The Truth About Stoning

The Truth About Stoning

stoning-to-death

John Chapter 8 is, in my opinion, one of the most stunning, jaw dropping chapters in the Bible. Bookended by two attempted stonings is an eye opening conversation between Jesus and a group of Jews who had begun to believe in Him. That is, until Jesus began to show them the truth that would set them free. Because they didn’t want to be set free free by the truth Jesus would show (neither do we – Jack Nicholson was right in A Few Good Men), and the chapter finishes like this – “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” ‭John‬ ‭8:59‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

let-him-without-sin
The chapter begins, famously, with the scene of the woman caught in adultery.
Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say? The Pharisees were right. Not kinda right. Not sorta right. They were 100% right. You can read Deuteronomy 22:13-30 for the details of who should be stoned for sleeping with whom, including the specific verse related here – “”If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭22:22‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Of course, I suppose the man in this case was very quick and hard to catch, because they only brought the woman to Jesus to stone to death. Either way, yes, the Torah, the Bible, says very clearly that this woman was to be stoned to death, a punishment also warranted by blasphemy (one of the charges against Jesus at his own trial), witchcraft, sabbath breaking (see Numbers 15 if memory serves me correctly), and rebelling against ones parents (guess they didn’t much care for teenagers!).

stones
So, here’s something to think about – why were all these people to be stoned to death? Even in these ancient times, we had much cleaner, quicker, better ways of killing people than a group of people standing and throwing rocks at someone condemned until they be dead, dead, dead. One thing we’ve always been efficient at as human beings is killing other people.
One advantage of stoning is that it involves the entire community in the killing. The second advantage is that every individual involved in the killing can declare himself innocent. Everyone throws a rock, so everyone participates in the community killing. But every individual can tell himself that “I didn’t kill anyone, I just threw one lousy rock!”

go-and-sin-no-more
What’s really going on here? Why stoning? Because here’s the truth – stoning (which still occurs today) is a way for an entire community to participate in collective murder and lie to itself about it. Collective murder, the lies we tell about it, and the buried bodies who’s blood cries out from the ground. Every participant can go to sleep that night because, hey, “I didn’t kill her!!”  
It’s why everyone at a stoning must throw a rock! If you are at a stoning and don’t participate by throwing a rock of your own, you are now in danger of being stoned yourself. (Think I’m wrong? Don’t you remember what happened to the bullied victims on the playground? You had better participate, or you’ll be next!). For the community to maintain its illusion of innocence, all members must participate. If you don’t participate in throwing a rock, you are shining a light into their darkness, and the community must either repent or turn its stones on you. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John‬ ‭3:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬. What do you think happens most often (or almost always!)? That’s why they brought her to Jesus, and His timeless response “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” They wanted Jesus to endorse their practice of collective murder, but He refused. It was biblical, but it was not Christ-ian. It was of the Bible, but NOT of the Kingdom of God which the Son of God was enacting.

kingdom-of-god
Think about that for a moment. Or a day. Or a year.
“Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 

‭‭John‬ ‭8:2-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.2-11.esv

John Lewis

Sacrifice and Resentments

Sacrifice and Resentments

sacrifice

Moving on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given examples of what does not represent the heart of one living in God’s kingdom, showing us that people (all people) should never be targets for our anger and/or contempt (try to remember that next time you want to rant on Facebook or Twitter). Moving on from this, Jesus now gives us one of his “therefores” to compare and contrast with what he has just shown us. Again, Jesus is not laying down laws here, things we can never do or things we must do. He’s giving us examples of what it looks like when we are living in and for Him and His Kingdom.

altar
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Therefore”…so Jesus links this directly to what he has stated regarding anger and contempt. Simply not killing (???!!!) is not enough to make you right with God. If you have anger and malice towards your brothers and sisters, if you simply see others as “less than” or “not even worth the time”, if you degrade others, you not only harm your relationship with them, but your relationship with God is broken as well. Then, “therefore”, Jesus is going to give us an example of how to live if we are living for the kingdom to be right with God.
The altar at the temple was the center of religious life. We have to understand how important this is. Almost nothing was supposed to interfere with this ritual. Presenting sacrifice to God was one of the holiest moments in the religious life. I can’t even think of a similar moment to speak of in our lives. We compare it to offering our offerings in church today, but we put nowhere near the emphasis on that today as was placed on the sacrifice during Jesus’ day. It would be like a pastor today stopping church service right when they are about to take the offering. It’s that serious.

reachacross
The point being made here is that before you can be made right with God (the whole point of offering sacrifice), you need to be right with your neighbor, you brother. Because they, too, bear the image of God. The apostle John puts it this way – “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John‬ ‭4:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬. That’s why in recover we have steps 4, 8, and 9, taking inventory, being willing to make amends, and actually making amends. We can’t be right with God (or ourselves) if we are not right with our brothers who bear the image of God upon them.

brothers-fighting-600x429
So – does this mean that, as a rule or law, that we can never be right with God and should never make our offerings if someone, anyone, is mad at us?? What if we try to rectify and make things right and and, let’s just say they give the terms of their contempt? So can we never come to church or be right with God?

emotionheader
Of course not!! Jesus is giving us an example of how our hearts should be, not a legalism to be carried out. If you’ve done your part in trying to make things right (really done your part) then your heart is right, and you can be right. Saint Paul says it this way – “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:17-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬. So far as it depends on you, because you aren’t in control of their actions or their hearts, only yours.

courtroom
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
This one specifically applies doubly today!! In the world we live, people often are just waiting for a reason to drag you into court, aren’t they?? It seems like it’s got to be as bad as it’s ever been on that front, but maybe not, because Jesus’ example here sure fits our modern day situation. If, in the not so unlikely event you get hauled into court by someone, do your best to lovingly settle the matter outside of court. But – let’s be clear on what is not being said here! Jesus is not saying “don’t go to court.” He is not saying “give in to whatever someone demands, make no defense, and give them whatever they want.” But He is saying to reach out and try to settle outside the courthouse. Try, in a genuine way, to meet with the person who is suing us. Try to find out what we can to for them to settle the grievance. Bring a good heart to the table. Love our adversary, bet on the kingdom of God, and maybe we will bring them into the resources and love available there as well.

prison-jail
Because not doing it in this way leaves at the mercy of our human system and laws. And our human system, as we all know, produces some very bitter fruit sometimes. I can’t help of thinking if the stories my wife tells me. She works in our county courthouse, and they periodically have their “contempt docket” – child support. People picked up off the streets, locked up, and brought in before ‘the judge”.
Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny

 

““Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:23-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

http://bible.com/111/mat.5.23-26.niv

John Lewis

Bunch of Foolish Racas!

Bunch of Foolish Racas!

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationYesterday I started looking at the “laws” laid down by Jesus, the new boss, who’s not the same as the old boss. The new Moses, from the Mount of Beatitudes instead of Mt Sinai, daringly overturning the Torah and issuing his own laws by his own authority. Not laws so much to be followed as rules, but laws to move us along His path into the Kingdom of God, laws meant to transform us into Kingdom people with kingdom hearts. As I’ve said before, Jesus almost never condemned the outward actions, He’s always much more interested in the roots from which our fruit, good and bad, grow out of.

hulk-large
The evil twin brothers, anger and contempt, can be found at the root of almost all human evil. Yesterday, we looked specifically at anger, that spontaneous response to someone interfering with our will, which is in itself not inherently bad, but almost always in our response to it becomes evil in our hearts. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Under the old boss, Moses, the rule was simply “Don’t Kill.” Of course, we can “not kill” and carry so much malice and anger in our evil hearts that we can poison our own selves and wind up in our own early grave. We can poison and pollute the atmosphere in which we live by holding onto anger, we can become anger ‘time bombs” just waiting to explode at anything, anyone, anytime. We can even take pride in our righteous anger – “I don’t get mad, I get even”, wearing it as a badge of honor. But Jesus says, no, we don’t get to hang onto anger in our hearts. We will be judged just the same for the anger in our heart as for the bullet in their chest. Because, it is from the anger in the heart that the bullet in the chest grows out of.

dylan-storm-roof-1
But now, let’s look at angers’ even more insidious, more evil twin, contempt. Unlike anger, which comes upon us spontaneously and is only evil as it is cultivated and moved into action and hatred for another, contempt is the “studied degradation of another“. Also unlike anger, contempt is never justifiable or good. So, Jesus tells us – Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca,’ is answerable to the court. First – ‘Raca’ is an Aramaic term (Jesus spoke Aramaic) which was used in this time specifically to express contempt for another, or to set someone aside as being contemptible. When you hold someone in contempt, you are saying they are “less than”. You are denying their worth. You are robbing them of value. If you angry at someone, in that moment you want to harm them in some way. If you have contempt for someone, you don’t care if that person hurts or not. They are simply not worth your consideration. You can be angry at someone and not deny or demean their worth. But when we hold someone in contempt, it makes it much easier for us to do true harm to them, because in our contempt we’ve set them aside as being contemptible, “less than”.
How do we use the term ‘Raca’ today? How would that be expressed? “Loser”, “stupid”, “idiot”, “jerk”, “nerd”. These would be our gentler labels of contempt, if we are trying to be “nice” ourselves. If we don’t care about playing nice, if all respect is gone, then we go to our full on “curse mode.” Many if us live here everyday. We have an arsenal, a vocabulary with contemptuous terms filled with sexual, racial, and cultural overtones. Other terms which are just personally degrading to the person it’s being hurled at. Seriously, these words should not be in our vocabulary. Jesus Himself says so.

high-society4
The intent and effect of contempt is to marginalize, to exclude, to isolate. This is why we are so filthy when we express our contempt and why it is so inherently cruel. Yet, some of us are so creative with our contempt, almost bringing cultural refinement to it. We even take pride our creativity of expressing our contempt. We have people who’ve become celebrities and made millions expressing their contempt for others.
We see it in life all the time. Whether at the schoolyard, at work, at a party, even at church or home, someone is put down and left out. It is a constant in our lives. We all live in terror of being on the receiving end of it.
And when someone, or some group, becomes the object of our contempt, they are automatically fair game for even worse treatment. After all, we’ve already determined they have less value, right?

gay-flag
On the opposite end, respect always builds up a wall against contempt. Look at how things work in families where respect is broken down, anger enters and progresses to contempt (which is always expressed in angry outburst and foul language) and sometimes (oftentimes?) progresses to physical abuse. Once contempt is established, the initial anger is fully justified and validated and increases in its force.
Few people can find any good reason why we should not use foul language. We all seem to know instinctively that we shouldn’t, but we just can’t put our finger on the reason. Basically, as a society we simply find contempt for others to be socially acceptable. Foul language and name calling are always an expression of contempt for another. The degradation of our language is just another indicator of the contempt we all seem to have for one another.

trump
This is what we see in some of our random acts of violence which seem to occur more and more. Look at Dylan Roof, the young man who went into an historically black church in South Carolina, expressed a desire to participate in their bible study, then pulled out a gun an started shooting everyone there. Not because he was caught in a fit of rage, but because he held those who were not just like him in contempt. To him, their value had been decreased to the point that killing them just did not matter. And this is an underlying ongoing thing seen in much of the seemingly random violence we’ve seen over the years – not so much out of control anger, but simply an expression of the ever increasing contempt which we all seem to hold each other in.

obama
It doesn’t matter your social status, we all want to belong. Holding others in contempt means that they don’t belong. Look at our culture today. Even at the highest levels (maybe especially at the highest levels) we who claim equality and justice for all not only fully believe and practice contempt for those who aren’t like us, but we fully believe and hold in contempt those who do not hold in contempt the same people we hold in contempt. You don’t hold Muslims in contempt? Well, now there is someone out there who holds you in contempt. You don’t think the gay lifestyle is contemptuous? Maybe you don’t hate church people. Maybe you don’t think Donald Trump is the devil. Maybe you don’t think Barack Obama hates America and wears commie-red underwear. We have so devolved in our “tolerant” society that actually being a tolerant person, not holding others in contempt, will make you a contemptuous person to all. By being the only one not to pick up stones, you force those around you to turn their stones on you. By your living up to the command of Christ here, your light will shine in such a way that it will stand in its own judgement of those around you, and they will turn on you.

throwing-stones
In our need to belong, we are almost forced today to define who exactly it is that we hold in contempt. Because at least then, we can belong somewhere.

let-your-light-shine

““You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:21-22‬ ‭NIV‬‬
John Lewis

Just Don’t Kill Anyone!!

Just Don’t Kill Anyone!!

dont-kill

Jesus in his great sermon now getting into the meat and potatoes. In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus uses six situation or conditions of life and contrasts them between simply living by the law and actually living for the kingdom. Or maybe I’ll say it like this – under the mosaic law, people could (and would) simply “check the box” and tell themselves and everyone around them that they were in obedience to the law. But Jesus was not about “checking boxes”. Jesus was about loving God and loving neighbor. He was going to the source, going deeper into the kind of beings we are and the kind of beings we should be. If we are not changed at this deeper level then we will never be right in the kingdom sense. Just thinking and trying not to be caught doing certain behaviors will never make us right with God.

nyc
Dallas Willard uses the example of taking a trip to New York City. We don’t get to New York by thinking about not going to London or Paris. Your cab driver will not meet you at NYC and tell you how great it is that you avoided going to LA. You did what you had to do to get to NYC, and that took care of all you were trying to do.

love-one-another
In the same way, when we treasure those around us, when we love people and see them as children of God designed for His good purposes, we don’t have to make an additional point of not killing them. We don’t have to make an additional point of not cursing them. We don’t have to make an additional point of not demeaning them. Not doing these things is just a part the package of seeing them as God sees them. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans‬ ‭13:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And yes, it is that simple.

angry-with-his-brother
Except we like to make things difficult. We like to follow rules. So Jesus comes along and turns the rules on their head. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Trace the evil and wrongdoings of the human heart, you will find almost always it involved some form of anger, along with its evil twin brother contempt. Jesus understanding of these evil twins becomes the basis of his strategy for establishing kingdom goodness in the human heart. The elimination of anger and contempt represent the first step toward living with a heart for his kingdom.
Under the law, anger is ok, just don’t KILL anybody. Anger in and of itself is actually a natural, spontaneous occurrence and performs a vital function in life. It is simply a feeling which comes upon us in our bodies and moves us toward responding to someone or something which has interfered with our will and our life. And if that was all there was to it, and we don’t hang onto it or act upon it, then that would be ok. In this sense there is no harm, no sin. (Of course, having a headache is no sin either, but do you need them?). Anger could perform its viral function, just like the pain you feel let’s you know you’re touching a hot stove and you had better move your hand. But, of course, in reality anger is much more than this.

anger-quote
Anger, in and of itself, is an injury to others. I can feel your anger, even if you don’t say a word. Your anger hurts me, without you ever having having to lift a finger. Just hearing and knowing your anger, I am already wounded. I will very likely stop doing what I now know has angered you and change direction. My stress level, my heart rate, will probably rise, as will the stress level of those around us. Anger poisons the very environment in which we live. Because it crosses or opposes my will, because your anger places some kind of restraint on me, because it crosses some kind of boundary against me, your anger is almost guaranteed to elicit my anger in return. Anger feeds on anger. And anger as we live and practice quickly turns into something which is inherently evil.
Anger spontaneously erupts within us when our will is somehow obstructed. But in our response in anger to the offending party, there is almost always some will of our own to harm them, or at least the seeds of that will. Every ounce of anger has within it grams of malice. This is why it hurts us to know someone is angry with us. We know that however their anger is manifested, whether by lashing out physically, raising their voices at us, or by simply clamming up and walking away from us, their intention is leave some kind if painful impression upon us. And, they almost always succeed.

road-rage
But here’s another thing about anger that Jesus specifically would  point this out as being so harmful. We can, and usually do, choose to be angry. Anger first comes spontaneously, but we can actively pursue and indulge our own anger. When we do this, it can very easily lead us to become an angry person, and now because of anger which we have chosen to cultivate any incident can tap into that rage which we keep in constant supply and readiness. Think about your own road rage. So you were driving along this morning, and some jerk in a pretty red car cut you off. You exploded with anger and epithets, and the person in the offending car probably was unaware even that they cut you off (unless you made well sure they did know!). But you certainly had that anger within you, just waiting and lurking for the opportunity to show it off to the world.
In the words of Dallas Willard – “Anger indulged, instead of simply waved off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has embraced anger, and you find a person with a wounded ego.” When we hold onto and indulge our anger, it can show itself as a quiet resentment or it can be a full out holy war against the one who prompted it. When I hold onto anger like this, I can lash out and explode at anything or anyone within reach. Some people become addicted to the adrenaline rush and only feel fully alive when expressing their anger. It is the sense of our own self-righteousness that allows us to hold onto our anger long after the incident has passed, or allow that anger to manifest itself as completely out of control rage. To continue in anger like this we must view ourselves as the victims of mistreatment, or as rectifying something we see as so unbearably wrong that we use it to justify the rage within.

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) student Marley Herrick, 21, leaves flowers at a tribute for victims, at one of nine crime scenes after a series of drive-by shootings that left 7 people dead, in Santa Barbara
It is well known that many if us ultimately die from our own anger. Many also did from second hand anger, just like second hand smoke. Think about the needless “collateral damage”, victims we hear about all the time of people simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when bullets started flying.  Innocent people gunned down by stray bullets intended for another.  People just showing up to work when a coworkers’ pent up, self righteous rage overflows.
I’ll have to come  to that “Raca” and “fool” tomorrow.

peace
But hey, at least I didn’t kill anyone today. So that means I’m good, right. Well, the day’s still young…

 

““You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:21-22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

http://bible.com/111/mat.5.21-22.niv

John Lewis

Fulfilling the Law

Fulfilling the Law

sermon-on-the-mount

I’ve been looking at the sermon on the mount starting with the beatitudes, then Jesus declaring not that his followers will become salt and light to the world, but that we are salt and light, adding flavor and shining like a light house from the sea, guiding the lost home. Our lives will look different because we are different, changed from the inside out by Jesus Christ, not just cleaning the outside of the cup so it looks clean to those looking on while still being a hot mess on the inside.
The thing about the Sermon on the Mount, or as Dallas Willard calls it, the discourse on the hill, is that it is indeed a sermon, or one unified discourse. Or today, we might call it a talk, because it is not preachy, and is much more packed with information and truth than what we would call a sermon today. The point here is that the Sermon on the Mount is organized around one purpose and develops a single line of thought. It is not all over the place. It is not a collection of sayings or wisdom collected randomly and put together by an editor. This is how we have seen it and treated it, but it is not what it is.
The result of our misunderstanding on this point is that what we know to be Jesus most important text is also His most indecipherable. Because we don’t see the Sermon as developing one line of thought but all over the place, we are left without the clear and comprehensive message for life which its author (Jesus Christ) intended.

jesus
Because we don’t read the sermon as a unified talk, because we take its pieces as independent sayings, we read them as “laws” telling us what we are and are not “to do”. We read the sermon and think Jesus was giving us “laws” which are even more impossible to keep than all the laws Moses prescribed on Mt Sinai and through Leviticus. And we think Jesus is using these laws to show us how truly unworthy for the kingdom we really are, and then we will have no choice but to turn to Him for grace and forgiveness. Because, of course, to read this any other way and actually pick up what Jesus is laying down would be to chase “works-based” righteousness, and maybe even leave this world, which God so loved that He gave his only begotten to save and not condemn, a better place.
So what is the single, unified purpose of the Sermon on the Mount? It’s to show us what the kingdom heart looks like. It’s to guide us to have pure hearts which produce good fruit. It’s to help us come to realistic and hopeful terms with our lives here on earth by clarifying the nature of the kingdom into which Jesus is inviting us when He says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

repentcross
The Sermon is not one disconnected statement after another. Each portion of the talk builds upon what came earlier. Each successive part must be interpreted and understood in light of this singular purpose, and what came before.

moses
Jesus is not giving us a bunch of new laws to show us we can’t make it without him (we already know that!). He’s giving us perspectives on the good life of love, power, truth and grace we can lead in his kingdom. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

smartest-man
So let’s continue to look at the greatest teaching from the smartest man who ever lived.

grace-and-truth
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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Jesus is flipping the world upside down with this sermon. He’s told all these different groups, starting with the poor in spirit, that what was previously thought to be unavailable to them is precisely completely available. Where they were thought to be cursed, Jesus has declared them blessed. Not only are they blessed, but they are the salt and light of the world through which all will be blessed. So, of course, they might think Jesus is overturning the law to which they could not attain, the law which certain religious types used to specifically exclude them from kingdom life. Just as we still believe (and live) that Jesus has overturned and nullified the law. But Jesus says, no, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. What exactly is he saying? What does it mean to fulfill the law and the prophets? What Jesus is saying to us here, and if we don’t take it as part of this greater talk it will be quite cryptic, is that he is leading us in such a way that our very lives will be the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets were attempting to do. “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew‬ ‭23:25-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The trouble is, and has always been, that simply attempting to follow a bunch of rules or laws does nothing to change the inside, does nothing to change the heart from which everything else flows. We can all follow the right rules, wear the right clothes, drive the right car, say the right things. We can make it all look real pretty on the outside. But if we’re still dirty on the inside, then nothing has really changed. We’re just being the hypocrites the world assumes we are anyway.

outside-of-the-cup
Jesus did not, as his followers on the mountain actually hearing him and we who claim to follow him today believe, abolish the law. He came to fulfill all the law and prophets ever attempted to do. He came to re-found the world on an axis of love. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, love of enemy. Love God and love your neighbor. And your neighbor is anyone you meet on a daily basis whom you can help.

abraham
This is the fulfillment of all that Abraham was looking for. All the law given to Moses. All the prophets who came after. A just, fair, and righteous society, not based on anger and accusation, not based on force, not based on the power to kill, but based on the love of God as shown through his people. And that is what Jesus is doing in this sermon, giving us a picture of what it looks like to be kingdom people with kingdom hearts, to be actually changed on the inside so that the outside is naturally clean as well.

pharisees
Therefore whoever relaxes 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And that us what it means to exceed to righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. All the rules and laws they created to claim to perfectly follow the law of God, we can naturally bear that fruit once we’ve been spit shined on the inside by the love of Christ. Just because He let me in, just because he let you in, doesn’t mean he’s overturning His law. It means that we, as His followers, will fulfill his law by our words and our deeds which flow naturally from our changed hearts.   By our lives we will initiate a just, fair, peaceful society. We will show the world what it means to love God and love neighbor – even when our neighbors don’t love us back. We will forgive them their trespasses against us. We will pick up our cross and follow Jesus. In doing so, we will make disciples of all the nations, bringing about a world in which there will be no more sorrows, no more tears, and war no more.

 

“”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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:17-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.5.17-20.esv

John Lewis

The Powerless shame the Powerful

The Powerless shame the Powerful

wise-owl

Looking at something from Paul this morning, to the church in Corinth. Much of what Paul wrote reflected the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount. He was very often saying the same thing. Paul knew that Jesus had brought down to rubble the barriers men had built for generations, barriers of exclusion keeping those thought to be “less” from participating in the kingdom Jesus had brought.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. That’s right, very few have it all together when they meet Jesus. Few of us were not among the spiritual zeroes, the poor in spirit, when we heard the good news Jesus had for us – that even I, broken though I was, would not be struck dead by lightning and transported straight to hell if some of that holy water happened splash on me!! That I too was (am) welcome in the kingdom of God.

Human hand holding lightning
And that’s right, the merciful, those foolish ones who might lose their business during hard times because they would rather help others keep clothes on their back than look out for number one. Even when they’ve lost it all, they find God’s mercy poured out upon themselves in ways they could never imagine. And those peacemakers, the ones considered cursed and hated by all sides for refusing to choose any, they certainly aren’t wise in the worlds eyes, are they. Or the pure in heart, those without crazy schemes for getting ahead, who just love God and love neighbor, they usually don’t get to be powerful or wealthy in human eyes. Yet, someone like Mother Theresa comes along and even on the other side of the world we know she had the power of God on her side.

mother-teresa
Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.  
The example of Mother Theresa holds here as well. When we see how this woman lived her life in near poverty according to our standards, yet so impacted the world with the love of God flowing into her, how much more should we be doing the same. Yet, we get gathered by some cause, or some friend drags us off to some special event, or we help out for a couple of hours at a food bank, post pictures of it all on Facebook, watch the clock the whole time waiting for it all to be over, and pat ourselves on the back for being such good people.

nelson-mandela
Or how about Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for forty years under apartheid, he comes out not angry and embittered but with grace and mercy. We could see the juxtaposition of those who would have thought him “inferior” to themselves. God used the powerless to shame the powerful, someone counted as nothing at all to bring to nothing all that those who imprisoned held sacred.

nail-him-to-the-cross
As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.” Jesus Christ came into the world as a poor man from a frowned upon part of the world (nothing good ever comes from Nazareth!). He left the world shamed in execution hanging on a cross. In between, He lived the only life God the Father could vindicate with resurrection. God turned his shameful execution, his earthly failure, into his very coronation as the king of kings one lord of lords!!

crown-of-thorns1
Just the same, he takes us right from where we are, in our spiritual poverty, in the messes of our lives, and offers us a new life in his kingdom. He gives us the chance to be born again, to start over. The chance to be resurrected in Christ. Nothing we deserve, nothing we earned. If we had the chance we would sin our sins into Him again and nail Him right back up on that cross. And if he had the chance, he would forgive us all over again. In fact, He’s never stopped forgiving us. Nailed to that cross, he forgives us anyway.

12th-jesus-dies-of-the-cross
The Powerless shaming the Powerful.

 

“Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.””

‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1:26-31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

 

John Lewis

Salt and Light

Salt and Light

salt-and-light

Jesus continuing his sermon on the mount, getting into the meat of his teaching. This sermon is the manifesto of the kingdom of God in Christ. The Beatitudes are merely the preamble, the introduction, turning upside down the assumptions of those hearing Him regarding the accessibility of the kingdom of God and the acceptability of certain groups of people assumed to be unacceptable and cursed by God.
We need to be reminded again that Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, those who had said “yes” I want to following Jesus. If we’ve said “yes” to following Jesus, then by extension He’s still speaking to US today.

salt
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

light-of-the-world-2
Let’s take lots of pressure off ourselves, we who attempt to follow Jesus today. This is going to come as a shock to a lot of people. But, we are not called by Jesus to change the world, at least not directly.

sword-of-caesar
Take that pressure off ourselves, and let’s free ourselves to follow Christ, to live in the Jesus way. Because if we think it’s our job to somehow change the world for Jesus, we open ourselves up to all kinds of temptations, none more so than the temptation to political power. This specifically was the third temptation of Jesus, the temptation to fight the world as the world fights, the temptation to try to grab the sword of Caesar. Jesus overcame this temptation, realizing it was from the devil and not from God, and now we must overcome it.

cross-of-christ
Because the most embarrassing moments in the history of the church come when the church sells its soul for political power. Whenever the church reaches for the sword of Caesar, we let go of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Beginning with the corruption of Christendom which began under Constantine and really is only coming to an end world wide right now, to the medieval crusades, and even the German Christian movement of the 1930’s which saw 90% (!!!???) of evangelical pastors in that nation pledge their allegiance to Adolf Hitler. They put their allegiance to nationalism and patriotism above their allegiance to Christ.

Munich Putsch
If we are to be genuine followers of Jesus, we have to live the Jesus way. If we call ourselves Christians, and we do, then it’s not enough to walk and live in the way of the world around and simply claim we are doing it all in His name.

followers-of-jesus
The Kingdom of God comes without the political sword. The Kingdom of God is without coercion. We who follow Christ persuade using not the sword or political force, but love, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if it need be, martyrdom, but never force.
Our job as given by Jesus is not to change the world, but rather we are to simply be the part of the world already changed by Christ. This really should be a relief. We don’t have to run around changing the world. We just need to be the church.

the-church
The center of what God is doing is among those committed to following Jesus. But – we must live as the people of Jesus. As people of Jesus, we must fight the temptation to shaped primarily by our nation and prevailing culture, what Jesus calls “the world”. Instead, we must be different, set apart by the values and habits we learn from Jesus.
When we get baptized we leave the kingdom of the world and exchange it for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has new values and new habits than the ones we’ve learned from the world. As we embrace the new values and new habits which Jesus teaches, we become new, distinct people, people changed our n the inside. We are not simply people with a new eternal destination.

light-of-the-world
Jesus tells us we are salt and light, not that we will become salt and light. We are to be known and seen as being different by our lifestyles. We don’t become salt and light by evangelizing, preaching, teaching, or talking about Jesus. If we are following Jesus, becoming all he intends for us to be, then we are salt and light for the world around us. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Our good works here are not us running around trying to spread the gospel and tell the world about Jesus. Our good works Jesus is talking about are the very lives we lead, not all the things or tasks we run around trying to complete.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. This is an ominous warning from Jesus, and we need to hear it. What is salt that has lost its flavor? Good for nothing except to be trampled underfoot! It is inauthentic Christianity, a Christianity in which we don’t live and walk in the Jesus way, but we live and walk in the way of the world around us claiming we do it all in Jesus’ name. Salt without flavor is claiming Jesus as Lord, getting “saved” then going to help the Nazis win the war.

dietrich-bonhoeffer
Salt without flavor is coming to church on Sunday, claiming the grace of Jesus Christ for ourselves, then living the rest of the week as though we’ve never met him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great theologians of the 20th century despite being executed by the nazis at the age of 39, once wrote “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Sounds kind of like Jesus saying “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” ‭Matthew‬ ‭16:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

pick_up_your_cross
It’s the journey of following Jesus which saves us. The world says the means justify the ends, but Jesus shows us that,  actually, the means which are the ends.  It’s as we walk in the steps of Jesus on this journey, as he bids us come and die. It’s on this journey that he forms us to be salt and light, adding flavor and light to the world around by the lives we lead.

John Lewis