The Kingdom of Heaven: Not Bread Alone

16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

(Matt. 6:14-8, NKJV)

Matthew 6 has so far focused very much on humility. Do good deeds out of humility only. Pray out of humility only. And now Jesus commands us to fast out of humility only.

Since we’ve already talked about so much about humility, it would seem repetitive to dive further into that now. So instead, I’m going to take a slightly different bent and focus on fasting itself.

Most of us probably do good deeds. . . tithe a percentage of our income, do some volunteer work, and overall just try to be nice to people. Maybe we don’t do as much as we should, but at least we do something.

And most of us probably pray. . . at mealtimes, at church, or in privacy. Again, maybe we don’t pray as often as we should – but at least we do it sometimes.

But how many of us have fasted? Even once? Continue reading

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The Kingdom of Heaven: Be Faithful in Marriage

Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immoralitya causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

(Matt. 5:32-32, NKJV)

aOr fornication

So far in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words have already been pretty radical. He’s taken old commandments (“You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery”) and extended them to also mean “you shall not hate” and “you shall not lust.”

Now He begins an even more revolutionary pattern. While still examining the topic of adultery and lust, he looks at an Old Testament command – and overrules it! Continue reading

The Kingdom of Heaven: The Law Fulfilled

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

(Matthew 5:17-20, NKJV)

This can be somewhat of a controversial passage, particularly in debates over the role of the Old Testament Law in the New Testament era. My own opinion has changed multiple times over the years, so rather than take this opportunity to share a shifting opinion, I want to focus on how the original hearers would have heard and understood it.

Because that’s my goal with this series anyway. We’re putting ourselves in the shoes of a first-century Jew who is being introduced to Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew. If we were that Jew, how would we understand this portion of the Sermon on the Mount? And how does it relate to what comes before and after it, in context? Continue reading

The Kingdom of Heaven: Light in the Darkness

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

(Matt. 5:13-16)

This passage comes right on the heels of “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you.”

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

It’s often easy for us – especially if we’ve grown up in the church and are already familiar with a passage, to accept the separations of chapters and verses and miss the broader context and flow of meaning. But Jesus’ sermon wasn’t a random hodge-podge of various topics.

So why did He go from a discourse on the blessings of persecution to suddenly talking metaphors of light and dark? Continue reading