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The Empty Bat Signal

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

Image result for bat signalJesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.

Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.

Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.

But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.

Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].

In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.

Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.

Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].

The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.

When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].

Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?

KCS

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Loophole Adultery

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32

Woman And Man Wearing Brown Jackets Standing Near TreeEven though it seems like the topic has switched to marriage and divorce, Jesus is still addressing the command not to commit adultery. In addressing each of the commandments, He gives multiple levels of information, because He knows the human heart and our tendency to ask, But what if…? scenarios.

The sin of adultery starts with lustful eyes. It continues with the hands and the rest of the physical body following suit. And the struggle with this unchecked sin continues through the rest of adult life.

There were those who wanted to walk the spiritual line. They wanted God’s blessing, or at least not not to be punished by Him, so they tried to cover their adultering ways within legal limits.

Marriage and divorce.

If they were married to the woman they lusted after, then their actions weren’t breaking the law. And, if they were free to divorce the woman whenever they felt like it and marry someone else–and repeat the process over and over again–then they would never be considered adulterers in human terms because they were keeping the law.

But Jesus lets them know that no such loophole existed. God still saw this practice as full-fledged adultery. In fact, the divorce certificate was never God’s idea to begin with. Moses allowed the people to divorce because their hearts were too hard to accept God’s design of one man and one woman for life [Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8].

So why the harsh warnings about the divorced woman being labelled an adulteress and becoming off-limits? Aren’t both the man and the woman who divorce in the wrong?

Absolutely.

But the woman didn’t have any say in this cultural climate. The men made all the decisions–except, of course, if the wife herself was the one who chose to be unfaithful to the marriage. So Jesus is bringing marriage back to the foundation that it was always meant to be built on–love.

Number one: no one should marry unless they can commit to live with their chosen spouse for the rest of their lives.

Number two: no one should divorce, because they should so love God and each other as human beings that they don’t want any harm to come to the other person [Malachi 2:16; Matthew 1:19].

As it was, men were running around marrying for sport, and women were being treated like legal prostitutes. And Jesus told them to stop. God saw their hearts. He knew their sinful ways. And now He was trying to tighten their understanding of the intent of the law so that people would stop sinning against one another through the holy covenant of marriage.

Our world today doesn’t even bat an eye at marriage of all kinds and divorce for any reason. But God’s Word never changes [Numbers 23:10; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 1:25; James 1:17]. It’s still just as wrong today as it was from the beginning.

As Christians, we need to steel our marital resolve with the commitment to love for life. A commitment that starts with guarding our eyes, minds and dating practices right now.

Are you committed to love one spouse for life? Are you praying for this future-someone even now? Are you guarding yourself out of your love and respect for the man or woman that God has for you?

KCS

Keeping Short Accounts

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26

Money, Bills, Calculator, Save, Savings, TaxesAnd Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Though we should keep short accounts with everyone, this time the subject is our dealings with non-believers.

Whatever the spiritual difference we may have with others, God’s grace does not exonerate us from misdealings with the world. Whether business or personal affairs, all should be done as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7]. In so doing, we bring glory and honor to God and may win some to His saving grace [1 Peter 2:12].

So first of all, we should do everything in our power not to end up in a legal situation. Obey policies and procedures of our workplace. Don’t slander, gossip, lie, steal, accept bribes or otherwise act corruptly [Exodus 20:15-16 & 23:8; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:16; Proverbs 17:23 & 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:9; James 4:11]. Pay back our monetary debts and give people the things that belong to them [Romans 13:8].

But if we do find ourselves in a situation where we have wronged an unbeliever, we need to do everything we can to settle the matter without court arbitration. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions–whether knowingly or unknowingly wrong–and make restitutions for them. When we can be honest, act in integrity and swallow our pride. We can submit ourselves to whatever consequences befit the situation.

But if we try to distort honesty, if we pervert integrity and act pridefully, then we will surely have to stand trial in the world’s courts. Then, the consequences for our actions will be so much worse.

Whether we choose to settle the issue out of court or in court, we will still have to make our wrong right. But settling in court may mean that we are subject to more severe penalties than just correcting the misdeed.

Do you already have a job? Do you do your job with honesty and integrity that brings glory to God? Do you keep short accounts with everyone, but especially your unbelieving coworkers?

KCS

God Doesn’t Backspace

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18

Image result for backspaceIn His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?

And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?

Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.

The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.

Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.

As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.

The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?

KCS

Sticks and Stones

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Matthew 5:10-12

Image result for sticks and stonesIt seems a contradiction to be extremely joyful while being persecuted. Yet, despite the trials of life and the adversity of fellow human beings, when we are filled with righteousness and living it, the joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We know by faith that the righteousness of Christ redeems us from death, reconciling us to God.

But those who deny God, don’t understand this joy in all things, this peace that passes understanding. It perplexes and incenses them, incites them to mistrust, and even hate, those who live by faith in Christ.

Even in this we can be extremely joyful, understanding that this life is temporary. And that by trying to save and promote ourselves in this temporary life, we lose out on eternal life [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24].

It’s not just a cliche saying about sticks and stones. When we are persecuted, sticks and stones may truly break our bones. But we don’t have to let the insults and lies and persecution hurt us spiritually. We can find rest in Christ. We can accept the peace He gives. We can fix our eyes on the Lord our salvation. And we can take extreme joy in knowing that we join a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–who lived and died by faith [Hebrews 12:1].

Are you facing difficult times because of your faith in God? Do others insult you or give you a hard time because you live by God’s Word? Take heart, Jesus has overcome this world [John 16:33]. Cast all your cares on Him and find rest [1 Peter 5:7].

KCS

Come Simply

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25

Image result for empty handThe disciples followed Jesus simply because He called them. While He taught in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and at open air gatherings during the week, many others came to follow Jesus because of the miracles He performed.

In these verses we see that almost all of the inhabitants of the original Promised Land had representatives following Jesus’ ministry. Strangely missing from the list of followers, though, is Samaria. Another mixed-culture people group looked down on by the orthodox Jews of the south. No doubt Jesus noted their absence and, out of His love for them, willfully passed through the taboo region, bringing them the good news [John 4].

Medical care in the Roman Empire would have included herbal remedies, some doctors and surgeons, folk-practices, superstitions and temple rites. Complete and immediate healing was more than anyone could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did.

He preached. And He healed all who were brought to Him. No ailment was too great. And none was too small.

And for this simple ministry, the masses followed Him. He didn’t have high tech visuals or catchy music. He didn’t offer amusement or entertainment or interest groups. He didn’t promise wealth or prosperity or power or protection. Because all of that is false. All of it insincere, destructible and corruptible. All of it will pass away.

Even the physical healings people received from Jesus were temporary–everyone who experienced supernatural healing still aged and died naturally. Because this life is temporary. This world is not our home [Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12]. We’re only passing through.

But the word of the Lord–the good news of His kingdom come–will stand forever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25].

Have you simply come to Jesus? Are you drawn by the mere truth of Him? Or does something else court your affections?

KCS

Born of Water and Spirit

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” Matthew 3:16-17

Image result for flying doveOne of the amazing things about Jesus is that he never walked into a situation and announced, HeyI’m God’s Son, I’ll handle this; or, I’m in charge now, do what I say; or, Bow to me my servants or be crushed. Neither did he start spouting his resume, touting all of the messianic prophecies that he’d personally fulfilled.

On the contrary, God the Father announced the birth of His Son through the star, the angels and the kings, perfectly harmonizing every prophecy in its fulfillment. And, here again, God announces Jesus’ Sonship through a dove and a voice from the opening heavens [Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 17:5; John 12:28; 2 Peter 1:17-18].

John also attested to Jesus’ Godhood.

As for Jesus’ testimony about himself, he simply lived the life that perfectly accorded with the will of God the Father. He didn’t have to study the prophetic scriptures to know how to live, he just lived–everything about his humanity synced to God despite having complete freewill just as we all do.

The Spirit of the Lord was on him and reigned in him [Isaiah 11:2]. And this pleased God.

Here Jesus models to the world what it is to be born again of God. Not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual one.

We too can be born of God–born again of water, aka baptism, and the Holy Spirit [John 3:3-6]. Then we are adopted as His children [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5-7; Ephesians 1:8] and, living by the Spirit, please God.

Are you born again? Have you found new life–passing through the water of baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit? Is your will syncing to God’s?

KCS