Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 12 – Hated, Love & Maturity

Jesus’ teaching on Living The Life God Intended, in regard to hatred, love and maturity, comes from Matt 5:43-48 (read it!) To listen to the audio teaching click on

Jesus essentially says, “It’s not about loving your neighbour and then hating your enemy, but about loving your enemy. And in so doing, being perfect as your Father in heaven.” 

Jesus completes the six ethical commands with the capstone of love of enemy as children who live the complete character of their heavenly Father. Thus v.48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, is the summary conclusion of all six ‘antitheses’ that Jesus taught from Matt 5:21-47. More of this just now.

We must first discuss Jesus’ quote of the great commandment to love your neighbour (Lev 19:18). Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say what Jesus quotes, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ The OT does not command us to “hate your enemy.” What then is Jesus quoting? From where does he get this? What is he referring to?

He’s referring to the oral tradition of certain groups in Israel at the time. The School of Rabbi Shammai – a contemporary of Jesus – taught that once you had obeyed Torah by loving your neighbour you were free to hate your enemy. Zealots who fought for Israel’s liberation agreed, teaching a holy war theology of killing the enemy in God’s name. They saw their enemies as God’s enemies, and vice versa – identified as the Romans, pagans, and ‘backslidden’ non-Torah-keeping-Jews. One could hate these people because they are judged and condemned by God. The Essenes in the Qumran sect had a similar teaching of loving the children of light (those in their community) and hating the children of darkness (those outside their community). Thus Jesus was quoting a known oral tradition in his day that legitimized hating one’s enemy.

The full text from Lev 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” The oral tradition that Jesus refers to understood the phrase “among your (own) people” to mean within God’s people, the covenant community. Once you’ve loved your own kind you can hate ‘the other’ – perceived as ‘the enemy’? Thus they joined the two and made one new revised version, “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”

In so doing they conveniently overlooked the context, as in Lev 19:33-34, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Here Moses actually repeats word for word Lev 19:18, “love them (your neighbour… the foreigner) as yourself, for I am the Lord!” The Lord says your neighbour is BOTH your own kind AND the foreigner/stranger.

Due to the discipline of scripture memorisation, when rabbis quoted a text they had in mind the whole context. We see this in Jesus’ teaching practice. Therefore, did Jesus tell his story of The Good Samaritan in Lk 10:27-37 from this interpretation of “love your neighbour = love the foreigner-enemy” in Lev 19:18 cf. 33-34? He provocatively says to his ‘own kind’ that the perceived foreigner-enemy, the Samaritan, had mercy on his perceived enemy, the Jew – while fellow Jews walked passed their beaten up ‘own kind’ as if he were the enemy! How radical is this? Jesus himself prayed for his enemies while they were driving nails through his hands, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!” And Paul speaks of God’s enemies in Rom 5:8-10: God demonstrates his great love for us in that while we were “God’s enemies” he sent his Son to die for us, so that we may be reconciled to God.

Love of the foreigner, ‘the other’, ‘the enemy’, is the stream in the OT that Jesus teaches. We see it in Ex 23:4-5 and Prov 25:21-22, the command to do good to one’s enemies in various ways, thereby “heaping burning coals on their heads.” The OT does not teach hatred of enemies, as in humans beings made in God’s image, but hatred of evil itself, as in evil spirit, pride, lying, cheating, killing, and so on (Prov 6:16-19). It differentiates evil itself from the human instrument through which it comes. Evil is personal spiritual power(s) opposed God and his purposes in the heavens and earth. Hebrew ha satan, “the opposer”, is God’s enemy, the devil and his spiritual kingdom of demons.

Paul clearly says our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against our real enemy: the unseen spiritual forces of evil that operate in, on, and through human beings (Eph 6:12). He says in Rom 12:9-21, “hate what is evil; cling to what is good… bless those who persecute you… do not repay evil for evil… do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath…” Then he ends by quoting Prov 25:21-22 word for word! And concludes with, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Paul learnt well from Messiah Yeshua ha Notzri and his first apostles.

Therefore, “love your enemies” is about loving people as in your neighbour, the person in need, the foreigner, your enemy. Jesus’ command fulfils the spirit and intention of Torah. In fact, Jesus’ “love your enemies” – put in this way and the meaning he gives to it – is unprecedented in all of Jewish literature. It is not stated, let alone taught, in this specific way in the entire OT, in the inter-testamental writings, and at the time of Jesus (in the Essenes, Josephus and other Jewish literature). It’s not found in the Rabbinical writings of the Mishnah and Talmud (250-500 AD), neither in all of the Greek philosophers and the Greco-Roman literature. Jesus was truly unique and radical in this regard.

Three questions arise: WHO is (y)our enemy? WHY must you love them? And exactly HOW do you love them? Jesus answers them in reverse order.

The HOW. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v.44). This is a form of Hebrew parallelism: “to love” is paralleled by “to pray”, and “your enemy” is paralleled by “those who persecute you.” I.e. to pray for our enemies is to love them. Prayer is the first and highest act of love for those who oppose us, persecute, exploit and treat us unjustly. How so? Because prayer is power! God is our Creator-Father who has all the power in the heavens and earth, and he hears the cry of his children when we pray for the wellbeing of ‘the other.’ But prayer is not the only HOW or way of loving our enemy. What other ways can you think of – practically, specifically?

The WHY. The reason Jesus gives as to why we must love our enemies is “that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (v.45). By loving our enemies we live up to, and live out, our Father’s character of love and mercy. This is our witness to the world of who God is. Jesus grounds his reason in the Father’s love and mercy for both the righteous and the unrighteous, for both good and bad people – because God makes the sun to shine on both, he causes the rain to fall on both (v.45). Therefore, be like your Father in heaven and love your good neighbour and your bad enemy alike. Then you will be seen to be God’s child, living his character – different to all other people.

Jesus presses the point: “If you (only) love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (v.46-47). Here is the WHO. He names two perceived enemies in his day: tax-collectors and pagans. The former were among the most despised of Jews, seen as enemies because they collected taxes for the oppressive Roman occupation. The latter were idol worshippers, perceived enemies of Judaism because they could lead non-Torah-keeping-Jews astray into idolatry as frequently happened in Israel’s history.

However, here’s the point: are Torah-keeping-Jews any different to the tax-collectors who love only their own kind? What recognition or reward does God give to that? If Gentile pagans greet only their own kind, and God’s covenant people Israel do the same, what good is that? What’s the difference?

So Jesus is saying to his followers, “You ARE different, you’ve entered God’s Kingdom, so BE different! Live differently by loving those who are not your own, by greeting those who are different to you. In so doing you show yourself to be children of the Father, living his nature of love for all people, especially for so-called enemies. This is the life of the new covenant that God intended and enabled by his Word and Spirit in you. Our Father recognises and rewards this life of love. He does so by using it (us) to make a difference in the world, as witness to his Kingdom of Heaven on earth – through you!”

The question must be contextualised and personalised: who is YOUR enemy? Both the perceived enemy of your group or national or cultural stereotype, as well as your personal enemy in daily life?

Jesus’ capstone summary and conclusion:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek for perfect, telios, does not mean sinless moral perfection, rather perfect as in complete, whole, full-grown, mature. It is the perfection of love. Luke’s version of the same phrase is enlightening: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:38). It can also be translated “compassionate.” I.e. Jesus is speaking of full-grown love, of being whole in God’s mature mercy and complete compassion for all, which shows God’s true nature.

In fact, Jesus’ “be perfect/merciful as your Father is perfect/merciful” is his interpretive quote of Lev 19:2, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (the key verse in the Holiness Code, Lev 17 – 26). Here again we see Jesus’ mind working with the whole context of Lev 19:18, and Lev 19:33-34. Jesus interprets holiness, not as moral purity per se, but as wholeness, completeness, maturity in God’s love. This was in radical contrast to the Politics of Holiness in his day: the dominant system or way of legalistic purity and obedience to the letter of The Law – what Jesus called the “righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus understood holiness as the Politics of Love, his Messianic Way of Compassion, modelled in his life and ministry.

This is the perfection of love to which Jesus calls us. It’s the character of our Father that enables us to naturally live the life God intended, to easily obey Jesus’ six ethical teachings in Matt 5:21-47: “you’ve heard it said… but I say to you… go beyond anger to forgiveness and reconciliation, beyond lust to love, beyond divorce to integrity of marriage, beyond manipulation to truthfulness, beyond retaliation to non-violent resistance, and beyond hatred to love – loving your enemies.”

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 11 – Retaliation & Resistance

This talk on Living the Life God intended is about Jesus’ teaching on retaliation and non-violent resistance, in Matt 5:38-42. To listen to the audio teaching of these notes, click on


Jesus says in Matt 5:38-42 that it’s not about payback, but about self-sacrifice in non-violent resistance of evil people. This 5th ‘antithesis’ of Jesus is closely tied to the 6th in Matt 5:44-48, as seen in Luke who reverses the order and joins them (Lk 6:27-36). Taken together, Jesus’ basic point is to value people and relationships above self-security and possessions. I.e. unselfishness, motivated by love – even as in self-sacrifice, even for one’s enemies – is mature human flourishing, The Life God intended. That effectively resists and defeats evil while saving others. How so? We are brought to completion in living our Father’s perfect nature of loving mercy (Matt 5:48 cf. Lk 6:38) – which God’s Son embodied and modelled for us.

However, as per Matthew’s order, Jesus’ 5th ethical issue is about the lex talionis: the law of retaliation, or principle of retribution, “an eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (Jesus quotes Ex 21:24, Lev 24:19-20). This law was well-known in Palestine and ancient Near Eastern cultures. It was a ‘ready-made’ judicial formula for a just punishment, which was seen by all as equal justice in the courts of law.

When a person perpetrates an injustice, does some injurious or hurtful action against you, there are three ways to respond: 1) retaliate violently, or 2) take the person to court for a just reversal of the action (lex talionis), or 3) passively accept it with no response or retaliation – ‘just suck it up’! Jesus offers another creatively redemptive way that cuts through and transcends all three. And he uses deliberate exaggeration to illustrate it.

The lex talionis was originally given to restrain violence, not to foster retribution or vengeance. It was given to limit retaliation or payback to a sentence of fair punishment for the perpetrator. The problem was that, by quickly taking people to court, this law was used to justify vindictiveness in the name of justice! People readily took each other to court in that society, as it is today. That practice had no redemptive power. It didn’t expose and defeat the evil behind such attitudes and actions, both in the victim and the perpetrator. At worst, it could become a vicious cycle of injury and legalised retaliation, a downward spiral of violent reciprocation and more revenge, which can continue for generations in families and communities! Jesus’ answer to resistance and retaliation of evil people runs along far deeper heart channels.

Jesus did not say “resist evil” as in abstract evil. He says, “do not resist an evil person.” Firstly, he refers to unjust evil acts done by others against you, stated in Deut 19:19-21. He refers to those through whom evil operates. Evil works through people who allow it, as we see in Peter’s actions in Matt 16:21-23. The more one allows it, the more one becomes “an evil person”. I.e. over time evil (spirit) incarnates itself in persons, and in socio-political-economic structures that people develop. Evil seeks to make people and communities in its own image, just as God incarnates him/herself in us individually and corporately by Holy Spirit, as godly image bearers.

Secondly, the word “resist” (antistenai) was used for war, to ‘stand against’ enemies, for violent revolt as in Barabbas’ insurrection (Lk 23:19,25). Zealots, among other groups in Jesus’ day, taught a holy war theology, saying one can use violence in God’s name to “resist” Israel’s enemies. They saw the occupying Romans, including non-Torah-keeping Jews, as evil. Their enemies were God’s enemies, to be purged from the Holy Land. So, in saying “do not resist evil”, Jesus is not teaching passive docility, rather, do not repay kind with kind, don’t retaliate against personal or structural violence with violence. Jesus himself resisted evil, the question was about the means, the how. Paul used antistenai in Eph 6:13, of our spiritual warfare against all forms of evil. Paul “resisted” Peter to his face, because love demanded it, due to Peter’s unresolved racism that damaged the gospel and fellow believers (Gal 2:11-15).

However, “I tell you, do not resist an evil person” is in the context of the lex talionis, meaning “don’t resist in a court of law; don’t take them to court!” This interpretation is required in the second of the four examples below that Jesus gives, though it applies to all. This instruction by Jesus contradicts the old covenant, but makes sense in the context of Matt 5:17-20. I.e. even the lex talionis points to Jesus and it’s fulfilment of the (S)spirit of the law: though instituted to curb retaliatory evil due to the hardness of people’s hearts, the lex talionis failed; but a time will come when resistance and retaliation will be transcended in self-sacrifice, forgiveness and compassion. That is the life God intended. That defeats evil.

Jesus said, that time had come! He was fulfilling the prophesy of the new covenant, the way of living where obedience sprang from a new heart in-dwelt by God’s Spirit, a renewed mind formed by God’s Word (Jer 31:31-14, 32:38-40, Ezek 36:26-27). Jesus’ four examples show what this looks like, how radical this was in his day:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” To strike someone on the right cheek in a right-handed society meant a backhanded slap. It was the most grievous insult, humiliating injustice, in the ancient world – besides spitting in a person’s face (Is 50:6) – no matter the reason for such a “klap” (as South Africans say). One can retaliate by hitting back, or take the person to court, or passively accept it. Jesus’ new covenant way transcends these. His kingdom response is to turn and offer the other cheek. This causes the perpetrator to have to consciously change posture to take up your offer to slap you, this time with the open palm of their hand, the so-called ‘normal’ way of hitting a person. It forces the perpetrator to pause and think and decide if they will actually do it… or not… exposing the unjust heart of the perpetrator to him/herself and all who see the evil act. Plus, the victim or survivor maintains dignity due to a dignified nonviolent response that exposes and defeats the evil intent behind the insulting backhand.

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” In the ancient world people sued one another to recover what was owed to them, as it is today. They could even legally sue the shirt off your back – the inner garment. The poor generally only had an inner garment and outer coat. BUT the law protected the poor victim by legislating that one’s outer coat could not be taken from them, no matter what, because it was what people slept in, keeping them warm at night (Ex 22:26-27). Jesus’ deliberately exaggerated kingdom response, in this case, goes against Torah teaching and the law courts. It exposes the evil behind a person who, having taken all your possessions, now takes you to court to get your shirt! So give them your outer coat as well. Just imagine, having given away your shirt and outer garment, walking home in your loin cloth (underpants)? This hyperbole exposes and embarrasses the humiliating injustice of the person taking your shirt as ‘legal retaliation’, as their ‘right’ to make you utterly destitute. With such a nonviolent response, your dignity will ironically be affirmed, and people will see the injustice, and the evil behind it will be unmasked and defeated.

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” The occupying Roman soldiers had the legal right to force Jews – any local natives in the Empire – to do certain types of work (see Mk 15:21). They commonly made locals carry their ‘army pack’. But the law limited it to one mile so that they didn’t exploit people to the point of death from exhaustion by forcing them to carry their load for many miles under the hot sun. It was known that Zealots – ordinarily dressed Jews, but freedom fighters – would carry a Roman soldier’s load for a mile, then look for a bush along the road to lay it down. When the soldier bent down to pick up his load, the Zealot would take out his sicarri, a dagger hidden under his belt, and cut the soldier’s throat. He then went on his way praising God that he’d killed an infidel in the Name of the Lord for Israel’s liberation. Jesus instructs his followers, including his apostle Simon the Zealot, to go two miles as an act of nonviolent resistance – even as an act of loving smiling service to the oppressor. Imagine the effect on a Roman soldier? That would have raised many an eyebrow in Jesus’ day. He taught it in Galilee, the hotbed of Jewish revolutionary activity. Jesus’ way was to resist and defeat evil by creative redemptive acts that gave dignity to the victim of injustice and moved the heart of the perpetrator, exposing the evil behind the unjust action.

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” This follows up on suing a person for the shirt off his back. Jesus endorses Torah teaching on giving and lending money. Kingdom people must lend money to the needy without charging interest (Ex 22:25, Lev 25:37), especially before the 7th Sabbath year of release when all debts were forgiven (Deut 15:9). But Jesus goes further, teaching unselfish giving in a spirit of generosity. Lend money without expecting to get it back, viewing it as your giving to God. The OT stressed giving to the poor (Deut 15:7-11; Ps 112:5,9; Prov 19:17, 22:9), but it does not mean that Jesus is teaching giving without discernment, giving out of guilt or manipulation, giving to everyone all the time, especially those who seek a ‘soft touch’ (Prov 11:15, 17:18).

Again, these four examples deal with the heart attitude, the “better righteousness” of the new covenant, the life God intends for us. They are examples of Jesus’ kingdom fulfilment of the spirit of the law; i.e. his Messianic Torah. And he goes even further in the 6th (last) antithesis regarding love of enemy.

Having interpreted these four examples of Jesus in the context of his day, how do we apply that meaning to our context today? What is Jesus saying to us in our particular world?

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 10 – Manipulation & Truth Telling

Oaths, Swearing and Truthfulness, Matt 5:33-37

To hear the audio teaching of these notes, click on

In this text Jesus says that healthy community, good communication in life, is not about making vows and keeping sworn oaths, as in Num 30:2, Deut 23:21-23, but simply telling the truth! Jews swore by all sorts of things other than God in the belief that, if they didn’t keep their word, they were then not using God’s name in vain (i.e. breaking the 2nd Commandment).

The practice of swearing, making vows, taking an oath, was to persuade with power communication, to ‘vouch’ for your promise, to ‘prove’ the truth of what you said, even to get your own way! It amounted to manipulation and control in conversation. So Jesus, in this text, addresses speech and truth-telling, and the (mis)use of God’s name.

Depending on your culture, you may say, “I swear on my mother’s grave that…”, to make others believe you’re telling the truth. In the Judaeo-Christian judicial system people have to put their hand on the Bible and swear under oath, “I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God!” The idea is to call on a higher authority, represented in a sacred symbol, which binds the conscience to tell the truth and/or to fulfil a promise. And thus to be held accountable – punished or vindicated – by that higher authority, i.e. God (see 1Kgs 8:31-32).

The rabbis in Jesus’ day debated which oaths were binding or not, as seen in the hierarchical list that Jesus referred to in Matt 5:34-36, and also Matt 23:16-22. His central point is that whatever you swear by is ultimately God’s, whether it be heaven, earth, Jerusalem, the Temple, the altar, or your head (even the hairs of one’s head are under God’s sway and ownership!) Swearing by any of these ‘things’ is still swearing by God – though indirectly! So Jesus’ answer to this, his way of being authentically human as God’s image, is simply not to swear at all and keep your word and tell the truth.

Be truth-full. Don’t lie. Not even white lies! Never make promises you can’t keep. If you make a promise, keep it! Don’t try to impress, exaggerate, manipulate or control others by your words, pressurising them to believe what you’re saying, by resorting to swearing, making vowing, invoking God as your authority.

For example, some Christians use “God told me…” when it’s evidently not the case for various (discerning) reasons. People who live the life God intended, those in his new covenant rule and reign (Kingdom), are as good as their word. They mean what they say and say what they mean. Their ‘yes’ is ‘yes’, their ‘no’ is ‘no’; “anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).

Strong words from Jesus! The devil was a liar from the beginning, the father of lies, the ultimate manipulator and deceiver. Don’t live out his evil nature (John 8:44), a hypocrite who acts out one thing while being another behind the mask! Jesus’ way of being human is to be a “WYSIWYG” person: what-you-see-is-what-you-get! Being real. Be honest. No pretence, no games-play, no pressurising others, no getting your own way.

In short, Jesus intensifies the letter of the law (Deut 23:22-23, Eccl 5:5) by upholding the spirit – the original intention and direction – of the law, especially the 2nd commandment not to take God’s name in vain (Ex 20:7).

This is very relevant and applicable to our world of politics, power-language, spin-doctors, motivational-talk, manipulation and control – a world of misinformation, half-truths, fake-news and deceit. The Oxford Dictionary is updated annually. They choose one new word that has come into usage that best captures the spirit of the year. In 2016 they chose ‘post-truth’.

We live in an ‘after-truth’ world where blatant lies are shamelessly presented as the truth, modelled by political, civic, business, national and global leaders. People swear in all sorts of ways to make their point and get their way, often using foul expletives to intimidate others. We no longer easily believe or trust people. We listen with a skeptical ear and cynical heart. This is NOT the life, nor community, God intended – it “comes from the evil one”.

Christ-followers are salt and light: we stick to our word, fulfil our promises, are consistently truthful. We don’t (have to) resort to manipulative words, or abusive swearing, or use God’s name in vain to impress others, or to get our way.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living The Life God Intended – Talk 9 – Divorce & Remarriage

To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click…

Marriage, Divorce Reasons and Remarriage, Matt 5:31-32

In teaching on life in the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) – the life that God intended for all human beings – Jesus addresses his third ethical requirement of God’s law. God’s law is his will and plan for human flourishing. God gave us his blueprint for life and community so that we can truly enjoy all God intended for humanity.

So, in this third ethic that Jesus addresses, he says it’s not about divorce per se, but rather about the integrity of marriage and thus the reason for divorce… and remarriage. Jesus naturally moves from anger in relationships (Matt 5:21-26), to lust and adultery (Matt 5:27-30), to marriage, divorce and remarriage.

Moses allowed divorce (Deut 24:1-4) because of “the hardness of the heart”, as Jesus notes in Matt 19:8… adding that “it was not so in the beginning!” He’s referring to the creation texts in Gen 1:27, 2:24 (see Matt 19:4-6). Divorce in Palestine was scandalously common and easy, just as it is in our day! Men could simply write “a certificate of divorce” for almost “any and every reason” (Matt 19:3), then give it to his wife and send her out the house. Men could divorce wives unilaterally while women could only demand a divorce under certain very narrow conditions, and even then they needed the court’s help (which favored men). Women were largely powerless victims, blamed for divorce. They had to remarry in order to be economically supported and secure. And the social taboo of being single – divorced and not remarried – was unbearable. Jesus’ answer to this sad ‘issue’ was radically subversive and confrontational in two ways:

First, according to Matthew (Matt 5:32, 19:1-9 cf. Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18) Jesus gives only one cause for divorce: sexual immorality (adultery). That is what, in effect, breaks the marriage covenant before God. Sexual intimacy and union was seen as the consummation and celebration of the marriage covenant, the symbol of integrity and bonding for new life (children) in the covenant relationship. To violate that was to break covenant.

Here Jesus agreed with Rabbi Shammai, his contemporary. They both differed with the more liberal school of Hillel that taught divorce was allowed for “any and every reason” (Matt 19:3). However, Jesus was more radical than Shammai in terms of remarriage: Shammai allowed remarriage for any divorce; i.e. he wasn’t logically inconsistent. Jesus argued that if a woman is divorced for any reason other than sexual immorality the man makes her “a victim of adultery” when she remarries. And besides, he commits adultery when he remarries a woman who was so divorced; i.e. divorced for illegitimate reasons (v32). 

Second, in saying that adultery is the only valid reason for divorce, Jesus is showing up male culpability and empowering woman’s dignity in marriage and society. How so? He just defined adultery (Matt 5:27-28) by challenging the men: if they look to lust after a woman, committing adultery of the mind, it’s as good the action. Thus Jesus exposed the many men in his day that believed they could divorce their wives for any reason, exposing their own adultery – of the heart – probably committed daily? Just as it is in our day?

Jesus is saying: those who’ve entered the KOH live in a new and different way. They live God’s new covenant by the enabling indwelling Holy Spirit, in integrity of love and marriage, by purity of heart and relationship. They deal with anger and lust in their hearts, cutting it off at its roots. Thus they live God’s original marriage-creation design of a male and a female united as one in a covenant of love ’till death do us part’ (Matt 19:3-9). This is the ‘bedrock’ of marriage on which Jesus based his views, “therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate!

And this is also the basic paradigm for all relationships, for all societies: we should live covenantally with one another, honoring each other with purity and integrity of heart, not lusting after each other, not betraying or being unfaithful in relationships, not allowing anything to divide and divorce us from each other, rather resolving our differences and forgiving one another of our sins against each other.

Note how Paul applies Jesus’ ethic of marriage, divorce and remarriage in a new context in 1Cor 7:10-16. He first affirms basic Jesus’ principle in 10-11 (“not I, but the Lord”), then he applies it to a new situation: a marriage where one spouse is not a believer. Here Paul gives his own view (“I, not the Lord”, 12-16). This does not mean Christians knowingly married unbelievers. Most first generation Christians were converted after marriage (marriages were generally arranged by parents).

The issue was: what if the unbelieving spouse wanted to divorce the believer – presumably due to reasons of faith? Paul’s answer to the believing partner is ‘yes’: “let it be so.” However, he qualifies it by saying the believer should not divorce the unbeliever but remain in the marriage as a witness to Christ. Roman society, unlike in Jewish Palestine, allowed either partner to divorce the other. In such cases the believer is “not bound”; i.e. they are free to remarry. But, Paul adds another qualification, they must remarry a believer in the Lord.

“Bound” or “not bound” was legal language in those days for slavery and freedom, for divorce and remarriage, for rabbinical rulings on ethical issues that were binding on (Torah observant) Jews. Paul uses being “bound” as meaning married in God’s sight and “not bound” as meaning not married in God’s sight; i.e. legitimately free to remarry.

Like Paul, we must learn to apply Jesus’ ethic to new contexts by thinking through the right response. I.e. we must not naively impose the literal absolute on the situation – that is legalistic fundamentalism. But neither must we allow every changing context to re-interpret and even change God’s original creation design, ethical principle and good intention for human flourishing – that is liberal relativism. Rather, like Jesus and Paul, we must courageously uphold, intelligently interpret and compassionately apply God’s revealed will to the issues we face in our day, just as they did in their day – that is godly wisdom.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 8 – Lust & Purity

To live the life God intended we have to manage anger and sexuality, among other important psycho-relational realities. To listen to the audio teaching of these notes click on:


Adultery, Lust and Purity, Matt 5:27-30

Jesus says it’s not about adultery, but about lust and purity. He deals with murder, then adultery (6th & 7th commandments). Why? Because anger AND lust are the two basic causes of most of the pain in human relationships – the root of family disorder and community/social disintegration. Human sexuality is essentially about human relationships, how we relate, whether we love or lust. What’s the difference?

Love is healthy sexuality as in relating purely, seeking each other’s highest good. This love-passion celebrates God’s image in the ‘complementary other’, producing true intimacy that completes us as human becomings. Lust is broken sexuality as in impure relating, desiring ‘the other’ to use (& abuse) in order to meet our needs, pleasure, purpose. That is a substitute false intimacy that can never satisfy or complete us. At heart it’s an idolatry of self that disintegrates our personhood, making us less than human, more like animals driven by (corrupted) instincts. Lust enslaves and addicts us to corrupted desire.

The outward act of adultery – a sexual affair outside the covenant of marriage – begins in the heart, in our natural appetites that are corrupted by ‘covetous’ desire. “Lust” in Matt 5:28 is the word “covet” (to steal) in the Greek translation of the 10th commandment in Ex 20:17. Lusting is covetous desire, to take/steal for one’s own pleasure and purposes.

Long before we commit the physical act of adultery we have, in our sexual brokenness, cultivated lustful desire that prepares us to do it when the opportunity presents itself. So it’s not about the outward act, it’s about the inward conditioning, the intention of the mind. Jesus says if we “look to lust” – entertain thoughts and images, cultivate covetous lust to use ‘the other’ for our needs and purpose – it’s as good as doing the deed. It’s just a matter of time before we ‘act out’ by looking at pornography, flirting with the opposite (or same) sex, seeking opportunity to ‘do it’.

How do we deal with this? Jesus’ ‘new covenant’ answer is radical (29-30). Those in the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) live a different kind of life. We are convicted and enabled by God’s indwelling Spirit to cut lust off at its roots, reconditioning the heart for relating in pure love (healthy sexuality). Jesus uses deliberate exaggeration: “if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

WOW! Does he mean that literally? NO! You cannot stop lust by castrating yourself – if you’re a man – as church father Origen (185-254) found out. It’s a heart/mind issue, not a physical problem! Jesus’ point is to deal ruthlessly with the first sign of lust before it develops and then drives you. Otherwise you rot and decay from within, becoming useless to God and people, and consequently “thrown into (the tormenting fires of) hell”. Jesus repeats this phrase twice! A serious warning! This can mean being handed over to the internal fires of lust that torment us, as well as the fearful ultimate torment of separation from God.

Jesus is echoing Prov 6:25 & Job 31:1, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a woman…” This is not sexual ‘repression’ as some suggest. Such old so-called Christian teaching, as in ‘sex is dirty’, ‘sexual feelings are sinful’, etc, results in untruth, guilt, shame, psycho-sexual dualism and dysfunction (we separate our sexuality from our spirituality). We must not suppress normal sexual awareness and desire, and our admiration of and attraction to beauty. We need a good theology of healthy sexuality.

Jesus is teaching sexual character as in purity of the heart and imagination, by disciplining lust before it becomes fantasy and arousal. When pushed down into the darkness of guilt, into the silence of shame, sexual feelings are demonized. We must channel sexual feelings in a healthy way by bringing them into the light of God’s presence. When we acknowledge what we’re seeing, feeling and thinking, with God, we celebrate the mystery of beauty, attraction and longing. Then sexual feelings are redeemed and transformed (see Paul’s ‘positive disciplines’ in this regard, Phil 4:8). They can become the fuel or passion of true loving in relationships, the warm healing power of godly love in every relational exchange. This builds healthy community and good society.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living The Life God Intended – Talk 7 – Anger & Relationships

This seventh in the series ‘Living The Life God Intended’ looks at the first way in which Jesus and his followers fulfill The Law & The Prophets. To listen to the audio teaching click…

Murder & Anger, Forgiveness & Reconciliation (Matt 5:21-26)

Jesus chooses to address the 6th commandment of The Law. Moses said, “do not murder” (Ex 20:13), but Jesus said it’s really about anger and what we do with it (v22).

Outward acts of violence and murder start in the heart, the anger that can govern our thoughts, words and deeds. The root of anger, hurt and offense – with a person, or group, even God, for whatever reason – must be dealt with quickly before it leads to the fruit of ‘acting out’ in unhealthy thoughts, bad attitude, abusive words and violent behavior.

To feel anger is one thing, but to entertain anger toward a person or group means we intend them harm (pay back): they must suffer the hurt they’ve caused us! That, in effect, Jesus says, is murder. Why? Because, given the right opportunity we would harm them in some way if we could. That intention is as good as the deed. Unresolved anger kills human dignity, destroying God’s image. As Jesus says, anger ‘leaks out’ in abusive emotions and words, as in name-calling and cursing.

The Aramaic “raca” meant “empty-head” (like “you fool”, Matt 5:23), pronounced with a “gggg” in the throat as if getting ready to spit. It could lead to judgement in the Sanhedrin (Jewish court), and danger of punishment in God’s court (heavenly Sanhedrin, the supreme court). Jesus says it could even lead to the fires of hell – “Gehenna of fire” – the standard Jewish concept of Gehinnom that came from the ever-burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem’s southern wall in the Valley of Hinnom. Jews believed the wicked will be tortured or eternally burned in Gehinnom; the opposite of paradise. I.e. Jesus strongly warns of the dangers of harboring anger: it leads to contempt, and then resentment and bitterness, burning hatred and rage, eventual violence and murder.

Why is the first ethical issue Jesus addresses about anger? Anger is probably THE most pervasive issue in human relationships! Can you identify any unresolved anger in you? Where does it come from? How does it ‘leak out’? Do you hurt others in attitude, words and deeds? What racist, sexist and other name-calling is common in South Africa? Why is it so VERY destructive? What can we (YOU) do about it?

Anger is a God-given emotion that tells us something has gone wrong. What we do with it is the issue: it ‘becomes moral’ depending on our response.

If we a) suppress anger, we implode, damaging ourselves and others around us. It ‘leaks’ via passive-aggressive behavior.
If we b) vent anger, we explode, damaging ourselves and those around us.
But if we c) express our anger in an adult manner we reconcile and grow ourselves and those around us.

Anger can motivate us to address what causes it, with words and deeds of reconciliation (Matt 5:22-26). Followers of Jesus, who receive the renewed heart of the new covenant, are convicted and enabled by God’s Spirit to quickly resolve anger before it takes hold. How do we resolve anger? By reconciling any and every negative tension and offense in relationships, to honor human dignity.

Jesus uses ‘hyperbole’ (deliberate exaggeration) to show how important and urgent it is to reconcile any unresolved issue of anger, hurt or offense (22-24), before it becomes a source of contention, judgement and suffering (25-26). Jews went to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their gift at the altar of sacrifice. Jesus says, if, while you’re offering your gift, you remember that someone has something against you (i.e. you hurt or angered them), then leave immediately and make the 2 or 3 day journey back to Galilee (where Jesus was teaching)! Be reconciled to the person – make peace by asking for forgiveness, put right what went wrong, resolve anger – then travel back to Jerusalem to offer your worship.

Imagine that? I.e. do everything to reconcile and settle matters quickly, before it becomes a contentious or legal issue in the courts (earthly, spiritual, heavenly), where judgement may go against you. Then you will suffer psycho-emotional and other forms of payment in the prison of unresolved anger, unforgiveness, burning bitterness, and a tortured conscience.

In Matt 18:15-35 Jesus reverses it: if someone hurts or angers you, then YOU must go immediately to them, without telling anyone, and be reconciled. Here you must be quick and generous to forgive as God has forgiven you – from the heart – or you too will suffer in the prison of suppressed or unresolved anger… and unforgiveness!

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 6 – Fulfilling God’s Law

To hear the audio teaching on these notes click on:

Jesus’ mission: “Fulfilling The Law & The Prophets”, Matt 5:17-20

In teaching The Life God Intended for us to live, Jesus describes those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH, the “blessed be’s” of Matt 5:1-12), and their prophetic witness as “salt & light” in society (Matt 5:13-16). Then he clearly states his mission: to fulfill The Law & The Prophets (vv.17-20). And then he follows on with what that means, what that looks like, from Matt 5:21-48 and on through to Matt 7:12, which “sums up” and echoes Matt 5:17.

Jesus says that he did NOT come to abolish Moses’ covenant, The Law, but to fulfill it in his KOH mission. The Law (Torah) is God’s prescribed will for human flourishing – the life God always intended human beings to live. We flourish as human beings – God’s image-bearers – if we obey God’s law and live it. Thus Jesus upholds it’s value: nothing will disappear from The Law “until everything is accomplished” (v.18), i.e. fulfilled. In fact, he intensified its ethical demands, seen in Matt 5:21-48, while other teachers of The Law in effect relaxed them (v.19), as we will see in subsequent posts.

It was an open secret that, though Torah embodied God’s will, it lacked the power to make people obey and live it. Why? Not because the first covenant of Moses was faulty per se, but because of the sinfulness (“the hardness”) of the human heart, which God’s Law repeatedly exposed. And therefore God provided the Temple sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins – when Jews repeatedly broke God’s commands. God also promised a new covenant-relationship that will transform the heart by the Spirit, enabling God’s people to do his will (Jer 31:31-36, 32:38-40, Ezek 36:26-27).

Jesus was God’s Anointed King (Messiah), giving the promised “baptism with the Holy Spirit” (Matt 3:13) in the coming of the KOH new covenant (Matt 4:17). All who enter ‘it’ – this new relationship with God through faith in Jesus – receive a “righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees” (v.20). This is the righteousness that Jesus lived and modeled, enabled by God’s indwelling Spirit – and given to those who enter the KOH that Jesus proclaimed.

Righteousness is (God’s) ‘covenant faithfulness’ that gives us ‘right-standing-before-God’ and ‘right-way-of-relating/living’ in society. It is NOT attained or merited by outward behavioral performance, conforming to the rules, as the Pharisees taught. Jesus said they taught one thing and lived another reality, i.e. hypocrites (Matt 23:1-4). Righteousness is given through relational faith in Jesus, by trusting HIM for right-standing-before-God and right-way-of-living – rather than earning the reward of righteousness by our efforts at obedience. Followers of Jesus live by relationship and not by rules. We live by relying on Jesus and his enabling Spirit, not by trying to keep God’s requirements in our own strength.

Behavior changes when the heart and mind is changed. We don’t try to obey the letter of The Law of Moses written in stone – we will fail, because our hearts are “hard” (sinful). Rather, we depend on the Spirit of The Law writing God’s will in our hearts and minds. That is the Hebraic way of saying the Holy Spirit enables us to do God’s will “as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10) from “a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26-27). I.e. as our hearts and minds are changed – progressively transformed from the inside out by living in God’s Rule and Reign of Love – we live the life God intended. The “heart” is the core and whole of the human being, the spirit-fountain out of which all of life flows and is lived (Prov 4:23).

In summary: the Pharisees focused on outward behavioral conformity, trying to obey God in the moment when needed. Jesus focused on inward transformation of the governing intentions of the heart, training for obedience by relational trust in God’s enabling Spirit in every moment. Jesus repeatedly taught this ‘heart-change-behavior’ principle in various ways:
The behavioral-fruit comes from the heart-root (Matt 7:16-20, 12:33-35);
What’s in the heart comes out – or is seen outwardly – in our thoughts, words and deeds (Matt 15:16-20);
First clean the inside of the cup and the outside will be clean (Matt 23:25-26).

To illustrate what he meant by “fulfilling the Law & the Prophets”, Jesus gave six ethical redefinitions in Matt 5:21-48. Each one shows how God’s intended purpose of The Law & Prophets is fulfilled in all who enter the KOH (Matt 4:17) and receive his Spirit-baptism (Matt 3:11). What Moses prescribes under the (old) covenant, Jesus describes in his new covenant relationship with Spirit-enabled behavior. By beginning each of the six with “you have heard it said… but I say…”, he teaches like the other rabbis, quoting a text and then giving his interpretation. He also ‘builds a hedge’ around the commandment; i.e. long before you get to actually break the commandment, you ‘run into’ and discipline the inner governing tendencies that cause you to disobey it.

However, there are four basic differences in Jesus when compared to the other teachers of his day:
1) He assumed the coming of the KOH in his ministry with Spirit-enabled new covenant behavior;
2) Thus he claimed and spoke with an authority from God that was not acknowledged, and even rejected, by most Rabbis – but recognized and respected by the common people (Matt 7:28-29);
3) Showing the Jews of his day that his movement really was the fulfillment of all that Israel believed and longed for – to be God’s kingdom of priests and prophets among all the nations – and…
4) That Jesus and his followers were to live by, and even die for, this revolutionary new way of being human, being God’s image-bearers.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 5 – Being Salt & Light

To listen to the audio teaching of this fifth talk on Living the Life God Intended, click on:

Being The Salt and Light, Matt 5:13-16

To recap: Jesus began a revolution of the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH). Matthew shows Jesus giving his inaugural teaching in Matt 5 – 7: Living life in the KOH, God’s new covenant with his people. His “blessed be’s” describe those receiving the KOH (those blessed with comfort, fulfillment, inheritance, mercy, seeing God, declared God’s children, etc) rather than prescribing virtues to be attained in order to be God’s Kingdom people. Jesus ends the beatitudes with those who suffer persecution as the prophets did (Matt 5:11-12); i.e. he saw his KOH movement as fulfilling the prophetic tradition, being the “salt & light” to Israel and the nations.

The repeated “you” in v13 and v14 is emphatic: YOU and only YOU are the salt and light! But, Jesus’ main point in this text is simple: if we do NOT actually live like disciples of the KOH (true followers and apprentices of Jesus), if we do NOT live like the true Israel God intended, then we are worth about as much as tasteless salt and hidden light.

Salt was used to flavor food. It was also a preservative and purifying agent – to stop meat from decaying, to cleanse a wound. When impure salt, taken from the Dead Sea for example, lost its saltiness, then it was added to soil as manure. Real salt did not lose its properties – it’s flavor and sting. But what did Jesus mean by “being the salt” in society?

In teaching the new covenant, the Messianic Torah, rabbi Jesus probably alluded to salt as the sign of the covenant as referred to in Lev 2:13, Num 18:19, 2Chron 13:5. If so, Jesus saw his followers as the salt of the new covenant promised by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34, God’s word is written on our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to do God’s will). This means that our presence in society, as followers of Jesus, positively flavors it, making the nation acceptable and palatable to God. Godly convictions, values and behavior, restrain and prevent the rot from taking over – “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2Pet 1:4). I.e. we stand for God’s Rule of truth, righteousness, justice, mercy. THAT stings the conscience of society and ‘the powers’ that be – as did the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus, who all suffered and died for their witness to God’s government. We model the future KOH now, showing society and earthly and spiritual powers God’s intended way of living, challenging wrongdoing, speaking truth to power.

However, Jesus’ point is that real salt does not lose its saltiness, otherwise it is spurious! BUT, if we don’t live out our true nature and calling as Jesus’ disciples, we’re “thrown out and trodden under foot.” Is Jesus saying we become ‘manure’? No! More likely, as a typical Rabbi, he is quoting Isaiah 5:5, 10:6, 26:6, 28:3,18, 63:3, warning of judgement. I.e. the godly remnant in Israel made the nation palatable to God. But as they lost their sting and the stench of Israel’s sin rose to heaven, God judged Israel. She was overrun by warfare, trodden under foot and exiled. Jesus is saying: if WE don’t fulfill our prophetic role and witness, corruption spreads to the point where society is no longer palatable to God (even Jesus speaks of spitting out a church! Rev 3:16). Then the nation comes under God’s judgement, the church included, suffering civil unrest and even violent revolution under “the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor” (Isaiah 26:6).

Jesus saw himself and his community of followers as fulfilling Israel’s call to be “the light of the world” (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6 cf. Matt 4:16, Jn 8:12, Eph 5:8-9). Like salt, it has a positive and negative role: God’s light of life and truth shows society the way to live under God’s government, the KOH. At the same time the light exposes and drives back the moral darkness of evil deception and corruption. His point is simple: the light is NOT to be hidden! It must shine for all to see! If we don’t live out our true nature and calling as the light of God’s saving rule and reign – by hiding it, keeping it to ourselves – we lose our reason for existence and live in the dark.

The light is our “good deeds” in society: living God’s love in actual works of mercy, righteousness, justice, peace-making. Therefore, “let your light shine…!” Jesus’ reference to the light as “a city on a hill” was readily understood, because most towns were built on hills and could be seen at night from far away. This was especially true of Jerusalem, God’s city of peace & justice, where he was understood to reside and to rule from his Holy Temple. The light of Jerusalem was thus not only literal – the biggest and brightest city in Israel – but was meant to be the light of God’s government over Israel, for all the nations of the world to see. If Jesus was alluding to this, then he saw his disciples as the new Jerusalem in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies in this regard; see Isaiah 2:2-5 cf. Isaiah 42:6, 49:6.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living The Life God Intended – Talks 3 & 4 – “Blessed be…”

This third and fourth teaching in ‘Living The Life God Intended’ introduces Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his ‘blessed be’s”. To listen to the audios click on these links – I taught the beatitudes in two talks:

Intro to the “Blessed Be’s…”


The “Blessed be’s” is Jesus’ intro to human flourishing – living life as God intended. They are typical Jewish wisdom sayings that invert what the world values (e.g. Psalm 1:1, 37:11, Prov 1:20-33). How do we understand and interpret them? Are they character virtues that we must aspire to in order to flourish and live the good life? No! That would be a ‘works gospel’; i.e. we then enter the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH) by human merit of certain virtues. The eight beatitudes do not prescribe who we have to be or what we must do to enter and live in the KOH – to enter the KOH is all grace-gift! They describe the kinds of people – yet not all – who flock after Jesus (Matt 4:23-25 cf. Matt 5:1-8), who enter the KOH by repentance and faith (Matt 4:17), not by merit of character virtues. While Moses’ Ten Commandments prescribe ‘holy living’, Jesus’ eight Beatitudes describe ‘people conditions’ that enter the KOH and live the repentant reconditioned life, God’s eternal kind of life here and now.

We are blessed not because we are poor in spirit, or because we mourn, or are humble, or hungry for justice, or merciful, etc, but because we receive the KOH. The blessing is not in the condition, but in the Kingdom, which reconditions us into living the life of the new covenant. This is made clear by the ‘enclosure’ (technically called an inclusio) of Matt 5:3 and Matt 5:10; the opening and closing repetition “for theirs is the KOH” means that all those between these two equally receive the KOH, but as either comfort, justice, inheritance, mercy, seeing God, being called the children of God, depending on their ‘condition’ or need.

In Hebrew, to be “blessed” is to have the favor of God’s promised KOH. Greek makarios (Matt 5:3, “blessed”) literally means ‘so happy… to be envied’. It described the life of the gods. It was the name of a totally self-resourcing Greek island that flowed with water and food, so that the other islands envied it. The common view today of the blessed life is: “blessed are the self-sufficient, the rich, those who laugh, who party, the educated, the powerful, the winners.” But not so from God’s perspective! He sees differently. He inverts what the world values.

Jesus’ method of teaching was to subvert the dominant consciousness by exposing the wrong assumptions that the coming KOH challenges. So we must “repent”, change our thinking, see from God’s viewpoint! Paul Simon captured this kind of inversion in his song, “Blessed are the sat on, spat on, ratted on!” The KOH comes to those who are lost, despised, desperate, marginalized, persecuted… THEY are blessed, not due to their condition, but because they receive the KOH and are transformed by it. We must open your eyes to see what God is doing, what the good life of the KOH is, and who is entering and flourishing in it. Thus Jesus looks out over the crowd and his disciples sitting near him (Matt 5:1), and says…

The Beatitudes


So happy and to be envied are the poor in spirit. They are those who are aware of their spiritual bankruptcy, their need of God, their lost state. This includes the materially poor and needy (Lk 6:20). They are blessed with the coming KOH because they receive God’s favor by entering the good life. They are reconditioned with God’s forgiveness and rich resources that are available to all people in God’s Kingdom, not only at the end of this age, but here and now.  

So happy and to be envied are those who mourn. They are those who weep (Lk 6:21) due to personal sin and pain, grief of the loss of loved ones, who suffer life’s hurts, who mourn for society’s corruption and evil (Ps 119:136). They are blessed because the KOH comes upon them and are favored with the promised Messianic comfort of Isaiah 40:1-2. The promised Holy Spirit comes on them, forgives them, restores them, holds them, indwells and guides them.

So happy and to be envied are the meek (quoting Ps 37:9,11 cf. Ps 2:8). They are those who are seen as the weak because they refuse to take things into their own hands to bring about the KOH – even by force, if necessary, like the Zealots and other activists. The meek in Israel were the restrained, the godly, who humbly waited on God for his intervention to give them Israel’s inheritance, which was not just a slice of real estate in the Middle East, but the whole earth! They are blessed in Jesus bringing the KOH because it already gives them, in principle, their inheritance. They will receive it’s fullness at the end of the age when the KOH comes in the promised resurrection of those who will rule and reign over the whole earth.

So happy and to be envied are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are desperate for God’s justice, truth, covenant faithfulness, right-way-of-living… in the face of injustice, oppression and literal hunger. The Hebrew root for righteousness is justice; i.e. covenant faithfulness that gives right-standing-with-God and justice in relationships and society. They are blessed because the coming of the KOH in Jesus makes the future justice of God’s Day of Judgement available to all who cry out for it right now. God’s favor fills them with what they need, with what was promised (see Isaiah 25:6-7).

So happy and to be envied are the merciful; those who are compassionate and seek to help others in need; those who carry the hope of God’s mercy on the Day of Judgement (Micah 7:18-19). They are blessed not because they are merciful, but because the KOH has come in Jesus and they receive future mercy now, as in the forgiveness of sin, healing of sickness, deliverance from demons, pain, poverty, etc.

So happy and to be envied are the pure in heart; those who were regarded as ‘clean’ and ‘undefiled’ in Israel; i.e. who recognized God alone was their help and reward (see Ps 73:1-28). They are blessed because they will not only see God on Judgement Day (as some did in the Exodus, Ex 24:9-11), but they already see God in Jesus’ KOH mission & ministry. Entering the Kingdom they see God, and what he is doing, in all things.

So happy and to be envied are the peacemakers; those who seek the way of peace, and not violence, to bring about the KOH. As a Jewish rabbi Jesus would be speaking of ‘shalom-makers’, as in seeking God’s peace (shalom is reconciliation, order, harmony, unity, prosperity, wholeness) based on right relationship with God, each other, and creation. They are blessed because, in receiving the Kingdom as Christ’s follower, the end-time declaration of “son (child) of God” is theirs here and now. And THAT reconditions them to live out the nature of their Father, living the life God intended.

So happy and to be envied are those who are persecuted for righteousness (Matt 5:10-12). They are those who stand for truth, justice, integrity; the ‘whistle blowers’ and prophetic challengers of the unjust powers and corrupt society. They are blessed not because they do this, but because “theirs is the KOH”; i.e. the KOH is their reward not only at the end of the age, but here and now in the coming of King Jesus.

Jesus then personalizes it: “Blessed are you if you’re persecuted because of (following) me, because not only are you fulfilling the prophetic tradition – suffering for righteousness – but great is your reward in heaven.” After 400 years of ‘silence’ from heaven (after Malachi there were no more prophets in Israel), God spoke through John the baptizer – whom Jesus called the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11). And then God spoke fully through King Jesus… and his followers. Jesus saw his followers as the prophetic community of the KOH, God’s witness to both earthly and spiritual powers, and to society, of what the Rule and Reign of God looks like in this age.

Posted on Leave a comment

Living the Life God Intended – Talk 2 – The Kingdom of Heaven

This is the second in my new series Living The Life God Intended – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For the audio teaching click

Last week was an introduction to Matthew’s view of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah whose coming fulfills the Hebrew (prophetic) scriptures. He particularly presents Jesus as the promised ‘new Moses’ as per Deut 18:18-19. Here I look at the narrative context that leads into his ‘inaugural speech’ called The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5 to 7). After Jesus’ water baptism and Spirit anointing, and 40 days in the wilderness of testing, Jesus enters ‘The Promised Land’ (Israel).Then does three things by the Spirit’s power:

Proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven (KOH), Matt 4:16-17: “Repent, for the KOH is near, is available!” Repent, metanoia, means to turn away from sin and turn toward God in faith. How? By a ‘change (meta) of thinking (noia)’ in order to see, and receive, God’s promised rule and reign here and now. To repent is to change from wrong thinking, and thus wrong doing, to see and join what God is doing.

Most Jews at that time missed and rejected what God was doing in Jesus: specifically his offer of God’s Kingdom, to enter and live the life of the future KOH here and now. Their rejection of Jesus and his message led to him being killed, because he didn’t meet their expectation of a Messiah who would drive out the oppressive Roman occupation. The Jewish Messiah would establish God’s Kingdom by military victory over Israel’s enemies. Jesus did it differently! His view of the KOH was that God’s future rule and reign was breaking in, was being inaugurated, in his person and ministry.

The Jews used ‘heaven’ as a synonym for ‘God’, so ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ meant the same thing. And ‘heaven’ was not empty space ‘way up there’ beyond the ozone layer. It meant God’s promised Rule & Reign present and active in real life by the power of his invisible Spirit. The KOH that Jesus’ proclaimed was not outwardly dramatic as in military might, but spiritually present in the power of God’s saving love. God can be present and active right beside us, but unless we change our seeing and thinking we won’t recognize and experience it. We’ll miss it; oppose it; even try to kill it!

Forms KOH Community, Matt 4:18-22: “Come, follow me, and I will make you to fish people.” Jesus called people from various occupations to follow him, and be formed in his community, to ‘fish’ the world into God’s Kingdom. He first called fishermen and thus he would make them into fishers of people; i.e. he turns our daily occupation into our life-long Kingdom vocation (our calling). The call to follow, be formed, and to fish, included all who responded to his KOH proclamation, from all walks of life, at varying levels of ‘following’.

His express purpose was to embody his mission and message in his revolutionary KOH movement (community), believing it was the renewed Israel (he chose 12 apostles to symbolize the 12 patriarchs of Israel) of the new Exodus into the promised land of the KOH.

Demonstrates the KOH, Matt 4:23-25: Jesus goes everywhere ‘teaching… preaching… and healing…” – the words, the works and the wonders of the KOH.

Here we have Matthew’s summary picture of Jesus defeating Israel’s enemy – Satan’s kingdom of sin, sickness, demons, death, pain, poverty and injustice – by the Spirit’s power. This echoes Moses’ 10 plagues defeating Pharaoh’s top 10 gods by the finger of God (Ex 8:19). The new Moses delivers Israel out of Egypt by miracles, signs and wonders. And “large crowds” – a great diversity of people from all over, including Gentiles – flocked to him, and followed him in his new Exodus of the KOH.

Introduction to The Sermon the Mount

Matt 5 to 7 is the inaugural speech of King Jesus to his ‘citizens’ who gather to him. His theme is how to receive and live the eternal life of the future Rule and Reign of God here and now in the present. Simply put, he teaches human flourishing. He answers questions like: What is the good life? Who lives the good life? And who is truly a good person? How do we become good persons? Jesus sums it up in his use of ‘the two ways’ in Matt 7:13-14, the easy, broad, popular route is the way of life that leads to destruction, and there’s the more challenging narrow way that leads to life – the life God intended – God’s eternal quality and kind of life that we can enter and live here and now.

To accurately understand what Jesus was teaching we must apply a key principle of interpretation (‘hermeneutics’): what did his words first mean to Jesus’ hearers and Matthew’s readers in their context? Then we can apply that meaning to us today in our context. If we don’t follow this method we will impose our meaning on the text. This principle will guide us throughout this series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“When he saw the crowds, he went up a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying…” (5:1). Having begun the new Exodus out of Satan’s kingdom, King Jesus is the new Moses going up a mountainside, as Moses went up Sinai to receive and bring Torah. Jesus sits down to teach just as Moses then taught God’s Covenant – God’s revealed will for human flourishing. I.e. Jesus brings, teaches and fulfills The New Covenant promised by the Hebrew prophets (see Jeremiah 31:27-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28). Jesus speaks the living words God puts in his mouth, fulfilling Deuteronomy 18:18. Furthermore, Matthew’s five teaching sections, the Messianic Torah, has an ‘inclusio’ of three chapters at the start (5 to 7) and at the end (23 to 25). So, Matt 5:1 and the “blessed be’s” are echoed and contrasted in Matt 23:1-2 and the “woe be’s” (read and compare). To “sit and teach” (5:1) is to sit in “Moses’ seat” (23:2), having authority to teach Torah as the Scribes and Pharisees did. BUT the new young rabbi from Nazareth had direct authority from God as the new Moses, not like the teachers of The Law whose authority came from relying on the interpretations of other rabbis when they taught (see Matt 7:28-29).

Matthew draws a distinction between “the crowds” and “disciples.” The crowds flocked to Jesus from all over, mostly due to the healings and miracles (4:23-25). But the disciples – who stood out from the crowds – followed him for teaching and formation in the Life (new covenant) of the KOH. The word ‘disciple’ meant a ‘disciplined learner’, a student or apprentice of their master. Disciples followed Jesus, lived with him to learn from him, to do what he did, to teach
what he taught. In short, to become like him. “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying…” Are you part of the crowd or are you a disciple of Jesus who draws nearer, who actually follows, who submits to his teachings? Go beyond coming to Jesus for what you can get out of him and commit your whole life to following him, to be a ‘disciplined leaner’ – learning from Jesus daily how to live your life as he would if he were you – living The Life God intended.

There is evidence that the Early Church used this body of teaching, The Sermon on the Mount, as a ‘catechism’ for new believers. As we go through these teachings we will appreciate it’s value as a discipling or training ‘manual’ for followers of Jesus – hence my motivation in teaching this series.