for A New Beginning
In 1967, I was in Los
Angeles, California visiting an aunt, in route to beginning an eighteen-month
tour of duty in Okinawa. There was one particular sight I saw, which
remains a vivid memory. A demolition team was tearing down a multi-story
building, which looked like a perfectly good building to me. I grew up
in a small town. I wasn't familiar with the idea of tearing down what seemed
to be perfectly good buildings to replace it with a newer one. It seemed
such a waste. Over thirty years later this sight is very familiar to all
of us. Recently, over on the corner of 66th Street and Park Avenue, a perfectly
good KFC was torn down. A new one was put in its place. Over on Seminole
Blvd. a perfectly good McDonalds is being torn down to build a new one
in its place.
Even as we sit here
in this very building, we realize that it will only be a few weeks before
a demolition crew will demolish it. In many ways it seems like a waste,
but it is supposed to be progress. Hopefully, we are moving to a more accommodating
place. Sometimes you have to completely destroy the old to make room for
the new. Renovation is inadequate and surprisingly, it is usually more
costly than demolition and starting anew. To make room for the new, the
old must be demolished.
This is especially
true in our spiritual lives. Jeremiah said, "Just as I watched
over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring
disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant," declares the
LORD." (Jeremiah 31:28) God allows his people to be uprooted, overthrown,
and destroyed. His purpose is that he might rebuild and replant his people
on more solid ground. As we see our need of rebuilding from the depth of
our ruin, it gives God a chance to move in and rebuild our lives.
Jesus had said,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus teaching on the mountainside reveals the most profound principles
of love known, they also cut deeper into our hearts and into the very foundation
of our being, than any other. It is little wonder that we come to the end
of his sermon feeling somewhat frustrated. Jesus' masterful approach was
designed to show us our spiritual poverty. His teaching is designed to
bless us, by showing us that our poor spiritual conditional is the most
basic essential requirement for entering his kingdom.
In this short sermon
he allows us to come up empty that we might realize our need to be filled
with God's powerful presence. It was in this sermon that Jesus kicked all
the props out from under the religious people of his day. Both conservative
and liberal Judaism crumble to the ground as Jesus' principles are expounded.
As we come to these chapters, we also begin to realize our need for a demolition
team to tear down our old lives in order that we might begin anew.
We all know the
pain of being tried and found wanting. When God moves in to tear
down the old self to recreate me in the image of the Firstborn, it is painful.
It gives an unpleasant feeling. It is the kind of unpleasant feeling I
get every time I read through the Sermon on the Mount. My inability and
failure to live up to these eternal principles of truth have a tendency
to show me how empty I really am. I always come to the end of the sermon
feeling somewhat frustrated. But it is designed to do just that, not not
for the purpose of condemnation (John 3:17), but that I might come to realize
my need to build a better life on better principles.
There is no doubt about
it; initially emptying self to be filled with God's presence is a tearful
process. It is painful, for it requires tearing down the old to make way
for the new. It is a process of not only taking down the old spiritual
building, but also removing the very foundation of our prior spiritual
existence. Renovations want work. Besides, it is too costly. The old way
of living is just too destructive.
A New Life Begins
By Destroying Our Self-sufficiency
Jesus' teaching on the
mountainside takes us from one extreme position to another. As it does,
it creates a great gulf within our hearts between the extremes that only
reveals the depth of our true spiritual need. It is the revelation of the
depth of this great gulf between the extremes that enlightens us to our
real possibility of entering Christ kingdom.
think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come
to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven
and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, the least stroke of a pen,
will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others
to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever
practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom
of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter
the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus leaves no
one out. It makes little difference whether you are coming from
the right or the left, whether you have a fixation with the rules or believe
rules are unimportant. It makes no difference whether you are on a spiritual
mountain top experience or in the deepest throws of sin. As Jesus moves
us from one extreme point of the law to another, he reveals the depth of
everyone's spiritual need.
Who can read through
the Ten Commandments and come away saying they have never broken one of
the commandments? This truth alone is frustrating enough, but I want you
to bring the Ten Commandments right alongside the Sermon on the Mount in
your minds eye. Read through the Ten Commandments and continue reading
through the Sermon on the Mount.
Amazingly, in the Ten
Commandments the rules for living are laid out. In the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus reveals the spirit with which those commandments must be kept. Even
those commandments I have kept, I have often kept with the wrong spirit.
This is where the difficulty arises. The greatest problems in keeping the
commandments, is the spirit with which they must be kept. If God can develop
within us the right spirit, then the difficulty of keeping them would be
removed. For then, obedience would become a joyous experience.
Jesus came seeking to
demolish the old way of doing things, so that we might begin life anew.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it absolutely clear that one can
only come to God empty of self. When Jesus began preaching about the coming
of his kingdom (Matthew 4:17), he made perfectly clear that poverty of
spirit was the first essential prerequisite for entrance. (Matthew 5:3)
That attitude must be accompanied with an attitude of humility, hungering
to be filled with God's right way of doing things.
Even in this age of
grace, Jesus reminds us that he did not come to destroy the law, but to
emphasize that those who are great in God's kingdom will enter it with
an intent to dot every "i" and cross every "t" of the commandments of the
Law. He gives us the highest ideals for which to strive, and yet, something
which we can never fully attain. In so doing, he teaches us our deepest
needs and reveals to us our greatest possibilities as God's grace enables
us in our struggle.
Jesus Closes the
I am not much of a golfer.
I have played a number of times, but it has been a few years since my last
game. When I was interested in playing, I remember listening to my brother-in-law
talk about his game. He seemed to always have a low score. I went golfing
with him one day. As usual, I hit a ball into the rough. It was a deep
dried up creek bed. I was endeavoring to play the ball from that position.
My brother-in-law said, "Oh no, don't play the ball from there, pick it
up and place it in the fairway." I said, "That will cost me a stroke."
He says, "Oh no, we don't count those." As I played the game, I began to
realize why his score was low. We were playing on the course he always
played. As we approached the 9th hole, he informed me that this was the
last hole. It was only a 9-hole golf course. Before, when I contemplated
his scores, I always thought that this course was and 18-hole course. No
wonder his score was low. All of this changed my view of his "low" score.
If we don't count the
strokes against us, how will we ever really know how well we really measure
up? Too often, religion endeavors to do the same thing. It has a tendency
to make us feel pretty good about ourselves. Religion weaves together doctrines,
principles, precepts and rules in such a way to make us feel self-justified
in our behavior. It easily ends up as a means to self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment.
We are beginning
to comprehend how our society is redefining the rules to justify any behavior.
Without going into a lot of detail, this is indicative of what
is going on in our society at the present. I would like for us to think
about how we seek to redefine our behavior, and the rules by which we play
in such a way that leaves us feeling justified in our wrong doing.
We endeavor to create legal loopholes that will leave us feeling justified
in whatever we say or do.
If we strive to come
to God according to our own rules, how will we ever know how we measure
up? Especially, if we change the rules, to make adherence to the rules
easier. So when Jesus came, he pulled out all the stops in his initial
sermon on the mountainside. Jesus wanted us to know how we measure
up, because it is only then that we can begin to measure up.
When you come to the
Sermon on the Mount looking for loopholes to justify any ungodly behavior,
you come away realizing there aren't any. In this masterful sermon Jesus
closed every loophole that all the religious lawyers, scribes, Pharisees
and Sadducees had created over the centuries by their rules and regulations.
In this short sermon Jesus drove home, once and for all, the strict legal
requirements of the law's demands. This created major problems for the
self-righteous. Yet, it seemed only fair for those who believed in the
strictest adherence to the law to receive its strictest interpretation.
After all, they believed their salvation was a result of keeping the law.
Jesus' teaching on the
mountainside is as if Jesus is going through the Ten Commandments reducing
them to their smallest common denominator in an effort to allow us to see
ourselves as we really are.
Jesus reduces murder to
being angry with your brother without a cause and ended with an admonishment
to settle differences quickly. (Matthew 5:21-26) It left them leaving their
gift at the altar, until reconciliation was made with man and God. (Matthew
have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and
anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone
who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone
who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone
who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."
if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your
brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the
altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer
matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while
you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge,
and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into
prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid
the last penny."
the depravity of each extreme and anything in between the extremes. As
you study the Ten Commandments, you see that the first four have to do
with one's relationship with God and the last six have to do one's relationship
with humanity. Jesus reveals the relationship of anger and murder. Both
violate the two very basic principles of the law, that is one's relationship
with God and one's relationship with man. If you are not able to love man
whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen? (1 John
Although, there may
seem to us, to be a vast difference between anger and murder, the penalty
for each in God's eyes is the same. Jesus places those who are guilty at
either extreme, and anyone in between the extremes, on the same playing
field as he begins teaching the terms of entrance into his kingdom.
in this mountainside sermon constantly takes us from one extreme to another.
He turns us from an eye for eye and tooth for tooth type of justice, to
turning the other cheek and going the second mile, while compelling us
to do it, as we love our enemies as God loves us. (Matthew 5:38-48)
The original purpose of
the civil law of "eye for eye . . . tooth for tooth" regulation was to
insure that punishment for the crime would be commensurate with the crime
committed . . . not too harsh . . . not too light. Of course, through the
years the mercy side of the command had been omitted in favor of personal
revenge. The civil regulation was used as a means for personal revenge.
He transforms the eye for an eye, tooth for tooth justice mentality to
a willingness, to not only give the person who is suing you for your pants,
what is demanded, but you must give them your underwear also. And moreover,
it compels us to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:12), as we
endeavor to treat them like we want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) Such
commands often reveal our complete inability to fully embrace what is taught.
have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I
tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right
cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and
take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you
to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and
do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Yet, the eye opening
revelation of such a poor spiritual experience places us in a blessed condition
as it carries us back to the beginning of his sermon. The poverty of spirit,
which it reveals, prepares us to accept entrance into his kingdom. It stands
us in the presence of God mournfully hungering for his enabling power,
as we pray for God to lead us out of temptation and deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:13) So much for self-sufficiency. So much for loophole religion.
So much for the prayers that say, "God I thank thee that I am not like
In the matter of marriage
and adultery, there was an exception made by Moses for those who had real
God had recognized and
evidently honored the exception Moses made due to man's weakness. However,
the exception over time, eventually became the rule. So much so, that when
Jesus showed them the original intent of the law on marriage, the disciples
said, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better
not to marry." It is clear that a longsuffering merciful God had allowed
the exception, but it is even clearer that an ungodly spirit had made the
exception the rule. So much so, that the disciples were in essence saying
if you couldn't put away your wife, maybe you shouldn't get married in
the first place. This sounds so twentieth century that it is scary. In
the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drove the intent of the law of adultery
all the way home to Eden.
Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man
to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male
and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and
mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So
they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together,
let man not separate."
they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of
divorce and send her away?"
replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts
were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that
anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries
another woman commits adultery."
said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is
better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word,
but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because
they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have
renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept
this should accept it."
Try to imagine where
this left those who had made the exception the rule. It kicked the props
of self-justification out from under them. It left them standing on ungodly
ground, as Jesus drove the intent of the commandment "Do not commit adultery"
home. Jesus brings the message home for each of us.
Jesus removed all
the man made rules and regulations as he carries us back to the original
intent and spirit of the law. Jesus says whoever puts away his
wife and marries another commits adultery. Then he turns around and reduces
adultery to lust. Jesus says if you as much as look at another woman to
lust upon her you commit adultery. The intent of the law covered all extremes
and made lusting equal with adultery. Again, each violated the basic precepts
of the law; both were a disregard for God and humanity. Jesus' teaching
dramatically undercuts all the man made principles heretofore.
have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that
anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with
her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and
throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than
for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes
you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose
one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. "It has
been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of
divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for
marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone
who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Amazingly, in principle,
Jesus places the person entertaining lustful thoughts on the same playing
field with the Samaritan woman in John 4. She had five husbands and was
now shacked up the sixth man in her life. This teaching is hard for religious
folks to understand and accept. But Jesus' teaching is indicative of the
truth that each must come to God from where they are.
It is that original
intent of the law that leaves anyone with a natural sex drive feeling like
he/she needs to cut off an arm or leg or pluck out an eye or it makes you
wish that you were born a eunuch, at least for the kingdom of heaven's
sake. However, such drastic measures would fail to make us measure up.
They would only make us feel proud and self-sufficient.
The young man asked,
"What good thing must I do . . .? " I have always thought of Jesus
as a good person, but he says, God is the only one that is good. Where
does that place each of us? Jesus said, "Keep the commandments . . ." We
already know, from what has already been said that this is impossible.
The young man says, "I have kept all of them." Oh yeah, "Go . . . sell
your possessions and give to the poor . . . " The rich man went away sad.
man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher,
what good thing must I
do to get eternal life?"
do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There
is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey
ones?" the man inquired.
replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not
give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor
I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and
give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow
young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man
to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for
a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of God."
disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who
then can be saved?"
looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God
all things are possible."
answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will
there be for us?"
said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things,
when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed
me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother
or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much
and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and
many who are last will be first."
He had broken the very
spirit of the commands through covetousness. Again, this was a violation
of the basic precepts of the law, one's relationship with God and humanity.
Don't forget that if you come to God seeking to be justified by the rules
and you stumble in one rule, you break them all. This is true because you
have violated the very spirit by which all must be kept. James says, "For
whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty
of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also
said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder,
you have become a lawbreaker." (James 2:10-11)
The young man
refused the blessedness his condition offered. Jesus removed the
self-made foundation from under this young man's life. His means of self-justification,
no matter how noble it appeared, has crumbled to the ground. Jesus offered
him the possibility of rebuilding his life. Jesus placed him at the door
of the kingdom mourning over his condition. To continue his present course
in life will only lead to destruction. It was his choice. At least, he
knows how he measures up. But godly sorrow gives way to worldly sorrow
and he goes away sad.
Jesus says that it will
be harder for this self-sufficient man to get to heaven than it would be
for you to get a camel through the eye of a needle. That is literally impossible.
Yes, I believe that it is a literal needle; yes, the kind you put thread
The disciples ask,
"Who then can be saved?"
This simple encounter reveals to us the
impossibility of coming to God on our own merit. Such strict
teaching robs all of us of any human means of salvation.
God all things are possible. God does the impossible through the
meritorious death of his Son. He has paid the full price for our imperfections.
His death doesn't remove the necessity for each of us to strive to attain
the noblest purpose of the law. His death only atones for our inability
and failure to attain the law's demands. However, if at any point in our
lives we decide to turn back and seek justification through obedience to
the law, we stand cursed by God. Paul wrote, "You who are trying to be
justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away
from grace." (Galatians 5:3-4) The law is good, its noble purposes must
be sought, but the moment we begin thinking that we are justified because
we are keeping the law, we are lost.
Jesus assures us of
our salvation in spite of our inability to attain the high ideas of the
law. Jesus told the rich young man, "Go sell all you have and give to the
poor and come and follow me." It wasn't the selling and the giving that
would put him in the kingdom. It was his willingness to begin to follow
Jesus that would make the difference.
Peter feeling somewhat
overwhelmed from the impossibilities answered him, "We have left
everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Peter
was thinking, "If this is the case, then what's the use of trying."
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all
things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who
have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve
tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or
sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive
a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are
first will be last, and many who are last will be first."
Jesus' teaching sweeps
away every hopeful hint of self-sufficiency that I try to muster. It always
leaves me falling far short of the perfect maturity of the Father. (Matthew
4:43-48) Yet, this sermon gives me the greatest confidence. It promises
me that no matter how small the gate and narrow the road (Matthew 5:13-14),
it is in seeking these eternal truths that I shall find rest in his kingdom.
(Matthew 7:7-8) It is upon this solid rock promise that wise men and women
must allow God's grace to supply the very foundation for their spiritual
existence. (Matthew 7:24-27)
I would like to read
the terms of entrance into Christ kingdom once more. For many years I have
referred to the beatitudes as the terms of entrance into Christ kingdom.
They are the prerequisites for entrance. Without these attitudes you will
never discover the kingdom. If you have these attitudes, you will discover
the entrance into God's eternal presence, if you will only seek and knock.
If you have all these attitudes, you can't help but seek and knock.
It is little wonder that
we find Jesus eating with publicans and sinners. It is little wonder that
they enjoyed his company. Jesus brought them hope by letting them know
that they were prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven. Their poor spiritual
condition was the first qualification for entrance.
he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples
came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: "Blessed are the
poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed
are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed
are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be
filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed
are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed
are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute
you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice
and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way
they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These basic attitudes
are the prerequisite for hearing and learning, believing and repenting,
confession and baptism.
It makes no difference
whether you have a fixation on the rules, or if you believe the rules are
unimportant, both approaches are a means to come to God on your own terms.
It is impossible. Both groups end up leaving the lost harassed and helpless.
If you are tired of carrying
the load, if you are tired of being harassed, Jesus says, "Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke
upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you
will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed
and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,
"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the
harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
© 1998 James R. Davis. This data file is the sole property of the
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