Tagged: sermon on the mount

Your Eyes Reveal It All!

This is the 4th post on the 2018 Blog Tour. I first ran into Jonathan many moons ago when we were both involved in campus ministry. Now we both preach for churches in neighboring states. I hope you find his thoughts encouraging, and take a few moments to visit his blog.

2018 Blog Tour cAs soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6.  I love this passage.  First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me.  Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find.  So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.

6:22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

So, let’s have some fun!  It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?

Here is the first one…

And the second…

And one more…

Now, to the passage.  The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world.  So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well.  However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well.  Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.

In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.

In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer!  Congrats!  You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus.  It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option)

When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter.  Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God.  Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God.  Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So, what are you seeking?

  • If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
  • Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
  • When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
  • How healthy are our eyes of faith?

Your eyes may just reveal it all!

Jonathan Woodall - picJonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com.  He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric.  Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.


Seeking the Good of Others

You can listen to the sermon this blog post derives from, HERE.

My attention was captured by a phrase in the last verse of the book of Esther. How does the book end? With Esther living happily ever after as the hero in the story?

No. It concludes with the summary that “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.

mordecai haman 01

“The Triumph of Mordecai” by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)

Mordecai may have worked for the good of his people, the Jews, but he wasn’t the Jewish Ambassador to Persia. Mordecai was the second in rank over the entire Persian population. He may have advocated for the Jews, but he would have only kept his position by being a responsible ruler for all people.

In accepting his promotion to second in rank to King Xerxes, Mordecai was choosing to work for an ungodly king. Persia may have treated the Jews and Jerusalem better than the Babylonians (who destroyed the city), but it didn’t make them godly. Paganism would still infiltrate all areas of palace life.

Mordecai was choosing to work with an empire that expanded rapidly and destroyed nations in their path in a manner similar to the treatment Judah received.

Mordecai chose to work for and with the enemy.

Yes, his niece, Esther, was married to Xerxes, but she didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s pretty much the point of the whole book!

Mordecai provides an example of living out the counsel the prophet Jeremiah had given years earlier,

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:5-7

That last verse is a tough one. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city you land in. Pray for the city, the pagans, the people who burnt your city, the soldiers who carried you in chains to Babylon. Pray for your enemies. Your prosperity is tied to theirs. Jeremiah’s thought is a precursor to the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

Most of my readers haven’t been exiled to your current city, but this verse should challenge us. It sounds nice and fuzzy to seek the peace and prosperity of the place I live. Perhaps I’ll get to experience some of that prosperity. Then I realize that I’m to pray for the peace and prosperity of the WHOLE city.

I naturally want to limit that prayer. I want to pray that the government makes wise decisions for the good of the citizens. I want to pray that my church will expand. I want to pray that the good people will be recognized and rewarded. I want to pray that crime will decrease. I want to pray for people I like: people like me.

But when Jeremiah says to pray for the city, he’s referring to the Jew’s enemies. He wants the Jews to pray for the people who’ve captured and brought them to this place. He wants the Jews to pray that the pagans may experience peace and prosperity. He wants the Jews to pray that the cruel king may live in peace and prosper.

SW city 02

What does that look like for us?  Maybe, we also need to pray…

  • that followers of other religions in our city will experience peace and safety.
  • that the homeless and destitute in our city will find security and prosperity.
  • that supporters on the other side of the political divide will live in peace and that they will prosper.
  • that those intent of crime and violence will find peace and a constructive object for their energies.
  • that those in leadership will prioritise the peace and prosperity of their citizens while pursuing it in their personal lives also.
  • that those in captivity may return to their families and experience peace and well-being.

As Christians, we believe that ultimate peace and fulfillment in life comes from Jesus. We should certainly pray for the expansion of his kingdom in our city. We also need to recognise that Christians have a responsibility to contribute to our communities in a way that “sinners” will benefit from our presence. God doesn’t give us the discretion of choosing who receives our kindness. This illustrates why Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is still so radical and fundamental to our faith. God’s children are to seek the good of the whole city.

The Seeker’s Heart

I’m glad to share the first guest post on our 2018 Blog Tour. Matthew challenges us to examine our hearts, our motives and our priorities. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a checklist, it does encourage us to examine our hearts. HERE is one guide to an introspective self-examination based upon Jesus’s words in Matthew 5-7. ~ Peter

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

ID 59657877 © Alexandr Sidorov | Dreamstime.com

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

“You are what you love.”

What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.

Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – http://www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

Simplicity Inside-Out

blog tour 02

Simplicity is a popular topic in some circles nowadays. We live in a culture driven by consumerism and materialism. We are swimming in a sea of accumulation, and it has not led us to be happier or more satisfied with life. We are beginning to see a pendulum shift with the rise of minimalism. Since we have discovered obtaining things is not the key to a meaningful life, some people are ready to try simplicity.

Simplicity sounds like a viable alternative to the cluttered and busy life many of us know too well. The turn towards minimalism is a welcome trend in our culture since it is more in line with the teachings of Jesus. However, the biblical teaching on simplicity is not just about what one owns or where one lives. Simplicity must begin from within. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our desires begin in the heart. If a person is going to simplify their life, then they must desire less. The way to do this is to focus on the heart.

One of the most well-known passages concerning simplicity is Matthew 6:25-34. This section is marked by the word “anxious” found in verses 25 and 34. In verse 25 Jesus commands, “do not be anxious about your life” and in verse 34 he commands, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” This entire passage is about trusting in God to provide. God feeds the birds. He clothes the lilies. If he does these things, then he will certainly make sure his followers are clothed and fed as well. The argument continues to build until in verses 32-33 Jesus contrasts the way the world lives with how Christians are supposed to live. People who live by a worldly standard seek after worldly things. They seek after money, possessions, and power. Followers of Jesus are expected to desire the kingdom of God rather than material possessions and wealth. Christians are called to live a simple life with God at the center.

In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about food and clothing. He speaks to his followers about simplifying their outward life, but we must remember this all began with a statement about what the heart desires (Matt. 6:21). You cannot change what you are doing on the outside without first changing what is going on inside of you. This is made evident in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul uses the language of Jesus. He gives a similar command to the ones Jesus gave in Matthew 6:25, 34. The difference here is that Paul is speaking of inward things rather than outward things. He is instructing Christians regarding an inward peace that God provides those who are following the path of Jesus. When a follower of God commits to not being anxious or being overwhelmed with worry and instead turns to God in prayer and thankfulness, then they are filled with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

The right desires, inner peace, not being anxious, and prayer are all inward things that lead us to a life of simplicity. Our outward life is directly tied to our inward life. A life of simplicity is not just about owning less stuff. It is about desiring the right things and trusting in a God who will not disappoint.

sound-waves 01a06 - Scott Elliot picScott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He also blogs regularly at https://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-living/

sound-waves 01a

Church Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

How to Avoid Spiritual Obesity

Today’s post is the latest in a series of guest posts centered around my churchs annual theme ofHealthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is Preston Cottrell. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…

I met Preston through a mutual friend a couple of years ago. He later asked me to make a video (which I really hope has been destroyed!!) for a youth rally his church held. I really appreciate the perspective Preston brings to Scripture as he merges his interests in art and theology. Too often our expression of faith and worship takes a logical, rational form that marginalises our emotional and imaginative characteristics. This article isn’t about art, but it does provide an excellent challenge for us to keep our hearts healthy.

“Anyone who hears and obeys these teachings of mine is like a wise person who built a house on solid rock.”

(Matthew 7:24)

At the end of what we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus instructs people to hear his words and put them into practice just as a wise person will build a house on a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24ff). He could have ended his talk many different ways, but I think Jesus was fully aware that one human tendency is to not practice the things we hear despite a compelling message. Probably many people still went away from his challenges amazed at his teaching, but also content to live a blah life. I know the same condition exists in pockets of our own churches and in my own life. It is an issue of the heart.

Physical & Spiritual Obesity

I started to realize this temptation of lethargic spirituality in an unlikely way. A few months ago ago I started doing the things that I know I should have been doing all my life: maintaining a properly portioned diet and an adequate exercise program. But because I know myself too well, I came to the realization that I could not simply stumble into a healthy lifestyle. There was no way I could resist a slice of chocolate cake, glorious mounds of pasta, or just one more cookie. There was no way I could go everyday exercising with no excuse (and there are many). Now don’t get me wrong, I was in pretty good shape; however, I knew if I wanted to get into great shape, I needed some structure, consistency, and passion in what I was doing.

So I began a process to increase my physical health and better my daily stamina. I was not interested in gimmicks or enticements; I was ready for a life change. It promised to be a major sacrifice of time, convenience, pain, and money. Simply put, it was filled with two four-letter words, “diet” and “work” (aka “exercise”). This plan was straightforward, but effective. As a result, my new lifestyle affected every aspect of my health.

My physical transformation naturally allowed me to think about spiritual transformation. Even Paul used training and athletic metaphors to illustrate the physical/spiritual connection (e.g. Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2, 5:7; 2 Tim. 4:7). He recognized that like having a healthy physical heart, having a healthy spiritual heart is about true devotion. He was not referring to devotion that is cheap, sentimental, or blind. He spoke of devotion that means sacrifice. Devotion is not about attendance, self-inflation, or gratification; it is conscious effort to glorify God through serving, lifting others above myself, and asking others to check the progress. Just like an athlete never really ends training, so too a Christian must continue growing, learning, and changing.

When I look over my spiritual life, I also realized that growth in Christ involves much of the same discipline. I represent one sliver of a generation that yearns for every aspect of life sacrificed to God. Give me a life that says my hours each day will be for the betterment of our human community. Let me pursue conversion rather than convenience; Let me learn how to embrace spiritual yearning, struggling, and pain as the martyrs of the first few centuries of Christianity boldly assumed their place among the heavenly angels. The plan is simple, but few Christians really, truly, and completely follow it — all too often, including myself. At times I am amazed at the teaching of Jesus, but when it comes to really practicing faith, I relate to the sandy foundation of the crowds on the mountainside. Some Christians give money in such a way to have a “safety net” instead of relying upon God to walk each and every day with a renewed sense of dependency. Some rationalize time, energy, and focus just hoping that at the end of the day, the good deeds outweigh the bad. Some place family time over personal growth instead of leading the family to truly know God and live as his wonderful disciples. Despite the desire to truly follow God, it is so easy to slip into spiritual obesity.

Having a healthy spiritual heart is not just about ridding our lives of sin. While sin-ridding comes with it, healthy living involves experiencing an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). For Jesus, faith was conceptually pretty easy: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). It is so tempting to respond like the expert in the Law and try to clarify some points to justify myself; in a similar way I struggled to change my physical lifestyle to get in better shape. This is practically a tough road. The tough part about Jesus’ command is not the concept, but the practice, the devotion. I speak for a lot of young Christians who are ready to work. We are beyond the stages of feeling guilt to come to worship a few set times during the week. We don’t want the hooks and gimmicks; We don’t want ease; We don’t want just to be nice people so that we can get a mansion in heaven. Sometimes we will fail . . . but that is life. We are all called to make a difference in the world, to allow Christ to shine in every dimension of our being. In other words, we are ready for the rigorous diet and exercise of our faith. There is tremendous fulfillment as we discover what it means to live as new creations. So are you ready for that journey?

5 Beginning Practical Steps Forward (For Physical and Spiritual Renewal):

 1)  Surround yourself with supporters: You know the naysayers, critics, and negative people. Their attitudes are toxic. Criticism and conflict can keep you on track, but make sure you discern the difference between constructive and obstructive criticism.

2)  As growth occurs, the lifestyle is easier: Progress may be slow, but slow triumphs feel great and challenge new areas of focus. Don’t get so bogged down in the complex practicality that you miss the ease of the concept.

3)  Keep records: Knowing where you came from provides motivation for future endeavors.

4)  Rid yourself of fear and guilt: Somewhere along the way, the short-term gains of these two words twisted the methodology of church evangelism. This works about as well as doctors telling people to diet and exercise in a world of cheeseburgers, fries, and busy schedules. It is easy to loose traction with each failed attempt, but the worst outcome is to give up on the pursuit.

5)  Don’t hyperextend the connection: Since the late nineteenth century, proponents of muscular Christianity have perhaps placed too rigorous emphasis on the connection between physical stamina and spiritual well-being. While I believe in some connection, spiritual and physical health are complicated to fully understand; Excellence in one area is not necessarily a measure of competency in the other.

Bio: Preston graduated from the Harding School of Theology (Memphis, TN) with a M.A. in Historical Theology. Currently, he is the Youth Minister at the Manchester Church of Christ in New Hampshire helping teens and adults to grow each day closer to God. He also serves carrots to the teens during hangout times (and they look forward to them!) On the side, he has a great interest in the integration of art and faith, which is the focus of his blog entitled, “Faithful Aesthetics” (www.prestoncottrell.wordpress.com).

Spiritual Health Checklist

I have just completed teaching a series of Bible Classes from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Throughout the sermon Jesus makes a lot of comparisons, but in closing he challenges his listeners to make a choice, “build a solid life by following me, or choose your own path and risk your life falling apart. The choice is yours.” [My summary/paraphrase] This closing section contains four choices:

  • Narrow or Wide Gate (v13-14)sermon-on-the-mount 01
  • Good or Bad Fruit (v15-20)
  • Hearers or Doers (v21-23)
  • Wise or Foolish Builders (v24-27)

The Four Choices begin with a command “Enter through the narrow gate.” Will you obey it? Next he warns against deceptive teachers. Observe their lives, not their words. Third, Jesus warns us not to deceive ourselves. Discipleship is revealed in the furnace, not the fireworks. Fourth, Jesus reiterates that the firm foundation is “Jesus words” and building on them requires action.

Like many sermons today, Jesus closed his sermon with an invitation: an invitation to follow him. As Jesus’ listeners heard this sermon, they had to make a decision, “Would they follow Jesus?” However, in reality following Jesus requires more than a decision, he requires active obedience. So even if they accepted his invitation to follow Jesus, they still had to evaluate how consistently their lives matched the will of God.

In the context of the original sermon Matthew describes, the foundational teachings refer to the words of Jesus that the crowd has just heard. Since we now have a much larger canon of scripture that the original audience, we may choose to use other passages or collections of passages as a basis for evaluating our spiritual health. However, I believe that the Sermon on the Mount can provide an excellent guide for examining our commitment to Christ and his mission.

It’s crucial that we not deceive ourselves and build on sand instead of rock. We may have accepted Jesus invitation to follow him long ago, but we always need to reexamine the path we’re on.  Are we hearing the words of Jesus? Are we doing the words of Jesus? (Matt. 7:24)

Based on Matthew chapters 5-7 here’s a little spiritual health checklist. Everyone’s different, but I recommend engaging a process like this at least twice a year.  I encourage you to find a quiet place to take this. Pray. Write down your answers using pen and paper. Share them with someone you can trust to encourage you as you take the necessary steps to improve your spiritual heart health.

1. How well do I know Jesus words?

  • When did I last study the Bible?

2. Would others describe me as humble, empathetic, meek and God-focused? (5:3-6)

  • Can I give an example?

3. Am I merciful, pure, and a promoter of peace in my dealings with others? (5:7-9)

  • Can I give an example?

4. Do I maintain the above character in the face of opposition? (5:10-12)

  • Can I give an example?

5. Do I represent God clearly to those outside the church? (5:13-16)

  • Can I give an example?

6. Do I pursue holiness of heart and hand, or do I rationalize my sins? (5:17-37)

  • What are my strongest temptations?

7. When did I last pray for my enemies?

  • Who are my enemies? (list them)

8. Is my church involvement for God’s benefit, or to impress others? (6:1-23)

  • What was the last good deed I performed in secret?

9. Is there anyone in my life who’s hurt me that I have not forgiven? (6:14)

  • Do I know of anyone who holds a grudge against me? Do I need to ask for forgiveness?

10. My biggest concern right now is……

  • When did I last pray sincerely about this?

11. Do I invest more energy in the care of my soul, or talking about the souls of others? (7:1-12)

  • Who do I know right now that needs Christ in their life? When did I last pray for them?

12. Have I answered these questions diligently and honestly? (7:13-27)

  • Is the kingdom of God the greatest priority in my life?
  • Am I building my life of the rock? Am I doing the words of Jesus? (7:24)

May you draw closer to God and more deeply commit to his mission as you seek to live the life He has willed for you.

HERE’s another Spiritual Checkup resource written by my friend Charles Kiser.

Matthew 18: Humility Breeds Unity

  • Read Matthew 18 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (27 March), you can listen to it here.

Division.  It sneaks up on us so gradually.  It feels so comfortable and familiar.  Jesus understood the challenges the church would face after his death, and he begins addressing them here in Matthew 18.  In this, his 4th discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, he echoes many of the ideas found in the initial Sermon on the Mount.   Life in the kingdom of heaven is counter-intuitive to the world.  And just as the Sermon on the Mount begins with the statement, Blessed are the poor in spirit, this discourse also places humility front and center in Kingdom life.

In this section of teaching Jesus covers the topics of humility, purity, accountability, discipline, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness.   This is a lengthy list, but humility is front and center as it pervades each topic and ultimately breeds unity.

For some reason the disciples felt a need to ask Jesus, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus doesn’t initially answer their question.  Instead he responds by calling a child to him and telling them that unless they become like a child, they won’t even enter the kingdom of heaven.  They’re much better off worrying about whether they’ll get in, than whether they’ll be great!

Humility is something that we grow indirectly.  As we concentrate on the needs of others.  As we love our neighbours as ourselves.  As we do to others as we’d have done to us.  As we refuse to compare and to compete, our humility gradually grows.  We establish ourselves in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The following applications demonstrate this:

Purity (v6-9)– Do whatever it takes NOT to cause others to stumble.  (v6) Consider their circumstances.

Accountability (v10-14)– We’re accountable for those around us.  How do we respond when someone leaves our church?  Do we think, “Well, it’s just one person.  There’s still plenty more here, and they were just asking for trouble straying so far from the flock.”  If we’re to follow Jesus’ example we’ll leave our comfortable environment and go looking for that individual who’s wandered away.  They’re more important than our comfort.

Discipline/Reconciliation (v15-20) – It takes humility to accept discipline.  It also takes humility to administer it in a Godly manner.  It’s easy to adopt an attitude of superiority when pointing out the faults of others, isn’t it?  But Jesus doesn’t then prohibit discipline, rather he entrusts us to confront one another with a pure attitude.  An attitude not of condemnation, but seeking to restore that person’s relationship with God and the church.

Restoration (v21-22) – After hearing this teaching on discipline, Peter asks how many times he must forgive someone.  Jewish teaching at the time said 4 strikes and you’re out.  But Jesus says if you really want reconciliation, or relationship, with that individual, you won’t limit your forgiveness.  Pride, and standing up for my rights resists this idea.  Humility says “we won’t keep count”.  Later on Paul would write that “love keeps no record of wrongs.”  Humility involves the same idea.  It welcomes wandering sheep back into the room, even if they keep wandering.  This teaching seems ridiculous to the disciples, so Jesus tells another parable to explain it.

Forgiveness (v23-35) – In this parable the bottom line is found in v32, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”  Within the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus expects us to forgive, because we’ve been forgiven.  We need to humbly acknowledge that our place in the kingdom only results from the grace and mercy of Jesus.  It’s only when we recognize the extent of God’s forgiveness toward us, that we’ll have the humility and patience to forgive the shortcomings of others, reconciling and restoring their relationship with God and ourselves.

None of these virtues are possible without humility.  “God, may your Spirit overwhelm our spirit and allow us to serve and love others as you love and serve us. Help us to acknowledge our position as your children and to eschew greatness.

  • Do you agree that each of these points requires humility? Or is something else more essential?
  • Do you know someone that you would characterise as humble?  What behaviour of theirs most demonstrates that attitude?
  • How do you work at becoming a more humble person?

Matthew 8-9: Authority

  • Read Matthew 8-9 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (6 February) you can listen to it here.

Chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew’s Gospel describe 10 miracles performed by Jesus.  (Give or take 1 or 2 depending which events you group and which you separate.)  The scope of the miracles is quite diverse as he heals, casts out demons, reprograms the weather, raises the dead, and perhaps most miraculously of all, he forgives sins.

I could preach a sermon, or post a blog on each of these miracles, but in keeping with looking at the big picture of Matthew I’m going to use this post to highlight how Matthew weaves his themes throughout his writing.

I mentioned in my previous post how the summary comments regarding the Sermon on the Mount highlighted the authority with which Jesus delivered it.  Back in 4:23 Jesus’ ministry was summarised as “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Matthew the proceeds to give examples of both the preaching and healing aspects of his ministry.

When looking at chapters 5-9 as a complete unit, authority is a good summary word.  First, Jesus’ teaching was authoritative, now we see the power of his healing ministry.

In 8:8-9 the centurion compares his military authority to the divine authority of Jesus.

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a  man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’ and he comes….

This comparison with human military authority, and the whole authority topic in general, reminds us of Matt. 1:1 which declares Jesus to be the Messianic descendant of king David.  If Jesus is a great king, then it’s no surprise to see him speak and act with authority, that’s actually just what we’d expect.

In 9:6 Jesus himself declares that he has the authority to forgive sins.  “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….”  He performs a healing as evidence of his authority to forgive sins and in 9:8 the crowd praises God for giving this authority to a man for the benefit of humanity. This statement using the messianic title “Son of Man” reminds us of the angel’s words to Joseph regarding the birth of Jesus.  “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Lastly, and slightly outside the parameters of our passage, in 10:1, 7 Jesus blesses his disciples with a measure of his authority to heal and drive out demons as he commissions them to disperse and proclaim the message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  The same message that Jesus himself proclaimed in 4:17.

Matthew 1:1 describes Jesus as the Messiah.  The Sermon on the Mount and the miracles of Jesus illustrate the authority he carries as the Messiah.  All of chapters 5-9 demonstrate the Good News that the “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is what the kingdom looks like.  It demands a higher ethic of the heart and hand while also demonstrating the power of God available to citizens of the kingdom.

  • The concept of authority is not the only link between chapters 5-7 & 8-9.  Can you see some others?
  • Compared to God’s love, how important is the authority of Jesus in your life?
  • How does the authority of Jesus express itself in your life?