? Or when someone else acts out towards us from their false self. It can be really ugly and hurtful! Especially in the church.

In fact, acting out of our false self or seeing others act out of their false selves can be so devastating. It might convince us that “the pretender” is actually in charge, and the highest power in our lives.

That is why it’s important for us to know the truth, so we can live in that truth – that Reality. We must be prepared for the devil’s attempts to convince us that the false is really the true. As Scripture says, “We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

We have been talking about Jesus’ grip on the people he encounters: the woman of ill repute, the thieves, Simon Peter, the boy possessed, we sense Jesus’ grip on all of our individual lives.

But it is a lot easier to think about Jesus’ grip when he is physically present.

But if Jesus is not literally holding on to the arm of each one of us, where is he? What is his location?

At the very end of the book of Luke, after Jesus has risen from the grave, Jesus went with his followers to a hill outside of Jerusalem. Let’s pick up the account from Luke 24:49-53.

49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

So where is Jesus now? Heaven! Then why are the followers rejoicing and worshipping if Jesus had left them?

It seems like they are celebrating the grip. But Jesus is in heaven and they, the followers, are still on earth.

The key is in one of the verses in the middle of the passage. Jesus says, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.”

What Jesus is sending us is the Holy Spirit. Shortly after his ascension into heaven, Jesus pours out his Holy Spirit from heaven on the day of Pentecost. Here we see the beauty of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all working together. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit reminds us that God is sharing his life of community with us. Jesus the Son has brothered us. The Father has adopted us. The Spirit convinces us that it is true!

The Spirit wraps us up tightly in the assurance that we belong to Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus calls above “being clothed with power from on high.” The Spirit gives us the power to live into our true identities as Jesus defines us, not as the world defines us or even as we define ourselves.

The Spirit power enables us to swim upstream against a culture that tells us to live for ourselves and “get mine.”

The connection between the Spirit and Jesus Christ is so strong that often the Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ. We can say that while Jesus is in heaven, he is also everywhere present by his Spirit. He doesn’t need to be physically present, holding on to everyone’s arm. Because by the Spirit he is closer to us than we are to ourselves!

So we come to our next Reality Rule.

Remember the first four are:

Reality Rule #1: Jesus knows me the best and loves me the most!
Reality Rule # 2: Jesus is my Good Shepherd who rescues me and carries me home!
Reality Rule #3: Jesus chooses me and embraces me at my worst.
Reality Rule #4: Jesus loves me this much [arms outstretched] to give me a bigger picture for life!

And

Reality Rule #5: By the Spirit, Jesus is closer to me than I am to myself!

To better understand the presence of Christ by the Spirit, let’s turn to another passage in

Luke 7:1-10, this time about a Roman centurion.

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