Teachings on the Higher Call of Christ

(Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 31-48)

Continuing on from the previous post, we see verse 31-32 continues the theme of the previous section where Jesus is teaching the elements of the higher call under the New Covenant. In this section he speaks of divorce and it is evident that this is not something to be taken lightly. Unchastity, that is, sexual relations with someone other than the marriage partner, is clear grounds for divorce. However he likens divorce for other reasons as being like adultery. Adultery under the old covenant law was punishable by death, so it is clear that the Lord had a dim view of divorce. Elsewhere the bible shows that if a couple are to separate then they should either be reconciled if possible, or remain single. Divorce was certainly accepted under the law, & even in this section it talks about a certificate of divorce being given. In some cases divorce may be a necessary option to gain freedom from a violent or destructive relationship, but it is not carte blanche to run off and marry someone else if a person is just tired or bored in the relationship as happens too often in today’s society.

Verse 33-37 looks also at the practice of giving an oath. In many things today and especially in courts of law, people are required to give an oath as witness to the truth of their testimony. Jesus however is teaching that we should not give oaths at all. His desire is that we will stand by our words without oaths. That we will always be honest, truthful and upright in what we say. Today it is a common expression for people to say they, “Swear on a stack of bibles,” to the truth of a matter. But Jesus did not seek this. He wants us to speak with integrity so that only the truth comes from our mouth.
The principle of turning the other cheek is shown in verses 38-42 and this is one of the Christian practices that is much maligned by people who do not understand what this means. Jesus is not looking for his people to be violent and aggressive. He is not looking for his people to retaliate. At the very end of the bible in Revelation 22:11 he says, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right and the holy still be holy.” All mankind will receive the recompense for what they have done on the Day of Judgement. It is not for us to seek revenge if we are struck, nor to fight with others who oppose us. We are to be gentle and lowly of spirit, and contrary to what many believe, this requires strength. It is harder to be meek and mild than to fight back when struck. The Lord has said, “…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) As Christians we are to do good to all for by so doing we may even overcome their evil with our good.
In a similar way in verses 43-48 we see that Jesus teaches we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. Again this requires great strength of heart for it is not natural to mankind to do such a thing. But this what the Lord did and it is the higher standard being set for his people.
What he is teaching in this whole section, and indeed in the whole of the sermon on the mount, is what the standard of perfection in Christ should look like. The final verse in this chapter shows this and also the reason why we are to aspire to and attain this higher standard. It says in vs. 48 that, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Christians are being called to perfection, which was not attainable under the Old Covenant law, but which can be achieved under the New Covenant. How this can be achieved is rolled out methodically in later books, specifically in Romans and Galatians, but here we are seeing what that perfection will or should look like.

Salt of the Earth and Jesus Establishes the Standards of Christianity

(Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 13-30)

We see in verse 13 it says, “You are the salt of the earth.” How often do we hear this said as a description of someone who is considered a good person in some way? And yet today salt is often condemned as causing high blood pressure and other cardio-vascular problems. However this is due to the excesses of salt used in our modern highly over-processed foods. But this was not so in the Lord’s day and it would not be an issue today if salt were used sparingly. At one time salt was very precious, and indeed it was sometimes used to pay people for their work, which is where the word “salary” is derived. Salt was precious and highly regarded. Even under the old covenant they spoke of a “covenant of salt” which was an eternal covenant and binding. Jesus was saying in this section that those people who followed him were like salt. As a light sprinkling of salt can turn some food from dull and bland to a taste sensation, so too those who hear and do Gods will “season” mankind and bring life in God’s eyes where there is none. In God’s eyes those who follow Jesus are like salt as it was viewed in Christ’s time: they are both valuable and precious to Him.

Again in vs. 14-16 Jesus says of his followers, “You are the light of the world.” Light infers insight, knowledge, understanding, wisdom and life. Those who choose to follow his path will find these things in his teachings and shine as beacons of hope and light to the rest of the world. He says, “Let your light so shine before men,” and in truth it would be hard not to do so. Those who follow Christ’s ways will be perceived as being different from those who do not for they live by a different set of standards and principles. In the world men live by such adages as, “Greed is good,” and “What’s in it for me, ” and “Take care of number one,” and “Dog eat dog,” and so on. But in Christ we live by the teachings of, “Love thy neighbour,” with a focus on compassion, giving, care for others and attitudes of humility, love, peace, faith and hope. This is often the opposite of what the world is like and so a Christian will stand out for their light will shine forth.
Jesus begins to speak in verses 17-20 of the law and our relationship to the new covenant. He came to fulfil the law not to abolish it and yet through Christ we can have freedom from the law. It was necessary that he fulfil the law for to be the perfect sacrifice so we could be set free from the law and sin, he had to be without sin. The only way a person can be without sin is to fulfil the law, and no man is capable of that. Although he has set us free from law in his death, the law is still in effect for it was a covenant of God and is thus in place until God says it is not. But Jesus provides a mechanism to be able to pass out from being under law, which is achieved in his death and will be explained in greater detail when we review Romans and other writings of Paul. Finally he says that our righteousness needed to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They strove after a self-righteousness through keeping the absolute letter of the law, but as he says elsewhere, they missed the mark regarding Justice, mercy and truth. Self-righteousness is no righteousness at all. The only righteousness that matters is that given by God through Jesus Christ. It is possible to lead a good life under the law, and many people did then and do today, but righteousness can only come as the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is much written about this in Romans and Galatians and will be discussed in depth then.
In verses 21-26 Jesus is seen to be lifting the standard for Christians above the requirements of the law under the old covenant. While the law forbade killing another man, Jesus forbids even insulting another person or calling them fools or even being angry with them. What he is seeking is a people who are perfect as he is perfect. Now we might say this is an impossible thing to ask. Everyone gets angry at times and upsets or insults others in some way. But Jesus also provided a way by which we could learn this way of life and gave us a teacher, counsellor and guide whose specific job is to work this transformation in us so that we can live this perfect life. I am of course referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit and it is his role to lead us to the perfect place. When we learn how to walk in the Spirit using the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the weaknesses in our flesh, such as anger, insults and so on, then we can be perfected and be transformed into the image of Christ. More of this though when we get to Romans, Galatians and Corinthians.
Verses 27-30 continue this required transformation and define the perfect life from one that is not. It is easy to see that the standard set is much higher than the law. The law spoke to things of the flesh and the physical aspects of life. But Jesus speaks to the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of life. The law was meant to curtail the excesses of the flesh of man, but the standard Jesus sets is meant to change the heart, mind and spirit of a man through the working of the New Covenant and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Beatitudes

(Matthew Chapter 5, Verses 1-12)

It occurred to me that there is an order to the preaching of the word by Jesus that I had not seen before. In the previous chapter we saw the beginning of his preaching which starts with repentance. Repentance was the focus of John the Baptist’s ministry and also the starting point of the disciples ministry after Jesus had been put to death. The essence of repentance is that it is a state of preparation. Repentance is meant to prepare a person so that they turn away from an old life of sin, ready to commence a new life with Christ. In essence it is like “turning over a new leaf” to start afresh. So we see that in each case the three key ministries of the New Testament begin by teaching the people to come to a state of preparation for what is to come. In particular we note that John the Baptist’s primary ministry was to fulfil the prophecy that said he was to prepare the way for the Christ and his focus was repentance from sin.

But now we see that after repentance the next phase of Jesus teachings are shown in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 which covers the teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. There are many teachings in this sermon which I will get to shortly, but when you stand back to examine the sermon at a high level we see that Jesus was establishing a new standard. He was in effect setting the bar for what is the new life in the New Covenant, and it is a higher standard than what was required under the law. The law defined the difference between right and wrong, but the new standard commenced in the sermon on the mount leads to perfection. As we will see in later chapters and books, Jesus did not expect man to be able to do this by himself. It is testified in many places that man could not even keep the law, so how could man be expected to attain a higher standard than the law by himself? Man can’t but within the New Covenant teachings we see that Christ and God have provided help through the provision of the Holy Spirit to counsel, teach and guide us as we walk the new path.
But I am getting ahead of myself as this will unfold in future sections. The process of establishing the standard up front is not unusual in the Bible. We see that in Genesis chapter 1 that God described His plan for creation and that it would be perfect. We then see in the following chapters the commencement of that work when he talks about, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” (Gen 2:4) So this “process approach” in the New Testament follows a similar process to one already established.
Now in Matthew 5:1-12 we see what is commonly called the Beatitudes. Each of these shows a reward for a state of being or suffering for the sake of a person’s belief in God. They provide hope for those who follow Christ according to the New Covenant. In the verses we see:
Vs. 3 – The poor in spirit, that is those who are not high-spirited or flighty, but rather are stable and sober of mind. These people shall receive the kingdom of heaven. High spirited people are into everything and their lives are like whirlwinds, always in a hurry and a rush. But Christ is seeking people who are steady, calm and able to consider a matter without rushing off into all manner of schemes. Wisdom is found in quiet places and not in turmoil. Turmoil promotes haste which can lead to poor decisions and loss without consideration for consequences. But wisdom is pure, peaceable, considerate and above all is the gift of God.
Vs. 4 – Those who mourn shall be comforted. Mourning is the outcome of loss and grief and the Lord promises that there will be no grief in His Kingdom. Any who have suffered and wept will find comfort in Jesus Christ both in his Kingdom here and tomorrow. Many people mourn the loss of loved ones, but in Christ our mourning does not become devastation for we know where those we love are going. When there is knowledge there is understanding and in the case of the loss of loved ones we have some understanding of what the Lord is doing and take comfort from that knowledge.
Vs. 5 – The meek shall inherit the earth. This scripture flies in the face of conventional wisdom that suggests men of aggression and force will have power. But in Christ’s kingdom it is the meek who will be in charge. In all cases in history we have seen aggressive people try to take possession of power by force in this world, and in all cases they come to nought. Yes they may have control for a time but in the end their situation ends in ruin and despair. Consider the contrasts of people like Hitler or Saddam Hussein in comparison to Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Peaceful protest brought about a greater and lasting change than violent aggression and force. The greatest of the meek and peaceful leaders ever known was Jesus Christ and his words echo across the millennia. Also it should be noted that meek does not mean weak. Jesus, Martin Luther King and Ghandi as examples could never be considered weak but each of them was powerful in their opposition to evil and wrongdoing, but through peaceful means.
Vs. 6 – This verse indicates the need to be seeking the kingdom. To those who are seeking righteousness and wanting to do what is right with all their heart and soul there is a promise they will receive it. Righteousness does not come from anything a man does or can do but comes as the gift of God. It is the essence of the teaching of the New Covenant that it is through faith in Jesus Christ that we receive the gift of God’s righteousness. And if we are hungering and thirsting for it, we will receive it.
Vs. 7 – Those who show mercy will receive mercy. There are many teachings in a similar vein throughout the New Covenant, such as “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, ” and “You will reap what you sow.” This teaching in the is verse follows that same line. It is incumbent on all people that they show mercy towards those who need it, for at some time we too may be in a similar position. And likewise if we are merciful towards our brethren and neighbours, then God will show us mercy when we are in need.
Vs. 8 – The pure in heart will see God. No one who is not pure in heart will see God but will be rejected by him. The call of the New Covenant is to lead us to learn how our hearts may be purified. The promise of eternity with the Lord is in becoming pure of heart, and this is achievable not through anything we do, but through the working of the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ. We can and will be transformed in our hearts as we learn and walk with Christ.
Vs. 9 – The peacemakers shall be called the sons of God. There are several ways this might be read. Firstly it can be those who make peace with others or broker peace between others, and secondly it is those who learn how to be at peace and make peace within themselves. In my opinion it is this second group to whom this scripture refers. Throughout the bible we see the value and impact of peace. Jesus calls us to peace and through his teachings we can find peace within. And if we are at peace within ourselves, then we are at peace with the rest of the world. If we can gain internal peace, then whatever occurs outside of our minds and bodies cannot have any impact or influence on us. A peaceful heart and mind can overcome all obstacles. Jesus had many names and titles, one of which is the “Prince of Peace.” As the Son of God then it stands to reason that those who make peace and find peace in themselves will be identified with God also as his sons and daughters.
Vs. 10-12 – These verses offer both warning and reward. Those who seek to follow the righteous path of Jesus will be persecuted by those who do not. There are no “ifs and buts” in this matter, it is a simple matter of fact. But the reward for suffering persecution for righteousness sake is to receive the kingdom of God. There are many people in this world who are persecuted for many reasons, but it is those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for following the ways of God, to whom this promise is made. Jesus shows that we should not be surprised quoting the examples of the persecution of God’s prophets that went before. If they persecuted those righteous men and Jesus himself, be assured they will persecute Christians today. But if we seek the Lord and learn the ways of righteousness, finding peace in our hearts and the meekness of Jesus Christ forms in our minds, then we will not be overthrown by persecution but will attain the promise of receiving God’s kingdom in due course.

The Temptation of Christ

(Matthew Chapter 4)

This chapter is interesting for we see in it the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and this is interesting because we also see that before he began he was attacked by Satan and tempted in the wilderness. Also note that the devil mocked Jesus for he began his first two temptations with the words, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil knew full well that Jesus was the Son of God and that there was no “if” about it. But using such mockery was an attempt to goad Jesus into doing the devil’s will rather than the will of God. We see this same thing as Christians. People will say, “…and you call yourself a Christian…” when they mock or stand opposed to us. As the devil sought proof’s from Jesus with his mockery so too the devils servants do the same thing to the servants of the Lord. Don’t fall into that trap for that is what it is. Jesus was tempted and attacked at other times too, but this first occasion is interesting as it was to test his faith in a number of key areas.

First (vs. 3-4) the devil tempts him with human and physical needs. After forty days without food Jesus would be weak for the scripture says he was hungry, and the devil knew this. So he offered bread, food for the physical body, in an attempt to lure Jesus astray. What we can take from this is that we too will be tempted and lured by the physical things we may need or want. Also the devil does not play fair for he tempted Jesus at his weakest moment and with the very thing that would solve his immediate need, but that would also have put Jesus into the power of the devil. He will do the same to us and as Jesus fought back with scripture, we too need to use the power of the word to fight back. This then suggests how important it is to learn and understand the word, otherwise you will be unable to fight off the temptations of the devil.
Second (vs. 5-7) the devil tempts Jesus with fanaticism to call on the miraculous power of God. Note here that the devil actually uses scripture to attack Jesus. There are some who do take such fanatical stands and essentially put God to the test, and this is not what we are called to do. There is security and protection in the Lord, but we should not put Him to the test. We are not greater than God and so we have no right to try him or to tempt him through fanatical religious over-zealousness. In this day there are some who seek miracles and the miraculous power of God, but in reality those things are not the most important things. Ultimately miracles will cease to occur for they will not be necessary. Instead we are to seek God’s kingdom and learn to live in His love for love lasts forever. Common sense apart from what the scripture teaches would surely show that what lasts into eternity is much more important and valuable than something that is only temporary. This is a message repeated in a number of places in the Bible and will be dealt with further in those places.
Finally we see the devil tempt Jesus with power, wealth and riches. What we see from this is that the devil is in control of the kingdoms of this world and in the Luke version of this scripture (Luke 4:5-6) we see the devil state that the kingdoms of this earth have been delivered to the devil and he gives them to whomever he wants. To that end then as Christians we should learn not to desire the things of this world for they are not of God. Riches, money, wealth and power in this world are not the things of God but are temporary and exist only for this lifetime. But to attain the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ is eternal and is not of this world but from God. That is where our focus and priority should be.
In all of these temptations the Lord defeats the devil by scripture. We too need a knowledge of the scripture to fight Satan and his attacks. And after the devil was sent packing we see that angels came and ministered to his needs. In the same way when we go through temptation the Lord will strengthen, comfort and establish us in due course.
When Jesus began preaching in Galilee we see that like John the Baptist, he began by preaching for the people to repent. We will see later in Acts that the disciples too began their ministries in this same way and a short review of Hebrews 6:1-2 will show that repentance is one of the six key foundation teachings of the New Covenant. Now whilst I have said above that miracles are not the most important thing, they do have their place. For we see that as Jesus preached the word (vs.23-25) that he did heal the sick and perform many fantastic works. But we see that the key to miracles was explained in Mark 16:17, “…these signs will accompany those who believe.” and in Mark 16:20, “…they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.” So miracles have a place as a confirmation of the message. But this is not something that can be taken but must be given by the Lord. When the message is right he will provide the signs and confirm it where necessary.

The Baptism of Jesus and John the Baptist’s Ministry

(Matthew Chapter 3)

Here we see the beginning of John the Baptists ministry. John came to do two things. He came to prepare the way for the Lord and to bear witness to Jesus as being the Christ. Was it necessary for him to do this? Probably not, but under the law a matter was considered true if two or more people witnessed it. And besides, it was prophesied that John would appear and do this work. He was the prophet that came in the spirit of Elijah as spoken of elsewhere.

Now we see John preach baptism as a sign for the repentance of sins, and this was very important. He introduced this process that was later carried forward into the New Covenant. John also made the point that it is not enough just to be baptised for repentance but you needed to be live a repentant life. He told the Jews that they could not simply rely on their genealogy to save them; they needed to “…bear fruit that befits repentance.” It is the same today. You cannot go through the motions and expect salvation; you need to live in accordance with the word.

Now the New Covenant did not exist in John’s time because it was not ratified and could not come into existence until after Jesus had died. The Old Covenant required the sacrifice of goats and bulls and the blood of these animals sufficed to do two things. Firstly they brought the covenant into existence & secondly they were the offering for sin. Jesus death was similar in that His blood brought the New Covenant into effect, but it was not an offering for sin but took away mans sin. To enter the New Covenant then we need to enter into Jesus’ death, which is done through baptism.

Now John also recognised Jesus was mightier than himself for he said when Jesus came for baptism that he (John) needed to be baptised by Christ. But we see in Jesus’ answer a very interesting response. Jesus said he needed to be baptised by John, “…for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Baptism is necessary to meet the requirements to fulfil all righteousness and without baptism this cannot be achieved. In Jesus’ case he did not need to be baptised, as John knew, but by being baptised Jesus provided an example for us all to follow. No person can say they do not need to be baptised because Jesus was not baptised. That is how important baptism is in the new covenant. Indeed baptism is the mechanism by which we enter the New Covenant through Christ Jesus. He said elsewhere that, “I am the door” and we need to enter by the door. We do that through being baptised into his death.

We also see that God the Father was pleased with Jesus and this process because God the Father gave his seal of approval saying from heaven, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Similarities between Jesus and Moses Births


(Matthew Chapter 2)

The whole book of Matthew focuses quite heavily on the fulfillment of prophecy. This is very clear in this second chapter. We see that in all aspects of his life Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies pertaining to him beginning with his birth in Bethlehem.

Verse 11 is interesting in that it shows the wise men “go into the house” to worship. This blows apart the traditional Christmas nativity scenes where the wise men bring their gifts while Jesus is in the manger. It is made even clearer that some time had passed, and thus Joseph and Mary had moved from the manger to a house, when we see that Herod’s edict to kill all male children under the age of two years old, based upon the time the wise men had given him.

But in spite of Herod’s evil plans, God protected the young Jesus by warning his parents to get out of that place and go to Egypt…and again this fulfilled scripture, as did their return to Nazareth so that Jesus could be “called a Nazarene” and “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

There is another interesting aspect to this sequence of events as well. We saw that when Moses was alive he said that the Lord would raise up another prophet like him, from amongst their brethren (Deut 18:15-16, Acts 3:22-23). What we see is that there are many parallels between the lives of Moses & Jesus. For example, the rulers at the times of both their childhoods sought to kill all male children under the age of two. They were also both brought up out of Egypt. Moses was given the Old Covenant law to teach Israel and Jesus brought the New Covenant into effect to save the spiritual Israel. There are many other interesting similarities in their lives and again this strengthens the fulfillment of scripture and proof that Jesus is the Christ.

The Genealogy of Jesus

(Matthew Chapter 1)

It seemed like a good idea to capture the things I am learning as I read the Bible, and that is the purpose of this blog.

Anyone who has read the New Testament knows that the first chapter of Matthew is a lot of long and sometimes difficult to pronounce names. But it is an important piece of scripture as it shows the genealogy of Jesus. The Old Testament said that one of the descendants of Abraham, Judah and David the King would come as the Messiah. Matthew 1:1-16 shows that lineage and is evidence of who Christ is from a prphetic perspective.

Verses 18-19 show some interesting things too. It occurred to me that after the initial mentioning of Joseph, he hardly gets mentioned again in the Bible. And yet it stands to reason that he was around for he was a carpenter & Jesus too must have learned that trade from his supposed father. Also we see that Joseph was a good and just man for the scripture says that he was unwilling to put Mary to shame and was going to divorce her quietly. When you consider that he had discovered she was pregnant the first thought any rational person would make is that she had been unfaithful. Yet in spite of that Joseph was prepared to keep a lid on the matter and not make a big fuss, not for his own sake, but for hers. This is a sign of a just and reasonable man.

Of course what we see then is angel of the Lord coming to Joseph to explain what the situation is and that he should continue to take Mary as his wife.

Now what is also interesting in what the angel said to Joseph is the reason why Jesus was coming to the world. In verse 21 we see that Jesus was being born, “…to save his people from their sins.” This is the primary reason why Jesus came and we see this same purpose repeated in many places throughout the gospels. The very reason that Jesus was born, lived and died was to save us from our sins. This is a significant part of Jesus’ ministry and one that will unfold in future posts.