Reminder: Podcast Tuesday Night, May 28th at 7 CST.
There are many great commentaries on that lesson Jesus taught on the Mount of Olives recorded in Matthew 5-7. A part of me thinks “Who am I to comment about the material of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, spoken from that hillside all those years ago?!” He said just what he wanted to say. It was pointed and easily understood. Yet, people are still, 2000 years later, marveling about both its simplicity and its complexity, its spirituality and its practicality.
In a study of sanctification, the discourse draws us in. Even reading the first few verses, what we today call the beatitudes, we realize that Jesus is calling men from the norm. He is calling us to stop seeing things the way that we may have been conditioned to see them. He is calling us to stop yielding to the voices of the present age. He wraps up the text of the discourse by showing us that viewing our lives in relationship to eternity is wise—it’s building on the rock–while limiting our vision to the immediacy of the temporal is foolish.
In chapter five, Jesus contrasts the requirements of the Jews of His day and “perfect,” (complete or whole) living (6:48). Jesus said in verse seventeen that He did not come to destroy the old law, but rather to fulfill it. Then he spent pretty much the rest of the chapter contrasting the traditions that the rulers of the day were touting (some rooted in the law and some procedural rituals of their own making) with what the “perfect” keeping of the law would motivate them to do in their relationships. These contrasts between the Jewish traditions and “perfect” living began with “You have heard that it has been said” and ended with “But I say unto you”. It’s important to notice that not once did Christ minimize the importance of law-keeping. In each case, he appealed to the HEART of keeping the law of God. The heart is the bud, if you will, in which we nip the big blossom or fruit of sin.
For us today, these contrasts between what the teachers of the day were saying and what Jesus taught are potent reminders that, while we m best facilitates our obedience. Jesus was teaching them that the fulfilment of the old law, under which they lived, involved meeting its outward requirements–obeying its laws– but it also involved more. Obedience to God, then and today, must emanate from a heart that adheres to the greatest commands: loving the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, strengths and minds and loving our neighbors as ourselves. When they tried to keep the law without first getting their hearts right, all kinds of manmade laws, rituals, loopholes, and exceptions followed. Jesus later showed that Moses made the divorce law because of the “hardness” of their hearts (Matthew 19: 4-9). Jesus was appealing to these Jews who had indeed “heard” all these things being said, to get their hearts right…to stop hating, so that murder wold never even be an issue–to stop lusting, so that adultery would not ensue–to stop deceiving, so that deciding the proportions of an oath would be superfluous–to stop seeking revenge so that fighting would cease. Jesus wanted their hearts. He wants the hearts of sanctified people today.
Jesus gave his own commentary on this teaching later in Matthew 15: 18-19:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies…
Matthew five has our Lord saying some things that were pretty radical for these Jews, stuck in the “we have heard it said” mode. He was stretching their minds (renewing them) to prepare them to go beyond ritualistic service to the self-sacrificial heart surrender that the old law and especially the new law required. I think their mouths were agape as they listened to this one who taught them as One having authority (7:29). (Wonder why this, the Son of God, sounded as if he had authority over their lives?) Sanctified women today are women who are not interested in what we “have heard has been said.” We are interested in the “But I say unto you.” We want to get our hearts–all of our hearts–committed to loving the Lord. When we do this, commandment keeping, though necessary, will naturally follow our sanctified hearts.
In chapter six, Jesus taught the people to be different from those around them. He talked about the way the hypocrites prayed and fasted and gave alms for the praise of men. Again Jesus appealed to the hearts of men and commanded that acts of devotion find their motivation in pure and contrite hearts before God. He taught that we must be different from the world around us in the way we look at material things. He spent the last fifteen verses of chapter six contrasting material things with spiritual…teaching practical lessons from treasures, eyes, masters and slaves, birds, and flowers. All of these analogies and teachings were illustrative of what is concisely stated in verse 33:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things shall be added unto you.”
Sanctified women of God view both worship and money very differently from those in the society around us.
Chapter seven is not without contrasts either. Jumping out at us from the text is the narrow way and the broad way, the strait gate and the wide gate, the few and the many (7:13,14). This contrast needs no explanation, but it might help us to look at application. Are the majority of Americans you know today asking “What is required of me?…What, minimally, must I do to be saved?” or “How much can I do in this short lifetime to please and glorify my Lord?” If they are asking, at all, most are asking the former. Are most people today asking “How can I show my God best that I love Him in my worship?” or are most asking, “Where can I worship and get a lot out of it?” Where is the thinking of America’s majority today when we consider money and riches? One evening of American television evidences the out-of-control emphasis placed on mammon (It is certainly a god.) in our country. Where is our culture about lust? Are we, in any sense, a culture that protects our hearts from lustful thoughts? All it takes is a walk around your local mall to know that our society revels in lust. Certainly watching the Super Bowl half-time show (or turning it off, as your stomach turned) this year was a testimony to how our national lusts have been unbridled. Sanctification calls us to be in the minority in all of these heart tests.
Finally the lesson closes with an invitation. The illustration that our children can sing at age two about the wise man and the foolish man is first given. I love this. Jesus has just shown us some very powerful contrasts between old traditions, springing often from hardened hearts and “complete” living, between worldly and godly living, between man-centered and God-centered devotion, between material and spiritual treasures, between the way of the masses and the way of the Lord. Now he makes it clear that we get to choose–the rock or the sand. He tells us that our choice will end either in a firm standing or in a great fall. Verily, if we have any faith at all, we can easily know which choice is wise. We can choose to build our houses so that when the winds and the rains come, they’ll stand. Jesus clearly laid out the options and consequences.
But sanctification is just not that easy, is it? We know, intellectually, what life to pick, but we see the advertisements for the fleeting goods (“I really want that Coach bag, even though I know I will not have enough money left to give to the Lord’s work.”). Our friends are choosing the temporal (“But they are all going to watch that new Batman movie…the one that has the repeated curse words…”). The riches are just so alluring (I will never go on a mission trio to Jamaica again…maybe a cruise to Montego Bay, but that inland place was nasty.”). All of the “pulls” of the world are just so “NOW” that it’s hard to choose the eternal. The rock gives us forever in bliss. The sand gives us today in relative comfort. The sand demands nothing today. The rock requires non-conformity and sacrifice today. So like children who spend their lunch money on the way to school at the candy store, we sometimes choose the “now” pleasure, over the eternal sustenance. But there’s a whole lot more at stake than lunch.
Jesus ended the discourse by urging the listeners to be “perfect” (complete, whole) even as God is perfect. Is it crowded where you are walking? If you are walking through life shoulder to shoulder with the masses, hungry for riches, worshiping, if at all, with little introspection, thinking about your physical house rather than the state of your soul, doing what you view as the required rather than searching out opportunities to glorify, then you’ve joined the crowd. The crowd is on the move. The crowd is having fun. The crowd lives in houses with curb appeal. These houses are comfortable, attractive, and roomy. These houses are on the sand, though, and the storm is coming. One day, as the storm comes, and the houses are falling, the crowd will find itself at the wide gate. When you pass through that gate, you will stand alone before the judgment bar of Christ. Will you be “whole” when you are pulled from the crowd for judgment?
Jesus invites you to hear his sayings and do them. It’s a big step for people who have been enamored by the pleasures of the crowd, though. It’s called sanctification.It’s a difficult surrendering of self (heart and all) and it makes us whole.