It’s been quite a while since I posted a weekly devotional. Apologies to you if you have missed them, but finding the time to do them well was difficult for a stretch. With that, I’d like us to pick up where we left off in the Sermon on the Mount (I’m sure you remember right 😉?).
When we moved to be pastors here in Melba (almost twenty years ago!), it was the first time Jessica and I had lived in a home together with a yard. Previously we had lived in a college apartment, and two dorm apartments as we served as dorm parents over the women’s dormitory at Barclay College. Having a larger space for our rapidly growing six-month-old twins was very nice. As they have gotten older, having a room for each of them has been a blessing, especially considering Ethan’s autism. A backyard has been a great place for jumping on a trampoline and swinging on a swing, even swimming in a pool. Yet one thing that is a difficulty in having our own yard is the weeds. Goat heads, crabgrass, and seemingly endless other infestations are provided by the arid Idaho climate, and it seems that no matter what one sprays, or how many weeds one pulls, there is always another one waiting to take root!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus initially walks His disciples through a series of blessings (a path to salvation as we examined), then he pronounces how His followers are to bring something powerfully different to the world (like salt and light to a dark and tasteless place). Finally, we saw how Jesus said that there is a righteousness that is required, a holiness that seems unattainable, but that He has come to fulfill the Law that grants it, and thus, as Jesus lived the perfect life as the perfect sacrifice, He is able to give the gift of righteousness to all who believe.
What happens next is interesting, convicting, and easy to misunderstand (Matthew 5:21-37). I remember reading it in high school and wondering “Who could ever live up to all of this?”. What Jesus does next is begin to open up the commandments in a way that exposes the real issue with humanity.
Don’t murder? Jesus says hatred of another and unchecked anger are equal in sinfulness to actually taking a life!
Don’t commit adultery? Jesus says that looking with lust is equal in guilt and sin to the actual act of adultery!
Divorce? Swearing oaths? What seemed like negotiable acts all of the sudden are explained to be very important to God. And let’s not even begin to talk about how we treat our enemies or get justice!
Is it true? What I felt in high school all those years ago? “Who could ever live up to this?”. Yes, and no. If one takes Matthew 5 (and the rest of the Sermon) and merely chalks it up to more legal commands to be followed, adding to the 600+ already in the Old Testament, then it becomes a burden no one could bear. But if you turn your heart to Jesus and listen well, you might just understand that He is revealing one of the most important truths we need to know.
The Law (or laws) of God are not merely steps to be obeyed, but a mirror to reveal the heart, and Jesus just turned up the magnification in that mirror a hundredfold!
I suppose it is very doable for a man or woman to live their whole life without ever murdering another or committing adultery. But, to live without hate or unchecked anger, to never lust or covet? That is something else entirely.
If you read these commands and respond with “I need to be better! I need to try harder!”, then you are correct to a point but also missing the point entirely. Many have said, “anyone who believes mankind is basically good should try to live without sin and see just how flawed we are”.
You see many people had read the commandments of the Old Testament and negotiated ways to follow them on the surface. Pharisees were well known for pushing this modification of behavior to live in a way that was right before God. While it seems noble and even good, it is actually dangerous.
Did you know what I did with the weeds in my yard all those early years? I mowed over them! Genius right? In having a yard, if you mow over the weeds, you can make them blend in, and from a distance, your yard will look nice. But we all know (and I learned) that if a weed is chopped off at the top, its roots are still growing deeper and deeper, and no matter how often you mow them down, the good things you want to grow will suffer while the roots of the weeds remain!
Jesus is opening up the Law, and showing that the heart of the matter is the heart. Outward obedience is an illusion because the seed that leads to murder is the same one that leads to hatred. The seed that leads to adultery is the same one that sprouts weeds of lust.
When we hear the words of Jesus in explaining the heart of the Law, we should cry out “have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). The Words of Jesus are not meant to conform us to become nice little boys and girls, but rather to see the seed of death within our hearts and ask the Lord of all Creation to give us a new heart that yields to Him. Only then can we be righteous, and only then can we triumph over sin!
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV
May we be such a people!