February 5, 2019

Do you hear what I hear?

I’m always amazed at the claim that life happened randomly without the aid of an intelligent power, yet human beings constantly try to find order, structure and patterns in just about everything. Random is not acceptable to most of us. Even the messiest apologize for their disarray. I’m certain that seeking order is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

The book I’m using to guide this year’s devotional readings demonstrates this desire for order. The author gives an outline for the book of Matthew along with a list of the important discourses Jesus gave, each one from major divisions of his outline. Here is his outline with the discourses listed placed beside each section:

Introduction of the King

Demands of the King
Sermon on the Mount
Deeds of the King
Commission to the Twelve
Program of the King
Parables of the Kingdom
Destiny of the King
Meaning of Greatness & Forgiveness
Problems of the King
Olivet Discourse
Death & resurrection of the King

Final commission by the King

As I read the first discourse, and compared it to the section of the outline, the words “demands of the King” seemed wrong, at least applied to the Beatitudes. They sound more like a description of the King’s subjects who are blessed because we believe in Jesus, mourn our sin, are granted pure hearts, are meek rather than feisty or proud, and so on.

Then Jesus goes on to describe what else will happen. We will be salt and light in a dark world, deal with anger and lust, avoid making oaths and retaliation, love our enemies, give to the needy, pray, fast, lay up treasure in heaven, not worry about our own needs, drop our judgmental attitudes, be considerate, be wary of false teachers, and built our lives upon the Rock of obedience to our King.

It seems that interpreting these as “demands” depends a great deal on whether or not a person is in the kingdom. Before I believed in Jesus, these seemed like rules for following God. Even in my early Christian life, they seemed like rules I must follow. It was not until God helped me understand grace that I’ve been able to look at this amazing sermon as a series of predictions and promises. The King says to me, “Because you believe in me, this is what has and will change in your life.”

That is, the desires of my King for me are not about my performance but about His bestowal. He grants me His heart and mind, His Holy Spirit who enables me to be His child, to act like I’m supposed to act. For instance, Jesus says:

“You are the salt of the earth . . .  You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13–14)

This is not, “You will be . . .” these things, but you are these things. Matthew is trying to explain the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, who came to enable His people to live as His people. He did it by dying for our sin, raising from the dead, forgiving us and making us new. He wanted the Jews and all readers to know that the struggle described in the OT of His people trying to keep the Law was just that — trying and a struggle. They failed miserably, just as all people do. Everyone falls short of His perfection. We need a Savior to give us the gift, the amazing grace that sets us free from the law of sin and death by giving us Himself and new life.

The NT begins with good news. Yes, there are warnings and demands because not everyone who reads it knows that Jesus Christ has taken care of all that. Those readers are still in that place where they need to understand how deep their need is for this amazing King who humbled Himself and became a baby, a servant. They need to hear that good news that sets sinners free so we can live like the wonderful description of kingdom citizens given in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus, I’m thrilled to be a child of the Kingdom, a member of Your family, a person saved from sin’s penalty. I’m overjoyed to be in the process of purification, a process that results in what You described as You taught from than mountain in Galilee so many years ago. What a wonderful goal You have set for me, for Your people, for the world.

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