Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

(Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 12)

In this one verse (vs. 12) the Lord has shown us a summary of what was contained in the Old Covenant law and the words of the prophets. “Whatever you would wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” This one verse provides both an insight into what the Lord is seeking from us as well as a maxim to live by.
There are several focal points of Christianity and this scripture provides one of those points. The first point is about worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ and creating a relationship with God through him. The second point is about our relationship with our fellow man and learning how to live in harmony with one another. What we see in this scripture is the key to this second focal point of the teachings of Christ. How to live in relationship with other men.
Consider for a moment the Old Covenant law. There are in excess of six hundred laws that were given to the children of Israel by which they were to live. When you distil the essence of these laws we find that at the bottom of them is this precept spoken of by Jesus, which is to do unto others as you would have them do to you. In the Ten Commandments for example we see that they speak entirely about relationships. First about our relationship to God and then about our relationship with our fellow man. The third level of relationship contained in the old law was about our relationship with ourself. As an example there were laws and precepts about what to eat and wear, and the wisdom contained in these laws would keep us healthy and free from sickness if we followed those laws.
So the entire scope of the teachings of the law and prophets comes down to relationships and that is in essence what Jesus was telling us in this single verse. We need to learn how to get along with each other. When you consider the ultimate reward for following Christ this becomes apparent. After all things have been concluded and all sin is washed away, the Lord will rule his people into eternity. In that time he wants his people to be able to get along with each other. He does not want people to argue, back-bite and fight with each other as that would certainly not be a pleasant place to live. Instead he wants his people to be at peace and in harmony with each other and this is what this verse is telling us. How do you want to be treated by other people? Then do the same to them. If you do not like to be spoken against and upset and stressed and so on, then don’t do these things to others.
Easy to say, but not always easy to do. Fortunately the Lord has provided us with teachings and processes through the Holy Spirit to enable us to learn how to live this way. When we learn to walk in the spirit we can truly find the way to live in peace and harmony and truly fulfil the truth of this scripture.

Ask and it will be Given, Seek and you will Find, Knock and it will be Opened

(Matthew Chapter 7, Verses 7-11)

Another set of wonderful promises in this section of scripture. Beginning with, “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened,.” These are such positive messages to the Christian who is really looking for the truth. There is no if, but or maybe about this passage, but rather a positive statement that says, “Do this and you will get what you are after.”

Now each of these points while similar are slightly different and it is worth considering them individually for a moment. “Ask and it will be given.” When we are trying to understand a matter and when we need help or some other assistance, the Lord says simply to ask. He says ask and you will get what you are after. Consider the reverse of this. If you don’t ask for something, how will the person, including the Lord, know what you really want? How can someone give when they don’t know what you need? Too often in the world we hear people complain that they never get anything, but often it is because they don’t ask. Rather than get all bitter and twisted about it, would it not be simpler just to ask? After all, what is the worst that could happen? You could get a knock back and the person say no, but at least it is a decision which you can then work on. When the answer is no, sometimes you need to ask in a different. Many times a negative answer is not necessarily the final answer, it just may mean there are other things that need to be done.
Which brings us to, “Seek and you will find.” Have you ever lost something of value, say your car keys or the TV remote? Would there be any point just sitting around wishing they would turn up without going to look for them? Of course not. The Lord gives an example in the parable of a woman having ten coins and on losing one of the coins she searched diligently and swept the house until she located it (Luke 15:8-10). Seeking the things of the Lord is much the same as this. We need to seek diligently, looking high and low, and then the Lord has promised we will find what we are seeking.
Then we have the scripture, “Knock and it will be opened.” This is a bit like the other two above in that if we were to come to a door wanting to enter, how would those on the other side know we were there if we did not knock? It would be pointless to just stand there in the hope that someone might open the door. Generally when we come to a building or house wishing to enter or speak to those inside we need to knock. Knocking on the door announces our arrival and lets the occupants know we are waiting for them. It gets their attention so that they will come and open the door for us. Generally we knock because we want to come inside for any one of many reasons. It is the same with the Lord. We want to come into his presence and so we need to knock at his door, metaphorically speaking. We need to make ourselves known to him through prayer to seek entrance to his presence so we can ask and seek the things we may wish to know. Prayer is rather like knocking on heavens door. We address our prayers to God and then ask for whatever we may be seeking. And best of all in this section of scripture the Lord has said we will receive what we need and are seeking…presuming of course that it is in his will and is what we really need at that time. Make no mistake, sometimes the Lord does say no, but when he does it is because whatever we were seeking is not what we may really need.
He further goes on to show that when we ask him for anything, he always gives us good things. He likens it to us with our children. If they ask us for bread would we give them a stone? Of course not! And in the same way when we ask the Lord for anything he will give us what is good for us. This is why in some cases we may not get what we are seeking because it is not good for us. We do not know the future but the Lord does. I recall a personal example where at one time I sought to change jobs and asked the Lord to make the change happen. It didn’t and I was puzzled because I was far and away the best candidate for the role. The person actually employed was later fired for fraudulent activity. But shortly after that the organisation was restructured and the role ceased to exist. In the wisdom of the Lord who knew these things in advance, he protected my employment situation whereas if I had followed the course I wanted I’d have been unemployed. He gave me what I needed and indeed something better by saying no to my request.
The Luke version of this scripture goes one step further saying if we ask him he will give us the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:9-13) There is probably no greater gift than this, for it is the Holy Spirit who becomes our teacher, counsellor, guide and protector to lead us into the kingdom of God and to transform our natures into the image of Christ.
All we have to do is ask.

Judge not that you be not Judged

(Matthew Chapter 7, Verses 1-6)

We are called to have a positive relationship with one another as brethren. In any positive relationship there is no judgement of our fellow man. At the start of this chapter Jesus points out that we are not to judge one another. The fundamental principle here is that the basis of our judgement is completely flawed for man judges according to his own perception, whereas God judges according to the heart. Man judges with only part of the facts but God judges according to the truth. Man’s judgement is clouded by a host of issues including his own limitations, biases and environment, but God looks at all things from a position of perfect knowledge and judges according to a standard based on his own perfection.

It is often said that it takes one to know one and in some measure this is what these first verses are saying. The apostle Paul spoke of this also in Romans 2:19-24 showing that in many cases those who judged others and preached about all manner of evil were actually doing the very same things themselves.
The act of judgement is not right for us to do. When we take it upon ourselves to judge another we are no longer a brother but a judge. In judging we assume a position greater than the other person and think that we are better than they are, yet we are all equal in Christ. In judging another then we assume the position of judge and the only one who has the right to judge us is God himself, so in judging we take God’s rightful position.
Furthermore, there is no-one perfect for we all suffer the same weaknesses as the rest of humanity. While the Lord is working with us and being merciful towards our faults and weaknesses, we need to be of the same mind towards our fellow brethren and show mercy towards them. We do not know at any point in time exactly which weakness a person may have that the Lord is dealing with and so it is not our position to judge. The person may have some fault we perceive and can see, but the Lord may be dealing with a deeper underlying issue that is more grave and of more importance to resolve first. The apostle John said it best in John 7:14-24 saying, “Do not judge by appearances but judge with right judgement.” Whenever you consider a matter, weigh it up not by what you think it might be from appearances but against what is right, holy and true. We are not called to judge our brethren but we do need to weigh matters and make decisions about courses of action. We may judge a deed but never judge a person for we are all beset with weaknesses and failings.
We must remember also that Jesus came to save the sinners and as Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” If the Lord does not condemn us, then who are we to condemn another person through judging them? We should not even judge ourselves, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, and sometimes we are our own worst critics. We put ourselves down and condemn ourselves for some foolish thing we may have done. But when we judge and condemn ourselves we are doing something worse than the action we are condemning ourselves for. Again it is not our position to judge even ourselves for judgement rests in the hands of God.
The next section in vs. 6 gives a warning saying, “…do not throw your pearls before the swine…” There is great value and reward in Christ and the teachings that will lead us to His Kingdom. But there are many people in this world who are simply not interested and indeed are hostile to Christianity. Whenever the subject of religion arises they may ridicule, abuse, deride and belittle those who are speaking of Christianity. So not only do they fail to see the benefits, they turn and attack those who are trying to give them something of value. To these people the precious gifts of knowledge of God are as worthless as dirt. They have no concept of the value of Gods word nor any desire to know it’s value. They cannot see that it can lead to a better life now and later to eternity for they are blinded to the truth of the gospel.
Jesus said that these people would exist and he has given fair warning that if we try to give them the things of God they will reject them, in some cases violently. So what is the answer? Don’t give them your gifts. Jesus has said elsewhere that where he is there is his servant also (John 12:26) and so if He is working with these people he will have the right servant speak the right words. If these people reject his words, then their judgement is upon their own heads. Why should you continue to bang your head against the wall only to be ridiculed and have your good spoken of as evil. In the final analysis the Lord said at the very end of Revelation to, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” (Rev 22:11) Let them alone for if the Lord is working with them he will put it upon their mind to seek, and if they reject the Lord there is nothing you can do about it.

Seek First the Kingdom of God and other teachings

(Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 16-34)

Jesus continues his teachings about not doing things to be seen by men in verses 16-17 saying when you fast you should not look dismal, but rather go about your business as if all were normal.

Let us look for a moment at the scriptural significance of fasting as it matters to the Christian under the New Covenant.
In Jewish laws and customs fasting had several purposes and breadth of application. There were four appointed public fasts mentioned in the Old Testament, and a fifth that was less stringently applied. There were also appointed fasts set up by rabbis. In addition people often held personal and private fasts for various reasons.
One of the customs that arose from private practice but with no specific scriptural basis was fasting twice a week, specifically on Mondays and Thursdays.
Fasting is seen as the abstinence from food and/or drink, but the Hebrew words that it is translated from also have a broader application. They can include all forms of abstinence such as washing, comfort, anointing, wearing of shoes as well as abstaining from the desires of the flesh and passion that leads to sin.
Some more information on the Purpose and Conception of fasting includes:
In the ancient Near East (ie. not in the scripture), prayer and fasting were advocated as a means to have one’s requests fulfilled by the gods. The Bible emphasizes that the fast is not an end in itself but only a means through which man can humble his heart and repent for his sins; his repentance must manifest itself in his deeds (Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:8). The idea is especially stressed in Isaiah (58:3ff.) where the contrast is made between a fast which is not accompanied by any real repentance, and which is therefore unacceptable to God, and the true fast which leads to God’s merciful forgiveness: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the fetters of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him… Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will answer.”
Other scriptures also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Jer 14:10-12, Isaiah 58:1-9). Jesus upbraided the Pharisees example of fasting for the did it to just look and appear religious but failed in the requirement of a penitent heart or a desire to come close to God. To them the fast was a bit like the prayers of empty words discussed in the last post and became a meaningless and futile exercise as they were seeking the approval of men rather than God.
Verses 19-21 talk about the seeking of money and wealth. The issue here is not the money or wealth in themselves for in reality they are neutral. Rather it is the condition of the heart of the person. If a person puts their trust and hopes on money and wealth they are behaving foolishly for all things of this earth are temporary and will ultimately disintegrate through time or may be lost and stolen. Today we see this is even more apparent for the ravages of inflation and the financial crises that have arisen from time to time wreak havoc with the value of money. You cannot trust in money to save you or to get you through anything. And as the Lord showed in this section, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If we make our treasure in the heavenly places and put our value on praise, worship and the seeking of God rather than seeking the temporary riches and pleasures of this life, then our hearts will be with God and we will receive his blessings.
The next section from vs. 22-23 continues and expands this teaching saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” It is through our senses and especially our eyes that we perceive the world. If we look for good things then we fill our mind, heart, soul and life with the light of what is good. But if we seek out the things that are evil and bad in this world then in a similar way we will pollute our life and our thinking which guides our life will be unsound. When we seek God and the truth of all matters, we seek what is good, holy, just and true for in God there is no darkness of evil. It is important for us to watch carefully what we seek with our eyes and other senses for we become what we take in through the senses. The surest way to be free from evil is not to accept it in through senses in the first place and thus not allow it into your heart and mind to pollute your thinking.
Jesus continues in the next verse (24) showing again the problems of seeking money saying, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” (mammon being a Semitic word for money). You cannot serve two masters for you will end up being devoted to one and hating the other. At some point in time the two masters will pull in different directions and a choice will need to be made which will cause you to oppose one or the other. If it is money you are serving, seeking to find riches, at some point it will lead you away from God. And as discussed earlier, money will never and cannot ever save you.
Now Jesus understood that we will be anxious about these things, for in the next section from vs. 25-34 he teaches the we should not be anxious. There is a great promise in this section that God will provide for his people. All that we need to sustain our life and live well will be provided when we seek Him. All of the world seeks the things of the world and the Lord knows there are things we need for daily subsistence. He knows we need food, clothing, shelter, water and so on and in this section of scripture he has promised he will provide all those things. But he also makes the point that we must get our priorities right. In vs. 33 it is clear that we must, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is a call to align our lives correctly and put our treasure in the Lord. This is a call to seek out what is good and right and true and not look for the evil things of this world. This is a call to put our trust and hope in a living God and not to trust in the temporal things of this world that have no real power to save us. And if we do these things, then there is no need for us to be anxious for God will sustain us both today, tomorrow and forever.

The Lord’s Prayer and Issues of Seeking Praise from Men

(Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 1-15)

We begin to see Jesus teach about our behaviours in front of others in this section. He tells us that being a Christian is not like a spectator sport. We should not prance about as someone or something important nor do things that draw attention to ourselves. Our aim is not self-aggrandisement but rather it is to do the will of God. Thus when we do things in public it should be done quietly and without pomp and ceremony. If we are doing good for someone we do not have to shout it from the roof tops and nor should we be like that boy in the nursery rhyme, little Jack Horner who said, “What a good boy am I.”

When we seek the praise of other men we have missed the point of Christianity. There is a reward in doing good and doing what is right, and that reward comes from God. But if we seek a man’s praise then we will not have God’s reward for the praise of man is our reward. We have got what we wanted. But if we seek God’s reward then we are much better off for His reward leads to eternity. Nothing that we do that is good will go unrewarded but it depends what our hearts desire is as to whether we receive that reward from man or from God. If we seek to look good before man, then the motivation is vanity and earthly gain, but if we are seeking God’s approval we are motivated by humility, love and godliness.
Jesus then moves into teaching us about prayer and how we ought to pray. Firstly he teaches that when we pray our personal prayers that we should go somewhere apart from others so that our conversation is between ourself and God. There is also a place for community prayer, but personal prayer is a private matter and again it is not a spectator sport. There are people who do pray on street corners in some places and who look pious and very religious through doing so, but Jesus is saying that this is not what he wants. Those who pray in public like this are basically making a show of themselves and again are seeking man’s approval and that will be their reward. But it would be better they had sought God’s approval so that their prayers might be answered.
From verse 7-15 we see a well-known and badly mis-used piece of scripture. This section contains what is commonly known as the Lord’s prayer.
Now what is interesting in this section is that Jesus begins by saying, “…in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Empty words are like chants or prayers that are repeated by rote for their is no thought in them. A prayer that is repeated by rote is just a regurgitation of someone else’s words or thoughts, but not the words of the person speaking. Jesus is seeking a conversation with his people through prayer, but using empty words, chanting and praying from a prayer book by rote is not a conversation. He wants to know what our individual needs, desires, joys, pains, issues, problems, pleasures and fascinations are that we bring to him in prayer. He does not want to hear someone else’s words repeated over and over for that is just many words empty of substance.
One of the greatest mis-uses of empty words is the often heard repetition of the Lords prayer. Jesus gave us this teaching not so we would repeat it by rote, but so that we would know how to pray, not the words to say. In the Luke version of this section we see it is preceded by a request from the disciples saying, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) The disciples were not asking what words they should repeat over and over, but wanted Jesus to show them the form of prayer and how they should go about praying to the Lord in a way that He wanted to hear. Likewise we see that in Matthew 6:9 Jesus says, “Pray then LIKE this.” (my emphasis) Again he did not say to pray these specific words but that this was how a prayer needs to be constructed. When people repeat the Lords prayer over and over they are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus both wanted and intended. So when you pray, use your own mind and say what you are feeling and ask for the things you need or want.
Now let’s look at this example prayer to see how the Lord intended we should come to God in prayer.
It starts in vs. 9 with a salutation addressing the person to whom we are praying. And this would be normal in any conversation. If you see your friend walking down the street you would call out to them to get their attention. When we pray to God we likewise address him. The prayer then shows respect to God and recognises his greatness for the blessings he has given to us. It recognises him as God and we as his humble servants and sets the right scene for the conversation. We are coming to him to speak and to ask and we should recognise that he is greater than we are. Ultimately in all the we may ask of God, it is his will that will be done, not ours. There will be times when we may not receive the things we ask for our own good. Sometimes we may need to go through a period of suffering to test and strengthen us and sometimes we may be asking for something that is not what we really need. God knows the path he has set us on and where he is trying to lead us so we need to recognise his knowledge and wisdom in dealing with our lives and we do this in our prayers.
As the prayer progresses we see Jesus says it is OK to ask for physical things saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There are physical needs that we have and we can ask the Lord for them. In trying times we may have a need for money, clothing, shelter or food and not know where they will come from. There may be the need for a job or some other thing. What the Lord showed here is that it is quite acceptable to ask for such things for he knows we need these things.
Then there is a request that looks at relationship issues. He framed this in the next segment of the prayer saying, “…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is a reminder that as we seek forgiveness, so too we should give forgiveness to those who might have wronged us in some way. In the beatitudes we saw it said that, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Here in the Lord’s prayer we find that sentiment repeated. It is important for us to treat others in the same way we would want to be treated. Do we want forgiveness from God? Then we need to likewise forgive our brethren.
He then says we can ask for matters of a spiritual nature with his example saying, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We can ask the Lord for his protection and security both from the things and people we can see as well as from the hosts of wickedness that surround us in the spiritual realm. This is also a call for the Lord to give us the strength to be able to overcome temptation when or if it is presented before us. And it is acceptable to ask for such things.
Finally the Lords prayer closes by acknowledging the greatness and power of God saying, “…for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.” Elsewhere in the scripture we are told to address our prayers to God in the name of Jesus and likewise we should close in His name which recognises his power over all things.
The Lords prayer was never meant to be something spoken by rote. It was never meant to be repeated over and over again, and especially in a community setting. The Lord’s prayer was an example of a personal prayer given to show the disciples and us how we should pray. This is the method for prayer when we are alone in our rooms and come before God. It is a powerful teaching and a great example and it should not be wasted through mis-use and repetitive chanting which renders the lesson worthless, even opposed to the word of God.

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.”