Ask, Seek, and Knock (Matthew 7)

We are close to the end of our series called “Thy Kingdom Come” where we are walking through one of Jesus’s sermons that was a big part of his ministry: the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. After today, we have one week and one passage left in this series. And next week, I think, is the scariest passage in all of the Bible. I hope you’re able to be here and bring someone with you. 

To recap, in chapter 6, Jesus talked about the heart BEHIND prayer and fasting,  about the emphasis of our lives and work – whether temporary and physical or eternal and spiritual, and then about how our Father already knows our needs, so we should seek HIM and HIS righteousness FIRST. And, of course, that will affect every area of our life – which is why Jesus then starts talking about relationships – first with others (regarding judgment and the golden rule that we covered last week), and then with him (which is what we will be talking about today). 

Interestingly, Jesus just finished a huge list of “don’ts” such as don’t commit adultery, don’t retaliate, don’t build up treasures on earth, don’t be anxious, don’t judge, don’t cast your pearls before swine, don’t give holy things to dogs… and now in Matthew 7:7 (where we will pick up today), Jesus turns and gives a positive, affirmative imperative to his followers about their relationship with God.

Jesus said:

Matthew 7 [7] Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. [8] For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. [9] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? [10] Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [11] If you then, who are evil [or earthly, not heavenly], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

This is one of the most encouraging and hope-giving sections of the New Testament. Not only are we given a better understanding on prayer and the “rewards” of prayer, but we get to see the heart of the Father we are praying to. 

But in our study of this passage, we are also left with one big question and an even bigger problem. This question that we face has left many Christians confused and the problem has left many disappointed or even bitter in their relationship with God and His Church. We will get to those in a minute. 

But before we do, let’s work through the text so we can understand some of the words and phrases that Jesus uses. I want to give three observations. 

———

First, notice that Jesus uses three key verbs (ask, seek, and knock) that are describing aspects of our prayer life. These words in the original language are known as “present imperatives,” meaning that they could be read as KEEP ON asking, KEEP ON seeking, and KEEP ON knocking. 

Jesus is not talking about a one-time, emotional, or flippant prayer. This isn’t like a child saying: “Dad, can I have this? Ooh dad I want one of those? Dad can I have that, please!” He is talking about heartfelt and consistent conversations with God about what our hearts really desire. It is in this way that prayer tests our sincerity and authenticity. Jesus is inviting us to keep on asking, seeking and knocking. 

Secondly, consider the words themselves and the progressive intensity that Jesus is talking about in our prayer life.

To ask is to call for something with our words. This is the most elementary step to get what we desire. While it does not take work on our part, it does take humility and embracing our need. I tell my kids: “if you need something, just ask.”

To seek is to look for something with our minds or (in this case) our souls. It moves from asking to looking for what we desire or wonder about. It reminds me of Nehemiah who went to look around and do his research on Jerusalem before calling people to come and build. The idea is that we will not find what we are not looking for. Seeking is about focus and concentration. 

To knock speaks to an action or movement. It implies that there is resistance that we are pushing against that, in fact, CAN be opened. I like how the late preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “It would be of no use to knock at a wall, but you may wisely knock at a door, for it is arranged for opening.” 

If this is talking about our prayer life, then the great thing is that none of these things require skill or great knowledge. Because of Jesus and with the Holy Spirit, we can all ask, we all are able to seek, we all have the capacity to knock. Or as Spurgeon also said, “A man can knock though he may be no philosopher.”

But despite its simplicity, Jesus is speaking about that which is uncommon in our prayer lives. Because this kind of asking, seeking, and knocking requires awareness of our need, humility of heart, desperation of mind, focus of thought, recognition of God’s character, perseverance in spirit, willingness to move and act, confidence in the Father’s love, and trust in God’s good will for us. 

And right there is a challenge for us. Because I think that is often NOT how we pray, is it? But Jesus is saying that THOSE kinds of prayers get answered.

Which brings us to our third observation about this text. notice the outcome (or “reward” as Jesus called it earlier) of prayer. He says in verse 8: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Of course, the opposite is true, too: if you do NOT ask, if you do NOT seek, if you do NOT knock… you will NOT receive, find, or have opened. 

So let me sum it all up like this. Jesus is teaching his followers to : 

  • Keep ASKING (with our words) and what we are asking for will be given to us 
  • Keep SEEKing (with our thoughts) and we will find what we are seeking
  • Keep KNOCKing (with our actions) and the door we knock on will be opened

That is the text, and it is wonderful and encouraging and hopeful. And we could say “amen” right there and go on our way, confident (as Paul said in HIS prayer in Ephesians 3) that God’s “…mighty power at work within us” and from his “glorious, unlimited resources” to answer our prayers and even “accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

[THE QUESTION]

But as I said earlier, in studying this passage, we are left with a big question that is not initially obvious. And how we answer this question says much about our own theology (or our understanding of God, ourselves, and life itself). The question is:

What should we be asking, seeking, and knocking FOR?

Is Jesus just talking about stuff – fame, fortune, good health, and status? Is this a verse to promote the “prosperity” and “health and wealth” of His followers? Is Jesus telling us to follow our dreams and visions and, if we have enough faith, they will become a reality? 

Well, just so you know, that would NOT make sense in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (especially because Jesus just said not to focus on building up treasures on this earth and that his followers WOULD be persecuted). 

But even more, that would not make sense if we consider the life of Jesus and the Disciples themselves. The reality is that everyone gets sick, no matter how much faith they have, everyone eventually dies no matter how much they pray, and many Christians (especially outside of modern America) are not wealthy or famous or prosperous. The “prosperity gospel” it not a gospel at all – it is a lie.  

So if Jesus is not saying to ask for stuff, then maybe he is talking about intangible and spiritual things – such as asking for salvation, seeking eternal life, and knocking on the narrow “gates” of heaven that he refers to in the next passage. 

But while that certainly makes sense, there are ample examples in Scripture where God chose to give or do something TANGIBLE in response to a prayer – such as multiplying the bread and fish, turning water into wine, causing coins to come out of a fishes mouth, and even raising the dead! And then we read: 

James 1 [17] Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change 

Or as we read earlier, Jesus said that even an “evil” or “earthly” father will give his son bread if he asks for it. And I could recount examples in my own life where God provided something tangible or physical or an opportunity that I needed.

So then the answer to the question of “what is Jesus saying that we should be asking, seeking, and knocking for?” – must be (I believe):

“…Whatever we need to live the life that God has called us to live.”

In fact, I heard two or three times this week from different preachers, that when we are living in step with God and seeking Him and His righteousness first, God will give us anything we need to accomplish his will. 

Is it possible to pray for the wrong thing? Sure! But as any loving parent or grandparent would say, we would rather our kids to come and ask us for wrong things sometimes… than to never talk to us at all.

[THE PROBLEM]

Now that the question is out of the way, that still leaves us with an incredibly difficult problem that we see “between the lines” of this text. And I think it is a problem that we have all faced at some point in our Christian lives. It is this: if Jesus said we receive, find, and have opened what we ask, seek, and knock for… then why do we not always get what we ask for? Why do we not always find what we seek? Why does every door we knock on not get opened? Or let me sum it up like this:

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? 

Of course, sometimes we pray for our team to win or the rain to hold off or us to do well on a project, and while it doesn’t work out, we are okay. No harm, no foul. We get over it, we stop thinking about it, and we move on. Sorry Cavilers.

But what about when our prayers get more serious and more dangerous? What about when (even though we prayed for them), our loved ones die, jobs do not hire us, lost family members do not get saved, children get cancer, plans fail, dreams never come true, or we feel like our lives are falling apart. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers then? 

Let me just say: I know that question well. I have been very blessed, but even in the middle of that, there are times that I can ask, “why, God?” or sometimes “why not, God?” 

And that is all of us. We do not have to go any further than the Book of Psalms to read about the heartfelt cries of God’s people. For example, one Psalmist wrote: 

Psalm 44 [9] But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. [10] You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil… [17] All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. [18] Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; [19] yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death… [23] Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! [24] Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever asked God “why?”

Jesus did.

Jesus was no stranger to our grief and disappointment. His friend, Lazarus died. His own family did not trust him. His own community did not believe in him. His own creation, the ones that he loved and came to give good news to – crucified him. And as he hung there on the cross, bleeding and suffocating, with his final breaths he cried out with a loud voice:  

Matthew 27 [46] …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Just let that settle in. 

And listen: I am not trying to downplay what you might be going through or to belittle anything you are feeling. I am not trying to come up with a short, cute phrase that “fixes” anything – because the truth is that we live in a broken and hurting world full of broken and hurting people. There is sickness and disappointment and death all the time in the world because of sin. And that is not how God wanted it to be. 

So the “problem” is real – but what is the answer? I believe that the answer is this:

God is a good Father. 

How is that the answer to this problem? Well let’s look back at the text (which is always the best place to look to understand Scripture). Jesus said:

Matthew 7 [9] Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? [10] Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  [that would be ridiculous, right? He is using an extreme example to say that…] [11] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

That phrase “how much more” is used multiple times throughout the Gospels, letting us know that God is MORE than anything we can imagine here. Do we have a good friend? God is more. Do we have a loving father? God is more. Do we have a great plan? God is more. He is always more. 

Just to be clear, God is not:

  • A genie that grants you whatever you wish 
  • A vending machine that drops a prize with the right change and combination of buttons 
  • A claw game that might give you wanted after wasting your time and money on it 
  • A wheel of fortune that gives you what your lucky spin lands on 

God is not even JUST a friend – He is a GOOD, GOOD FATHER. And as we said in the Lord’s Prayer that this “Father” language was new to God’s people on such a personal level. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is having the “defining the relationship” talk with his followers. He is saying how much MORE will your Father who is in heaven (he is high above, his thoughts are higher, his ways are better), will give GOOD things to those who ask him.  

How does God being a good father answer this question of why he doesn’t always answer our prayers? Let me quickly give us 3 ways and we’ll be done. 

Because He is a good Father… 

1. God gives good gifts to His Children.

Although we recognize the wickedness and brokenness in the world, we must also remember that was NOT God’s plan. Back in the beginning Genesis, God originally made everything good. 

But even while life is often “bad,” God is still good and he still gives good gifts to his children. In fact, Romans 8:28 tells us that God can even take that which which seems bad right now and turn it into something good! However, God will certain allow us to make bad choices and put bad things into our lives, but even the consequences of our sin that we brought on ourselves, God can use them for our good and his glory. He is a good Father.

God is not out to get us but to help us. He won’t play tricks on us and sneak in (as Jesus said) a rock for a stone or a snake for a fish. He is a loving, good Father. That might mean sometimes that he does not give his children everything they want, because he knows what we NEED as opposed to what we sometimes want. As John says in 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

If we ask with a pure heart, we seek in God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we knock on the door that is within God’s will, then, as Mary said, “nothing is impossible.” Because God gives good gifts to His children.

As a good Father, 

2. God will not reward disobedience. 

Maybe there is unrepentant sin that you committed or good that you neglected to do in your life, and God is waiting for you to repent before you answers your prayer. Will God cause or allow a loss or sickness or failure because there is sin in your life? Absolutely! That is not always why stuff happens, but a good father disciplines the children that he loves! God would not be a good Father if he let his children do whatever they wanted to – not while he knows the best plan for them. 

God will not give us the gift we are asking for, he will not lead us to find the new thing we are seeking, and he will not open a door to new places that we are knocking on when he cannot trust us to handle and be faithful with it. Consider the parable of the stewards that Jesus taught. Are we faithful with the time, talents, and resources that God has already given to us? 

Or what about as a church – are we being faithful with what we have before expecting that God will give us more? Could God be waiting on us to be in a right frame of mind, to be unified, to focus on him and his righteousness before he answers a prayer?

Listen to two of many verses we could read about how our sin “hinders” our prayers. James says in James 4:3 ”You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James wrote also in:
James 1:6-7 “… ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”

Or maybe you are not saved, and God is allowing things to happen to bring you to the place of desperation and “poverty of spirit” – because it is only at that place that God will save us from our sin. 

Lastly, because God is a good Father…

3. God has a better plan than we have.

Really, God has the BEST plan. But when we ask for things, seek things, and knock for things that are not in line with his will, he will not give them to us. Why – because he is mean? NO! Because his thoughts are SO much higher and his plans are SO much bigger and better. 

I often feel like I have to tell my kids “no” more than “yes” at this point in their lives. I don’t know everything, but I do know that eating junk before a meal is not the best plan for their health. I do know that playing in the road is not the best plan for a long life. I do know that if I put my child up in the tree, then they won’t be able to get themselves down and will be stuck or will fall out. And how much MORE is God a good Father than us?

We read earlier about how Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me” on the cross. But just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed in the Garden, “…My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

And as unimaginably difficult and torturous as that must have been for Him, we are so thankful that Jesus trusted his Father’s plan – and yielded to it even though he prayed for it to pass. Because it is only through Jesus’s death that we can have life. It is by his woulds and stripes we are healed.

What if the struggle we are going through is going to teach us something that we would not learn any other way? What if the difficulty we are facing that we are asking God to remove life will result in someone else’s salvation? We can’t see ahead, but God can. Let’s trust our good Father and his plan for our lives.

So what are you asking for that you have not yet received? What are you seeking for that you have not yet found? What door are you knocking on that God has not yet opened? 

Maybe God is saying to us this morning: 

  • “what you are asking for will not be good for you – just trust me”
  • “you have sin or wrong motives in your life – just repent”
  • “I have a better plan for you than you know – just wait”

Do we trust God is a good Father? That’s really what it comes down to.

Remember that Psalm of “Lament” and discouragement that we read? Where the Psalmist was questioning God? Well just one Psalm after, we read this: 

Psalm 46 [1] God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3] though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah [4] There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5] God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6] The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7] The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah… [10] “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” [11] The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 


This message was preached at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 29, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.

To Judge or Not to Judge

(the following message was preached by one of our teachers, Caleb Spence)


Jesus covered a lot in the Sermon on the Mount. It has been widely known as one of the most contextually rich sections of scripture but also one of the more challenging to sift through regarding application. But, without getting into the weeds, I think we can take away some things to get our framework right mentally. 

Jesus was originally preaching to his disciples (the twelve) and they followed him up the mountain and the crowd gathered as they marveled at his teachings. You see, many did not see him yet as the Messiah but Jesus still appealed as a marvelous teacher, philosopher and Christ to all that were present. Jesus was reframing the law and fulfilling the law at the same time.

Scholars correlate Moses and Jesus from the OT to the NT. Moses was sent away in a basket to escape Pharoah killing all of the male children. Jesus was smuggled to Egypt by his parents to escape Herod seeking to kill Him. Moses ascended to Mount Sinai where he was given the 10 Commandments.

Jesus ascends to the Mount of Beatitudes, as it’s commonly called, which is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Gennesaret on the souther slopes of the Korazim Plateau. The Jewish people had so much respect and reverence for Moses and the Law, and scholars believe Jesus was using the mount in the same way to awaken their awareness. 

Jesus is addressing followers and non-followers alike. Many see the Sermon on the Mount as the Golden Rule, Moral things to live by and they were. But –

if all it is is moral teachings then we would miss the entire point…The Gospel.

Jesus is revealing something better is coming, His Kingdom is coming.  NT Wright said, “Jesus himself, as the gospel story goes on to its dramatic conclusion, lives out the same message of the Sermon on the Mount: he is the light of the word, he is the salt of the earth, he loves his enemies and gives his life for them, he is lifted up on a hill so that the world can see.”

Open your Bibles to Matthew 7: 

1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye… 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

This passage has one of the most used and quoted phrases and the most widely misinterpreted in our society. Who can tell me which one? That right “Judge not.” We’ve even seen tattoos bearing the same message, “Only God Judges Me” or OGJM for my gang friends. On the knuckles or around the collar-bone area are fun places to put it. 

You can’t judge me. Don’t judge me. Who are you to judge? We live in a society where personal truth is king and judgement of any kind is unacceptable or unwelcome. Age doesn’t matter with this thinking either. Sarah and I met some friends for a surprise birthday party on Friday, and one of my long time college friends whom I hadn’t seen in years was telling us about his two sons, Gunner and Deuce. Don’t do it, I can already hear your minds making judgements about what they look like or where they are from…and you’d be correct. I mean if you’re getting Ricky Bobby’s children, then that’s probably close. I’m kidding, but seriously my buddy said they are awful.

They were at the Boys and Girls Club one afternoon and got in trouble. I asked my buddy for what, and he said for fighting…with each other. The best part is when one of the workers tried to pull them apart and told them to stop fighting, the boys told them “this was a family affair and to mind their business”…translation…don’t judge us. Oh my sin nature popped right out and I judged them just like you are right now. Lol. And told Sarah…I will never complain about my kids again.  

Judging is part of our culture. It’s part of any legal system. It’s part of our shows. American Idol, AGT, Dancing with the Stars, the Bachelor…don’t tell me you don’t judge right there in your living room. We know. We judge brands or choices such as Young Living, Essential Oils, anti-vaxx vs pro-vaxx. I mean if I wore a UVA shirt up here, you VT fans would hear a word I said from here on out because of the judgement you placed on me – quite wrongly I’ll add. LOL.  We make judgements all the time. Some of you judge my facial hair stylings already, and you know what? I forgive you as a good Christian should. 

We can’t help it. It seems to be something that is innate within our sin nature to do on a constant basis. We judge others, we judge ourselves – if you have a mirror we make even more judgements. We judge looks, dress, behavior, parenting styles, race. You name the noun, I’m sure we have a judgement for that. 

The word “judge” here is the Greek word krínō (Cree-no) which mean to separate (distinguish), i.e. judge; come to a choice (decision, judgment) by making a judgment – either positive (a verdict in favor of) or negative (which rejects or condemns). 

This is the same view as to judge in the legal sense. John MacArthur simplified it as someone of authority giving the final verdict. 

When Jesus says, “Judge not” he’s not telling us to not judge but rather telling or warning us to take great care how we judge others. We know this from the next part of the text. 

Verse 3 – 5:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when there is the log in your own? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

Judge not does not necessarily mean we can’t judge but more like Jesus is waving a big stop sign saying, “Careful! Look before you judge.” Why can’t you see the log in your own eye, why can’t you see your own sin or idols in your own life (hidden or visible) before going to your brother. What kind of attitude do you have when you approach your brother? The Bible says be slow to speak, but we are all too often quick to engage, to give a comment, to make a judgement without spiritual discernment. 

Jesus isn’t saying all judging is wrong, because we are to “judge them by their fruits”, to go to a brother when he is in sin, to help our brother prayerfully go to God with their sin. To not give up on that that brother. Desiring God said

“How we judge others says far more about us than how we are judged by others.”

It’s not wrong to lovingly help our brother remove a harmful speck from his eye. It’s wrong to self-righteously point out a speck in our brother’s eye when we ignore, as no big deal, the ridiculous two by four sticking out of our face. The lens by which we judge is everything. 

Matthew 23:1-5a:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries (either of two small square leather boxes containing slips inscribed with scriptural passages and traditionally worn on the left arm and on the head by observant Jewish men and especially adherents of Orthodox Judaism during morning weekday prayers) broad and their fringes long,”

Here was railing against the Pharisees and their hypocritical judgements and arrogant self-righteousness. The law had become a source or moral arrogance. A list of dos and dont’s. 

The moral lens says do this and you’re better. Quit doing that. Wear this. Look like this. Talk like this. Act like that. Say this. Only hang out with people like this…and on and on.

But if we look at judgement through a different lens, it changes the entire meaning. The redemptive lens is through the eyes of the Gospel. The Gospel says, you’re not good enough but Christ is. You’re not holy or pure, but Christ is. You’re not perfect, but Christ is. You are in judgement under the penalty of sin, but Christ took that for you. The moral lens says do, and the redemptive lens says done. 

The Bible doesn’t say that we “can’t” judge, in fact, there are places in the New Testament that we are encouraged to judge others rightly regarding explicit or blatant sin in their lives as believers. But, in modern day, the vehicle by which it is delivered is many times lacking prayerful discernment, slow responses and most importantly done with kindness and love.

I grew up in a larger family. My dad was married before and had my two older half brothers from a previous marriage. I also have two younger brothers. We had a large family. The brother just above me was Andrew. He was six years older. He was someone I looked up to as a young kid. There were many times he sacrificed his time to spend with us younger siblings to do things we wanted to do when he could have done other things. I’ll never forget I had broken my leg in several places when I was 11. Had a cast up to my hip and was wheelchair bound. It was summer, and I was pretty much stuck indoors or restricted to the driveway if I was outside. But one day the other boys were going fishing at a nearby pond that was walking distance from our house. Andrew agreed to push me in the wheelchair to the pond but it wouldn’t make it, so he carried me in his arms and sat me down by the pond so I could watch everyone fish. Huge heart. Andrew went off in the military when I was 12. Crushed me when he left. Very memorable for me. 

But Andrew would come home from time to time when he got furloughs. During this time, my parents got back into going to church. And the church we attended may be familiar to some of you in your lifetime, I don’t know. 

You know the type – suits, dresses, mono-racial, bouffant hair with the bangs, large congregation, pianos, cello and when they got wild sometimes a flute…you know the one. 

While Andrew had been away, we had begun trying to “do” the right thing and go to church. And when Andrew came home on a particular furlough, I was about 16 years old. It was the usual homecoming with hugs and memories and sharing. I was excited to tell him about the changes in our lives and invite him to church. Surprisingly, he went with us. 

Now mind you, when Andrew got home he had a lifestyle that didn’t match. He drank, had a tattoo (many more now), cursed like a sailor, had a different haircut than most, wore trendy clothes which were very 90s (the best years in my opinion), held onto a belief that he said a prayer when he was five but didn’t go to any church anywhere. He knew he didn’t fit, but to appease a younger brother that was excited to see him, he went. 

And, I’ll never forget the environment, the way I felt, the way people looked, that he was so different and everyone else at least looked the part…but he didn’t. And he knew that. He saw the judge mental looks, the different clothes, that he wasn’t “good” enough to be there. 

And, I knew from then on after that experience he wouldn’t go back. And he didn’t. You see, Andrew saw himself as one that didn’t fit because he didn’t. He saw church as this moralistic place full of hypocrites hiding behind self-righteousness. A place that didn’t want people like him until he looked and acted like them. 

To this day he still doesn’t darken the door of a church. Now, can I chalk that up to that one moment? I don’t know. But how many people that you and I both know won’t come because of the judgement that is passed? They have to be good enough before they “come to church”, they tell you “maybe I will straighten up my life one day and come.”

Who have you judged wrongly?

Who have you gone about this whole Gospel thing the wrong way? Who do you need to reach out to to ask forgiveness? Who have you not reached out to as one believer to another to talk to and help along in a call toward Christ?

Hosea reference, forgiveness, the long-suffering nature of God, the grace of God even with an adulterous people. He goes again, and again, and again and again. Who in our lives have we gone about this whole judgement thing the wrong way? What brother do we need to be there for in the midst of a struggle? Who do we need to pray for and then meet where they are? What unbelievers have we given no opportunity to meet Jesus where they are because they see something they need to become first? Who do we need to love first? 

Now I’m not saying that the church needs to be tolerant. In the words of Pastor Brian Loritts, “Tolerance is such a low ethic.” “I tolerate you.” That’s not what we are called to. Jesus met people where they were and called them to Him, the only thing that could save them. Church we can’t change ourselves, we can’t fix ourselves, we can’t become better…God does that. If you think you can save yourself, then we can have another talk after the service…

Church let’s not be the final authority to others and rendering verdicts on people’s lives that we have no right to carry out. Let’s be a discerning church that watches for evil in our midst, that looks for the hurting, that tries to see below what’s obvious and help our brothers get the splinter out of their eyes after we take our own logs out. 

Let’s treat others as we want to be treated and love our neighbor as our self. 


This message was preached by Caleb Spence at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 29, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.

Being Anxious

(the following message was preached by one of our teachers, Richard Boyce)

It was late March, 2003. About a day after ground units led a coalition of soldiers from Kuwait into Iraq at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I found myself at Camp Wolf, just outside of Kuwait City. I was part of an Army Reserve unit that would spend the next eleven months in the desert attached to the 101st Airborne Division.

There were thousands of us in place that night in a loosely organized chaos. Multiple times over the next few hours we would hear the same terrifying three words broadcasted over the PA system: “Lightning…lightning…lightning…”

This was the warning that Iraqi troops had fired SCUD missiles in our direction, as they had been doing for the past couple days. Ground intelligence believed these SCUDS to be Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical in nature, so we had to respond appropriately. Protocol was for us to find the nearest fortified bunker, which was nothing more than a shipping container with sandbags on it, huddle inside like sardines, and put on our gas masks.

There we waited in the pitch-black darkness, sweat running down our arms and legs, struggling to get sufficient oxygen into our lungs, and wondering what the impact would be like. I realized very quickly that night that it was really a coin toss as to whether or not I’d ever see my family again.

Coming to terms with my mortality and realizing that it was out of my hands was a liberating experience for me that served as a coping mechanism. Throughout the deployment whether having bullets whiz by or rockets come into the campground, I was fearless and ready for action. You couldn’t faze me.

Fast forward over a decade later, and there I was one night lying in bed. The church plant I’d spent years on was spiraling toward its death. Financial stress was destroying the tranquility of home, and Sarai and I had just had another damaging argument- something that was getting increasingly common at the time.

As I lay there in bed wondering if my family was falling apart as badly as my church was, and if one of those was the cause of the other, I learned firsthand what an anxiety attack was. Every muscle in my body was at full clench, and it was all I could do to breathe. I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was long enough to feel detached from the rest of myself and become something of a spectator. My world was ending, and all I could do was go along for the ride.

Other side of the world in a literal war zone, and complete peace. In the comfort of my bed at home, pure hell. In 2003, I was as far from God as I could be…in 2017 I was a follower of Jesus that felt absolutely abandoned and crippled by anxiety.

A little backwards, ain’t it?

Now I bring this up because we’re going to spend just a few minutes this morning with Jesus as he continues his sermon on the mount, and we’re going to talk about an issue that far exceeds my understanding- anxiety. I know how to experience anxiety. I don’t have an “Easy Button” that makes it go away.

This message is not a cognitive therapy session, and I make zero claims to be a mental health professional. This sermon is neither for nor against chemical treatment of any given mental health diagnosis. We’re not really told the “how” of what Jesus says, but in the next nine verses Jesus is going to tell his audience multiple times to not be anxious…and he’s also going to tell us why.

Before we jump into Matthew 6:25, let me remind you that Jesus just finished exhorting his audience to lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth. It was challenge to join Jesus on his mission by intentionally diverting funds into kingdom work.

It could be that Jesus knew exhorting his followers to financial generosity was going to spark anxiety within them, because he says this next, after telling us that we cannot serve God and money:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

Alright, Jesus. You just finished telling us that earthly wealth is going to ultimately perish. You just told us to focus less on amassing material gain and to invest our funds into your Kingdom. You just told us that we can’t love money and you, and now you’re going to sit there and say “Hey, don’t worry about how you’re going to buy your food, or your water, or the clothes on your back.”

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? That’s a good question.

At its root, worry and anxiety either reveals or presses us toward faithlessness in God’s goodness to us. Knowing that and being free from it are two totally different animals, though. I know this. You do as well.

Why shouldn’t I be anxious?

Jesus answers this question with several reasons, beginning with this:

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Isn’t life more than just stuff? Isn’t the point of our existence more than just wearing clothes?

And yet even in our own culture so much of our time is spent focusing on our bodies- what we eat, drink, how we exercise, relax, find recreation. We’re so consumed with what we can experience with our money, how many square feet our bodies can sleep in, what kind of car our rear-ends occupy, what kind of brand our clothing has. Jesus simply asks, “Isn’t true, vibrant, meaningful life more than that?”

Living with an earthly focus causes us to lose our spiritual perspective.

Reason number one to not worry about our material goods is the reminder that…

1. We are immaterial beings and there is more to life than physical things.

Then it seems as though that afternoon on the hillside, Jesus sees a flock of birds doing what birds do: they fly, land, eat, repeat. He says,

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

You see these birds? They don’t plant the food they eat. They don’t gather food into barns. They go looking for food, and they find it because God is good and gives them food. But you? You were made in the image of God. You are the crown jewel of God’s creation. Jesus died to save you. If God takes care of the simple birds in the sky, how much more will he care for you?

Reason number two to not worry about our material goods is the reminder that

2. God will take care of us.

Then another question with an obvious answer: Jesus says,

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

How many of you here today, by the power of your anxiety, can extend your life?

Think on that a second. We often make lifestyle changes out of fear or anxiety for our wellbeing. The things we eat, our activity level, safety measures. Free choices on our end…and yet we will live the exact number of days that God has ordained for us. Job 14:5 teaches us that God has determined the exact amount of life we have, and that we cannot exceed that.

David says in Psalm 139:16 “16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

You remember why God saves anyone in the first place? Remember Paul’s reminder in Ephesians 2:10 that “…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We were created for the eternal, not the temporary. God has promised to meet our needs. Reason number three to not be anxious is the simple fact that

3. Anxiety will not fix, change, or improve anything.

Now Jesus asks,

28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Every now and again while driving down the road I’ll pass a section of grassy median that’s just covered in absolutely gorgeous wildflowers. Flowers don’t work to be pretty- they just are. Jesus says that even Solomon, Mr. Two-Trillion Dollar man himself, wasn’t dressed as beautifully as God’s fields are. His point?

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

It’s just grass. It sits there. Briefly. If God exercises his authority and power and dresses the fields in the beauty of wildflowers, how much more will he clothe you?

Reason number four why we should not live in fear is because

4. God is faithful to us- even in our times of doubt and anxiety.

Isn’t it amazing that our times of uncertainty in no way affect God’s love for us?

Jesus begins to tie it all together:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

We are immaterial eternal beings in perishing jars of clay. God has promised to take care of us, worrying changes nothing, God is ever faithful even in our times of unfaithfulness, therefore, don’t be anxious.

Don’t live wrapped up in the here and now, gotta have this, gotta have that, it’s all about my kingdom lifestyle that encapsulates the mindset of the pagan Gentiles who godlessly live with a focus on earthly treasure. Let go of it. Your Father knows you need these things.

Now here’s the key. Here’s the alternative to a life marked by anxiety:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Pursue God and living in his righteousness, and know that God will give you all that you need.

But what about those 22,000 kids that are dying hungry every day? What about the thousands of believers around the world that are dying because of their stand for Jesus? What about the followers of Jesus listening to him on that hillside that will be fed to wild lions to entertain Nero?

Jesus tells us we’ll have all that we need, and yet still his followers die in need. How do we reconcile this? We reconcile this by understanding two things. Firstly, we tend to confuse our wants with our needs. You want to lay up treasure in heaven…but you can’t do that and make that payment on your brand new car. You want to invest into the kingdom, but you can’t do that and wear your designer clothes.

Jesus isn’t saying, “Seek me, and I promise you’ll be able to maintain your lifestyle.” Don’t even get me started on the prosperity gospel. That’s a load of garbage that’ll send you to hell faster than atheism. Jesus promises us two things: a cross to bear, and eternity with him.

So sometimes we confuse our wants with our needs, but we also need to understand that Jesus isn’t promising food, clothing, etc., for as long as we live or as long as we desire…but rather for the length of time needed to fulfill his purpose in our lives.

This is why Paul can say in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The key to living the life that God has called us to, a life consisting of our joy and his glory, is by focusing on his kingdom, not ours, laying up heavenly treasures, not earthly, and trusting that God will be with us and care for us until the day He calls us home.

Jesus wraps up his thoughts with this:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

In other words, your plate today is full enough- don’t make it even worse by worrying about what tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that is going to bring. God will still be God when that day arrives, so focus on the now.

Reason five why not to worry, particularly about the future, is because

5. The God who loves us and is faithful to us today will be loving and faithful tomorrow.

So here’s where the rubber meets the road. These are beautiful reasons why we shouldn’t live in anxiety, but how do I STOP living in anxiety?

I believe the key is intentionally focusing on God’s kingdom and putting our time, energy, and finances into his work, which in turn prevents us from fixating our on kingdom. I know a week has passed since last Sunday’s message, but Jesus is simply continuing his “why” behind his “do not lay up treasures for yourselves on earth, but instead lay up treasure in heaven.”

Focus on me, Jesus says. Follow me. Join me on my mission of making disciples. Lay up treasure in my kingdom. I’ll take care of you, I’ll be with you, I’ll empower you, I’ll be on display through you, and my Father will meet your every need. Let go of your stuff and embrace me.”

What this looks like in application is different for each of us. It could be a commitment to serve on a volunteer team here at church. It could look like sponsoring a child overseas and making a radical different in their life. It could be changing jobs and taking a pay cut to protect the health of your family. It could be adopting a child, giving a car away, or moving to the other side of the world to make disciples of Jesus.

See, I don’t know what God has in store for you, but I know this: it’s hard for me to think that a follower of Jesus can find Jesus’ exhortation to seek his kingdom, to lay up treasure in his kingdom…and remain absolutely unchanged.

So maybe you’re still prayerfully seeking God’s will in this area- keep praying! Perhaps God’s at work and you’re already walking in faith- that’s wonderful.

But if you’re here this morning knowing what God is calling you to do, and experiencing the fear and anxiety that comes with letting go of your perceived control over your life…all I can tell you is this: the sooner you take that first step of faith, the sooner you’ll see the faithfulness of God in return.

         We can trust him this morning- will you?


This message was preached by Richard Boyce at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 29, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.

 

 

 

 

 

Laying up Treasures (Richard Boyce)

(the following message was preached by one of our teachers, Richard Boyce)

If you’ll turn with me in your copy of God’s word to Matthew chapter six, we’re going to spend a few moments this morning at the feet of Jesus. If you’ll recall from the beginning of this series, or if you flip back to the beginning of chapter five, you’ll read that Jesus, “Seeing the crowds… went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.”

Just a few verses before in chapter four, we find that by now Jesus’ fame is rapidly spreading, he’s healing people, proclaiming the kingdom of God, and great crowds are following him from Galilee, and the Decapolis, from Jerusalem, Judea, even from beyond the Jordan River.

Some in this crowd are following Jesus out of curiosity, some are seeking miracles, some are trying to discredit his teachings…and some have come to believe that he is the long-prophesied Messiah. It’s a crowd that may not look too differently from ours this morning.

So there’s something of an odd crowd with mixed motives following Jesus, and he went up the hill a ways and sat down as a Rabbi would in preparation of teaching. We find that initially his disciples followed him- by the time Jesus is done teaching, the crowds are there in full, astonished at what he’s said.

 

Now what Jesus teaches over these three chapters has filled countless books and perplexed even more theologians. Some of what he says is designed to bury Israel beneath the weight of the Mosaic Law- some of it provides a deeper look into the heart of God with regard to Christian ethics.

Some of what he teaches is designed for his audience to think to themselves, “There’s no way I can live like this…” and some of what he taught can and should be followed.

But…today we can all breathe a sigh of relief, ‘cause Jesus is about to address something we don’t have: treasure. I like it when Jesus digs his nails into rich people. Rich people need it!

I was playing around on Zillow and found a house right in the middle of Bel Air. Eleven bedrooms, eighteen bathrooms…it can be yours for the low price of $195 million. And that’s a steal- last year it was listed at $245 million.

Showed that house to a kid at school- he told me “Keep working- you might get it!” Yeah…a monthly mortgage payment on that bad boy is only about 900k. Rich people.

Bill Gates was recently dethroned as the world’s richest man. Now that honor belongs to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. He’s worth about 131billion dollars. May not sound like much, but he’d have to spent about 9 million dollars every day for forty years before he’s broke. Rich people.

Richest actor in the world right now is Jerry Seinfeld, worth a cool 950 million dollars. Athletes have it pretty good, too. Russel Wilson is making about 35 million this year to throw a football. I swear, rich people.

I’m glad Jesus is talking about money today, ‘cause I have none and what he has to say clearly doesn’t apply to me!

Except…except for the part where nearly half of the world’s population- that’s more than three billion people- live on less than $2.50 a day. Eighty percent of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.

A forth of all humans live without electricity. 805 million people do not have enough food to eat. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due directly to poverty. While the average person in the United States lives to be 78, the average person is Sub-Saharan Africa lives to be 60.

We live in the richest country in the world. In fact, if you make minimum wage in Virginia and work a full time job, you’re in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world.

Rich people.

I’m not going to have Sarah McLachlan playing in the background or pictures of kids in Africa for the rest of the message this morning. There’s no Compassion International table waiting to ambush you- this isn’t about making you feel guilty or demand you do what I tell you to with your money. I’m simply trying to highlight the fact that we have money. Lots of it.

We don’t like to acknowledge the extreme poverty around the world because it’s so easy for us to feel broke compared to others we see, but we have to realize this morning that whenever Jesus speaks about wealth, he’s addressing us. When he said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” he’s talking about us.

 

So as we follow the crowd up the hill to listen to Jesus speak about money, don’t fall into the temptation of thinking that we have none. The poorest of us are richer than most.

We’ll pick up in Matthew 6:19, as Jesus tells his listeners,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal…”

Read on its face, Jesus seems to be saying this: don’t stockpile your wealth here on earth, because it isn’t going to last forever. Paper money- eaten by moths. Precious metals? Ruined over time. Personal vault? Not theft-proof. It isn’t going to last.

When you think about it, money is weird. It’s metal and paper, and we do the craziest things for it. I had a window busted out of my car when I lived in Chattanooga so someone could steal about a buck in change from my cupholder. We literally work ourselves into an early grave to accumulate pieces of green paper that we value more than other pieces of paper.

That wealth that means so much to us? Moth food. Don’t lay it up, don’t store it, don’t accumulate it. It’s not going to last. It’s not the point of our existence.

Now here’s where we get a little antsy and the questions begin to tumble around in our mind. What about my savings account? What about surplus money at the end of the week? What about retirement?

What about my IRA? Is it wrong to make money now for the future? Is having money sin? Should my car be worth more than most people make in a year? Should I have a mortgage that could save the lives of hundreds of starving children? Is that what Jesus is saying?

 

Consider the Spirit-inspired words of King Solomon who, by the way, had an estimated net worth of 2 trillion dollars (that’s 136 million a day for forty years).

One of the wisest men to walk the earth, he said in Proverbs 6 that we should take a page from the ant’s book and work hard while we can to have food when we can’t work. I can’t say that investing is wrong, or that retirement accounts are evil. There’s wisdom in preparing for the future.

When we read the text, we’ll find that Jesus isn’t condemning wealth- he’s speaking to where our affections lie, where our focus really is. Which world we’re living for- this one or the next.

Jesus is painting a contrast- here’s the rest of his thought: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Earthly treasures that will not last versus heavenly treasures that last forever.

Ever stop to think that God doesn’t need your treasure? Think about it. God does not need us, or our money. Period. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:1 that

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

The top 1% of the world population controls almost 50% of the world’s wealth. If God’s greatest desire was financial equality, don’t you think that God could stir the hearts of that 1% to freely distribute their wealth to those around them?

 

If God is sovereign, and you’d better believe that he is, do you reallythink that God absolutely, without a doubt, needs you to move heaven and earth by your shiny coins and pieces of green paper? No.

The apostle John describes the coming New Jerusalem as having streets made of gold. Rather ironic that we’ll devote our lives accumulating paper that’s backed by gold and Jesus uses the stuff as asphalt.

God doesn’t need your money. I’d argue that he doesn’t want your money- he wants your heart. And if you’re in Christ this morning, you’ve received a new heart. But…sometimes it takes a while for the reality of who we are in Christ to sink down into the very depths of our affections, our will, and our thinking.

Look at what Jesus says next:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now this is an interesting statement. If we understand the heart in this context to be the seat of affection, the place where we value things and hold them near and dear, it almost seems like Jesus has it backwards.

It seems to me that it would make more sense reading it like this:Where your heart is, there also your treasure will be. I mean- doesn’t that seem reasonable? If you love football, your treasure, your money, will be spent on game tickets and team merchandise.

If you love to hunt and fish, your money will be spent on gear. If you love video games, your money goes toward video games. We’ve probably all heard the adage that says “look at your checkbook to see what you value.”

But what if it’s the other way around?

 

What if what we do with our money in some way determines what we then come to value? Jesus tells us that our affections follow our money, which means that what we choose to do with money in turn impacts the affections of our heart.

What if Jesus is saying, don’t get wrapped up in the money game on earth, because the more you do the more you’ll want to, and the more you want earthly wealth and the more you do to accumulate more, the less you’ll want Jesus or to make an eternal difference in his kingdom?

Our attachment to Jesus can often be measured by our attachment to our possessions. Later in Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus he records an occasion when wealthy young man approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus’ response was to keep the commandments of Moses, which this narcissistic young man thought he could do.

Jesus then said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

 

Choose me over your finances. Invest in my kingdom and forsake your own. Let go of your earthly treasure and have treasure in heaven. Release your hold on what I’ve allowed you to have and love me instead.

Matthew tells us that “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” It would appear that at that moment, the allure of his earthly wealth outweighed his desire for eternal life.

Now it’s possible that in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is revealing to his audience the corruptness of their heart by attacking their attachment to their finances, but what if there’s more? What if there’s a positive aspect?

What if Jesus is giving us who are in Christ an invitation to join him onhis mission of kingdom building, and the key to doing that is choosing to lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth?

Consider Jesus’ next words:

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

What you set your eyes upon determines the extent to which the light of Christ shines in and through you. What is your gaze fixed upon- the bottom line of your bank statement, of the kingdom of God?

When I was studying this passage, what came to mind was a privacy screen protector for cells phones or computers at a doctor’s office. Perhaps you’ve seen them. When the device is viewed from the side, all you see is a dark screen, but if you see it face on, you can clearly see the screen. Whether we have the right perspective determines if we can really see what’s in front of us.

If our eyes are focused on kingdom work and laying up treasure in heaven, we exude the light of Jesus in a darkened world. But if all we focus on is us in our little kingdom, we make absolutely no difference in our communities, our schools, our workplaces, or our home.

As if Jesus wasn’t making his point clearly enough, he begins to press the issue more deeply in verse 24:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

You cannot singularly live for both earthly and heavenly treasures, because both require all of you and stand in opposition to each other.

You cannot love opposing sports teams equally. You cannot love your bank account and giving generously to the things of God. You can not pour your life into making money and pour your life into furthering the kingdom of God.

Now, does this mean we can’t earn wealth? No. But there’s a difference between being kingdom-minded with regard to our vocation and experiencing the blessings of God versus being earthly minded and looking nothing like Jesus while acquiring as much wealth as we can for the sole purpose of increasing our little kingdom.

It’s not the possession of money that we need to be wary of, it’s having the accumulation of money as our driving factor. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

So here we are sitting on a grassy hillside listening to Jesus teach and perhaps you’re wondering what the “ask” is. You know what I mean. We’ve spent the last twenty some minutes trying to detach your heart from your wallet- where’s the ask? Is this about a building fund? Tithing?

I kid you not- I was listening to a well-respected preacher work through this passage and it wound up becoming a sales pitch for a building fund faith initiative. This isn’t that.

I want to go back to this simple question: What if Jesus is giving us an invitation to join him on his mission, and the key to doing that is choosing to lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth?

What if the invitation is into a life of deeper worship made possible by deliberately laying up treasures in heaven? And what does that even looklike?

It looks like obedience to the Spirit of God.

Now, there are plenty of passages in the Bible that talk about how various things we do have accompanying rewards in heaven, and no doubt there is much we can do in the way of our time and talents, but in this context it seems as though the invitation here to specifically and deliberately make a move that involves worshipping God through what we do with our money.

Perhaps it’s giving to the needy, as Jesus mentioned earlier in this passage. You heard the stats, you know the needs. Maybe it’s investing into

the ministry of Village Church. It could be something as simple as giving Pastor Robert a gift card to a restaurant so he can spend some quality time with his wife.

So here’s the challenge: I challenge you to ask God how He would have you make an intentional investment into his kingdom, using your resources. Again- it’s not because God wants your money. He wants your affections.

Where we stockpile treasures, our heart follows. What treasure are you going to devote your life to this week- physical, or spiritual? Yours, or Gods?

Perhaps you’re here this morning and over the course of the morning the Spirit of God has revealed to you that your heart hasn’t been transformed, that you’ve never come to the place in your life where you’ve become a follower of Jesus.

So much of what Jesus taught in this sermon on the mount was designed for his followers to understand that the key to eternal life wasn’t their performance, or their giving, or their rule-following.

So much of his message was intended to bring his audience to their knees in repentance and confession that they will never been good enough for his kingdom.

But that’s why Jesus came. He came to live the perfect life we never would to die a sinner’s death that we all deserve, so that whoever would simply believe on him would have eternal life.

 

If you need Jesus this morning, the invitation to you is to trust Jesus alone as your hope of salvation.


This message was preached by Richard Boyce at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 22, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.

Secret Rewards

The classic example of something that is larger below the surface than above it – is an iceberg. That is because 90% of the body of an iceberg is, in fact, below the water line. That means that someone on the water can only see the top 10% of what the iceberg truly is. Because of that, an iceberg is such an accurate depiction of humanity because we only allow people to see what we want, which is just a fraction of who we really are.

Like the cartoon alligator that looks like a log until Bugs Bunny steps on it, who we are “below the surface” is so much more important. That is why when Jesus preached during his ministry, he addressed what is truly in our hearts.  

 


 

We are in week 7 of our series called “Thy Kingdom Come” where we are walking through one of Jesus’s sermons that was a big part of his ministry: the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. 

In chapter 5, we dealt with the internal part of our Christian life: such as our poverty in spirit, our hunger and thirst for righteousness, and purity in our hearts.

Now in chapter 6, we get into some of the outward expressions or actions of our faith, but (as we will see) the things we do as a Christian are only as important as WHY we do them. In fact, our heart and motivation is so important that all of these things are further illustrating how Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees or we cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven. And the good news is that it WILL, if we have been born again and the Holy Spirit is inside of us. Or let me say it like this:

The righteousness we possess will produce righteousness in practice.

We will come back to this idea later.

For now, let’s go to Matthew 6 and take a brief look at three righteous acts: giving, praying, and fasting. These are not the only spiritual disciplines that we do, but they are at least three pillars of our Christian life. While each of these topics deserve their own time in the sermon spotlight, for today we will just focus on a simple theme that seems to bind them together. Let’s jump in: 

Matthew 6 [1] “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 

So here Jesus is giving an introductory statement to tell his followers to “be careful” or “watch out” to not act out our righteousness just so others will see us. Meaning if we do the right thing for the wrong reason, we will lose our reward.  

This first, summarizing verse lays out the pattern that Jesus is using to deal with each of the instructions. It goes like this: 

1. when you do this righteous act
2. make sure you do it from a right heart
3. and then you will be rewarded 

Let’s work through these three “righteous practices.” 

[ON GIVING]

Matthew 6 [2] “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. [3] But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

There are a few important details that I want to mention here that will also overlap with the other two illustrations.

First, notice how Jesus said, “when you give…” instead of “if you give.”  

I discovered in my study that a “In total, a devout Jew would give away at least one sixth of his income,” (Nicky Gumbel, The Jesus Lifestyle). Some of their giving was charitable donations to their temple treasury, and other gifts (their “alms” as some translations say) went to help people in need. 

Jesus is not in any way criticizing any of that, nor is he specifically instructing his followers to give here. Instead, he is assuming that they WILL be giving. That is still true for today. It is clear from Scripture that we are to be giving people. In fact, I have heard many times that “we are never more like Christ than when we are giving.” He who gave so much to us wants us to give, and we can never out-give God. Of course about much more than money and stuff (it includes time and talent), but it is not LESS than money (as Jesus will teach on more later).  

Because (as I discovered when I became an adult) that 100% of our money will go SOMEWHERE! Either WE will spend it or someone else will EVENTUALLY spend it for us. So with that perspective, the question is not SHOULD we give our money away, it is will we CHOOSE where it will go (or more specifically will we invest it in worthwhile, Gospel-advancing endeavors). The old reformer Martin Luther taught that when we are saved, there are three conversions that take place: “the conversion of the mind… of the heart, and… of the wallet. 

But Jesus is dealing more here with WHY we give (which is always connected to the HOW). Look at how he qualifies it: he said to not “sound [a] trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

When the Pharisees wanted to give something, they would often blow a trumpet to call the poor and needy together in order to let them know that handouts were available, but also to make sure everyone knew what they were doing. Their hearts were prideful instead of humble, and they got what they were looking for: fleeting, empty appreciation from people.  

To learn from them, Jesus is saying that our giving should be done SECRETLY or at least in a way that we are not trying to get points from people around us.  

But also, Jesus says in verse 3 to “…not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, [4] so that your giving may be in secret.” While there might be a little bit of sarcasm here, I think what Jesus is saying is that we ought to give so often and to so many people that need it – that it becomes a habit that we do not even think about anymore. This is not an instruction to live unwisely, but to live open-handedly and not tight-fistedly. 

Even for us, when we have our “tithes and offering” time in worship services, it reminds us that everything we have has been given to us from God for us to steward well. And on one hand, when we give to Village Church (or any local church we part of), we are maintaining the ministries by paying rent, supporting staff, buying kids ministry materials, and everything else that we do. But on the other hand, we are banding together to support so many mission works locally, nationally, and globally in a way that none of us could do separately. We give because we are a FAMILY.  

And what happens if we give (as the New Testament expounds on much more later) regularly, generously, and cheerfully (1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 8;12, 2 Corinthians 9:6)? Jesus says that in doing this… “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Scripture is full of examples of how God rewards, blesses, and provides for those that give with a right heart and motivation. It is a “virtuous cycle” in the context of grace.  

So whether anyone else knows what we give away or not, we can either do it in humility and open-handedness which will bring rewards from God, or we can give hoping that someone will acknowledges and applaud us and two things will happen:
(1) you will lose your reward in heaven for your giving and
(2) like the “thirsty desert” that Solomon talks about in Proverbs 30, you will be left unsatisfied and unfulfilled and always more “thirsty” for appreciation.  

And again – this is not just about money. Giving our time or talents “away” is the same. No matter what we give, we must orient our hearts to living as Paul said:

Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

So as we said earlier: the righteousness we possess will produce righteousness in practice. 

[ON PRAYER]

Now Jesus goes on to point #2 in this section to talk about prayer. And with the same pattern as before, he says: 

Matthew 6 [5] “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. [6] But when you pray, [again – Jesus expects his followers to praygo into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret….

Jesus is teaching that if you want your prayers to go above the ceiling in your room, then do not pray in order to be praised by people. This does not mean that there is no place for corporate prayer (like we do here) – because Jesus himself regularly did that. When someone prays up front in a worship service, we are all agreeing TOGETHER in prayer, someone is providing a guide for prayer AS the church, and we are praying an intercessory prayer FOR the church body. But whether it is in a service or small group or out in public, to pray just so that other people will think: “wow – he MUST be a Christian” or “she must be REALLY close to God” is not only prideful, but it defeats the whole purpose in praying! Which is:

[6] …And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  

What is the reward of prayer? Certainly that God hears us and that our relationship with him is grown. But more than that, there is something special and even powerful about the gift of prayer that God has given us to talk to Him that (for lack of better words) moves the heart of the Father. 

There is so much I do not understand about the spiritual realm and where our prayers and the will of God intersect, but I do know this: the same God that spoke the World into existence, that parted the sea for Israel, that caused the sun to stand still for Joshua, that turned water into wine because Mary asked, that healed blinded eyes, made the lame to walk, raised the dead, that has the power to forgive sins, overcome death, and that continues to advance his church against the gates of hell that are powerless to stop it… that same God is the God that we pray to and there is NOTHING too hard for him! Amen? 

There is so much we can say here, but instead let’s read what the Apostle Paul said in his prayer for the believers in Ephesus. He prayed that:

“… from [God’s] glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT). 

That gives us a hint toward the “rewards” of prayer. But only if our hearts are in the right place as followers of Christ. 

Then Jesus gives us another bad example to avoid. Just like the volume or prettiness of our prayers do not matter, he says:  

[7] “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the [non-God-worshiping] Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. [8] Do not be like them…  

Some translations use the phrase “vain repetition” or “babbling on.” The point is that God has good ears – there is no reason to repeat yourself over and over or to say nonsense in your prayers. In fact, you can even just pray in your own mind and never say an audible word. Because (make sure we get this amazing truth that Jesus says next): 

[8] …for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 

How cool is that? But even though he knows what we need, he loves it when his children come to him in prayer.  

———

Now look at verse 9. Jesus lays out for his followers some more incredibly helpful “tips” on praying – including a model to learn from so that anyone can learn to pray the kinds of prayers that the Father loves. He says: 

[9] Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. [10] Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. [11] Give us this day our daily bread, [12] and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. [13] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [14] For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

This is not the only time that Jesus told his disciples to pray, nor is it the only prayer that he told them to pray. It is not even Jesus’s personal prayer – it is just an example that he gave to teach his disciples. Nevertheless, there is something about this particular prayer that has caused it to resonate with believers throughout history in a profound way. We have done a few sermons on this prayer in the past, and we could easily do an entire series on this passage in the future, but for now I just want to note a few important details and move on (and I would encourage you to study this passage and topic further on your own).  

We see in this prayer 3 main sections: 

First, for the first time in Scripture, we are told to pray to “Our Father” – and only Jesus had the authority to say that. Because THROUGH Jesus (our Mediator and Great High Priest) we can actually have a personal relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. According to John 1:12, those who receive Christ have been given the “power [or authority] to become sons of God, even to them that… believe on his name.” And it is from that new, fresh vantage point that Jesus teaches in the Gospels  

Secondly, Jesus fills (and starts) his model prayer with surrendering language. He says to pray three statements: (1) “hallowed by your name” (or you could say “may your name be honored”), (2) “Your kingdom come” and (3) “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  

Thirdly, Jesus shows us that God wants us to pray for the things we need and desire (even though he knows them already). He says to make “supplications” for daily provision, for forgiveness of debts, and for deliverance from evil (or the evil one). There are quite a few deeper and even controversial topics in this part of the prayer, but with the short time we have today, in context I believe that Jesus is saying that we can and should pray directly, humbly, and daily for God’s name to be glorified, His will to be done, and our needs to be met.  

This is not just a casual prayer that looks nice on a plaque on a wall – this is modeling prayer for intense and radical worship, surrender, and submission to God. I hope we treat it as such. It is both “wonderful and dangerous” as Al Mohler stated. Because to declare Jesus as Lord is to say that no one else is! And just like giving, the right prayer can only come from a right heart.

Then Jesus moves on to a third righteous practice that will be produced when we possess righteousness: fasting.  

[ON FASTING]

Fasting is very simply abstaining from something. It is typically food, but it could really be anything. Private and corporate fasting was a common practice in the ancient world – and actually still is today both for spiritual reasons and (even more recently it seems) for health reasons.

Now read what Jesus says: 

Matthew 6 [16] “And [just like before, not IF you fast, but…] when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces [to look miserable] that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward [which is acknowledgement and praise from others]. [17] But when you fast, [here is the right way to do it] anoint your head and wash your face, [18] that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  

The point is not so others never know – because your family will find out and you may even chose to fast with others (As a church, we challenge everyone to fast in January as part of our 21 Days of Prayer). Instead, the point is to not do anything to make it obvious. Take a shower, comb your hair, brush your beard, and don’t complain about how hungry you are. The point isn’t to try to “hide it” in a hypocritical way, but to simply not draw attention to yourself!

Because then: 

 …And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What are the “rewards” of fasting? While there very well may be a kind-of supplemental effect when we pray AND fast, it seems that even more than that, the impact of fasting is more personal. It trains us for abstinence, quiets our lusts, drives us to prayer, and it testifies to our repentance (Calvin’s commentary). 

And as I was discussing with someone just last week – fasting trains us to suffer. Think about it – if our bodies and minds are so used to the comforts and pleasures of life, how will we ever deal with suffering and pain when the time comes? Jesus began his ministry on earth by fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. Can you imagine how that must have strengthened his mind and soul to face what he had to face? 

But for us, if we fast for the wrong reasons and to be applauded – then that will be our reward. What a waste!

So as we close and consider how God would have us respond to His Word, let me say this. As we explain in our Growth Track, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just about “connecting to God” and worshiping him, it WILL result in “next steps” such as building community with other believers, serving others as a part of the body of Christ, going leading others to Jesus, and (as we talked about today) a heart that desires to please the Father through giving, praying, and fasting. Or again we say:

The righteousness we possess will produce righteousness in practice. 

God is so big that if he lives in us, he WILL make a difference! You may not know the right answers or have a degree in anything, but if God is in you, it will make a difference. 

My prayer is that this causes us to ask many questions about ourselves and WHY we do what we do. Is it to please to please God out of a relationship with him, or is it to please people. Let me pray for us…


This message was preached at Village Church in Churchville, VA as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.

REDRAWING THE LINES (2)

What we are going to talk about today commonly finds its way into many Christian conversations. But oddly enough, even though everyone deals with it every day of their lives, it is also one of the most uncomfortable topics to talk about (especially when the topic starts getting personal). In addition, most of the people in the culture outside of the Church, at least ignore the influence of this topic, and at most deny its existence. The topic is… sin. And sin is simply (according to 1 John 3) the “breaking of [God’s] law.”

And we will be talking about this today – because it is where Jesus turns his attention in his Sermon on the Mount that we have been studying for a few weeks now. And we will get to that in a minute. 

But interestingly, one lie from Satan that so many people believe today that is even worse than thinking there is no such thing as “sin” – is to believe that as long as we don’t commit the “7 deadly sins” or break the 10 commandments or whatever else (or we at least try really hard not to), then we are good. That’s actually the false religion held by thousands of people in churches across America called Cultural Christianity – which (I have discovered) is no different from other religions, such as Mormonism or Islam. 

And that misunderstanding or lie seems to be one of the beliefs that Jesus was combatting in his ministry and in his teaching. Or think of it like this: the King had arrived and he was re-drawing the lines to explain what His law actually meant. That is what we find in his Sermon on the Mount. 

My friend, Adam Schwenk at Legacy Church in Greene County says that he approaches Sunday sermons as a “battle” – and today for us is going to be just that. There is not much flashy about today’s sermon – we are just going to worth through a tough text!


We are in week 6 of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series looking at Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5-7 that we traditionally call “the Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus has stepped away from the crowds, climbed onto a mountain with some of his disciples, he sits down, and he begins to teach with supreme authority and wisdom.

Today, we’re going to pick up where we left off last week in with verse 19, where we see the word, Therefore – which tells us to look back to see what we are talking about – which is what we covered last Sunday. I can’t go back through all of that (because then I would be preaching the same message), but I do want us to consider how Jesus says that

“whoever RELAXES [or ignores and disobeys] one of the LEAST of the commandments [in the Law and the Prophets] and teaches others to do the same [which are both equally grieving to God] will be called LEAST in the Kingdom of God.”  

Jesus is making a blunt comparison to say that someone that puts themselves in a position of being a judge over His Word (as many of the teachers of that day were doing) by saying that some commands were not important, then they would not be important in the Kingdom of God. Today, we might hear someone doing this when they say something like: “oh – it’s just a dollar, it won’t matter if I steal it” or “oh it’s just a little lie… it’s just one touch… I was just looking… it’s not that big of a deal.”  

This is not to say that our birth into the Kingdom of Heaven is based on our obedience, but that for those that are in the Kingdom of Heaven, our attitude toward even what we might consider the “less important” commands has a direct connection to our spiritual maturity and (in turn) our place and usefulness in the Kingdom of God. As Charles Spurgeon put it many years ago; “[our rank] of Christ’s Kingdom is according to obedience.” Or as another late theologian, John Stott, wrote: “Greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven will be measured by our conformity to it.”  

Since I was saved as a pre-teen, to be honest, although my desire has been to be holy and used by God, I have messed up so much (and I’m afraid will continue to struggle with sin for the rest of my life). But I have found this to be true:

My relationship and closeness to God, my consistency of spiritual disciples (such as reading the Bible, praying, fasting, and worshiping), my quickness to repent of sin, and my usefulness in leading others to God (which is my purpose) – are all inseparable.

Because here is the thing: God is not concerned about how holy we look like on the outside or how “Christian” other people think we are – God is concerned about our heart. Because if God has our heart, then everything else will fall into place. Religion offers an external, false righteousness that does nothing for us, but Christ offers an internal, true righteousness that changes us now and forever – from the inside out. 

That is why Jesus goes even further in verse 20 to say that

“unless your righteousness EXCEEDS [is greater than] that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never [even] ENTER the Kingdom of Heaven.”

This is not to say that we have to obey more rules than them, because (we find out later) that Jesus and his disciples actually “broke” some of the Pharisee’s rules. No – Jesus is talking instead of an external, religious, and self-induced but is internal, spiritual, and God-given!  

The Pharisees were “hypocrites” (or actors). They looked righteous and holy, but inwardly were full of lawlessness, disease, and death. They preached… but did not practice. They burdened others… but would not lift a finger to help them. They did good deeds… just to be seen by others. And Jesus said that not only were they not part of the Kingdom of Heaven, but they would try to keep out others as well.  

That all sounds horrible, but I can think of SO many connections between what them and the religious Cultural Christians of the American Church today. Look what Paul told Timothy that he would be dealing with in the last days:  

2 Timothy 3 [2] For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. [3] They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. [4] They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. [5] They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! [Then after saying how they try win over vulnerable peoples’ confidence, Paul says that…] [8] …They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. 

So when Jesus came onto the scene in his day, on one hand it would have been upsetting to the religious crowd that thought they were above the law because Jesus is explaining that they were NOT righteous. And similarly today, although we are no longer UNDER the law (because we are under grace), it does not mean that we are now ABOVE it. Or let me say it like this:

Instead of us being OUTSIDE the law, the Law (God’s Word) is INSIDE of us.

But also, on the other hand, Jesus’s teaching here would have been wonderful news to those who remembered God’s promise through Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God would one day make a “new covenant” with them, make them clean, replace their “stony, stubborn heart” with a “tender, responsive heart,” write His Word deep within them on their hearts” instead of on tablets, and that he would put His Holy Spirit in them SO THAT they will be able to “follow [and obey his] decrees and… regulations.” (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, NLT). Or as Charles Spurgeon said: being forgiven does not give us a license to sin, instead “the power which saves us also moves us to obey.”

——— 

Now as we read through the rest of chapter 5 and see Jesus’s six examples of how he is re-drawing the lines of righteousness, I must admit that there is SO much further and deeper we could go (and I encourage you to study it further this week). But today we will get just far enough to hopefully get the right lens with which to understand Jesus’s teaching. And my prayer is that we would be open to how the Holy Spirit wants to apply His Word to our lives.  

As we see in verse 21 (and the rest of Jesus’s examples), Jesus uses a pattern of contrasting God’s truth with the lies that people believed (and some taught). Each time Jesus uses the two phrases: “You have heard it said” and “But I say to you.”  

When Jesus says, “You have heard it said” he is not contradicting the Old Testament (or Moses and the Prophets), but combatting the perversions of His Word. Notice that he does not say “it is written” or “I said before,” but rather that “you have heard it said.” The commentator John Stott said it like this: “Jesus is not contradicting the law. On the contrary – Jesus endorses it, insists on its authority, and supplies its true interpretation.”  

Which is why he then says each time: “But I say to you.” Jesus is speaking from supreme authority from his rustic mountain-throne to clarify what the true intent was of God’s law (meaning his own law!). He is saying (in my words): “you know how you heard that the law said this… well what I REALLY meant was…” 

It’s kinda like this modern analogy: You have heard it said that it is illegal to run a RED LIGHT… but the law actually states that it is illegal to go through even a solid yellow light – IF you could have safely can to a stop before the intersection. I’m not saying traffic laws equate to God’s laws (that’s another conversation), I’m just saying that (as Richard told me) there is an “urban legend” that I always thought was true… but that is not! 

And the people that Jesus was speaking to would have known the law. So Jesus was (as John Calvin put it) “exegeting” (or bringing out the meaning of) His Word for them. So let’s read what God said:  

[ON ANGER & MURDER]

Matthew 5 [21] You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to [in danger of or subject to] judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother [or another believer] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ Will be liable to the hell of fire. 

Our world is so angry and bitter and it comes out all the time: especially behind the glass of a computer, at a ball game, or after a few drinks. Because the problem isn’t the tool or the medium – the problem is on the inside. Jesus is saying that not only is murder wrong (of course), but the heart behind the law is that being hatefully angry with another believer to the point that you want to hurt them is equally wrong. Even our words, whether we would call them “cuss words” or not, that are hurled at someone to hurt them is sinful.

John later drives this home even further when he writes:  

1 John 3 [11] For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… [14] We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. [15] Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

So how do we know whether our anger toward someone is indicative of a hateful heart far from God (instead of just a moment that our emotions got the best of a believer)? It’s one word: repentance. Look what Jesus says next: 

Matthew 5 [23] So if you are offering your gift at the altar [or in worship as we might say today] and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [25] Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. [26] Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 

Believe it or not, AS I was studying this week, I ran into someone that left our church about 2 years ago. And guess what he did? He shook my hand and apologized for how things went down. And you know what I thought? That is some pretty good evidence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life! It made me think of what Paul wrote in:

Galatians 5 [13] For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [15] But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Sadly, not every effort for reconciliation works out (which is why Jesus lays out a plan to deal with that in Matthew 18). But the question is not “did the other person receive me” it is “have I made every effort to try.” Because while (as we just read) there there are serious consequences on earth our mistreatment of others, but there are in eternity as well! Jesus is clear here that a heart that has unrepentant hate toward someone means that they are “liable to” or “in danger of” not actually even having God in their life!  

Let’s continue in our text in Matthew 5:

[ON LUST & ADULTERY]

Matthew 5 [27] You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [which is sex with someone not your spouse] [28] But I say to you [here is what God really means] that everyone who looks at a woman [married, unmarried – doesn’t matter] with lustful intent [sexual desire] has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

This is a message that believers today need to hear today especially, because it is in such contrast with what the world says – both with physical adultery and pornography. Jesus is explaining here that His standard for purity is for our hearts and minds just as much as our bodies. And in our relationships, the negative consequences are the same as well. I was talking with an old friend last week who was confessing how destructive pornography was to everything in his life – especially in his marriage.

So what do we do about it? We confess and we repent! Look at what Jesus says next:

[29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Jesus is pointing out both the seriousness of our purity as well as the responsibility we have with it. We have to OWN our own purity.

But also I think that Jesus is making a point here through a ridiculous statement. By that I mean that in reality, our eyes and hands do not “cause us to sin.” It is as untrue as saying, “the devil made me do it.” No one caused us or made us to sin – it is the sinfulness of our hearts! We have no room for excuses. That is why James says: 

James 1 [14] But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

But here’s the thing: God’s righteousness ON me produces righteousness IN me – to the point that I will be willing to do WHATEVER it takes to be holy. Yes sanctification is a process over the course of our life, but if I can continue living in lust and adultery or whatever sin throughout my life while making excuses for it instead of repenting from it – then it is displaying clearly that I have an unregenerate heart and I need to be saved! John said that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). 

There are also some big implications here for followers of Christ that are trying to (as one author put it) “slay our dragons” and fight our sin every day. While nothing external CAUSES me to sin, there are many things that certainly help it and make it easier! Let me say it like this: if social media “helps” you look up past flings, if your smartphone “helps” you waste time or money, if the environment of your job or a dating relationship or unfiltered access to the internet or whatever else it is that puts us in the claws of temptation – then we need to make some drastic decisions for the sake of our own purity and holiness! As John Calvin commented: “Christ does not mean, that we must mutilate our body… [he is showing] that whatever hinders us from yielding that obedience to God… ought to be cut off.  

Let’s continue on in the text.

[ON DIVORCE]

Matthew 5 [31] “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ [which was permission to flippantly remarry] [32] But I say to you that [no matter what culture says] everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality [adultery, fornication, or any kind of sexual sin], makes her commit adultery [if she gets remarried], and whoever marries a divorced woman [in this situation] commits adultery [because Jesus taught that marriage makes the two become one flesh].

From the beginning, Scripture teaches that the marriage relationship between a man and woman is so important because not only is it the root relationship of humanity, but because it is a reflection of the relationship between God and his people. Divorce is so destructive because it distorts the beautiful picture of unconditional love and respect that God intended for marriage to paint. Jesus taught more on divorce later and so does Paul several times.

While this can be a tough, convoluted, and emotionally-charged topic to discuss, this is yet another example of something that God’s Word speaks clearly on, but many people have ignored it, forgotten it, or twisted it. But if our heart is set on what God wants, then we must let go of what anyone else thinks and find out what God says! 

Let’s keep rolling in the text.

[ON OATHS]

Matthew 5 [33] “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ [34] But I say to you, Do not take an oath [or swear] at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, [35] or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. [36] And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. [37] Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

When I was a child, we would make promises with our fingers crossed so that we would not have to keep them. When we become adults, we do the same thing in more sophisticated ways. But Jesus is saying that it should not be so for the citizens of His kingdom! Instead of coming up with sneaky ways to get around commitments, we must be men and women of our word. If we say we will do it – do it. If we’re not going to do it, then don’t lie about it. Anything else, Jesus says, “comes from evil.”

[ON RETALIATION]

Next, building off his teaching on anger, Jesus moves from talking about our spiritual family to those NOT of the household of faith. He says: 

Matthew 5 [38] “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 

This was a principle given to judges and civil authorities in Deuteronomy 19 as a way to maintain justice and keep punishments fitting their crimes. This was NOT to be a rule for everyone to live by. That is why Jesus clarifies by saying:

[39] But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek [with their right hand – as a form of insult], turn to him the other also [instead of just lashing back]. [40] And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. [41] And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. [42] Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

There are many nuances that we could go into here (and maybe will another time) about what Scripture says about self-defense, fleeing from evil, or how the government or police should combat law-breaking in society. But what Jesus is clearly talking about here is that instead of giving ourselves “permission” to buck up, clench our fists, and retaliate against someone, we are called to be “peace-makers,” second-mile servants, and open-handed givers.

This is in complete contrast to our human nature that loves revenge. Just think of all the movies that glorifies it. It’s in our blood. But Jesus is saying – that’s our sinful nature, not the Spirit.

The world is insecure, broken, hopeless, not sure where to go or what to do. Of course they lash out at others. They are just hoping that someone will show them love even though they fight against those that do.

And that is why Jesus then continues on in the next few verses:

[ON LOVING YOUR ENEMIES]

Matthew 5 [43] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor [which the Bible does say] and hate your enemy.’ [an addition that God never said – quite the opposite] [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be [known as] sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 

It is never our prerogative (as sinful people, lost apart from the grace of God) to respond to another sinful person with hatred. Instead, we are called to love others like God who (in this life) gives his “common grace” to believers and unbelievers alike. Let God be the judge for those that are sinful. Our task is to show them the love of God and share with them the Gospel of Jesus.

Then Jesus makes this incredibly bold statement:

[48] You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In this summary statement, Jesus is saying that, in the context of grace, we must be “perfect” which means whole, complete, mature, and lacking nothing in these things. It is the same thing that Jesus told the rich man in Matthew 19 that he would be if he surrendered everything up in faith. It is the same idea that Paul explained in Romans 13:10 when he said, “Love is the fulfilling [or perfection] of the law.” 

This is a call not to perfection and righteousness and love in our own strength (which is impossible), but to perfection and righteousness and love in the image of the Father, through Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(see 1 Corinthians 14:20, Colossians 4:12, Rich young man in Matthew 19:21, James; Jesus used the verb form of this same word when he died on the cross and said, “it is finished [teleō].” (John 19:30)

[RESPONSE]

Again – we could spend a long time in these verses, and I pray that you will go and “search the Scriptures” and study yourself. But I want to end with this. 

Just like in Jesus’s time, reading this passage is either great news and helpful insight into the character of Christ that we are called to emulate, or it is horrible news that reminds us of the depravity and lostness of our souls. 

And it all has to do not with how well we are keeping God’s commands, but whether or not we have been saved and God has turned our heart of stone into a heart of flesh (which is an idea we will come back to in a minute). Because (make sure we get this)

Obedience to the law never leads to a love for God, but love for God always leads to obedience to His law.

So the first question is – have we surrendered to God and prayed to be saved?

But then… for us that are saved, we are all prone to wander away from God’s Word. That’s why we NEED the Church, we need Pastors or Elders (according to Ephesians 4), corporate gatherings like this, small groups, commitments to serve others outside of ourselves, the challenge of evangelizing others that reminds us that we need to be ready… but most importantly this is why we need regular, daily, time with God!

This is huge because throughout the Old Testament, God’s people either lost the Scriptures (like when King Josiah was king) or they lost respect for it (like in Nehemiah and Ezra’s time). But when the people found it and started reading it again, it would regularly cause them to turn back to God. In fact, Ezra had the Law publicly read around 400 years before Jesus preached this sermon, and it brought great revival to God’s people. 

But just as happened SO many other times, some people began to ignore it, some people forgot about it, some people misunderstood it, and some people (the Scribes and Pharisees) mis-taught it to others. And that is the situation that Jesus was speaking into. They had forgotten that God actually was concerned about their hearts and were focused on outward holiness…

And you probably know – that is also exactly the situation of the Church in America. There is so much false teaching of God’s Word today, and I cannot help but think it is simply from a lack of understanding of God’s Word that comes from a lack of reading and studying God’s Word. We have more resources, more commentaries, and more translations of the Bible than ever before in the history of mankind – and according to research, 25% of adults read it more than once a week (including church services), while more than half of Americans do not read it at all.

This is actually my main understanding of Spiritual warfare – fighting against the lies that we have heard and believe with the truth that God actually said. The most important question that we could ever ask ourselves and each other is this:what does God (actually) say about that?”


This message was preached at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 1, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series. 

RE-DRAWING THE LINES

When I got saved as a pre-teen, I started reading the Bible. On more than one occasion, I just started in the beginning and tried to read through to the end. But I would get stuck somewhere around book 3 or 4 for a couple reasons. First, because the Book of Leviticus and Numbers has so many details that I would get distracted. Secondly, some parts of the Old Testament left me with questions that I didn’t know the answer to. Fast forward to today, and I love reading and even preaching from the Old Testament. 

What changed? Well, to be honest, it was partly due to the fact that I began to read something different than the King James version, and the other part was that I began to understand the importance of it. Nevertheless, if you, too, have ever tried to read through the Old Testament, I have no doubt that you ended up with some questions. For example, there are some classic (and probably unimportant) questions like:  

  • Did Adam and Eve have a belly button?
  • Where did Cain get his wife?
  • What kind of fruit did Adam and Eve eat?

Then there more serious and important questions that you might ask, like: 

  • Was God okay with David having multiple wives?
  • Did God promote slavery in the Old Testament?
  • Why did God command the killing of so many people?
  • Why did God not want his people to eat bacon?

But then there are questions that are just silly that come from misunderstandings or misreadings. For example, here are some of the oddest questions that people have asked on Gotquestions.org: 

  • If the Ark was big enough to hold two of every animal, how did the Israelites carry it for 40 years? 
  • Where can I find the little drummer boy in the Bible? 
  • Are angles male or female? 
  • (My favorite) Does God hate satin? Why did God throw satin out of Heaven? 

Well – as funny as some of these are, it is a very common struggle (whether you are a Christ-follower or someone still trying to figure things out) to figure out how the Old Testament stories, laws, lineages, poetry, and prophecies fit in our lives in 2019. And while this part of the Bible contains the greatest literature in the world, wisest one-liners, most heartfelt poetry, most incredible (and true) stories, and best descriptions of the character of God, the sinfulness of man, and the beginning of the universe than anywhere else… some people either ignore the Old Testament all together while others misunderstand it and misapply it to their lives. Because of that, there is false teaching on church platforms and on the shelves in Christian bookstores.

So be careful – not every preacher that preaches is preaching truth. 

But what is interesting is that Jesus dealt with this same kind of misunderstanding and misapplication throughout his ministry – especially in the very beginning in His famous teaching that we are studying in this series: the Sermon on the Mount. And, as we will talk about today, “for Christians the key to understanding the Old Testament is to read it through the lens of Jesus” (Nicky Gumbel). 

Welcome to week 5 in our “Thy Kingdom Come” series where we are studying Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” to understand what kind of people we are to be as “citizens of God’s Kingdom.” In many ways, this sermon by Jesus answers for us the old question from the 90s: “What would Jesus do?” It gives us a great look at how Jesus taught his followers to live based on how he, the founder of the Kingdom of Heaven lived – and why. John Calvin taught it like this: [the Sermon on the Mount] is a collection of “the leading points of the doctrine of Christ, which related to a devout and holy life…”  

So now let’s go to Matthew 5:17 and read: 

Matthew 5 [17] “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. [18] For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot [not even the smallest mark on the smallest letter], will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 

We will read more in a minute, but because there is so much in these few verses, let’s stop and work though what Jesus is saying. 

There was evidently some chatter in the crowds about how the Messiah-King would come as their Scriptures promised and setup a new kingdom that would save them (physically or politically) from where they were and the condition they were in. So Jesus is speaking into these misunderstandings (as he always does) to say that he did not “come to abolish” (or get rid of, put an end to, destroy) the “Law and the Prophets” (which is capitalized in most translations).  

In context, “The Law” was a common phrase that Jesus used (7:12, 11:13, 22:40) to refer to not just the actual Jewish laws (like the 10 Commandments or ceremonial laws) but to all of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) that gives instructions about God, man, salvation, holy living, and so much more. In addition, “the Prophets” referred to (in general) the rest of the Old Testament that the prophets wrote about through the inspiration of God. Obviously, during Jesus’s time there was only the Old Testament books, so this was their only “Bible” (as we would call it). It contained doctrinal teachings, predictive prophecies, and moral laws. Most if not all of the people were very familiar with them. 

So where they might generally say “the Law and the Prophets” (while talking about more than JUST the law or JUST the prophecies) WE today often say that we preach “the Gospel,” even though we are talking about all of the Bible (with the Gospel at the center). 

And since God had planned for Jesus to fulfill the Old Testament (that we will talk about in a minute) which would then result in the writings of the New Testament, I think this is a good spot to say that as we read this today, we must understand that all of the “Sacred Writings” or the Word of God – the Bible – was inspired or breathed-out by God, written by different human authors, covering the span of thousands of years, complied by Spirit-led councils of men, and copied over by meticulous scribes and translators. It is true and trustworthy and all hinges on the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These Scriptures, Apostle Paul says: 

2 Timothy 3 [15] …are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

And all God’s people said… Amen! (which means, “we agree” or “so be it”) 

———

So Jesus here in Matthew 5 is being as clear as he can be that God’s Word will stand, his promises will hold, the prophecies will continue, wrong will continue to be wrong, and right will continue to be right. Not even the smallest mark of the smallest letter will pass away and it will continue to accomplish what God purposed for it to accomplish until the very end of time when God rebirths heaven and earth and God’s written words will no longer be needed. As John Stott wrote, “…[God’s Word] is as enduring as the universe.” 

Nevertheless, it is easy to say something dismissive like well the Old Testament was then… and this is now.” But we cannot just get out our scissors and cut out the Old Testament. Jesus explicitly says that he was NOT getting rid of it! In fact, if we get this, we will have the “key” to unlocking and interpreting Jesus’s ministry and Sermon on the Mount. 

So when studying the Old Testament, while we do need to understand the context and that certain instructions were written to certain people at certain times for certain reasons, there is so much for us to learn from it. Specifically, Paul wrote in Romans 3 that the “law and the prophets” (the same phrase that Jesus used) teach us that no one is righteous or even seeks after God on their own. Because of that, no one can boast in anything that they do, but instead the whole world must be “held accountable to God. (3:19)” This is why many people either ignore or shun the Gospel – so they do not have to face their sinfulness and deal with their sin. 

But, Paul continues, while the obedience to the Old Testament laws does not justify us or save us from our sin, it DOES, however (watch this closely):  

Romans 3 [21-26] …point to the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus for all who believe. For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [the bad news] and [ALL who do believe] are justified by his grace as a gift, [the good news – that we can be declared “not guilty” but righteous by the judge] through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [or a sacrifice that satisfied our debt], to be received by faith [so we are saved by God’s grace, through our faith, not works]This was to show [to demonstrate or put on display] God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance [patience or restraint] he had passed over former sins [meaning in the Old Testament times]. It [also] was to show his righteousness at the present time [the time of Jesus], so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

There is a “sacred agreement” between the Law and the Gospel (John Calvin) – as if they are shaking hands at the cross.

Since God’s holiness cannot be ignored and our disobedience must be accounted for, by God’s grace, Jesus, who was the perfect sacrifice, had to be slain to take our place and pay for our sin. And in a similar way that we today, in faith and belief, look back to receive God’s gift of salvation, those in the Old Testament looked forward in faith. The 19th century teacher J. C. Ryle summed it up like this: ’The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud, the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.” Similarly, J. Vernon McGee commented on this passage by saying that “[The Law] reveals to me that I cannot measure up to God’s standard. This drives me to the cross of Christ. The only way I can fulfill the Law is by accepting the only One who could fulfill it – Jesus Christ.” 

———

Since the coming of Jesus was prophesied about in so many ways throughout the Old Testament “Law and Prophets,” Jesus goes on to say (as we get back to our text in Matthew 5) that he did not come to abolish anything, but to fulfill them! This verb “fulfill” means to accomplish, complete, or literally “fill up.” All of God’s Word points either forward to or back to Him. It’s all about Jesus (which is why WE are all about Jesus). We must get this in order to grasp its far-reaching implications.  

We are all about Jesus!

The Old Testament in particular “contains over THREE HUNDRED references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus!” (Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict) – many that you will not see if you read it through a man-centered instead of a Gospel-centered lens. Jesus is the “cornerstone” (as Peter calls him in 1 Peter 2) of all of these predictions that either foretold Jesus in word (like when Isaiah says that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” – Isaiah 7:14) or they foreshadowed Jesus in type (as in Joseph when he saved his brothers after they left him for dead).  

It is not just the prophecies that point to Christ, Jesus’s death was the accomplishment of the the sacrificial system. Hebrews shows us that: 

Hebrews 10 [1] (ESV) For since the law has but a shadow [or a dim preview] of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices [under that old system] that are continually offered every year, make perfect [or holy] those who [came to worship]. 

John Stott wrote: “Again and again [Jesus] claimed that the Scriptures bore witness to him, and Matthew emphasizes this more than any other evangelist [or Gospel-writer]… The climax was his death on the cross in which the whole ceremonial system of the Old Testament, both priesthood and sacrifice, found its perfect fulfillment.” 

Even more than that, Jesus’s righteousness is the fulfillment of the cleansing ceremonies, He is the rest promised by the Sabbath Day, He is the Ark that provides salvation from judgment, He is the Good Shepherd that cares for the sheep, He is the exemplification of the wisdom literature, He is the true champion that slays the giants of sin, death, and hell, His teaching was the completion of the Law and the Prophets, his life was the full performance of the moral law, and we could go on and on with more examples. John Piper wrote that: “Jesus was not just another member in the long line of wise men and prophets. He was the end of the line. In his own person and work, the law and the prophets were fulfilled.” 

———

This is why Jesus then goes on to say (getting back to our text)… 

Matthew 5 [19] 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…

He is making an extreme statement here that even if you ignored or broke the least-important or least-consequential commandment and taught others to do the same, although you might build yourself up in your own mind, you are in fact the least in God’s kingdom and plan. This is something that religious people then and Cultural Christians today love to do. They make a huge deal about certain things and minimize others. They publicly condemn other peoples’ sins while justifying their own. And Jesus is letting his audience know that it doesn’t work.  

Then Jesus continues: 

“…but whoever does [God’s commands] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, [here is a big statement] unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

How can our righteousness EXCEED or be greater than the scribes and Pharisees? Is Jesus saying that the more and better we do, the higher chance we have to get into Heaven? That is what Cultural Christianity teaches – that if your good outweighs you’re bad, you get to go to Heaven (although I have never been to a funeral where anyone’s bad had outweighed their good – conveniently). 

But no – of course that is not what He is saying. Instead (as he will explain more later), he is really saying that the super-religious scribes and Pharisees have no righteousness at all (at least not a real one)! As John Calvin wrote: “how coldly [and unconcerned] they… are about mocking God, while they boast before men of an assumed and hypocritical righteousness… By confining the law of God to outward duties only, they trained their disciples, like apes, to hypocrisy.” They had a “false righteousness” brought on by a self-righteousness that was totally outward. They were “whitewashed tombs” as Jesus called them elsewhere. 

So here Jesus is re-drawing not new lines of external, religious righteousness, but the original lines of internal, spiritual righteousness.

Eventually, Jesus will get to the last verse in this part of his sermon that says to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  

In now way, Jesus is providing proof that without a doubt, the people in the religious crowd were lost and in need of a Savior, sick and in need of a doctor, and condemned and in need of forgiveness, and until they recognized their problem, they could not receive help. And that is still true today. Sadly, just like the Scribes and Pharisees, there are people today that attend churches services across America and that would quickly identify themselves as Christians (with the T-shirt and bumper sticker to prove it) that have a false righteousness from obeying a “good ol’ boy” set of rules, that worship a kind-of generic version of God who doesn’t really expect much other than being nice (when it is convenient), not-cussing (unless you have to), worshiping God (at least a couple times a year), and knowing the Bible (or at least the main few verses, like “God helps those who help themselves”). That’s not a real verse by the way.   

But the all-seeing God always looks past the outward appearance – and he says that if you want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you are going to need a greater righteousness – one that doesn’t just affect what we do sometimes, but makes us into new creations on the inside – and that kind of true righteousness ONLY comes as a gift by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. 

So while we cannot break God’s commands and get by with it, at the same time we cannot even keep them in our own strength! So what do we do about it? We come to Jesus and trust in him to be our salvation, our power, and our strength. J. Vernon McGee explains it like this: The Commandments are not a way of salvation but a means to show you the way to salvation through the acceptance of the work of Jesus Christ.” 

The Apostle Paul taught this very same truth in Romans 10 when he said that “[4] For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” This does not mean that we are now free to disobey the law, but that the law points forward to the good news of Jesus Christ, who is the only one that can save us.

John Calvin wrote that “We must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform.”

Then, as if to drive home his point even further, Jesus goes on to give six stunning examples of how he is redrawing the lines of righteousness, specifically regarding murder, adultery, divorce, lying, retaliation, and loving our enemies. In each of these, Jesus corrects wrong understandings by declaring with supreme authority the true intent of the law – and showing how what is on the inside (our heart) matters.  

We will not actually get to those examples by Jesus today. Instead we are setting the stage to deal with them next week. But even next week we will not have the time to dive in as much as I would like, so as always, I would encourage you to study them on your own a little more – especially if one of them strikes a chord with you and what you are dealing with in life.  

———

So with all this considered, I want to end our teaching time with a couple thoughts.

First, while we do not live BY the Old Testament, we certainly learn FROM it.

Just as Moses was given the Law by God on top of a mountain, Jesus (God in the flesh) here in Matthew 5 clarifies what he meant by that law – and we get the privilege of reading about both. 

And one thing that is abundantly clear from the entirety of God’s Word is that God has ALWAYS wanted our hearts – because… If God has our hearts … then our actions, thoughts, feelings, etc… everything else will fall into place. 

If God has our hearts, then everything else will fall into place.

But to be honest, that is not the impression that I had growing up. Whether on purpose or not, the Christianity that I was taught growing up was that the outward matters more than the inside. I was given a long list of things not to do, clothes not to wear, words not to say, places not to go, people not to associate with… and if I end up dealing with real sin on the inside, I better not talk about it because I’ll be looked down.  

Then I would hear so much about not “conforming to the world” and “compromising standards,” but it was always about external things. But what I have found and what I know from God’s Word is that we can do all the “right things” and say all the “right words” – and end up just as far from God as the serial killer on death row. 

So has God called his people to be holy and set apart? YES! But it cannot start there. It must start on the inside. Then if God has our hearts, everything else will fall into place. In Matthew 5, Jesus is spewing about how things COULD be. A Christian “counter-culture.” But we must be born (again) INTO this new culture! It comes down to this – our challenge that I want to end with: 

Romans 12 [1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [where?] by the renewal of your mind [on the inside], that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

And that is what is going to change us – and then change the world.


This message was preached at Village Church in Churchville, VA on September 1, 2019 as part of our “Thy Kingdom Come” series.