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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.
In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.
Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.
So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.
Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.
God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].
You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.
Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.
We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?
“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
In 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?
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 4:12-17
When Satan didn’t succeed in tempting Jesus, it appears he turned his attentions to attacking Jesus’ cousin, John. Maybe now he could force God’s Son to out Himself as the Messiah. Surely the Savior of the world would storm the prison and miraculously overthrow the government, decimating its army to free one of His beloved human beings.
But it’s still not God’s appointed time.
It was, however, God’s time to send His Son as a light to all nations.
So instead, Jesus moved to Capernaum from which most of His earthly ministry was soon to be based. This is the promised blessing for these two tribal territories whose trade routes connected Israel to the Mediterranean.
Capernaum was a sizable town in the Galilee region. Because of the Assyrian captivity, the people there were of mixed-culture descent–returning Jews and the pagan peoples that moved into the area during the captivity. Influence from all of the Gentile religions greatly diminished Jewish worship in Galilee.
They had become spiritually dark.
But Isaiah had foretold that God would send His Son as a light into this spiritual darkness [Isaiah 9:1-2]. The reason? Because it was always God’s intention to redeem the whole world, not just Israel [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Acts 3:25].
Satan intended to silence John’s message, but God’s purposes prevailed. Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near [Matthew 3:2], and stepped into the way prepared by John’s ministry.
A torch that he passed to His disciples. A torch that has passed down through the generations and come to us. God’s light is still for everyone on the planet. His redemption for everyone who has, does and will ever live. The way has been prepared for you and I to take up the message.
Will you embark on the journey of the eternal torch? Making disciples of all nations? Teaching them to obey God’s Word? And baptizing them in the name of the Triune Godhead [Matthew 28:16-20]?
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.'” Matthew 3:7-10
So a quick introduction to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, basically both were elitist Jewish groups with strong political impact, though from different angles. The Pharisees were a legalistic synagogue party, cultural separatists that kept the Law of Moses to the letter. Whereas, the Pharisees represented the wealthy and sophisticated Jews, politically minded, with their sights on the temple and, therefore, mostly located in Jerusalem and the temple vicinity. Both groups were relatively small in number but big of opinion and influence.
It’s no surprise, then, that this group came snooping when all of Israel turned out to hear John’s message, confess their sins and be baptized by him in the Jordan river. Anyone who drew masses of people away from the Pharisee and Sadducee influence was a threat.
John’s words sound abrading, but actually they’re prophetic. How so? Each of John’s phrases here are later spoken by either Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
Jesus refers to the religious leaders as vipers [Matthew 12:34 & 23:33]. He warns of the coming wrath [Matthew 23:33] as does the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul [Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:10]. He speaks of the good fruit produced in a life after true repentance [Acts 26:20], and he warns that failure to bear good fruit will result in being cut off and thrown into the fire [Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2-6].
So before Jesus even started his earthly ministry, God has put the words of Christ in the mouth of his forerunner.
Now don’t misunderstand, God is not saying that their Abrahamic lineage is unimportant. But God is letting the Pharisees know that though they have kept the whole law, they have missed the point–the greatest commandments to love God and one another [Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34]. He is also letting the Sadducees know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God [James 4:4].
Darkness doesn’t perceive light the way that light perceives darkness [John 1:5]. People, who have been born into death and are being raised by its precepts, have a hard time understanding what true life is.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try anyway. We who are the light of the world [Matthew 5:14]. We who have accepted the way, the truth and the life [John 14:6]. We should burn with the grace and mercy of God to speak His love and light and life to this lost and dying world.
Does your life speak light? Does your life speak eternal life into others?
“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6
John was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.
The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.
John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.
John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!
And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.
Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.
Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'” Matthew 2:1-2
Did you know that there were two Bethlehems in Israel? One northwest of Nazareth and this one, south of Jerusalem, where Jesus was born in Judea.
About 540 years after the first exiles returned to Judah in southern Israel and just 40 years since the founding of the Roman Empire, King Herod sits on the throne that rightly belongs to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph’s, family line. King Herod knows that he doesn’t belong there. His authority is precariously based on human political alliances, including the Jewish religious leaders of his day.
So his panic over the Magi’s news that the real King of Judah has been born is a very real, world-rocking, desperate panic.
But how about those Magi? They came from east of Jerusalem which itself is on the western edge of what is considered the Middle East. So the Magi could have come from several of the other Middle Eastern countries–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran–or the Far East–India, China, Mongolia, et al.
They were astrologers, men who studied the stars for understanding and for prophetic signs. And God set a very unique star in the sky to commemorate the birth of His Son, Jesus the Messiah [Numbers 24:17; Jeremiah 23:5]. The Magi saw His star while they were yet in their eastern home countries, and they followed it, like a heavenly GPS, right to Jerusalem where Jesus had been born. Sailors have long navigated by starlight, but they relied on star charts of known celestial bodies. Whereas the Magi saw a new astrological phenomena and had to know its significance.
Except they did know its significance. They knew to ask Herod–the usurping King of the Jews–where the new baby, true King of the Jews was. And they knew that they, even being Gentiles, needed and wanted to worship the true King of the Jews.
How can that be? Except for the eternity that is in each of our hearts [Ecclesiastes 3:11] and the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives drawing us back to our Creator God [John 6:44]. These were not men who grew up in Israel studying the messianic prophecies to recognize His coming. No, those in Israel didn’t recognize their Messiah. These were possibly sorcerers and fortune tellers from pagan societies who still possessed a seed of Godly understanding.
Every culture on the planet has that seed. The Spirit of God has preserved some witness of Himself in every culture in the history of the world–Creation myths, flood legends, dragon tales and belief in an afterlife to name a few. The Creation itself testifies to the truth of God [Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20]. Those who hunger and thirst for the truth will seek God while He may be found and find rest for their souls [Isaiah 55:6-7; Matthew 5:6 & 11:29].
Are you absolutely convince of the truth of God? Seek to understand Him while you have breath. Study His Creation to know Him personally. Find rest for your weary, wayward soul. Then join the proclamation of His truth.