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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

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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Message for the Day ,

Reality Rule 4(Part2)

December 20th, 2018
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I want to turn to a modern day parable of sorts, a movie called Blood Diamond.

The story is set in Sierra Leone, a country in Africa. The central characters are a father, Solomon Vandy, and his son Dia Vandy. This first scene shows the close relationship between father and son. This is the way God CREATED it to be – it is GOOD.

Clip 1 (stop at 1 minute!): Click here (see 0:00-1:00)

Dia is kidnapped by Captain Poison and made into a child soldier in rebellion against the government. Captain Poison is like the deceiver, the evil one. He lies to make Dia think his parents are weak and that he is the one who really cares for Dia and will watch over him. He tries to confuse and brainwash Dia into assuming another identity.

Clip 2: (see second half – not first part!) Click here (see from 1:50-2:54).

As a child soldier, Dia lives the lie of his false identity that Captain Poison has given him. He becomes a hardened killer and turns against the ways of his parents, who he thinks he will never see again.

Then in a main scene he comes upon his father. You can see two grips, one of evil and one of good, in conflict with one another. While Dia points his gun, his father pleads with him.

Quote from next clip:

Dia, What are you doing? Dia! “Look at me, look at me.” What are you doing? You are Dia Vandy, of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantains, and red palm oil stew with your sister N’Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again.

Clip 3. Click here

What do you think the father means when he says “you will come home with me and be my son again”? Do you think in this father’s heart there was ever a time when Dia was NOT his son? The father is talking about a fresh start to an old truth.

This scene cannot help but remind us of the Prodigal Son story of Luke 15. When the rebellious son returns home, the father exclaims “My son was lost, but now he is found.” Remember what we said about lostness and foundness. We don’t think that it is lostness is before and foundness follows. Both lostness and foundness are true of our lives at any time. By the Holy Spirit we see clearly how being found connects back to our foundness, our found-ation, in Christ.

In the movie, Dia is brainwashed to think that Captain Poison is his father This is a false belonging, a false adoption. It is a a lie that even Dia believes so strongly that he begins acting like a “son of Poison.”

Here is the bottom line. Each of us has two identities.

We have a false identity that the “father of lies” wants us to believe in. That’s when we define ourselves by what we think about ourselves or by what other people say and think about us. In our false identity we are lost.

The enemy communicates “You’re mine” in a threatening, negative way, as one who is intent on destroying us. It’s like Satan is saying, God doesn’t love you, just look at the evidence around you. Look at how messed up you are. Look how messed up the world is. You are mine, and you might as well let me show you how to “get mine” while you can.

The voice of the Accuser can be very strong and convincing. But we have a true identity as good sons and good daughters of our true father. This is the foundation of who we are, because of whose we are. We are in the grip of Jesus Christ, our human brother and Son of God. Because of that we are God’s beloved children. The Holy Spirit continually moves in and through our lives. It is in him that we have ears to hear and eyes to see clearly that we are his, that we have a home – that we are found!

We have two identities. If we were not sure we have a fresh, true identity in Christ, we would never loosen our obedience to the false, stale one. We would stay loyal to the false one and dress it up as best we can. But like Dia Vandy, it strikes us that we have a true, better and constantly renewed identity as children of our true Father. Then in repentance we find power to deny our false identity (our “fake ID!”).

Again, it’s by seeing who you ARE that you can confess who you are NOT. Jesus is constantly calling us to be who we are in him.

I would like to share another Simon Peter moment that is recorded in

Matthew 14:22-31

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

Simon and the other disciples saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water!
But then Jesus said something familiar,

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
Don’t get spooky. Don’t allow your false ideas control you. It is I. I am not the one who is here to frighten you.
And who is the bold disciple in the boat that says he wants to walk out to meet Jesus on the water? Simon Peter, of course!

28 ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

29 ‘Come,’ he said.

Jesus doesn’t say “Don’t be stupid.” Or “ Oh Peter, you can’t do this.” He invites him to come.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’

We would call that a very short prayer because it doesn’t take long to go from your toes to your nose into the water! “Lord save me!” (or even faster, more like “Lordsaveme!”).

The fear of the waves caused by the wind grips Peter in terror.

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

Oh I let him sink in his failure for a while – just to teach him a lesson. No. Immediately!

Again this particular “gripping” incident reminds Simon that he can trust the Saviour who always has a grip on him. This is a lesson Peter, and all of us, are continually learning and re-learning!

It doesn’t say in the text, but I have to imagine, that when Jesus reached out and grabbed Simon, it was by the forearm, like in our grip illustration.

Again, don’t be confused by this story to think that sometimes Jesus’ grip is on us and sometimes it is not. Like our grip analogy, Jesus’ grasping of Simon’s arm in the story is just a physical reminder of a spiritual truth. It serves to remind us that Jesus always has his grip on us.

‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’

But we do don’t we? We don’t know this Jesus well enough. As Peter said years later in 1 Peter 1:8

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

Reality Rule #4: Jesus loves me this much [arms outstretched] to give me a bigger picture for life!

This to reassure us that we are not just some isolated individual barely keeping afloat in the storms of life – all alone, depending on our resources. Remember our first three reality rules

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.

And the reason for this confidence

Matthew14:32-33

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

This is not just another ordinary man. Their response of worshipping him is like homage to a king. In NT the word for worship can mean to do reverence or homage by prostration, to pay divine homage, to bow one’s self in adoration.

Obviously they were responding to his authority over the life threatening wind. But for us we can see that Peter was always safe in his grip. It was stronger than the grip of the waves and wind.

Lets quickly introduce an another example.

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Message for the Day