Where your treasure is there also is one’s heart

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The Sermon on the Mount has been about wholeheartedness toward God – expressed in a righteousness of the heart that is greater than that of the Pharisees.

Matthew 6:19-7:12 is concerned with wholeheartedness in relation to our living in the world. Do we seek treasure on earth or in heaven? The treasure that is on earth is prone to becoming invisible whether by moths eating clothing, mice eating grain or thieves stealing our precious coins.

Is our wholeheartedness expressed in a singular motivation of generous giving or do we have an evil eye – a stinginess that reflects a divided heart? Does our giving display a life of light and revelation knowing God or are our lives darkness? Do we serve God or money?

Are we wholehearted in trusting our heavenly Father to provide our needs as he provides clothing for the flowers and food for the birds? Do we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness or are we troubled by anxious worry?

Jesus also speaks of our judging. Do we judge others for personal gain or do we trust our Father in heaven to provide us with good things? Ask, and it will be given to us; seek, and we will find; knock, and it will be opened to us. Judging is replaced with trust in our Father. Jesus expands on judging to include the kind of division people make between internal and external judgments – another example of non-wholeheartedness.

Giving, Praying, Fasting

Three ways of expressing our relationship with God are giving, prayer and fasting. When we do these things do we do them seeking to please our heavenly Father or to please men? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that if we do these things to be seen by our Father then he will reward us in heaven rather than us receiving our transitory reward on earth (i.e. the praise of men).

Our problem is probably less do we do these things in a showy way – but rather do we do these things at all? It is not giving, prayer or fasting that is being critiqued but our motivations as we do these activities.

Discussion on fasting.

People in the Old Testament fasted when they were in trouble – for example, when defeated or oppressed by one’s enemies in battle
when on a dangerous journey or in the face of sickness and death or
when convicted of sin in response to the reading of God’s Word. There was only one compulsory fast in the Old Testament – the Day of Atonement.

What is fasting? Fasting seems like an accompanying action to prayer – a seeking after God – it expresses grief and conveys a humbling of oneself as one calls/cries out to God. The rationale is that God sees, looks upon and turns his face to the afflicted. A humbling that recognizes that man does not live on bread alone but rather by God’s spoken words.

Should we fast and if so how? It is not a work that makes prayer more effective – fasting in of itself does not make God more inclined to answer our prayers.

Why does God answer our prayers? Because he is our Father by adoption through Jesus Christ. He loves us, he turns is ear toward us and desires to answer our prayers because we are his children.

So why fast? Because fasting is an expression of our hearts. We should fast when we are expressing our distress to the LORD and expressing our need and desire for his Word more than our daily bread. We should fast in trouble – we should fast over habitual sin.

Fasting is a response of a work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts rather than a work offered to God.

Perhaps begin with some short fasts – Sunrise to Sunset.

The Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount

In Matthew 4 Jesus has been proclaiming and teaching the kingdom of heaven throughout Galilee. The Sermon on the Mount is an example of this proclamation.

The Sermon begins with a series of statements “Happy are …”. The happiness being described here is not so much an emotional state as an experience of well-being. It is like seeing a group of people and saying of them: “they are happy because all is well with them, life is as it should be, and they are enjoying life in all its fullness“. The Beatitudes are using the language of Old Testament Wisdom literature to describe people who are living well.

What is surprising is that the people Jesus refers to are ‘the poor in spirit’, ‘those who mourn’, ‘the meek’, ‘ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘the merciful’, ‘the pure in heart’, ‘the peace-makers’, ‘the persecuted’. Certainly, well-being in the kingdom of heaven comes through different means than that in the kingdoms of earth.

The reason who these people can be said to be enjoying life in all its fullness is because they experience the rule of heaven in their lives and hence they experience comfort, will inherit the earth, be satisfied, receive mercy, see God, be called the sons of God.

People who live like this are light and salt in the world. Light has the idea of revealing God and salt has the idea of an everlasting covenant. These people, who enjoy life in all its fullness through their experiencing the rule of Heaven in their lives, thus reflect God to the world. This in turn invites the world to either persecute God’s people or to themselves give glory to God. What God’s people must not do is lose their distinctiveness.

Jesus then goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to say that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. The Old Testament law is not done away with instead it is fulfilled. Matthew uses ‘fulfilment-language’ in a special way. In this case it is not referring to Jesus simply obeying the law – something more is being spoken of. Jesus fulfils the law but giving his own law. The law of Moses was a body of law that demonstrated God’s character and pointed people to how they should live under God. The law of Moses was a shadow or reflection of a greater law that one day would be delivered. The future law would more completely reveal God and how to live under his rule. Jesus, a prophet like Moses but greater, fulfils the law of Moses by revealing his own law to which the law of Moses pointed. (The law of Moses was like the reflection of a mountain in a lake).

Jesus then goes on to say that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees were excellent at keeping the law of Moses. How could an ordinary person possibly hope to have a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees? The answer is by doing Jesus’ law. Jesus’ law has to do with righteousness not only in behavior but also in one’s heart. A righteousness greater than the Pharisees is a righteousness that comes from one’s heart. Such are the people who enjoy life in its fullness in the kingdom of heaven, who are light and salt in the world.

Jesus then shows how the Old Testament law pointed to his law. For example, do not murder pointed to Jesus’ law of no anger in the heart but instead meekness. No adultery becomes pure in heart. Oaths pointed to Jesus’ law of truthfulness in the heart, do not take person vengeance but allow God-appointed courts to make just sentences becomes meekly trust God rather than act from one’s heart. Loving neighbors pointed to Jesus’ law about showing mercy and being a peace-maker like God.

This week we finished our study on the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’ words that we are to be singularly whole-hearted as our Father in heaven is singularly whole-hearted. These are the people who seek God’s glory in an undivided way just as God their father does. These are the people who are enjoying life in all its fullness in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people who are light and salt revealing the covenant God to the world. These are the people who have a greater righteousness than that of the Pharisees. These are the people who have been taught the law to which the law of Moses pointed.

How can we be such singularly wholehearted people? By asking Jesus to change our hearts. In the previous chapter we learned that Jesus is the one who can baptize and refine people with the Holy Spirt. Jesus not only preaches the kingdom of heaven, but he also brings it into reality. Amen.

Jesus’ Temptation

Temptation of the Christ

Led by the Spirit – Temptation and Testing

The Spirit of God, having descended upon Jesus at his baptism, led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested through the tempting of the devil.

The location of in the wilderness for 40 days and nights recalls Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. Matthew presents Jesus as a recapitulation of Israel’s history. Already Matthew has spoken of Jesus’ refuge and Exodus from Egypt (Matthew 2) “Out of Egypt I called my Son”. The baptism at the Jordan recalls Israel’s crossing the Jordan to enter the land.

Jesus succeeds in the wilderness where Israel failed

In the wilderness Israel repeatedly failed. When they had no bread – they murmured. When their life was endangered with no water – they tested God asking whether he was present with them or not. When they came to the edge of the wilderness at Baal Peor they sought an inheritance by worshipping the Baals rather than remain faithful to the LORD.

Jesus is presented as facing the same three temptation – bread, testing God, worshiping other than God. Each temptation is about Jesus using his power as the son of God to independently and in denial of his Father. Fatherhood involves three things:

  • Provision – turn bread into stones (in the wilderness)
  • Protection and presence – demand God to be present (at the temple) and act (via his angels)
  • Inheritance – get it another way (on a high mountain)

In each case Jesus remained faithfully obedient where Israel did not.

Could Jesus have sinned? Two unique things about Jesus

Although Jesus had a human nature – he did not have a corrupted fallen human nature – inclined to sin – but neither did Adam and he still sinned.

Jesus not only has a man-nature – he also has a God-nature. Jesus’ God-nature cannot sin. Therefore the person of Jesus could not sin.

Were Jesus’ temptations real?

Yes because he had a real body made of flesh – real appetites and desires – real hunger and desperate for food. He did not want death – throwing himself down from the temple really would kill him unless God intervened. The temptations and desires of his body, his human nature, were real.

How did Jesus overcome temptation?

Not by drawing upon his God-nature by which he could not sin but by using those things available to his human nature to resist sin – prayer to his Father, trusting his Father’s wisdom and goodness, relying on the power of the Spirit.

In fact, he quotes Scriptures directly related from Israel’s temptations in the wilderness – all from Deuteronomy.

  • Man shall not live by bread alone
  • Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.
  • Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

No doubt it can be helpful to quote Scripture when being tempted but quoting Scripture of itself is not what saved Jesus from temptation and nor will it save you necessarily. The reason Jesus succeeds is not because he quoted Scripture but because he lived a God-saturated life and God’s word was in his heart – and what was in his heart flowed out of his mouth.

The vindication of Jesus having been tested

Jesus was vindicated and proven righteous. The evidence of this is seen in Matthew 4:11 where at the end of the testing, the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering [serving food] to him.

Notice that he was given by the Father the very things he had denied himself – bread (provision), angels (presence and protection) and served as the king of heaven (inheritance).

A Representative Head’s active obedience credited to us

Jesus’ temptation has greater significance than his simply being proved to be righteous. As a Representative Head, whereby Jesus represents his people, Jesus’ life of obedience as a man is credited to our account. We are not only forgiven by his obedience at the cross but his obedient life (of which the temptation was one example) has been imputed or credited to our account. Hence, we are both forgiven of our sin and declared righteous.

As Adam’s disobedience was imputed to us making us sinners, so Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to us making us righteous.

John the Baptist

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The first Bible Talk for the new year was on John the Baptist. John spoke of the coming of the rule of heaven coming in the form of God’s chosen king. John called people to drastic action in order to prepare – repent. He also spoke of Jesus as the one who would give the Holy Spirit. Below are my two favorite quotes on these topics. May the LORD do these things increasingly in me.

Repentance is that mighty change in mind, heart and life, wrought by the Spirit of God.

Richard Trench, Archbishop of Dublin.

Every time we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.

J. B. Phillips

The Holy Spirit destroys my personal private life and turns it into a thoroughfare for God.

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Christmas Day

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Just before God’s people, Israel, entered the Promised Land a wicked king (Balak) hired a magi from the east (Balaam) to come and put a curse on God’s people. Instead of fulfilling the king’s plan, Balaam was given a word from God about how God would send a rising star, a king from Israel who would rule the nations.

500 years later Solomon, son of David, ruled the surrounding nations seemingly in fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy. Having great wisdom from God, the Queen of Sheba along with kings from the east, came to Jerusalem seeking God’s word spoken by Solomon and bringing gifts of tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The latter prophets in Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60 described a future time when once again the kings of the east and the nations from Arabia would bring tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh to a son of David, a king even greater than Solomon.

In Matthew’s gospel we are told that after the birth of Jesus Magi came from the east bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. One can easily see how the magi seeking Jesus were viewed as being the fulfilment of Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60 – and why later tradition turned the magi into kings. Except they weren’t kings and they weren’t the fulfilment of the prophets despite their coming from the east to a son of David and bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Magi weren’t kings from the east, they were servants of kings. Magi were into divination. They used animal intestines, astrology and weird rituals to try to discern the future. In Deuteronomy 18 God has said that anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. Magi in the Bible were fools and opposed God’s purposes – e.g. the magi of Egypt and Babylon could not interpret Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Balaam had less insight than his donekey (even though dreams and animal behaviour was suppose to be their thing)! The reader’s of Matthew’s gospel would not have been impressed by magi coming, they would have been disgusted by them.

And yet isn’t this what the gospel of Jesus is about … the most unexpected people coming to Christ. What is surprising in Matthew’s gospel is that instead of the prophesied kings from the east, we have their servants – the magi. Where are the kings? The only king in this story is Herod who seeks to kill Jesus and the only wise men are the scribes who have God’s word but do not seek Jesus.

Herod is like Balak planning on using the magi to destroy Jesus – but God overrules by revealing his true word to the magi even as he had done earlier to Balaam.

In the meantime in a surprising turn of events these magi find Christ and prostrate themselves before the great king, the son of David of which Solomon was a type.

But in their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh one cannot help but recall Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60. While the magi were not the fulfilment of the prophets, their coming frm the east and bringing such gifts clearly foreshadow the future fillment of the prophecies. Indeed Revelation 21 describes the fulfilment in the new earth following the return of Jesus when the redeemed nations and kings bring their tribute to Jesus. The magi’s coming points to that Day. For now though we can marvel that God in his grace spoke to these magi (using a star and later the word of God spoken by the prophet Micah). We can thank God that he calls the most unexpected people by grace to enter into his kingdom. As we continue to read Matthew’s gospel we will see this theme of God’s grace to tax-collectors and sinners.

We like to identify with wise kings from the Orient but closer to reality is our identifying with foolish ungodly heathens to whom God has shown his grace. Call him ‘Jesus’ because he saves his people fro their sins.