Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sermon Concludes. Mt. 5-7. Part Seven of Seven.

Welcome to the final week of our study on Matthew 5-7. This week we will be looking at chapter seven in its entirety. If you are new to the study, just head over to week one and start there. All of the other weeks are linked on the right sidebar. You can do them at your own pace.

This study should take less than 60 minutes. When you are ready to begin, proceed to week seven below:

week seven. section one. judgment.

WARNING! The following youtube video contains some disturbing imagery. It is footage of a woman being beaten a few days ago by the Taliban. If you want to skip it you can. Though it is disturbing, it also gives us a glimpse into a culture not too different than the time of Jesus. Had a woman been accused of the same transgressions in the Pharisees' world, she could have been executed.

Also, I am not familiar with the network posting this video or their agenda. There is political commentary before and after the footage. My point in showing this at this time is not to make any geo-political statement about the Taliban or American involvement in Afghanistan. It is simply to attempt to transport us back to the world of the Sermon on the Mount as best I can.

After watching the video, read this story in the gospel of John:

John 8:1-11

Take some time to compare and contrast the video you watched with the story of Jesus in John 8. If you see Jesus in a new light, post a thought on the Facebook Group Page.

Now, let's move to the first section of our study today. Read Matthew 7:1-6 and return.

Again, like the rest of the Sermon, Jesus is painting a picture of life within the new community created by the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven under the love of Father God and the reign of Messiah. It seems unlikely based on the totality of Jesus' teaching that he is advocating complete personal moral autonomy. The issue here seems to be most obvious in the vivid analogy of the dust in one eye with the wooden plank in the other. Jesus is saying that moral judgment is most often rooted in our desire to be God. (This is still the original and most basic of all sins.) We want to put ourselves in God's place as the worthy judge, but we are not. Religious people are traditionally experts at condemning sinners to draw attention away from their own sin. Jesus is asking, "Do you really want everyone to get what they deserve? Are you sure you want that?" He has already taught us in the Sermon to forgive and extend grace. Here he shows us why.

What's up with the dogs and pigs?

This is a troubling passage to many. I will give you my opinion as to what it could mean in context. First of all, dogs and pigs are not metaphors for cute animals. Dogs were much more parasitic in the ancient world than in ours. They weren't generally kept as loving pets. Pigs also were not kept by Jews because they were unclean animals. These images almost certainly refer to non-Jews (Gentiles). The big struggle is, what is Jesus saying not to give to the Gentiles? I think he could be saying (still in the context of judgment) that the new community should not waste its time judging those outside of the Kingdom. The gospel will of course spread to the Gentiles. This seems to be part of the plan. I find it appropriate to think that Jesus is now using typical imagery of the "outsiders" (dogs/pigs) to refer to those outside of the Kingdom/new community whether they are Jewish or Gentile. This leads me to believe that the rule of the church is not to judge the world (not yet anyway), but to extend grace and love to those who are not part of our Kingdom. It seems quite ridiculous to expect the rest of the world to live Kingdom-inspired lives without knowing the reality of the Kingdom. It would be like the Catholic Church condemning me for being married as a protestant pastor. I simply don't live within the reality of the celibate priesthood. I'm not Roman Catholic. Why would they waste their time imposing their values on me? Likewise, why would we (catholic and protestant followers alike) waste our time imposing our Kingdom values on those who have not yet accepted them?

week seven. section two. the conclusion.

Read Matthew 7:7-12.

The Sermon is drawing to a conclusion. It will end with some metaphors about Kingdom life, but before that Jesus gives some short practical instructions. These verses seem to be the answer to what would be the obvious questions after such a revolutionary lesson: "What do we do with all this information? What do we do tomorrow?"

Jesus tells us to take action: ask, seek, knock. In the Kingdom, if you genuinely want something, you ask for it. No games, no schemes, no elaborate strategies to get ahead. Just ask. Who do you ask? Most scholars assume that Jesus is saying to ask your Father God. Dallas Willard has some interesting thoughts here that Jesus is also implying that we ask one another as well. The next verses certainly link asking, seeking and knocking with prayer, but they don't necessarily discredit Willard's idea that within the new community it is now safe to ask others for what we need...and conversely, it is now safe to look for ways to say "yes" to our brothers and sisters asking for help.

Ultimately, though, it comes back to Father God. He is a good Father who gives good answers to his children. Every good Father says "yes" to the right things and "no" to the wrong things. We can trust Father to give us all we need for abundant life in his Kingdom. This should bring us back to the Prayer. "Our Father" is the key to the Kingdom. If he is really our Father, we can ask him for anything at any time.

The practical section ends with the "Golden Rule." Jesus was not the first to throw this idea around. Other moral teachers had taught this, but what distinguishes Jesus is the way he links it to the love of the Father. Unlike the others, he shows us why it actually makes sense to love others before loving ourselves - because we share the same loving Father. They are our family.

Jesus will now conclude the Sermon with three warnings told as metaphors/parables. Let's read them now:

Matthew 7:13-29

Warning Metaphor 1 - Broad and Narrow Gates

Jesus' hearers were familiar with entry gates into cities like Jerusalem. Some gates were wide along major entry points. A person could simply follow the crowd and enter a city on a major thoroughfare. Some gates, however, were narrow. Just one person at a time could enter. They would be easy to miss if you were content to zone out and just follow the crowds. Here lies the warning - you won't find the Kingdom by wandering around trusting the crowds. The religious crowd won't accidentally wander into Heaven. Neither will the self-consumed pagan crowd. A person needs to want the Kingdom enough to seek it out and recognize the small entry point when they see it. The warning here - don't trust the crowds. Seek your Father's Kingdom and you will find it.

Warning Metaphor 2 - Good and Bad Trees

Israel's history was full of true and false prophets. A false prophet was someone who claimed to speak words from YHWH but did not. In the past, the people would have to wait to see if the prophets words tested out to be true before they could determine if he was a false prophet or not. Jesus gives us a short cut here. "Look at their life." Think of them like a fruit tree. Is the fruit good or bad? Do they leave Kingdom fruit (love, grace, humility, etc.) in their wake or do they leave anti-Kingdom fruit (greed, immorality, selfishness)? Notice he doesn't say to judge them by their actions or spiritual "powers" but by their real-life tangible fruit.

For the first time in Matthew, Jesus introduces the idea of "that day" - judgment day - in verse 23. He will teach more about "that day" as the book continues. He says that in the end it won't be about what we did, but who we are and the fruit that naturally falls from us. He can warn us to test those who would have us follow them while comforting us with the knowledge that He himself will one day judge them. We don't have to do that. We just have to listen to the warning - Don't follow anyone claiming to speak for Jesus whose life doesn't look a lot like the Kingdom of Heaven in action.

Warning Metaphor 3 - Wise and Foolish Builders

I love the way Jesus ends the Sermon. "...and in conclusion, if you don't do what I have told you to do, you are dumb." That's how I read it anyway. The last warning is this - if you don't live out the Sermon it means nothing to you. I have a feeling that we have the abridged version of this parable. Jesus was a builder before he was a teacher. He knows a thing or two about building houses. We call him a "carpenter" but more likely he would have spent his teens and twenties building complete structures - homes - out of rock and earth. He knew something about the high importance of choosing where to build a house. He warns his followers - build your life on these words and you will survive. Build your life on any other words and you are doomed. This is it. This is all there is. Everything else is going to fail.

Our entire three chapter study concludes with the real time response of the mountain-climbing disciples:

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

They stood there motionless, mouths agape. Amazed. Unlike the religious teachers, he taught with real authority. He taught as a master inventor explaining the inter-workings his own invention. He taught as God himself explaining the deepest mysteries of the universe. And then...if you keep reading...he walks down the mountain and miraculously heals person after person. That's real authority.

week seven. section three. assignments.

Thanks for being a part of this study. Your only final assignment is read the entire book of Matthew over the next month. Start at the beginning and take your time. As we learned in the first week, study is about context. Live within the story and your Father will show you what He has for you.

This study will remain on the blogger page should you want to return for it or send others toward it. I'm considering doing another study in the fall of 2010. If you'd like to stay connected with me personally, you can find me here:


Last extra - with no redeeming value at all:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More than Enough. Mt. 5-7. Part Six of Seven.

Welcome back to week six of the seven week series studying Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. We pick up new students all the time, so just head on over to week one and start there. All of the other weeks are linked on the right sidebar. You can do them at your own pace.

For the optimal experience, make sure to join the facebook discussion group and befriend us on facebook.

This study should take less than 60 minutes. When you are ready to begin, proceed onto lesson six:

week six. section one. treasure.

Make sure to do these seven studies in chronological order. The work you have done up to this point should actually make these last two sections of the Sermon easier to understand and apply to daily life. So, in light of all we have learned about Jesus' message of the availability of the Kingdom of Heaven, let's read the next section from the text and return to the study:

Matthew 6:19-34

Life is all about what we treasure:

We often know that the things we are treasuring are not fulfilling. We all treasure something. Jesus is telling us what Kingdom people living within the new community naturally treasure above all else: the stuff of Heaven - God the Father, his right way of life, our brothers and sisters in the new community and, ultimately, love.

Jesus taught about treasuring when he was asked about the most important thing in all of life:

Matthew 22:34-40

This is what we treasure above all: God our Father and his people. Since Heaven is already here partially, we can in this very moment begin to store up treasures in these real and present relationships. As we learned last week in the Prayer, our new family with God as Father is first.

The stuff of earth will all eventually run its course. It will fade, rust and be eaten by moths. But in the Kingdom-birthed new community, Heaven's eternity begins now in the relationships we have with Father and his other children, our brothers and sisters. Those relationships will last into the new heaven and new earth when the Kingdom is someday fulfilled.

Jesus then tells us that what we treasure (love) the most determines where our hearts reside. Our hearts are our true centers. Our hearts make us what we will ultimately become. Loving Father and each other is what changes us - forms us into the new community.

Verses 22 and 23 are admittedly a little confusing in the way they are normally translated. The common interpretations revolve around the following three ideas...and Jesus could somehow be implying all of them at the same time:

1. We ought to keep our eyes on God, meaning we should focus our light (vision) on Him. This is praying "Our Father."
2. We ought to be careful about what we spend our time looking at. The applications may be different for each of us, but we all have things that when we gaze upon them, we are more tempted to treasure them than our Father.
3. We ought to "light up" our priorities to guide our way. Taking the time to actively prioritize our treasures is important so that we don't drift into treasuring anything more than God and his people.

This little section concludes with the famous statement, "You can't serve both God and Money." The word money is actually the idea of "Mammon" which is best understood as the lure and power of wealth, property and material possessions. Jesus is clear here to those who believe they can somehow treasure material wealth while also treasuring God. He says, "you can't treasure both equally." Either you will treasure God and He will inform you how to relate to money, or you will treasure Mammon and He will inform you how to relate to God. To take an extreme position from this that Jesus is anti-money can be dangerous. Jesus is speaking of priorities here: what we treasure and what we love, not what we happen to hold in our hands at a given moment. You can have money and not treasure it more than God. You can also not have money and treasure it more than God. That said, Jesus made it abundantly clear that having material wealth is a liability to receiving the Kingdom of Heaven. Having money makes receiving Jesus harder. Most of us can depend on our bank accounts to meet all of our physical needs for the next several weeks. That creates less desperation for our Father's provision of daily bread. That causes us to seek the Kingdom less actively than those who need Father's help in the here and now. Being desperate seems to be central to receiving the Kingdom.

Here's the big reality in all of this: The Kingdom of God is a place of abundance, not scarcity. We have more than we need and plenty to go around because God gives us more and more all the time. This idea naturally flows into Jesus' next area of teaching: worry.

week six. section two. worry.

Read the next section and return:

Matthew 6:25-34

Several weeks ago we watched a message from John Ortberg. Let's return to him again for teaching on this section. Click on the following link and watch John's message entitled "Life Beyond Worry." It's about 20 minutes long. Return to the study when you have finished.

Life Beyond Worry Video

week six. section three. assignments.

Lesson six was a little shorter than the others. Maybe you find yourself with some time left to spend with God. Turn off your computer and take a walk or write a letter to God. Tell him what you worry about. Go for it! He'll meet you. He wants to take care of you and give you all that you need. Just ask Him to help.


You asked for it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Father. Mt. 5-7, Part Five of Seven.

Welcome back to week five of the seven week series studying Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. We pick up newbies all the time, so just head on over to week one and start there. All the weeks are linked on the right sidebar should you fall behind.

For the optimal experience, make sure to join the facebook discussion group and befriend us on facebook.

This study should take no more than 90 minutes. This week will included a directed prayer time, so make sure that you are in a quiet place where you can appropriately concentrate before beginning. When you are ready, proceed onto lesson five:

week five. section one. father.

We are now moving onto chapter six in Matthew. If we aren't careful, we could begin to lose the flow of the Sermon by looking too closely at it section by section. Take some time now to re-read the entire passage of Matthew 5-7. As you read, note every time the word "Father" is used. How many "Fathers" are in the Sermon?

Read Matthew 5-7 and return.

The Sermon on the Mount could have been called something like "Seeing God as Father." Take ten minutes now to watch the following youtube link to Rob Bell's Nooma video called Rain:

Before Jesus it was uncommon for individuals to refer to YHWH as Father. It was understood that the nation of Israel itself was YHWH's child. God himself first made that clear during the exodus in this passage:

Exodus 4:21-23

The idea of God as Father for the Israelites is closely associated to the exodus (deliverance from slavery). Jesus the Revolutionary has come as the second and greater Moses to deliver God's child (Israel) back to his love and care within the reality of the Kingdom. Whenever the father/son imagery is used in the Old Testament it is normally associated with God delivering the Israelites out of Egypt. See the following example in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 1:30-31

It is clear then that this Kingdom Jesus brings is a Kingdom of deliverance. In a real way, God's people are being freed and led into the promised land of Heaven through Messiah. For Jesus to use the term "Father" for God seventeen times (by my count) in this relatively short sermon is of great significance. It simply was not that common to address God as Father. Jesus only uses the normal word for God five times in the Sermon. He saying something most clearly - that God is fundamentally Father - not just the Father of Israel, but the Father of all humanity. Not just the Father of all humanity, but your Father. He is your personal Father. This, again, is revolutionary. It moves beyond exodus/deliverance language and into the realm of genuine familial love.

week five. section two. matthew 6:1-18

We will now look at the section in the Sermon devoted to addressing the three primary religious activities of the Jewish people in the days of Jesus: giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. We'll see how having God's primary identity as Father changes the motivations for these and other activities.

Read Matthew 6:1-18 and return.

Jesus will now show us the role of religion in the Kingdom. With all we have seen thus far, we might expect him to completely ban all religious activity. He does not. He assumes that people within the Kingdom will give, pray and fast. Just like with last week, these are examples of Kingdom life, not an exhaustive list of what good deeds or pious acts are permitted or expected in the new community. He assumes that many of his good Jewish listeners will continue to be good Jewish people who do these acts of righteousness. Just like the discussion of sins in the previous lesson, everyone of the three acts of piety boil down to the same thing for Jesus - inner motivation.

Giving. Matthew 6:1-4

Jesus is going to make a simple case for each act of piety: If you do your acts of righteousness for Father God he will reward you. If you do them for any other reason, like to be seen as holy, you will get your reward in full. Ie: your full reward will be people thinking you are holy. He starts with giving to the poor. He is not making hard fast rules about hiding your giving from anyone who may notice your actions, but he is saying that the second your motivation to give is about you instead of God, you've traded in your heavenly reward for an earthly one. Give because your Father first gave to you.

Notice one other thing here. Jesus makes it permissible to seek a reward from God. He doesn't say what the reward will be, but he does seem to leave it open as a motivator. This isn't pure asceticism in that light. He assumes that we will all desire rewards from time to time. In the Kingdom we desire rewards from God our Father more than rewards from people.

Prayer. Matthew 6:5-15

Here are some interesting examples of prayer:

I thought I'd show you a few of my favorite actors pretending to pray because Jesus actually uses one of the greek word for "actor" in this passage. He says, "do not pray like the hypocrites." Jesus was likely the first to use this word with a negative religious connotation. "Hypocrite" was the word for a stage actor. (Full disclosure - your online teacher is a proud member of the screen actors guild.) Actors are professional pretenders. Some in Jesus' day would actually see them as professional liars. In the century following Jesus, actors were often forced to quit their careers before they were allowed to join the church. In short, actors were seen as frauds. Jesus is saying that there is no place for pretending to talk to God in the Kingdom. No room for dramatic, showy monologues. God is here and he is your Father. He doesn't need your theatrics. If your motivation is to be heard by your Father, he will certainly hear you and reward you in the quiet place. If you pray to be noticed by anyone other than your Father, being noticed will be your full reward.

Then Jesus teaches his disciples what we have come to call "The Lord's Prayer." Luke records a simpler version of this prayer, causing some scholars to think that Jesus would often teach this as a pattern for Kingdom prayer. The prayer has a flow. I have come to believe that the prayer is a mantra of sorts. The prayer is meant to be lived more than to be said. If you could live every word of the prayer, you would be living in the Kingdom of God. I will post a link to a message series on the prayer as the extra link at the end of this study. For now, let's just summarize:

Our - The prayer must come first from the new community. In the Kingdom, prayer is abut "us" first and "me" second. There is no Kingdom prayer without community.

Father - As we have seen in this study, there is no Kingdom without God as Father. This one word tells us who God is, who I am (his child) and who the other members of the new community are (my brothers and sisters/his other children.) The prayer and the Kingdom are all about family relationship.

In Heaven - actually, in "the heavens." Now that we know more about Heaven, this should mean more. God is where Heaven is...and Heaven is both here now and not quite here yet. God is here in new real way through Jesus...and he will one day be fully present with his people.

Hallowed be your name - Father is holy. Personal but royal. His name is both his reputation and his prophetic destiny. He has many names, but we are now most aware of one of his names - Father.

Your Kingdom Come - This can't mean come into existence since Jesus has already announced its availability. It rather means, come into fulfillment. The prayer is for the Kingdom (God's presence and reign) to fill every inch of all creation.

Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven - A qualifier to the request that the Kingdom come. When Kingdom comes all of earth will be as Heaven - God's total reign.

Give us today our daily bread - The prayer that is meant to be lived is entirely practical. In Jesus' day many estimate that as many as 75% of the people did not know where their daily food would come from. We ask God for our needs, and our Father meets them. For many of us, the fact that we can no longer pray this prayer legitimately should cause reflection on how we can answer this prayer for those in our world who are right now praying this prayer.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors - Debts/debtors is by far the superior translation. These are economic words. We can assume that this also means forgiving trespasses, but the point is first an economic one. We forgive those who owe us money because we have been forgiven completely by God. For more on this I highly recommend John Howard Yoder's classic book, The Politics of Jesus.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one - This should beg the question, "What is the real temptation in light of what we have learned thus far?" I would propose that the ultimate temptation is to not believe the prayer itself - that God is Father and his Kingdom comes.

Jesus trails the prayer with a thought attached to the forgiveness language. "Who are you to not forgive anyone after how much you have been forgiven?" In the Kingdom, we forgive because we were first forgiven.

Fasting. Matthew 6:16-18.

Nothing new in this section. It's the same idea as giving and prayer. When you fast, do it for Father and he will reward you. Do it for others to be seen as one fasting and that is all the reward you get. In all three examples, Jesus uses the imagery of the hypocrite. No Academy Awards for piety in the Kingdom of Heaven.

week five. section three. prayer experience.

Below is a 20 minute prayer experience. It is a video that will lead you through Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. It was originally created for a church service, but will work where you are. You'll want to be alone in a place where you won't feel awkward praying. You will also need something heavy to hold - something about the size and weight of a brick. When you are ready to begin the experience, click the link below:

Lord's Prayer Experience.

week five. section four. assignments.

1. Pray the Lord's Prayer every morning for seven days. As you do, think through all that you have learned about each phrase of the prayer in this study. If you want, come back and do the prayer experience each morning.

2. Post something in your twitter or facebook status about what you learned in this lesson.

Extra, extra:

Listen to yours truly speaking about the Lord's Prayer at this link.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kingdom Snapshots. Mt. 5-7, Part Four of Seven.

Welcome back to the virtual Bible Study. This is week four of seven studying Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Today we will finish chapter five. If you are new, I recommend the following:

Join the facebook discussion group and befriend us on facebook.

Make sure to go back and do the study in order. I won't spend much time reviewing and each lesson builds on the other. The lessons are linked in order in the sidebar to the right.

This lesson may take up to 90 minutes. When you are ready to proceed go onto lesson four:

week four. section one. transformation.

We are going to look at the life that becomes possible once the Kingdom of Heaven begins to break in through Christ. Start by watching this video:

Does the video leave you with mixed emotions? Would you like to be transformed like this or would you rather just be left the way you are? Does it bother you that the final image isn't true to "real life"? Take a few minutes and write whatever you are thinking in this moment. You can use a paper journal or just open up a word processor on your computer. If you want, jump into a discussion about the video on the facebook group page. When you have finished, return to the study.

We will now enter the part of the Sermon where Jesus paints a picture of daily life within the community of transformed kingdom people. It will be a temptation to see Jesus as giving rules or laws in this section. If simply keeping the laws and rules could transform people (and the world) Jesus would have no need to separate himself from the Pharisees. Jesus is going to show us vivid, practical, real-life examples of what it will be like to live within the earthly reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. As you read this section, you will likely think, "but I can't do that." Perhaps that is the point. You cannot change your behavior by trying to change. So often we approach this section of Matthew having neglected or forgotten all that we have previously examined in this study: Messiah has come. Heaven (God's presence) comes with him. Therefore we repent and turn to him for help. He blesses us and makes us a blessing to the world. He tells us that our righteousness must surpass the most religious among us and be a righteousness rooted in love for God and others instead of laws and rules. Then he starts vision casting with six examples of Kingdom life beginning with the phrase, "you have heard that it was said, but I say..."

The same underlying message runs throughout this section we are about to study: God wants to change you. (And He clearly can because He is now with us through Christ.) Dallas Willard often puts it this way, "God is less concerned about you keeping the rules and more concerned that you become the kind of person who wants to keep the rules." That's a big distinction. Jesus is about to paint the picture of personal and communal transformation. Think of the video we just watched as a metaphor for the life of the Pharisees. They want to be right (look right) so they work very hard to make themselves look as right as possible. God wants us to be right even more than we do, but when he transforms us, he does it for real and forever - no masks or makeup or digital trickery. He changes our heart (insides) and that, in turn, changes our face and body and mind. Maybe spiritual growth is a lot like physical growth in that God put into a tiny embryo all the details that became who you are. He made you from the inside out and wants to re-make you as his child again. So, lets look at Matthew 5:21-48 as Jesus' practical vision statements as to what can happen when a new community forms within the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven:

week four. section two. matthew 5:21-48

Let's begin by reading our entire section now. Then return to the study: Matthew 5:21-48.

There's a lot in there - a lot of traditional debates and theological hot buttons. I'll address each area briefly later, but first we must see this section as a larger whole. My hope in this lesson is not to focus on the details, but rather on the bigger idea Jesus is getting across. N.T. Wright says this in his commentary, Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15

"In this section on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the commands of the law and shows how they provide a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, gloriously human. This new way, which Jesus had come to pioneer and make possible, goes deep down into the roots of personality and produces a different pattern of behaviour altogether."

Jesus is showing us how his disciples will react to real life as it unfolds before them. Each example begins with reminding them of the "old" paradigm, then contrasting it to the "new" paradigm in the new covenant within the reality of the new community. He is, in essence, describing Heaven on Earth and telling his followers that through his power, this life is available now and will someday soon be fully realized. Here is one way to look at the six examples:

Each of them starts with a real life issue, then he shows the old and new ways of overcoming the issue:

Issue One: "Another person irritates me."
Old Command: Don't kill them.
New Community Reality: Refuse to be angry, immediately reconcile and give generously to them.

Issue Two: "I'm sexually attracted to someone."
Old Command: Don't sleep with anyone except your spouse.
New Community Reality: Refuse to cultivate a heart that dwells on sexual misconduct.

Issue Three: "I'm unhappy in my marriage."
Old Command: Divorce a woman fairly by giving her a "pink slip."
New Community Reality: Stay married and learn to love.

Issue Four: "I want something from someone."
Old Command: Keep the vows you made when you were trying to get what you wanted.
New Community Reality: Just tell the whole truth from the start. Ask for what you want and mean what you say.

Issue Five: "Someone physically hurt me."
Old Command: Inflect the exact same injury on them - no more.
New Community Reality: Help the one who hurt you.

Issue Six: "Someone hates me."
Old Command: Hate your enemy.
New Community Reality: Love and bless your enemies, just like God does.

Before moving onto the details, we must see the themes that reflect the new upside-down kingdom people. God is transforming us, but into what kind of people is he transforming us?

1. We become like Jesus. He modeled the life he described in these six examples.
2. Love prevails. We love people the way God loved us - without reason or restraint.
3. Grace first. We remember who we were when Jesus called us into the Kingdom and treat others the way he treated us.
4. "Natural" behaviors change. Where we used to give into every instinct - to fight or have sex or lie or hate - we begin to have the opposite instincts by the power of God changing us from the inside out.
5. New Community. All of this only works if the new disciples actually form and live within the reality of a new community ruled by Jesus.

I'll now address a few details in each section of our text. I'll provide the biblegateway link before each section:

Matthew 5:21-26

Notes on Anger:

1. "It's not like I killed someone." Have you ever said that? Well, Jesus probably had heard that too. He starts in this first snapshot of Kingdom life by saying, "Actually, it is like you have killed someone." We have all been so angry with someone that we at least wanted to yell, curse or punch them. Jesus says here that in the Kingdom we move past that anger. (Anger is always rooted in feeling like someone treated you worse than you deserve. Jesus is replacing anger with grace. God is no longer angry with you, so give them the grace he has already given you.) I would note here that many of these examples (especially anger and lust) deal with our will. I don't think Jesus is saying to shut down all instincts to be angry, but there is always a spilt second after the first feeling of anger when we decide if it will escalate in our hearts. That's just enough time for any of us to remind ourselves of God's grace and replace anger with pity for the one hurting us. Just enough time for us to see that life isn't about fairness anymore. It is in that moment that, through God's power, we choose grace over anger.

2. "Raca" and "you fool" - Scholars I respect tend to disagree as to which slur Jesus uses is worse. Raca is an Aramaic word of distain. It's associated with spitting on the ground. "Fool" would be a much more disparaging word in Jesus' culture than in ours. Some commentators say it might be similar to the F-word. Perhaps the bigger comparison Jesus is making is between appearing before the Sanhedrin vs. being discarded in gehenna (hell).

3. We have as much baggage with the word hell as we do heaven. The word Jesus uses here is "gehenna" which was an actual trash dump located near where he was teaching. As a bonus, there's some interesting stuff on the Jewish perspective of Gehenna here: Jewish Encyclopedia.

I could do a whole study on Jesus and Hell..but we have more to cover in this lesson. Here's a quick video from N.T. Wright to get you thinking though:

4. Jesus seems to teach here that relational reconciliation trumps corporate worship. Again, it's about truly loving God and others within the new community more than anything else.

5. My take on the settling matters outside of court is not necessarily that Jesus is forbidding using the courts - that means something somewhat different to us than it would have to them anyway. (Again, I don't see these as new laws but examples of Kingdom life.) The idea here could certainly translate toward the reality of not suing someone who wrongs us, but it seems to me that the big Kingdom idea here is to make friends instead of enemies. Show grace, talk it out, be in honest relationship. Those are new community and Kingdom attributes.

Moving on: Matthew 5:27-37


I've lumped the next three examples together (lust, adultery, oaths) in part because I have a suspicion that they interplay with one another. (If we lived Kingdom lives in the issues of lust and oaths, we'd probably see a lot less divorces.)

1. We see the same pattern for lust as we did with anger. To the one who can say, "at least I've never cheated on my spouse," Jesus says, "yes you have." He moves straight to intent. Many people who have never cheated on their spouse or had sex outside of marriage would choose to have sex with someone who is not their spouse if they knew for certain that nobody would ever find out.

2. There is some tricky language here. The "looks lustfully" implies intent. I think it might be best translated, "anyone who looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting." All the statements above about anger apply - there is a natural instinct to notice sexual attraction. It is the purposeful decision to dwell sexually on that attraction that forms our heart. (As with anger, many of us don't even realize we make the second decision anymore, but we do willfully make it in a split second.)

3. Let's all throw our eyes into the fires of Gehenna. All the stuff about cutting off eyes and hands can mean one of two things. (I've been using N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard as primary sources for this study and they disagree with one another here.)

-Wright's view: Jesus is using over-dramatic hyperbole here as he does in other places. The main point is to aggressively and decisively deal with things that separate you from Kingdom living. Be ruthless.

-Dallas Willard's view as quoted from The DIvine Conspiracy:

"Jesus is saying that if you think that laws can eliminate being wrong you would, to be consistent, cut off your hand or gouge out your eye so that you could not possibly do the acts the law forbids. Now truly, if you blind yourself, you cannot look at a woman to lust after her, because you cannot look on her at all. And if you sufficiently dismember yourself, you will not be able to do any wrong action. This is the logic by which Jesus by reduces the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to the absurd...the ultimate question always concerns who you are not what you did or can do. What would you do if you could? Eliminating body parts will not change that."

For me, I prefer Willard's take, but I can't eliminate Wright's.

4. Divorce. Be careful to build an entire position on divorce using only these two verses. What we see clearly is that divorce is not a normal Kingdom/new community practice. (Though Jesus gives reasons to accept it in the new community.) A Biblical study on divorce would include Paul's teachings and the other gospel accounts. Divorce in this culture was more of a business transaction than anything else. A man unhappy with his wife would dismiss her and she would have few options: homelessness, prostitution or returning to her father's house if he was living and accepted her. The revolutionary part of this example is the value Jesus places on women.

Stanley Hauerwas says this in Matthew: Brazos Theolgoical Commentary:

"What is crucial is not the question of when marriage will be dissolved, but given the new dispensation the question should be how Christians understand marriage. In similar fashion, the question is not whether a divorced woman should be allowed to marry, but what kind of community must a church be that does not make it a necessity for such a woman to remarry. If Christians do not have to marry, if women who have been abandoned do not have to remarry, then surely the church must be a community of friendship that is an alternative to the loneliness of the world."

For many in this study this is a deeply personal and painful issue. I regret not being able to spend more time here, but for now I should remind you that Jesus ultimately brings a new community of grace and love. Whatever answers you find will lead you back to that truth.

5. Oaths. Jesus seems to be referring here to the second of the ten commandments - not taking the Lord's name in vain. It was common to promise by God's name to pay back a debt, etc. In the new community of the Kingdom we don't need to do this. We tell the truth all the time. He'll come back to this idea in chapter six.

Last section: Matthew 5:38-48


This contains the last two examples of Kingdom life in the new community: revenge and dealing with enemies.

1. Jesus is really messing with the way the world works now. The Law that demanded an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, etc. had as its goal to break the cycle of revenge. You get what you deserve and that ends it. No escalation to death or feuds or wars. Jesus isn't content with stopping the cycle. He wants to turn it on its head using his Kingdom-empowered new community. So we replace revenge with love. When we are unjustly attacked, we don't just take it. We fight back with radical selfless love.

2. Jesus uses three mini-examples inside the first example. They all are snapshots of Kingdom reality.

-Turn the other cheek. A slap on the right cheek would normally have meant a backhanded slap. This would have been a common way to discipline a slave, child or even a wife. It implies being lower status. Perhaps beyond the obvious Jesus has something to say here about worth. "I'll stand here and let you hit me like an equal - your right fist to my left cheek." Either way, there is no retaliation. Jesus rejects the power of violence and militant revolution here and elsewhere. Some say Jesus is using shame to show the attacker how ridiculous they are for striking them.

-Give your shirt and cloak. This could just mean simply going above and beyond, but it also could induce shame on the unjust one. These were the two main garments normally worn, so standing naked before your accuser could make them look foolish in public.

-Second mile. A Roman soldier could force anyone to carry a burden for one mile. A new community member would offer to go two...perhaps to show love to the soldier or just to blow their mental perceptions. Those looking for the "shame pattern" will assume that this might embarrass the soldier who can't shake the slave from trailing him.

3. Crazy Love. The last example deals with another real life lesson. The disciples would have plenty of real enemies - the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, etc. Jesus knows his enemies will mistreat his followers and kill some of them. They, in turn, will love their enemies and pray for them. Then he says something revolutionary again - We love our enemies because God loves everyone. To the Israelites, this would be challenging. They were God's chosen people, but now he reminds us at the close of this section what he taught us before it started. The whole world will be blessed by the new community in the Kingdom, not just Israel.

4. Be Perfect. greek "teleioi" is a hard word to translate for us. Perfect is a good translation in the since of wholeness or maturity. I think it speaks to "wholeness" or "completeness" in terms of how we treat everyone the same way - with love, grace and non-violence. Hauerwas says the following:

"We are called, therefore, to be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ's love for his enemies. Perfection does not mean that we are sinless or that we are free of anger or lust. Rather, to be perfect is to learn to be part of a people who take the time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence."

week four. section three. assignments.

1. Think of your own example of what you imagine Kingdom life in the new community is like. Write it like this, "You have heard it said __________________, but we say_________________." Post your snapshots on the facebook group page.

2. Post one of these in your facebook/twitter status: "I'm getting a makeover at" or "I have some opinions on sex, hell and war:" or make up your own...

Bonus? Seriously? This study was pretty long. Ok...just for laughs:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Salt, Light and Religion. Mt. 5-7, Part Three of Seven.

Welcome back. This is week three of a seven week series studying Matthew 5-7. If you are new, welcome to the party. Here are a few things to know: The study is best done in order. Each study takes about 90 minutes. If you haven't done week one, click here. If you have done week one, but haven't completed week two, click here. Though the studies are posted on blogger, they are best experienced as a member of facebook. Click here to become friends with Bible Study on Facebook. Additionally, click here to join the discussion group on Facebook. I cannot overstate how much these studies build on one another. I won't take much time to review from week to week, so make sure you have a grasp of lessons one and two before proceeding.

Once you are in a comfortable place and free of distractions continue onto lesson three below:

week three. section one. salt and light.

Let's start by learning about salt. Why not, right? Watch the youtube video below:

Let's now read the passage we will be studying this week. Click here to read Matthew 5:13-20. Then return back to the study.

The Sermon is wrapping up its introduction. The "beatitudes" show us statements of reality in light of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to our lives here and now. Because the kingdom has come, the spiritually bankrupt are blessed. These statements about salt and light are similar in intent to the beatitudes in that these statements express a current reality to his disciples: "You are this already." However they are also statements of judgement against Israel. Jesus' disciples are the salt of the earth and the light of the world because Israel is not - Israel has lost it's "saltiness" and become dark. Jesus is telling his disciples that they are the new hope for Israel, but only because the Kingdom (reign) of Heaven (God) has come upon them through Christ. They are now what Israel was always destined to be - salt and light.

Before we look at the twofold imagery of salt and light, let's review some of what we learned in lesson one.

There is this overarching, historically-rooted, real promise that God made to humanity. He made a covenant (promise) to Abraham way back in Genesis 12. At that point Abraham was just one man with no heir, but through YHWH he was about to create an entire nation. He embodied all that Israel would and should become. This is what God promised him. Read Genesis 12:1-3 and return.

Notice that the promise to Abraham is that 1.) He would be blessed, 2.) He would be a blessing and that 3.) All the people of the earth would be blessed through him. God's original idea in calling a nation to himself through the one man Abraham was to birth a blessed nation that would bless the entire world. In Jesus we come full circle. One man again contains the hope of God's people - and the hope of God's people is the hope of all people...God's people will be a blessing to the entire world. Though every disciple of Jesus would have known all of this, many were losing hope in the practical world that Israel could really become a blessing to the nations.

I have hopefully built a compelling case that Matthew is showing us Jesus as the revolutionary Christ - the one to bring Israel to a place of ultimate fulfillment - where they are blessed and a blessing. (Notice that Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount proclaiming to his disciples that they are truly "blessed" in the present. They are blessed already, now he will teach them how to be a blessing.)

John Ortberg, who taught us last week via video, says it this way in his sermon entitled "Vital Signs," a primary source for this week three lesson. (I'll post it as the "extra" at the end of our study.)

"A lot of people think of Jesus as a kind of guru, who went around just dropping out these beautiful, but kind of random sayings, like they would belong in a Hallmark card or something. That’s not what was going on. The Sermon on the Mount, among other things, is a piece of brilliant thought. It’s designed to launch a movement in the face of powerful opposition from at least four factions, that Jesus was aware of...And, all of them had power, and money and reasons to get rid of Him. So, these words are not kind of happy little esteem boosters. They are dangerous."

Ortberg goes onto categorize the four factions of people in the world of Jesus into these categories:

1. The Romans - The Romans (occupiers) view of Israel was that of a place to be exploited financially. Israel existed to be enslaved to Rome and make Rome richer.

2. The Zealots - These were radical Israelite nationalists committed to the violent overthrow of Roman occupation. (From the Roman perspective they would have been seen as terrorists.) Their view of Israel was that God wanted Israel to rule the earth and that they should bring about the revolution by any means necessary.

3. The Sadducees - Mainly consisting of the priests, the Sadducees were modernists and liberal theologians. They denied the inspiration of the Scriptures and did not believe in the coming of the Kingdom or even the idea of God intervening much at all in human history. Practical realists, they viewed Israel as a captive nation under Rome. They managed to "make the best of it" and assume local positions of power and influence in their world as they played within the political system. They were ultimately collaborators with Rome.

4. The Reformers - These were the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Like the Zealots, they envisioned a world where Israel fully reigned in God's name. Their strategy was much different though. They became pious isolationists. The thinking was that if they separated themselves enough from the Romans, Zealots and Sadducees by their good living and rule keeping God would eventually notice them and reward them by destroying both their enemies and the "sinners" in their own nation. Many saw Messiah coming as key to this. At first glance, Jesus would appear to have the most in common with this faction. However, as we have already seen, this is the group of people most commonly at odds with Jesus in the gospels.

Again, Ortberg puts it this way:

"So, these were the visions: Rome, they kind of were the world. And the zealots said: we exist to rule the world. Sadducees said: we ought to be like the world. And the reformers said: we ought to withdraw and isolate from the world. Nobody was talking about blessing the world. It was in the middle of this cauldron that Jesus comes. He stands on the side of the mountain, and He remembers how God said to Abraham one day, "I will bless you."

In the midst of this reality, Jesus calls together his small group of mountain climbing disciples and creates a "fifth faction" that will overcome and outlast them all. He tells his followers that they are the new hope for Israel. That they already are salt and light. That they already are the blessing to the world promised to Abraham. Ortberg continues...

"And the people respond, of course. Who, us? Insignificant us? Not the Romans, with all of their power and wealth? Not the Zealots, with all of their passion? Not the Sadducees, with all of their connections, not the reformers with all of their piety and religiosity? And Jesus says, no. He says they’re all wrong. The subjugators and the dominators and haters, and the collaborators and the isolators, they’re all wrong. And here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to love them all. I’m going to love the Centurions. I’m going to have a Zealot become one of my people. I’ll love the priests, I’ll love the Pharasees, and I’ll love them all. But a lot of them won’t get it. They’ll fight me, they’ll oppose me, they’ll persecute me, and they’ll imprison me. Eventually they’ll kill me. And then, here’s the next step in the plan. You, my little rag-tag crowd, you will love them. And then they’ll fight you and oppose you and persecute you and imprison you. And kill many of you. And what will you do? Then you’ll love them even more. Isn’t that a great plan? Aren’t you all fired up about that plan? And, of course, a lot of people weren’t. But some people were."

These rag-tag disciples are the real fulfillment of Israel. They are God's people living in God's reign with God's King leading them. They are the rebels bringing blessing to the world.

They are salt. This salt business ties directly into God's covenant (promise) to Abraham to be a blessing to the world. Again, it evokes imagery from the Torah: Read Numbers 18:19 and return back to the study.

God has a "covenant of salt" with Israel. He has a promise of salt with his people. What it the world does that mean? First, it is important to not confuse our modern idea of salt with the ancient understanding. We generally use salt to add taste or spice to food. The ancients, especially the Romans, did this as well. However, the primary use of salt in the ancient world was to preserve meat and other foods. Salt was used to stop corruption and decay in a piece of meat. Salt saved. Beyond whatever other imagery we may pull from being the "salt" of the earth, I've come to believe that Jesus is primarily saying that Israel had a covenant of salt with YHWH, which they broke. They were to be true to Him and He was to use them like salt in the world. He would bless them and they would be a blessing. They would turn the corrupted world around and give blessing to the parts where decay had set in. Now, the Kingdom has come. Jesus can say, "You (my disciples) are what YHWH always wanted Israel to be. You are the salt of the earth."

In blessing his disciples, Jesus is also cursing the other factions. They have failed to be salt and lost their "salt-ness." This is a new day. A new covenant. A new salt covenant to radically fulfill the old one. Now the new deal goes something like this, "Messiah and Heaven have come to you. Repent from your old ways of thinking and your factions and God will overwhelm you with his rule and presence, making you salt like he always wanted to do - not just for you sake, but for the sake of the whole world."

Jesus doesn't just reference the salt covenant, but also light. Now read these verses from Isaiah and return:

Isaiah 42:6
Isaiah 49:6

Notice this word covenant again. Isaiah is seeing the day when the blessed/blessing covenant promised to Abraham is fully realized. Someday, he says, light will come from Israel to the Gentiles (the rest of the world.) Someday, Isaiah says, the Kingdom of Heaven will reign and a covenant/promise of light will be fulfilled on the earth.

Jesus says clearly in our passage, "that day is today" when he says to his early followers, "you are the light of the world." They had to know with these two covenant-packed analogies what Jesus was saying. They likely had a hard time believing it, but they had to know he was telling them that today begins the day we have all hoped to see for generation after generation. We are finally salt and finally light. The new covenant/promise/deal is enacted. God is reigning and He has chosen the least likely faction of all to bring it all about. He has chosen us - the nobodies. (Again there is back-handed judgement here for the four factions. They have hidden the light in one way or another, but now Jesus and his disciples will let it out from under the bowl.)

week three. section two. righteousness.

This concludes the introduction to the Sermon. Now Jesus will move onto his main idea, which we will look at in this lesson. Next week we will watch as he walks us through some different real-life scenarios to test his main idea.

Let's re-read the section we are studying presently as we move on to the latter verses: Matthew 5:13-20.

There must have been some rumor floating around that Jesus was blowing everything up - the Torah, the Law, the Prophets. Some most have been saying that he was starting a new covenant at the expense of the old one. He has to address this concern immediately after his introductory remarks. He speaks plainly: I have not come to abolish (get rid of) the old covenant, but to fulfill it. Jesus is going to focus in on faction #4 (the reformers/pharisees) to let his followers know what he does and does not have in common with them.

What he does have in common with the Pharisees:

He loves the Law (Torah/Scriptures) as much or more than they do. He has not come (like the Sadducees) to downplay the Scriptures but to elevate the promises and the heart of the practices within them. Like any good Rabbi, Jesus loves and values the Law and Prophets down to the tiniest of pen strokes within it.

What he does not have in common with the Pharisees:

Jesus placed love for God and people above obeying the rules and external compliance. This, again, is part of the revolution - the new covenant. Jesus put it this way later on in Matthew:

Matthew 22:37-41

Notice what Jesus is doing here. It is radical and must be wrestled with, not just in this passage, but throughout the Sermon. Jesus is redefining righteousness as love for God and people. He is working from the inside out vs. the outside in. And in this section he judges the Pharisees most viciously. When he says, "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven," he is certainly not calling his disciples to be MORE religious or law-abiding or rule-keeping. (That is the Pharisees' faulty definition of righteousness.) By Jesus' own definition, he is calling his followers to a life of relentless love. He is not raising the bar on religious piety, but rather condemning the very pious who do not really love God or their neighbor. The irony is rich and thick. He looks over the crowd of whores, mobsters, ex-zealots, abandoned widows, religious nobodies, and the poorest of the poor. He's already told them that they are blessed. He's already informed them that they are entering the Kingdom of Heaven by accepting his invitation to repent. Then he tells them that they have a righteousness that exceeds the ones they have always thought were the most righteous people to ever live. He tells them that the Pharisees will have to become like them to see Heaven.

This radical idea will propel his message forward. Jesus will now start putting flesh to the bones of his new covenant. That is what we will cover in lesson four next week.

week three. section three. assignments.

1. Commit at least one verse in Matthew 5:13-20 to memory this week. Think about it daily.

2. Take some time this week to be alone with God. In a journal or notebook write this question, "God what things do I try to do or not do in order to be right with you?" Spend some time asking God to give you a heart that loves him. Then ask, "What things do you want me to do or not do this week?" See what comes to your mind and take a risk that maybe God is trying to show you something.

3. Type this in your FB/twitter status, "I'm part of a salt and light rebellion. You can join too at"

4. If you haven't yet, join the discussion on the Facebook Group Page.

This week's extra:

Follow this link to John Ortberg's sermon entitled "Vital Signs." Watch it for free by pushing the arrow button. (It was the primary resource for this week's study, so parts will feel like a review.)

Vital Signs Link

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lucky You. Mt 5-7, Part Two of Seven.

This is week two of a seven week study on Matthew 5-7. If you are new to the study, welcome! Each week's study is intended to take around 90 minutes. They are best done in one sitting whenever possible. If you have not done lesson one, do it before doing this one by clicking this link. These lessons will build on each other. Think of it like a kid making a tower out of blocks. Make sure your foundation is solid before moving onto the next study. If you rushed through last week's lesson, take time to revisit it. This one will be here whenever you are ready to proceed.

OK. Ready to go? When you are in a comfortable place with limited distractions continue onto lesson two below:

week two. section one. discipleship.

We must fearlessly move past our assumptions about Jesus and search for him anew in Matthew's words. Last week we began to try to understand the arching ideas of Messiah/Christ and the Kingdom of God (what Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven). Unless otherwise noted I will use the word "heaven" in the Matthean sense throughout this study. I will not be speaking of "heaven" as some other-worldly, postmortem happy state of being, but rather God's real and dynamic coming to earth through the presence and reign of Messiah Jesus. Heaven is partially here now and will be here fully when Messiah returns again to judge and reign. This, in my strong opinion, is Matthew's understanding of heaven. It includes the afterlife, because it is an eternal reign, but Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is abundantly more concerned with the present life than the life than proceeds physical death.

We concluded our last study looking at Matthew 4:17 as Jesus' primary message and agenda. He came to call his people to repent (stop and turn toward God) because the Kingdom of Heaven is coming toward them. Let's begin this lesson by re-reading Matthew 4:17-25. (Just click the link and return back when you have finished reading.)

Throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus finds himself surrounded by crowds of people. They come because he heals them, feeds them and entertains them. The crowd is a safe place to admire Jesus from afar. The following link will take you back to I've isolated everytime the word "crowd" or "crowds" is used in the book of Matthew. Quickly scan through the references. Jot down anything you notice on a piece of paper or in a word processor window on your computer. After that, return back to the study.

Click this link: Crowd/Crowds in Matthew (This link isn't working exactly right for some people. It may show you every listing in the Bible, not just Matthew. If it does, start with #20.)

Matthew makes it clear from the beginning that Jesus is going to accomplish whatever mission he has by calling disciples to himself. (Disciples are learners/students/apprentices.) Twelve of the disciples were chosen to be apostles, but there were more than twelve disciples. Jesus' disciples were those people who were called by him and fully accepted his invitation to enter a teacher/student relationship.

Again, go to the following link and read every instance in the book of Matthew where the world "disciples" is used. I'm not asking that you do an intense study right now. (You may want to later if this captivates you.) Just take about five minutes and read through the verses. What themes or patterns emerge? Based on your first impressions, do you see any contrasts between the crowds and the disciples in Matthew?

Click this link and return after reading: Disciples in Matthew

Let's look at some teaching on what it would have meant to actually become a disciple of Jesus. I'm trying to make the case here that Jesus' ultimate strategy for bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth was and still is through the process of discipleship. Watch the following two youtube videos from Rob Bell back to back. (Sorry about the subtitles...this was the best quality version on youtube.)

week two. section two. matthew 5:1-11.

Now, with the background from week one and the current teaching about discipleship let's (finally) dive into Matthew 5. Notice how the section we will be studying for the next six weeks begins:

Matthew 5:1-2

Jesus has hit the ground running with the long-awaited good news that the Kingdom of Heaven has come. Not only that, he has backed up his statement with amazing miracles to prove that God is on the move and breaking into humanity in a fresh and significant way. The early stirrings of what is sure to be a great popular revolt against Israel's captors has begun in chapter four. Then something happens to Jesus that will happen to him again and again throughout the gospels. He grows weary of the crowds. He must retreat from them. He literally climbs a mountainside to get away. The crowds would never climb a mountain to get to him. The crowds simply aren't that into Jesus. However, his disciples will - that's what disciples do. Disciples are not simple crowd members, they are relentless mountain-climbing followers. They are students, learners, apprentices. In the ancient eastern world of first century Palestine, a disciple has one job - to follow his teacher wherever he goes.

Stanley Haurwas puts it this way in Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible):

"David's kingdom is now present in Jesus...It is a kingdom that requires repentance. Repentance, moreover, requires a training called discipleship. So we should not be surprised that Jesus now calls his first disciples. He does not call his disciples from the powerful or the elites, but rather he calls fishermen, promising to make them fish for people. Throughout his gospel Matthew is unsparing in his description of the incomprehension of the disciples, but they do follow Jesus. In that respect Matthew contrasts the disciples with the crowds that are attracted to Jesus...Those in the crowds will often be in awe of Jesus, they will express amazement at his teaching, but at the end of the day they will shout, "Let him be crucified!" (Matt. 27:22-23)"

So in Matthew 5:2, Jesus is now all alone with his disciples. Matthew is showing us that there is no need for censorship. He can now speak plainly. This is the locker room speech, the war room planning session, the family meeting, the White House security briefing. This is where we cut to the chase - this is where Jesus can tell those whom he will eventually trust to fulfill his mission of rebellion how it will all come about. And this is how he begins the speech to launch a revolution:

Matthew 5:3-11

There is a popular understanding of this passage (commonly called The Beatitudes) that goes something like this:

These are a series of commands or suggestions given by Jesus as to how to live life. Helpful attitudes that can teach us how to be a "Christian." Some see the suggested actions as spiritual steps that build on one another. This popular understanding breaks down the actions something like this:

1. Be poor in spirt (humble)
2. Mourn (over your sin)
3. Be meek (gentle - restrained but powerful)
4. Hunger/Thirst (desire to learn from God or the Scriptures)
5. Merciful (show grace)
6. Pure in heart (personal holiness)
7. Peacemakers (help others get along)
8. Be Persecuted (endure hardship for Christ)

This is a rather difficult portion of the study to write because several of you have already written me saying that you are excited to study the beatitudes because they have so positively influenced your spiritual growth. I have no doubt that most of you who say that were taught some version of the above interpretation. However, I do not think that the above interpretation is an accurate understanding of Jesus' intent. (Now, I should state that the above eight ideas are all generally biblical. If teaching on humility or grace or holiness has helped you, that is because those concepts are true and life changing. You may have been taught right truths from the wrong text - no harm unless you have not been taught the alternative - and in my opinion, the more complete - interpretation.) I do not at all believe that the point of the "beatitudes" is to try to get people to act or behave in a certain way, but rather that they are direct expressions of a new reality to those living within the reign and rule of the Kingdom of Heaven under Messiah Jesus.

In other words, the statements should be read not like this:

Blessed are those who learn to be poor in spirit because they will someday receive the kingdom of heaven.

But rather:

The Kingdom of heaven now belongs to them - so blessed are the spiritually bankrupt.

This is a huge distinction that sets the tone for the entire Sermon. Jesus is telling his disciples that they are already blessed (happy, lucky) because he has given them the Kingdom of Heaven. The gift of the new life he is giving them is great news because the world is now upside down. In the world of the Pharisees, being poor is spirit (think: unspiritual, never goes to church, doesn't own a Bible, never tried to pray) is a bad thing. In the Pharisees' world, the spiritually rich are blessed, not the spiritually poor. In Jesus' new world order, the spiritually bankrupt are now happy because YHWH himself has decided to come and be with them in his Kingdom. They get God. They get him even though they don't deserve him. (Lucky are the losers, for they get God.) Matthew will begin to juxtapose this idea with the painful reality that the Pharisees, those who think they deserve to know God, will completely miss him as he walks around in their presence disguised as a radical homeless Rabbi.

So it is with those who mourn because they will be comforted. In other words, lucky are the very sad - like the widow grieving her dead husband. She is lucky now because Messiah has given her two new gifts: YHWH himself in her presence through Jesus and a New Community of disciples who will take her in as their own mother. (In the ancient world, widows were often destined for a life of prostitution or poverty. In the Kingdom, they get comfort.) So Jesus can say what is becoming true in that very moment on the mountainside as his followers learn to receive from him: Lucky are the mourners because they too have the Kingdom and will receive comfort from those within it.

I have been profoundly influenced by Dallas Willard on this point. (I recommended his book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God last week.) John Ortberg is another teacher I have learned from in this area. John is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Your next assignment will be to watch his message on this passage from a few months back. This will take a little over 30 minutes, so make sure you have time and energy to devote to it. Follow the link below and click the arrow to watch the teaching. (You can also listen via audio or read the manuscript, but I recommend watching it if at all possible.) When you have finished, return back here for some closing thoughts.

Watch John Ortberg's Message entitled "How To Be Really Well Off"

week two. section three. assignments.

All done? Move onto your assignments for this week below:

1. If you haven't yet, go to the Facebook GROUP Page. This is different from the original Facebook Profile Page. The group page allows for an ongoing discussion with the students. You have to become a member of the group by clicking "join this group" below the picture before you can post.

2. Post this in your facebook/twitter update to help spread the word: "I completely screwed up my life and then I got really lucky. More at"

3. Send a FB message, e-mail or letter to someone in your life who modeled true discipleship to you. Let them know what they taught you and how it has changed you. Tell them that they were being like Jesus when they took the time to let you learn from them.

Bonus Extra - for you high achievers:

I'm a big U2 fan. In part because they are becoming pretty fair Kingdom theologians. You can listen to their new album for free this week at Check it out and post some thoughts on their lyrics on Facebook. Do any of the songs resonate with this study at all? (No real sense judging the music itself - you don't want to upset your teacher...)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

King Joshua's Revolution. Mt 5-7, Part One of Seven.

Welcome to the seven-week Bible study on Matthew 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount). This is the first virtual class.

Here are some things you should be aware of before we get going:

1. Ideally you should set aside 90 minutes when you will not be distracted to do this study. The only tools you will need for this class are a computer and a decent internet connection. If you have discovered this study on a website other than facebook, I recommend that you log onto facebook and start an account. Then become friends with BIBLE STUDY at this link. I will suggest a few books as we go along that may be purchased for further learning, but the study itself will only contain web links and web-based exercises that are free of charge.

2. This is primarily structured as an individual learning experience. This means that the primary goal is for you to personally learn from the words of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 and apply the learnings to your daily life. This is not primarily a format intended to foster an abundance of discussion and opinion sharing. That said, there will be some opportunities each week to interact with the other students in one way or another. Also, as the teacher I have committed to personally address any questions that are sent to the Bible Study Facebook inbox. Please send correspondence regarding this study to that inbox so that I can make sure to reply. It may get lost in the shuffle otherwise.

3. You may find it helpful to take notes as you go along through the study. You can go old fashioned with a pen and paper or use MS Word or another publishing program to capture notes in another window.

4. The last thing to be aware of is that this is my first effort to lead a study/class in a completely virtual setting. We will know much more at the end of the study than we do now about how to best use the technology we all share. I’ve decided to launch a Facebook GROUP page as well as the Facebook Profile. The group page will allow for easier sharing and messaging throughout the community. Please join the Facebook Group page at this link:

Now…off we go. When you are ready to begin the first week’s study proceed to the instructions below.

Week one. Section one. Context.

Take a few minutes to relax. Make sure you are ready to learn. Minimize your distractions. Get comfortable. Ready? Let’s begin.

Read the three quotes below. Take time to think about each of them:

Words build bridges into unexplored regions.”

“As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice”

“For God's will gave men their form, their essence, and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will.”

Now, pick the quote above that MOST RESONATES with you. Which one do you like the most? There is no right or wrong answer. Which one is most compelling?

Once you have your favorite quote selected, hi-light the entire quote with your cursor and click “copy.” Then paste the entire quote into a search query at to discover who said your quote. When you have the answer return back here…

Got your answer? What, if anything changed once you learned the author? Did it make you like the quote more or less?

I begin our study in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 with this exercise for two reasons: 1.) First we will be studying words attributed (and I believe actually spoken by) Jesus. It is impossible to separate the words of someone from the life they lived. To study someone’s words is to study their life. 2.) Secondly, the most important rule in any Bible study is the rule of CONTEXT. The quotes above mean something different to you when reading them in their original context as opposed to on their own. This means that it is impossible to know what a section of Scripture means without seeing it within the larger context of the whole. In this regard, our little study is already flawed. We cannot really understand Matthew 5-7 without seeing the context of Matthew 1-4 (and later Matthew 8-28). So, let’s do the somewhat unexpected this week and begin our study of Matthew chapter 5 by learning about Matthew 1-4. We will begin with the words of chapter 5 next week.

Week one. Section two. Matthew 1-4.

Here are some basic things to know about the book of Matthew:

1. This is a book written to Jewish people and by a Jewish author sometime between 50 - 90 A.D. It must first be understood in its original context before we can start to translate it to our lives today. We must learn, as best we can, to think like a first century Jew. For most of us, this will be the hardest part of studying Matthew. Simply because the Bible contains timeless truth doesn't mean it is timeless. It is a very "timed" collection of books. This book (Matthew) reflects a real time and place in human history. It does not pretend to be a fable or fictional literature. You may choose to decide that Matthew is lying about Jesus or possibly misinformed, but you cannot discount him as an author of fiction. He is carefully reciting what he believes is the real history of his people - not centuries after the fact, but a decade or two after he personally lived many of the events that he writes about.

2. The first century Israelites (Jews) believed through their own Scriptures (what we often call the Old Testament) that they were themselves the chosen and special people of YWHW, the one true and living God, Creator of all that is. (They created the word YHWH for him because they wanted a word impossible to pronounce. In their thinking, He was too holy and powerful to even say his name aloud.) They believed that they were destined to be blessed by YWHW and to become a Kingdom that would bless the world because of promises in their holiest Scriptures to their "fathers" Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...and later to their great prophet and deliverer, Moses. Under King David they were given a taste of this blessed Kingdom, but it did not last for long.

3. Though they believed this, they also historically wandered from YHWH and served false gods. As a result, their Scriptures taught them that YHWH scattered them as slaves and refugees throughout the ancient world. By the time of Jesus, some of the Jews had made it back to their homeland to live as pseudo-free people under the sometimes oppressive , but always restrictive rule of Caesar and the Roman Empire. (At the time of Jesus' birth, Caesar ruled Israel through a proxy King named Herod.)

4. In this historical context, two strong images began to emerge giving hope to the people of Israel. These two ideas based in their Scriptures, particularly their prophetic books, were closely connected one to the other. The first was the hope and promise of the "Kingdom of God" - a time when YHWH himself would reign in Israel and bring to fulfillment Israel as both a blessed nation and a nation bringing blessing to the entire world. He would reign justly and ransom his people from their oppressors (Rome). This would come when a great King emerged to lead the people back to YHWH. From the line of David, a Messiah (Christ in the Greek language) would come to restore Israel to its rightful place in history - God's people ruling God's planet in peace and justice. The idea of Messiah was rather clearly understood in first century Palestine: The Messiah is the future political leader (King of the Jews) who will one day come to usher in the very real rule of YHWH (Kingdom of God). So-called Messiah's had come onto the political scene over the decades leading up to Jesus. They had all met the same fate. Caesar, the King of Rome, killed them as traitors to the Empire. He did this because that is what they all were - failed revolutionaries. Jesus is seemingly to be just another story of another so-called Messiah being killed by the real King of Rome. The question we will try answer in this study is why is the world still so interested in this failed and executed Messiah? Why was he so different than the other political rebels of his day whose names were lost in history? Why are you staring at a computer screen 2,000 years later to learn about him?

We want to study Jesus' own words in his longest and most famous teaching - the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. To do that we need to briefly study the four chapters leading up to chapter five in the text. I'll have you read a section by clicking a link to, then I'll offer a few brief thoughts on the section you just read. I could share much more about each section, but remember this week is all about learning just enough to study Matthew 5-7 in context in the upcoming weeks.

Click here and read Matthew 1:1-17. Then return back to this study.

Enjoy that did you? Pretty compelling stuff, right? (I hope the art of sarcasm conveys as well in print.) Who starts a book with a long list of hard-to-pronounce names? The answer is that a first century Jewish historian preparing a case for Messiahship does. A person's ancestry in this world reflected who he was and who he could become. Matthew traces Jesus ancestry back to Abraham, which would have been typical for any Jewish person. Abraham is their "father" for a reason. The nation all came (and still comes) from him. Being from Abraham reminds us that Jesus, like all Jews, carries the promise to be blessed and be a blessing. But Jesus also comes through David, the greatest King of his nation. And not just through David (the promised Messiah was to come through David's direct line), but directly through David's royal line - not from some forgotten offshoot. Jesus comes to the world through Solomon and the other legitimate Kings of Israel. Matthew is saying that Jesus has a royal birthright. He is in line to be the real King of Israel. This gives him the perceived legitimate right, more than some crazy revolutionary wannabe Messiah, to be the rightful King of Israel and dispose of Herod, the pseudo-King appointed by Caesar to rule Israel on his behalf. For the last 200 years, Israel had had puppet kings with no direct family line to David. And now one with a claim has been born. Christmas, as it turns out in the real world, is really about political revolution.

Numerology is also important here. It was believed that seven was a whole, perfect number. It was a number, according to the ancient Jewish mind, that iced the cake in terms of God's blessing. So, when we see in the list of names three groups of seven doubled (14), or even more obviously, six groups of seven names with Jesus beginning the seventh group (the seventh seven) that should be read as a (somewhat) hidden code for Matthew's readers to take careful note of the rest of his story.

The last note in this section is that Matthew notes several women in the genealogy of Jesus. This is unorthodox because women, to the ancients' shame, were not regarded as worthy of mention. If you were to mention a woman in a genealogy, she had better be a great hero or saint. Matthew, knowing where his story is about to go - to an impoverished pregnant teenager - shows the ugly and raw side of Jesus' heritage. He comes from Abraham and David, but also from Rahab, a foreign prostitute. From Tamar, a scheming prostitute and from Bathsheba, a cheating adulterous. Matthew is saying very clearly in this list of names that a rightful King of the Jews has been born in Israel and that we should expect God to work in that classic way he always has - within the messy and cold reality of the human race.

For you Lord of the Rings fans, there is some helpful imagery with Strider becoming King Aragorn. Think of him (from the books or the movie) when we first meet him. A rightful King disguised as a common freedom fighter in the shadows of the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Then see him at the end of the trilogy as he is reinstated to his proper place as the King of his people. Here's an optional youtube clip from the end of Return of the King. Tolkien hated that people saw LOTR as Christian allegory, but loved that his faith messily bled all over his work and characters. For you armchair theologians watch the clip looking for Christ triumphant, for his love for the church (his bride) and then be surprised to see Christ in the small things again at the end of the clip. For those of you who aren't into such things - go onto the next scripture link below the video.

Now read Matthew 1:18-25 and return when you are done.

Of the four earliest and most reliable accounts of Jesus' life, only two contain stories of his birth. Luke tells the story from his mother's perspective. Matthew tells it from his father's. I am convinced that the author of Matthew would never be able to understand the gooey sentimentality that the western Christian world has made of Jesus' birth. He carefully is painting the picture of the birth of a radical political revolutionary. He is given the name "Jesus" which is the same as the name "Joshua." Though a popular name at the time, the two-fold meaning is clear. Jesus means God Saves or God Rescues. Jesus is born to rescue his people from Roman oppression and save them from their exile. Secondly, he is named after Joshua, the great militant leader, the ultimate General of Israel who stepped in to do what Moses could not - to destroy the enemies of the state and provide a nation of God's people. This is all revolutionary foreshadowing of who Jesus will become.

But then he is given another name - Immanuel. This name is uncommon. Nobody would dare name their son Immanuel. It means "God With Us" and has both divine and messianic undertones. Remember, the nation is waiting for YHWH himself to come to rule through the hand of Messiah. The Jews believed somehow that God himself would rule in residency over their Kingdom. Calling Jesus "Immanuel" sets the table for him to be Messiah, the King who brings God himself to Israel. Matthew goes so far as to tell us about the virgin birth as he builds the case that God is visiting Israel through the person of Jesus. I believe in the virgin birth in part because Matthew is bold enough to mention it here. It does very little to actually add to his argument and, to be honest, it is very pagan and non-Jewish concept to have a baby fathered by a god and mothered by a human. He must have fully believed it to be true or he would never have married a popular pagan idea to his carefully constructed Jewish argument. Some say that he added the detail so that he could then say that the Isaiah 7:14 verse had been fulfilled in Jesus. This, I think, is unlikely because there is no evidence of anyone before Matthew using Isaiah 7 as a prophecy predicting the Messiah would literally be born of a virgin. In other words, it's not like he is stretching his story to meet some popular belief about Messiah's origin. No, to Matthew Jesus is Joshua - the common man called to revolution, and he is also Immanuel - the most uncommon man to walk the earth, conceived by the Holy Spirit of God to bring YHWH and his rule (Kingdom) to earth.

Let's move on and read chapter two in it's entirety at this link.

Jesus was born smack in the middle of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). There was virtual "peace" throughout the vast Roman Empire in part because all attempts at rebellion and national/tribal independence were immediately and violently put down. Matthew is saying in chapter two that there is a rightful King in Israel (Jesus) and that there is a fraud King (Herod). This is, as N.T. Wright puts it, pure "political dynamite." (If you buy one commentary on Matthew, I recommend N.T. Wright's Matthew for Everyone, Part One. Amazon link: Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15)

Matthew is basically conspiring to commit treason against Rome as he inks this chapter. It's not about three wise men coming to see a cute baby. It's about Matthew saying two things to his readers: 1.) Even foreigners acknowledge that Jesus is a better and more worthy king than Herod or Caesar and 2.) Jesus will not just be Israel's King, but he will one day rule the entire world under the Abrahamic promise that Israel will bless and be a blessing. In other words, we are only in chapter two - the hero is only a few days old - and Matthew has declared civil war and world war for his audience.

After the Magi account, Matthew begins to do a most remarkable literary and historical feat. He's going to show us through the events of Jesus' life that Jesus himself is Israel's fulfilled story - the story that could have been had God's people not wandered away from Him. Joseph is warned to run away with his family to Egypt to escape Herod's evil infanticide. (Again, we usually conveniently leave the dead babies out of the Christmas story. Matthew could not afford to. He is showing us that Jesus had a price on his head from day one. He was a threat - a real political threat.) Jesus embodies Israel as he goes to Egypt just as Jacob (called Israel) had done way back in Genesis. He goes to escape certain death just like Israel did, but he cannot stay "enslaved" in Egypt. He must be called back to the promised land to save his people. Here Jesus embodies the exodus of his people and returns home when it is safe. Herod is dead, but his sons now rule and they are cut from the same paranoid, power-hungry cloth as their father.

Now we skip ahead about thirty years to see the revolution unfold before our eyes. Read Matthew 3 by clicking here.

Messiah was predicted to have a fore-runner who would come a few steps ahead of him to prepare the people, not just for the revolution, but also for the lasting reign/rule of YHWH (the Kingdom of God). The idea was that God would come to rule and reside only after the people turned from their sin (mainly living as a nation apart from him) and recommitted to "clean house" and live expecting YHWH to return and rule.

Enter John the Baptist. (Literally, John the Dunker or John the Plunger.) John comes preaching a clear Messianic message rooted deeply in the prophetic Scriptures. His message is clear and uncompromising: Repent (this means turn around and live in a different way) because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Side note here on Matthew's use of the Kingdom of Heaven vs. Kingdom of God. Most all would agree that the two terms are interchangeable. Heaven would be understood primarily as the time and place where God resides and reigns. Perhaps Matthew is sticking closer to the Jewish tradition than his gospel counterparts in not using the name of God frequently and replacing it with the word "Heaven." What is most foundational for us is this. This is important and you will be unable to understand Matthew 5-7 without this idea: The meaning of the word "Heaven" in Matthew is probably not the first thing you think of when you think of the word Heaven. Matthew is in no way primarily referring to a happy place where you go when you die. He is using the word Heaven to describe the real time and place where God fully reigns and resides on earth. He was not expecting us to die and go onto heaven, but rather Matthew (repeating the words of John the Baptist and Jesus) was expecting Heaven (YHWH's residence and reign) to come crashing into on our present time and place. This is why John (and later Jesus) say that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. It is coming soon. What Israel has longed for is on its way - both promises are coming at once: Messiah and Heaven (God's reign).

(Here again I am compelled to suggest a book to read. This is optional to the study, but for those of you interested in learning more about the Kingdom of Heaven as it relates to the Sermon on the Mount I highly recommend Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. It is marginally academic and some who don't read much non-fiction may struggle through it, but it is worth the effort. Amazon Link: The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God)

In John the Baptist's story we are also introduced to the antagonists of Matthew's book, the Pharisees. I will say more about them in the coming weeks. For now, let's just say that they were seen as the good religious people of their world. They generally worked hard to gain the approval of God and man. It would have been shocking for Matthew's readers to see the Pharisees having conflict with God's Messiah. If you fashion yourself a good, Bible-believing evangelical Christian today you would have likely had much more in common with the Pharisees than Jesus' early followers, at least on the surface.

John's call was for everyone to repent (change) to prepare for Messiah - even the good, religious Pharisees. His message of coming judgement was met with mixed reviews - generally those who most needed an immediate salvation from a hard life resonated with his message more than those who had their lives seemingly put together. He baptized them in Jordan River as a commitment to new life and clean living as they waited for YHWH's reign and Messiah.

And then Jesus reemerges. Not the baby Jesus anymore, but the grown man. He comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. (The same River that Joshua, his namesake, had to cross centuries before to declare war on the enemies of Israel. Like Joshua the General, Joshua the Messiah passes through the same River again embodying Israel's story.) It is his embodiment of Israel that leads him to baptism. He repents for a nation. He takes their place. It is Joshua, the political revolutionary declaring war on oppression who undergoes baptism for the sake of his people. (Jordan River below)

N.T. Wright draws another parallel from Israel's history this way: "Israel came through the water of the Red Sea and was given the law, confirming their status as God's firstborn son. Jesus came up from the water of baptism and received God's Spirit, God's wind, God's breath, in a new way, declaring him to be God's son, Israel-in-person."

Again, there is more to see in this story, but our goal is to get to chapter five with a contextual understanding of Jesus the Messiah. We are almost there. Time to read chapter four and then return back to this page.

For everyone in his day drinking the Matthew Kool-aid, chapter four sends their heads spinning. Maybe this Jesus is Messiah. They start to say. Maybe he will deliver us from us...give us a Kingdom. The temptation account shows those longing for revolution that Jesus is utterly different than any other so-called Messiah to ever come to popularity. The temptations Jesus faces in his 40 days in the wilderness are foundational. (Again he is embodying Israel's 40 years in the wilderness under Moses, but with fidelity to God instead of wandering away from him.) He is primarily being tempted as to HOW he will be Messiah. He is being tempted to become popular by giving into the power structures that traditionally rule the world: the economic, political and religious powers. He will be tempted to become Messiah in these ways for his entire life, but he will refuse to take power when it is offered to him. In chapter four he chooses the road that leads to the cross. He will come to power through death and ask those who follow him to do the same. Here Matthew introduces a foundational idea to his reader: Jesus is not going to do anything the way you thought Messiah would. He's going to seemingly do it all upside down and backwards. That's simply the way he is, so get used to it. He is Messiah, but you have no real idea what that means yet.

Jesus returns from the wilderness and begins his teaching ministry with the same words of John the Baptist, "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." Everything else Jesus will ever say is embodied in this message. This is his central life-long theme. There is nothing more important in his teachings. It all stems from this idea. He is saying to turn to God because God has turned to you and He is on his way to fully reside and reign in Israel. This central message also ties into the temptation account that precedes it. Again, from N.T. Wright:

"His message of repentance was not, therefore, that they should feel sorry for personal and private sins (though he would of course want that as well), but that as a nation they should stop running toward the cliff edge of violent revolution, and instead go the other way, toward God's Kingdom of light and peace and healing and forgiveness, for themselves and for the world."

And then Matthew unleashes the ace up his sleeve. The "proof" that Jesus is both Joshua and Immanual - Messiah and YHWH in the flesh. He brings Heaven to earth with him by healing the sick, casting out demons and supernaturally reversing the broken order of things. John the Baptist could say that the Kingdom of heaven is "near" in terms of time because Jesus was on the way, but Jesus can say also that the Kingdom is "near" in terms of proximity. Where Jesus goes, the healing and wholeness of Heaven follows close behind. He's not just Messiah...he's a miracle man. And only a miracle man Messiah can say that God is coming with authority. The result is the same thing that would happen today. People flock to him - especially those who are sick, hurting, poor and hopeless. Crowds flock to him, but Jesus has no real use for crowds.

And then Jesus shows us his strategy to bring Heaven to earth. He's going to do it by a process called discipleship. We will begin with the idea of discipleship next week and launch headfirst into the "beatitudes" of Matthew 5.

Week one. Section three. Assignments.

Here are your assignments for the week:

1. If you have a photo of you with a person of power (president, king, senator, etc.) post it on your facebook account and tag Bible Study so we can go there and see it. Under the photo say something about how it felt to be so close to a "king". (You can also post it on the facebook Group page.)

2. When you have finished the study, as a reminder to your friends and in a sign of solidarity with the other students, try posting this in your facebook/twitter status. "Just joined King Joshua's political revolution. More at"

3. Go to the new facebook Group page and start or join a discussion based on week one. Remember the covenant that we all agreed to before posting.

4. Commit Matthew 4:17 to memory. If you aren't used to memorizing things, it can help to write it down on a note card and carry it in your pocket all week. Pull it out when you are in line or at a stop light and read it over and over until you don't need the card anymore.

I'll try to give you a bonus item each week for you over achievers out there. Here's the beginning of a message by Greg Boyd (no relation) on the Upside Down Kingdom: