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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lessons from Jesus


Lessons from Jesus


Jesus had so many things to share with his followers.  So many lessons for them to learn and so little time!  He told his followers that some of his lessons were too hard for them to comprehend yet but that He would leave his Holy Spirit with them to teach and lead them into his life-giving truths.  


Jesus became famous very soon after He began his ministry.  He and his twelve disciples started out walking from town to town around Lake Galilee preaching and healing the sick and soon people from all over Israel, Syria and beyond were traveling long distances   just to hear His words and be touched by His healing hands.  “Then His fame went throughout all of Syria: and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics and paralytics: and He healed them all.  And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.”  (Matthew 4:24-25)


One day when hundreds of people were following Him, Jesus went up on a hill next to the beautiful Galilee Lake and preached to the people from a comfortable spot.  His “Sermon on the Mount” was not just for his followers back then but it has been recorded in the Bible for us too.


Jesus told his followers that they were 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 under foot by men.”  (Matthew 5:13)  And He told his followers that they were the “light of the world” but they should not hide their light.  “Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5: 16)


  Is Jesus telling His own- is He telling us that we should not hide our light, or our Christian faith, but share it by our love and our actions and our words?  And that our new life in Him is also like salt – it keeps life from being “bland” and gives our days a life giving punch and a joy and a purpose!  Our bodies require salt in order to live and function.  And our spirits also require this “salt” in order to be alive.  We have a living treasure – this salt – this Christian faith -that spices up our lives!  But if we followers of Christ do not love our Savior or value our Christian faith  (this salt) and nurture it, even this gift of spiritual salt we were given will lose its flavor! 


Jesus continues preaching and He tells the crowds that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets from the Old Testament but to fulfill them. He tells them: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these laws and teaches people to do that, that person shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever does and teaches all of the commandments, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:19) 


 The Old Testament in the Bible records God’s laws and prophecies and some of the Jews wondered if Jesus had come to get rid of God’s laws that were given in the Old Testament and teach a new way of living.  But Jesus insisted that He had come to fulfill the Law!  To make it possible for us sinful humans to follow the Law through Him!   


We can never obey all of God’s laws by ourselves.  Our faith in Christ – not our good works- is what makes it possible for us to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus takes away our sins and covers us with His righteousness.  We can only obey the Law through Him.  Entrance into the kingdom is by a righteousness of the heart (through faith in Him) , not by a hypocritical or external legalism. 


The Old Testament or Covenant between God and the Jewish people focused on outward practices of worshipping God.  Now Jesus gives a deeper meaning to the Law by presenting an inward devotion to God as a matter of the heart.  One person can appear to be good and pious by legalistically obeying strict rules.  But all the time while he is attending church and giving sacrifices to make an impression he is having wrong attitudes and not loving God and others in his heart.  And another person can with faith in Christ love God and love others and yet not appear to be as correctly pious outwardly. People look on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. 


Some of the Jewish religious leaders kept the laws externally to gain merit before God, while breaking these laws in their hearts.  They followed the letter of the Law while ignoring its spirit.  Jesus fulfills the Law because He preaches a righteousness that comes only through faith in Him.  Jesus is the Son of God and He is sinless and holy.  He then gives six examples of obeying God’s Laws inwardly in the heart instead of just going through the motions. 


The first example Jesus gives is a warning that murder begins in the heart.  God is interested in what is in our hearts and Jesus is stressing this.  Jesus says: “You were told in the past that you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…”  (Matthew 5:21-22)   Jesus is equating anger with murder. 


 Jesus goes on to tell us that if we come to God’s altar and then remember that we are holding something against our sister (or brother) or she is holding something against us, we are to leave God’s altar and go and try to be reconciled with our sister (or brother) and then come back to worship and sacrifice before God.  We are to practice instant reconciliation.  Love by choice, not by circumstance.  We are to follow Him and forgive and love one another as He loves and forgives us. And He will give us the strength to do that if we ask, thus fulfilling the law.


The second teaching Jesus uses is concerning adultery.  Jesus teaches: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart…”  (Matthew 5:27-28)   Jesus again illustrates that sin begins in the heart.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to guard the heart.  There is no wiggle room.  Married Christians are to stay away from the sin of sexually lusting after any other than the one to whom they are married.  And pornography is fake and wrong for a Christian!  Sex without love and commitment is ugly!  Jesus has set up high romantic ideals for married sexual lovers and pornography and lusting after other sexual partners can harm and wreck true love.


Jesus’ third lesson concerns divorce.  He teaches: “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress,…”  (Matthew 5:31-32a)  Of course in a sinful world sometimes divorce is the only way out of an impossible situation.  But it should be the last resort I believe.  Scripture says that God hates divorce.  Our relationships with others (husband, wife, children, parent, and neighbor) are all important to God.


Jesus brings up making oaths in his fourth lesson.  He says that we should not swear to do things in God’s Name or by heaven or by the earth.  That when we promise to do something to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’.  Isn’t Jesus saying here that his followers should be honorable and reliable?  That they should keep their word?  People should be able to count on them.   


Jesus’ fifth lesson concerns retaliation against people who do us wrong.  Jesus says: “You have heard that is was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you…”  (Matthew 5:38-40)  Those who belong to Jesus are to renounce any form of retaliation.  We must not return insult for insult or “get back” at a person who has wronged us.  That is not our place.  We can trust God to take care of us no matter what.  And He promises that He will.  


And Jesus’ sixth lesson for us is that He asks us to love our enemies.  He says: “…Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:44)  We will have to give up our pride and learn humility if we are to love our enemies!  We are to love by choice if this love doesn’t come naturally..  We can obey these commands that Jesus gave in His sermon on the mount only when we are Spirit filled.  And only when we ask Him to give us the strength and love and humility to obey them.


Jesus’ lessons from the Sermon on the Mount introduce us to a whole new way of obeying God!  Jesus is asking us to live differently from rest of the world!  And He is inviting us to follow Him to places that we have never gone before!  Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to help us follow Him to these places.  But the demands of following Jesus and of being His disciple were never meant to be easy.  To be Jesus’ disciple means forsaking our selfish personal ambitions and dying to “self”.  Every true disciple must take up his/her cross to follow Jesus.  And not everyone is willing to pay the price.  Are you?       






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