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 http://facebookbiblestudy.blogspot.com" or "I have some opinions on sex, hell and war: http://facebookbiblestudy.blogspot.com" or make up your own...

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


  1. I really enjoy this study - I don't know what the plan is with all of this, but I hope we continue doing studies past this 7 week series.

  2. I like this study WAY more than Reset!

  3. Excellent blog very nice and unique information related to Kingdom Video Snapshot. Thanks for sharing this information.