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The Foundation for A New Beginning

Matthew 5-7

Jim Davis

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." Although, 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

Matthew 5:17-20
"Do not 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' 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.

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 Religious Loopholes

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.

Matthew 5:21-26
"You 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."

"Therefore, 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 your gift."

"Settle 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."

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 5:23-24)

Jesus reveals 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 4:20)

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.

Jesus' teaching 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)

Matt 5:38-42
"You 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.
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.

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 other men."

In the matter of marriage and adultery, there was an exception made by Moses for those who had real problems.

Matthew 19:3-12
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

"Haven't 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."

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

Jesus 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."

The disciples 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."

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.

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.

Matthew 5:27-32
"You 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.
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.

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 Impossibility of Self-Sufficiency

Matthew 19:16-30
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus 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 as yourself.'"

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus 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 me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus 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."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

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."

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.

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 through.

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.

However, with 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."

Conclusion:

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.

Matthew 5:1-12
Now when 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.
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.

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.

Matthew 9:35-38
Jesus 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."
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." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Copyright © 1998 James R. Davis. This data file is the sole property of the copyright holder and may be copied only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part (except for small quotations used with citation of source), edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of the copyright holder. Written permission may be obtained from Jim Davis, 6245 102nd Terrace N., Pinellas Park, FL. 33783
 
 

 

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