Saturday, March 16, 2024

Be As Good As Your Word

So far, we have covered the "Ten Commandments" of Jesus--we have looked at murder, adultery, and divorce.  Notice these are all relational commandments:  They represent what has been brought together and how they may separated in a way that contrasts sharply with the Kingdom of God.

Murder is where your life meets someone who would separate you from it. Adultery is where your marriage meets someone (maybe even you) who would separate you from your spouse and reconciliation is possible.  Divorce is where you would separate yourself from you spouse and reconciliation is not possible.    

The Kingdom of God sustains life and relationships, not because we are perfect but because God is in the business of restoring our lives and our relationships with one another. 

Relationships are built and sustained by the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Our relationship with God is sustained by truth.  We cry out to God in all of our painful honesty.  He knows where we are hiding, deep in shame's shadows and He asks us, "Where are you?"  He wants us to be honest with Him, and with each other.  

When you are honest, your integrity shines through.  Honesty is not easy, but when you are honest, even to your own detriment, people realize integrity is an integral part of your character. 

Character.  This is one of the hallmarks of a member of the Kingdom of God. What you say, who you are and what you do are all expressions of your inner self.  Jesus will later talk about how your heart is a storehouse of who you are: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:21)  Whatever you value, whatever you hold sacred, will be stored in your heart, and will come to light whenever you are challenged, tested or needing to draw deeply into your character.  

The word for "heart" in Hebrew carries with it a richness of meaning:

  • "inner man, mind will, heart"
  • "soul"
  • "thinking, reflection"
  • "memory"
  • "specific reference to inclinations, resolutions and determinations of the will"
  • "conscience"
  • "moral character"
  • "seat of pride" [1]
So, you can see, it means way more than feelings.  Our hearts reflect our relationship with God.  A heart united with God will speak volumes of our character when we enter into any kind of relationship. 

Jesus uses oaths as an interesting example about how our character operates when we are ask to bind ourselves to the truth and to another person by what we say: 

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matt. 5:33-37). 

Oaths seem to carry with them an inherent sense of elaboration and showmanship: The more I say, the more I elaborate with grand phases of loyalty and solemnity, the more you should be impressed and see me as an honest person. 

Really?  "The lady, methinks, protests too much"--thank you, Hamlet.  Exactly. The more you say, the more it sounds like you are trying to cover over a variation of the truth or a straight out lie with the wallpaper of words. 

Jesus doesn't let His listeners have any latitude on this--no invoking heaven, earth, Jerusalem or even yourself to make your oath sounds super spiritual.  Your spiritual bluster has no place in the Kingdom of God.  

What does then? A simple but honest, "yes" or "no."


The Kingdom of God requires no more than a "yes" or "no" because your response is coming from a heart that wants to serve God.

Jesus even takes this one step further and attributes any elaboration on your part beyond the yes or no, as coming from Satan. 

Whoa, Rabbi, wait as minute.  In my line of work, a simple yes or no makes me sound like a fool, a simpleton, a gullible person.  I can dish out an oath with the best of them, making darn sure the other person knows I am serious.  He does the same with me, and we exchange oaths and swear by all that is holy to conduct our business.  What if he said a simple yes as well as I?  Hmmm...we could get to know one another better, I suppose, instead of engaging in an oath marathon, and trying to outdo one another. Hmmm.  This Kingdom of God thing is rather straight forward, isn't it, Rabbi?  I suppose Satan, being the deceiver, enjoys when we cover over our deceptive ways with lots of spiritually sounding words.  What are we trying to hide?  After all, Satan enjoys deceit, lies and the ruin such practices ultimately bring to relationships.  I guess being in the Kingdom means distancing yourself as far from anything that gives Satan enjoyment. 

Exactly.  The truth is simple, really.  Jesus wants those of us who carry His name to act as He did:  in absolute integrity of character.

And not only does He model it, He empowers us to do so as well.  The Kingdom of God is not a country club where you have to put on a front and act a certain way to be accepted by others.

The Kingdom of God is a lovely dinner, sitting and sharing with one another without pretense or guile, joyous in spirit and making the Father smile. 

Who wouldn't want to come to such a table?

[1] "Heart," Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary,

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Really, Jesus? You Don't Know My Wife!

Divorce, even in Jesus' day, was a difficult subject.

Marriage was all along God's plan for His human children. His divine directive is unity and the fruit of that unity. 

On the fifth day of creation, He orders that the life He has created--the birds of the air and the creatures of the sea, to be fruitful and multiply: "God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.'” (Gen. 1:22)

We associate that directive with human beings, but He wanted all things to reproduce. He wanted the earth to be filled with His creatures and their fruitfulness is a generational re-creating of His design.  God delights in beauty and abundance. 

God could have created one panda, one flamingo and one butterfly.  But that would have been for His enjoyment alone.  But that's not the God we serve.  He wanted a sky full of stars, oceans filled with wonderful creatures and the land hosting a variety of animals we would delight in. Perhaps we were created last, so God could enjoy all that He had made with us. Have you ever witnessed a sunset, and thought, "Oh, my mom would love this!"  Or watched a puppy playing in the yard, and you ran and grabbed your daughter to come to window and watch?  We want to share the beauty that we see, and the joy we experience--God is no different. 

Then God creates a helper for Adam--the one in Hebrew is ezer.  It means, "one who helps."  Very straightforward, huh?  Help with what?  Being a steward over creation.  A partner. Someone to share life with: the work, the joy, the tasks and the bounty.  Eve came from Adam's rib--she was crafted from a part of him--and she was his partner in everything he did. 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen. 1:26) [emphasis mine]. 

Notice, God, from the very beginning, saw how important relationships were for Adam, and who better to fulfill that role that someone whose very body carries a part of him? God wanted a "they" to shepherd creation, not a "he" imbued with all the power and responsibility, lording over a "she." 

"So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)

God didn't create Eve as an afterthought--she was an integral aspect of God's creation.  All the other creatures were told to multiply--a singular Adam, alone, was not God's intention. 

Once Adam and Eve are standing before God, He says, "'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:28)

Before the Fall, relationship was the core of creation: God with us, Adam with Eve, the animals with each other and a sense that permeated all of creation:  We are all interconnected. 

The Fall shattered that.  Adam and Eve's relationship now possessed shame and they were unsure how to relate to God and to one another.  God demands of Adam what happened, and Adam says, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Gen. 3:12.  Eve lost her name.  It was subsumed under Adam's pride and fear and he was willing to distance himself from his choice by blaming God and Eve for his failure.

So, Adam and Eve, exiled from the Garden, had to sustain and maintain a relationship marred and made murky because of sin.

So, too, do we. 

Jesus states, "It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matt. 5: 31-32)

Jesus is recounting Deuteronomy 24:1-4:  "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,  and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance."

The Kingdom of God is not a simple repeating of Mosaic Law...Jesus is taking the foundation and adds to it by emphasizing relationships Yes, technically, a man has the right to divorce his wife, but the Kingdom is not built on rights, but relationships.  Jesus is fulfilling, not abolishing the Law.  He says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matt. 15:52)

Jesus is bringing new treasure to the old. 

God uses marriage and well as parenthood as a metaphor for Him and His people.  Here is a partial list:

  • "For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called." (Is. 54:5)
  • "For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you." (Is. 54:5-7)
  • "Not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord." (Jer. 31:32)
  • "And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy." (Hosea 2:19)
God used marriage as a way to explain His love for His people, and then His utter devastation when His people committed spiritual adultery by worshiping other gods.  

Broken relationships were and are never a part of God's intention or design.

In fact, Jesus uses adultery as the only legitimate reason for divorce.  Later Jesus will reiterate this when the Pharisees ask, 

"'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.'" (Matt. 19:3-9)

How do we deal with this today?  If we view our relationships' purpose is to make us happy, then we would have sided with Hillel's interpretation of  Mosaic Law.  There were two schools of rabbinical thought in Jesus' day.  Shammai emphasized unfaithfulness as the core issue in Moses' teaching in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and Hillel saw the phrase "displeasing to him" as the legitimate basis for divorce.  Jesus clearly sides with Shammai; but He reminds His listeners of God's original design. [1]

Happiness is important but it not to be the sole pursuit of God's children. Today, and I am sure in Jesus' day, there were circumstances where divorce was very understandable: Violence to the woman or the children (or both) and abuse of any kind.  Violence and abuse shatter what marriage is about.  Then the divorce, while absolutely essential, destroys the unity of what God wants for us, and grieves Him, not because He is angry with us but He sees just how much sin has destroyed His children's relationships. 

Jesus knew there were many unhappy people sitting on that hillside, thinking that if Jesus only knew their wife or the husband, He'd be handing out those certificates of divorce. 

But Jesus wanted His listeners to understand that God sees us as His bride and could have, by all rights, divorced humanity a long time ago. 

But God is in the business of restoration.  He will use whatever tools He can to redirect us back to wholeness. He wants the abused wife to be whole, as well as the abuser.  Both are His children. Safety for His children is essential; restoration is God's desire but reconciliation for many may not be possible nor desirable. 

Jesus is reminding us in this mountainside sermon that God desires to be intimately involved with us, but not hovering over us like the Pharisees, ready to punish us at the slightest infraction of the Law. 

He wants to be in a deep and meaningful relationship with us, and we with each other. 

Jesus will empower us to make this possible, by giving us the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us and multiply His fruit in our lives in abundance. 

[1]  Kenneth Barker, The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1985), p. 1469 

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Jesus' Ten Commandments

As we are exploring the commandments of the Kingdom of God, it's interesting how Jesus topically teaches on each aspect of living, with an echo of the Ten Commandments and the Shema. Jesus says that He had not come to "abolish the Law but to fulfill it." So He taking what the people have been taught and is creating not a new law, but a new approach.  

The first three commandments given by Moses are about how we are to approach God.  We are to not have any substitute for God; we are to make no idols and we are not to use His name carelessly. 

To Jesus' Jewish audience, this is an absolute given. It is the foundation of Judaism, as found in the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."  (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Here the first three of the Ten Commandments are being reinforced: There is only one God; idols are utter lies when you worship the one true God, His name is sacred, and when we rest, we praise and worship Him, honoring Him and His beautiful creation. 

In the second half (I am doing this division to make a point) of the Shema, the remaining commandments of the Ten is echoed: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."  If you love Him with your whole being, then out of that heart that bears His imprint, will come behavior that reflects our the intimate relationship with God. 

So, we will want to honor our parents; we wouldn't even consider killing someone, for they bear God's image; we wouldn't want to violate the sacred bond of marriage, for it is God's gift to us and reflects how He sees us.  We would not want to take anything that doesn't belong to us, for God is our Provider and if we run into conflict, we need to speak the truth. If we always want what we don't have, we are telling God, in essence, His provision is not good enough. 

While Jesus is not doing a one to one correspondence with the Ten Commandments, it is the common ground upon which He is crafting how the Kingdom of God operates. 

So, Jesus' listeners are intrigued when Jesus zeroes in on murder--the Sixth Commandment. Jesus is  going to the heart of the matter--how we treat one another.  Hatred, name calling and a callous attitude is tantamount to murder in the Kingdom. 

Now Jesus moves the Seventh Commandment--not committing adultery. Easy breezy, right?  

Oh, Rabbi.  I honor that one all the time. Yes, the neighborhood prostitute is distracting, and all those young girls at the well catch my eye, but I haven't slept with any of them!  A little dalliance in my head is no big deal.  I am not hurting anyone.  I am faithful to my wife, even though she is not the nicest person in the world.  I may not be either, but I do honor my vows.

In this Kingdom, not misbehaving isn't the way we model righteousness. Our righteousness is modelled in how we think, talk, ponder and ruminate. David said it well: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Ps. 51:10)

Being good isn't good enough in this Kingdom--thinking good is just as important. So, in this Kingdom, our thoughts need just as much care and oversight as our behavior: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:27-30)

Rabbi, did I hear you right?  I can't even look?  I can't even have a dalliance in my head?  I can't even think about what could happen with this person if we got together?  That's no fun then.  I like looking.  I like pondering. Wow.  You can be a real kill-joy, Rabbi.

Our society is a living example of how thinking about someone else in a sexual way has lead to a  pornographic industry.  One thought can't hurt?  But it never stays at one thought.  For many people, one thought sets in motion an avalanche of behaviors that mock God's definition of love, marriage, sex and intimacy. 

Lust is the one appetite that can't be satiated. In fact, like greed, the more you get, the more you want.  Jesus is instructing us to realize how slippery the lust slope is.  Once started,  we go on and rationalize what we are doing, only to find ourselves wanting more. A vicious cycle kicks in, leaving in its wake broken relationships, abused people and an addiction that is very hard to break.

Jesus is suggesting a radical Kingdom principle:  If it doesn't honor God, it's an idol and you are to get rid of it. Gouge out your "eye" and cut off your "hand" to preserve your soul.  The Kingdom is beautiful and any compromise to that beauty will require a major spring-cleaning of your heart. Get rid of your idols.  David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba, wrote a powerful psalm, and he knew all too well the pain of having compromised his soul and his relationship with God:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Ps. 51: 1-17)

Jesus is not asking for us to be perfect in the Kingdom of God.  He wants our hearts to be soft and tender.  He wants us to be willing to quickly repent when sin comes our way.  We don't rationalize our wrongs; we confess them and walk back into God's loving embrace.

The Kingdom of God requires diligence on our part, but Jesus also offers us the power to overcome. The Kingdom is not of works, but of God's mighty working. 

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