The opposition against Jesus was growing. In the previous section, the Pharisees began to accuse Jesus of healing by the power of the devil (see here). He realized that His time was growing short, and so He was even more urgent in sending His message to all of the Jews. Instead of going alone, He now sent out six teams of disciples to also preach His message of the kingdom. In this way, He was able to successfully cover the entire region of Galilee in a short time.
He chose twelve of His disciples and commissioned them as “apostles” (literally, “one who was sent”).a He gave them His own authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick, and then sent them out two by two.
“The Twelve were disciples before they became apostles. That is, they were learners in the school of Christ before they were commissioned as apostles and sent forth as couriers of the King, to proclaim that the long-looked-for kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh.” – H.A. Ironside2
“Power is the ability to accomplish a task, and authority is the right to do it, and Jesus gave both to His apostles.” – Warren Wiersbe6
Many people talk about being religious. Some are proud and some are humble. There are devout men and women of all religions, who have sacrificed more than I can even imagine.
The world religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam dominate the news headlines.
Some look at the religions in the world as the best thing about ourselves. “Their faith makes them a better person” is a common philosophy, regardless of what they believe.
Some look at religion as the biggest problem in the world. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, once said that “faith is one of the world’s great evils”, and that “religion is a force for evil”. Many others have looked through the religious disasters of history (e.g. crusades, persecutions, terrorism, etc.) and concluded that religion is a problem, not a help to society.
Jesus was often called a “Rabbi” or a “Teacher”, indicating that He was a respected religious leader of His day. He lived in the deeply religious society of first-century Israel. He taught devotion to His followers and commended them for their faith. Yet in the end, His greatest enemies were also the religious leaders who tried to destroy Him.
But when He talked about religion, He cared little for the customs and traditions of His day. He cared only for what God had taught! When Jesus taught about faith, it wasn’t enough that they had faith. They needed to have faith in Him!
It wasn’t the presence of their faith. It was the object of their faith.
It wasn’t enough to trust their traditions. They needed to trust Him!
When Jesus looked at the religious landscape of His day, he responded, not with respect, nor with anger, but with compassion. He saw a nation of people who were lost in their own religion. They were so caught up in their customs that were missing God.
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
He described the people as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Their religion had failed them. The religion of their day was totally unequipped to address the problems that these people faced. And more importantly, the problems were only an illustration of the main failure of their religion. Their religion was unable to show them how to get to God.
The narrative of Matthew 9 shows five scenes where Jesus met with the harassed and helpless. Their religion had failed them.
But as He showed, the important thing is not about being religious, it is about knowing Jesus Christ!
Matthew 9:18-38 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.
As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
“You need to clean yourself up before coming to Jesus.”
“God only likes you if you are good person.”
These are popular thoughts. This belief even makes its way into the church — that God only wants you if you are acting nice. Clean yourself up. Act respectable. Then, and only then, can you get close to God.
But Jesus says the opposite. He did not come to congratulate the righteous. He came to save the sinners!
In other words, Jesus does not come for those who are acting good. He came those who realize that they need Him. For those who know that they can’t save themselves.
Jesus showed that the He has power over sin. He is God, and therefore He can forgive the broken man as easily as He can heal his body. Nothing is too great for Him!
And then, Jesus demonstrated the type of people whom He would call. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, He came to one of the most hated of all people, a tax gatherer. This was a local Jewish merchant who had contracted out to the oppressing Romans to gather their taxes for them. As part of his job, the tax gatherer was allowed to increase the required taxes, and even to invent new taxes as he wanted. These men were renowned for being liars and cheats. This tax gatherer, Matthew, had set up his office at the seaside, taxing the fishermen, their boats, and their fish.
Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth and simply says, “Follow me.” Matthew immediately left everything behind to follow Jesus Christ!
Matthew then threw a great feast at his house, giving a chance for his fellow tax collectors to meet the Lord. But not all are happy. The religious leaders, the Pharisees were indignant that this teacher would associate with such wicked people!
But Jesus has already shown that a holy lifestyle is not what is important to Him (see here). Instead, He came to show mercy to those who truly need Him. It is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy.
Even John the Baptist’s disciples questioned His behavior. Doesn’t He know that this is the time of fasting? Jesus answered that there will be a time for fasting, but He has come to bring in the new kingdom. The old rituals are not compatible with the new kingdom in the same way that you cannot put a new patch on old clothes, or new wine into old wineskins. It is time for something new!
Matthew 9:9-17 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
I often wonder what life was like during some of the great moments in history. What were they thinking when these big events were going on? What was it like for Washington’s soldiers at Yorktown, at the end of American Revolution, to see British General Cornwallis surrender? What was it like for the Civil War soldiers at Appomattox, to see General Lee surrender to Grant?
Other moments must have been terrible. September 17, 1862 is known as the bloodiest day in American History, where over 22,000 men were killed or wounded at Antietam. And that was only one battle! Many of the atrocities of history, such as the Medieval tortures in Europe, the African slave trade, and the Nazi concentration camps, are horrible to even think about. Even Jesus Himself burst into tears when He foresaw the Romans destroying Jerusalem (see here and here).
Other events seem minor at the time, and it is only when you look back through history that you can fully appreciate their significance. In 1492, the king and queen of newly-united Spain agreed to support an ambitious explorer, hoping to establish a trade route with China by sailing west. Thus began the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, and opened up the age of exploration, conquest, and genocide in the New World. On March 10, 1876, an inventor used a new device to actually send his voice, through electrical wires, and summon his assistant. Thus began the first telephone call by inventor Alexander Graham Bell.
Matthew’s gospel account tells of a very significant event in the life of Jesus Christ. No one knew that this day would be significant as they hurried to hear this new teacher in town. It was winter,a and Jesus was staying with Peter and Andrew, teaching out of His house, and attracting massive crowds.b
All members of the social strata came to hear Him that day. The curious ones came to listen to His words. The poor came to hear the good news. The sick came to be healed. The educated and religious came to learn more about this new teacher. How did He know so much about the Holy Scriptures? Was He speaking the truth? Should they support Him or oppose Him?c Soon, the house was full. Listeners crowded into the central room, gathered into the entryway, and even spilled out into the street.
But as Jesus was teaching, dust begin to fall from the ceiling. Everyone in the crowded room could hear the rumbling from the roof above as they to look up. Suddenly, four hands pulled the roof tiles away, filling the room with bright sunlight. Before anyone could react, these four men sent a stretcher down through the hole in the roof. There, directly in front of Jesus, they lowered their paralyzed friend.
After the initial shock, the murmurs began across the room. How could these men interrupt their teacher like this! How would they repair the damage to the house? What would Jesus do?
But there were even more sinister comments in the room. Why bother the teacher with this hopeless case? This man was paralyzed, so God must really be punishing him! He must have been especially wicked! Didn’t they know he was getting what he deserved? How dare they interrupt this important teaching from God’s word!
But Jesus took interest in the man and his four friends from above. As Jesus approached the stretcher, the crowd anxiously watched for how Jesus would heal him. Would He touch the man, or simply speak a word? Hopefully, He would heal him quickly so that He could get back to their own questions.
But instead, Jesus simply walked up to the paralyzed man and said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” No healing. Just words.
The crowd gasped, stunned. How could Jesus say that! He healed people — that made Him interesting. But to say that He could forgive sins — only God could do that!
The educated scribes knew exactly what was going on. Jesus had just claimed God’s authority! This was blasphemy!
Jesus looked at the stunned crowd, with their mouths gaping. He knew how scandalous this statement was to them. But Jesus could forgive sins because He was God! He was bringing in the new kingdom of Heaven. In His kingdom, He will heal the sick and the broken (see here), He is greater than nature’s might (see here), and He is greater than the supernatural (see here)!
And even more than the horrible effects of nature, Jesus can heal the horrible effects of sin. We are all broken and separated from God. We have just as much ability to fix our sins as the paralyzed man had to get up and walk away!
And to prove that Jesus had that ability to forgive sins, he told the man to do exactly that — to get up and and go home. The paralyzed man was suddenly well! He got up out of the stretcher and walked away!
Matthew 9:1-8 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Sometimes, the most difficult lessons are when you think that you are finally safe. You come through a valley of trouble and emerge on the other side, bruised, but glad to be still alive. But then, few things are tougher than that moment when you realize — the battle isn’t over yet!
We don’t know what Jesus and His disciples were thinking, but they had just finished a very long day. Jesus was teaching the crowds, facing opposition from the religious leaders, and enduring rejection from the people. Once night fell, He and His followers set sail across the Sea of Galilee. Exhausted, Jesus went to the back of the boat and fell asleep, only to be suddenly awakened by the frantic disciples. A sudden storm was overwhelming the boat and they were sinking! Jesus stood up, rebuked the storm, and then scolded His faithless disciples. The storm stopped, and He showed that He is king over anything nature can throw at him! (see here).
It is now late into the night as they pull onto the opposite shore.a But the quiet stillness of the evening seashore is shattered by the screams of men running at them. The two men are insane and very violent, with superhuman strength. Their naked bodies are covered with scars from where they cut themselves, and they may have been dragging broken chains from where the townspeople tried to subdue them.
I can’t even imagine the shock and terror from the disciples as they come to this scene! They have already survived the storm in order to get here, but now Jesus has another lesson from them. He was greater than the storm, and He is about to show them that He is also greater than the supernatural forces coming at him!
Matthew 8:28-34 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
I went for a walk this afternoon, hoping to finish all of today’s exercise before the expected storm would hit. The weather forecast predicted severe thunderstorms with a chance of a tornado. The streets are quiet as everyone is inside, getting ready for the weather that will come upon us.
One of my favorite movies used to be The Perfect Storm. The movie tells about the perfect convergence of a tropical hurricane with a Canadian system, leading to the devastating storm above the North Atlantic ocean. The story follows fishermen who chose to brave the storm in order to fill their hold with the needed catch. The movie ends with the total destruction of the ship and its crew.
We live safely inland. But even here, over 100 miles from the coast, there is nothing like a storm to show how powerless we are. With all of our great technology, we are totally at the mercy of a passing hurricane, tornado, or thunderstorm.
Most people know of the scene in the life of Jesus Christ where He and His disciples face a devastating storm. After a long day of teaching, Jesus set out across the Sea of Galilee with his twelve disciples. At least four of the men in the boat are seasoned fishermen, having been raised on this lake. But that night a sudden storm blew in off the mountains, nearly submerging the boat and leaving its crew expecting to die.
Where was Jesus? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. His followers frantically woke him up, expecting Him to do something before they all die. We don’t know what they expected Jesus to do, but they certainly did not dream what He would do next.
“Silence!” Jesus said, “Be still!” At that command, the storm stopped and the water was immediately still. He then turned to His awestruck disciples, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Matthew shows these scenes as part of his portrait of the King of Kings. He has already shown that Jesus is king over sickness and injury, and He will help all who come to Him (see here). This section of Matthew’s Gospel account shows more about Jesus Christ. He also rules over nature; the storm and the seas obey Him. He is beyond our expectations. Jesus is king, and He expects His people to follow Him with total commitment and complete trust.
Matthew 8:18-27 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
It must have been exciting to see Jesus perform His miracles!
With one touch, He would heal the sick, restore the handicapped, cause the blind to see, and raise the dead!
Jesus did His miracles to show that He was God. But also, He used His miracles to give a preview of His kingdom!
Jesus has just finished teaching about His kingdom, and now it is time to demonstrate.
He already taught that happiness is not for the wealthy, but for the destitute (see here). Now, he demonstrates with the lowest, most destitute of society — a leper. This man has been an outcast, unable to feel the touch of a loved one, nor to join them in worshipping their God.
But this lowly leper came to Jesus in simple trust and He left him completely clean!
Jesus already taught that the Jewish law is really a relationship with God (see here). Now, he uses a foreigner to demonstrate the importance of that relationship. The Roman soldier came to Jesus on behalf of his injured servant, showing a greater trust in Him than any of the native Jews!
This soldier knew that he was not worthy of Jesus’ presence, but he also knew that Jesus has total command over sickness and injury. He need only speak the word and his servant will be healed!
Jesus already taught to not be anxious about the things of this life, but to trust totally in God our Father (see here). Now, he demonstrates why you can trust Him as he heals those come to Him, starting with the Peter’s mother-in-law.
These people are not the top of society. These are the outcasts. The foreigners. The invisible. The ones without a voice.
But Jesus does not turn away any who come to Him. All who come to Him are healed.
Matthew 8:1-17 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
I grew up with Joe. We went to the same church and were involved in the same activities. We had the same children’s Bible Club leaders, the same Sunday School teachers, and the same youth leaders. But as we went through high school, something changed. Joe’s parents stopped making him go to church, so he stopped coming. Joe went on with his life, but Christianity was a thing of the past for him.
Laura was an active member of our college fellowship group. She was energetic, outgoing, and always telling everyone about Jesus. I lost touch with Laura after graduation and it was not until many years later that I found her on social media. She was no longer interested in the things of God and had chosen instead to live a lifestyle of active rebellion against Him.
Craig was a nice guy. We would see Craig and his family at church regularly and he always knew the right words to challenge and encourage you. But it was not until his marriage started to fall apart that we realized that it was all an act. Craig knew how to act one way at church on Sundays and another way with his family and friends.
We encounter people like Joe, Laura, and Craig all the time. We may be like them ourselves. We may be like Joe, where Christianity has been forced on us and we have no desire to know God for ourselves. We may be like Laura, full of excitement for God but lacking in enough depth to weather great temptations in her life. Or finally, we may be like Craig, where Christianity has become a comfortable lifestyle, but there is no desire to obey God if things do not go our way.
What does Jesus have to say to people like these? What does He have to say to people like us, when we only let Him in on our surface and refuse for Him to change our hearts?
Jesus concludes His great Sermon on the Mount with a call for action. He has been showing His disciples what it means to truly follow Him, and to be part of the Kingdom of God! He has shown that our happiness is not in what we have but in how poor we are in His sight (see here). He has shown what it really means to keep the law on God’s terms (see here). He has shown God’s true standards for anger, purity, marriage, honesty, and revenge. He has shown what true worship looks like (with good deeds and prayer) and what it means to really trust Him with both our valuables and our anxiety. He has shown how we need to confront each other and yet guard ourselves (see here).
But it is one thing to talk like you are part of God’s kingdom, it is another thing to act like you are part of the God’s kingdom. It is the difference between a true disciple of Jesus Christ and one who only pretends to be His disciple. And it is the difference between life and death.
Jesus ends with warnings. Beware!
Beware the easy way that leads to death!
Beware the false teachers who would mislead you!
Beware of fooling yourself, and not knowing Him!
Beware of the destruction that will come if you refuse to obey Him!
Matthew 7:13-27 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
This is a popular saying in our culture, and it is frequently used to defend a person’s actions, decisions, or lifestyle against criticism. Practically any type of verbal criticism is considered to be “judging”:
Gossip against a neighbor for guilty-looking behavior
Guessing a person’s motivation for their actions
Preaching against a specific sin
Declaring a lifestyle as wrong
Many people who are familiar with Scripture may even refer to Jesus’ words here, in Matthew 7:1, where He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Therefore, shouldn’t we be silent, and not speak against things that we see to be wrong?
Or, should we do as many well-meaning teachers do, and try to explain away Jesus’ words until it no longer applies to us?
Or to put this in another perspective, how can we answer real problems in this world and yet still obey Jesus’ command not to judge?
Jesus calls us to a life that transcends the failures of one another.
Matthew 7:1-12 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
It is the epidemic of our day. It affects men and women, the young and the old, the rich and the poor.
Workers worry about their job. Parents worry about their children. Children worry about the future. Worry can cause sickness, depression, and broken relationships. In its severe forms, worry can cause panic attacks or require medication.
It is personally difficult for me to write a blog post about worry. I would never want to present myself as someone who has no anxiety and has it all figured out. I am benefiting no one if I only come up with “pat answers” that never address real problems.
I have close friends who have struggled greatly with worry and anxiety. Some have been frozen by panic and others have needed medication to manage stress. I have personally experienced the struggle with depression and anxiety for the last several years. I am not here to offer some glib retort about how I am so much better than everyone else.
But Jesus himself taught about worry, and not in sensitive and reassuring terms. Three times He repeats the command, “Don’t be anxious!” This is not a comforting pat on the back, this is a direct command for those who are worrying – stop it! Stop worrying about your food and where it will come from! Stop worrying about your clothes and what you look like to others! Stop worrying about the necessities of life!
There are very few of us who are so destitute that we have no food to eat and literally no clothes to wear. But we have our own anxieties that we all worry about. Will I pass this test? Can I provide for my family? How will I pay the bills? Will my children be safe? Is my sickness serious?
“The truth is, the believer is not immune to worry just because he’s been vaccinated by saving grace.” – Stephen Davey 6
Jesus uses examples from nature in the Sermon on the Mount to address the issue of anxiety. For both of these examples, he reiterates same two lessons: First, remember that God is our father and he will take care of us! Second, we are disobeying God when we don’t trust him!
Jesus repeats the command three times: “Do not be anxious!”
Anyone who is old enough to remember the 1990’s remembers the Beanie Baby craze. The popular toys were small stuffed animals of different kinds and styles. Each Beanie Baby came with its own special name on a heavily protected tag. New styles were released and retired, causing an investment frenzy. Investors predicted that the rarest styles would be worth thousands in only a few years. Some people lost fortunes when the market crashed. Now, Beanie Babies are worth no more than a few cents at a local yard sale.
It is hard to talk about money. The very mention of money causes our mind to follow familiar mental paths: How much do I have? How can I get more? Why does someone else have more than me? Why does someone else have less than me? What can I spend? What should I save?
It is even harder to talk about money when studying the Bible. We have all heard about greedy preachers who used God’s word as a way to make themselves rich. But there are also preachers who have the opposite problem, who refuse to talk about money for fear of offending their listeners.
But Jesus teaches about money, and He is neither greedy nor apologetic. When He addressed this subject during the Sermon on the Mount, he taught about more than money, he taught about treasures.
Your treasure is more than the size of your bank account, your income, or your investments. Jesus does not mention numbers at all! Instead, the issue is what is important to you?
Once again, it is about your treasure.
How secure are your valuables?
Where do you spend your life? What is important to you?
What do you look for in life? Do you lose sight of Jesus Christ?
How important is the dollar? What rules you?
Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
It was late in 1944, during World War II, that the allied troops were pushing their way back through Europe toward Germany. Their efforts were delayed by winter storms, much to the anger of the commander, General George S. Patton. In one of his famous moments, the frustrated general summoned an army chaplain and ordered him to produce a prayer for good weather.
The chaplain finally wrote the prayer and it was distributed to the troops. The weather immediately cleared and Patton gave the chaplain a medal (see here for details).
In that story, General Patton’s brashness is almost comical. But if we look at ourselves, that is often what we think about prayer. We live our lives. We bow our heads in church, and perhaps before meals. But we don’t seriously consider prayer until life stops working and we need help from a higher power.
Lots of people talk about prayer. It has become ingrained in our culture. Even in the Christian church, the very word, “prayer” brings up a host of mental images:
The venerable older woman praying before her bedside
The pastor delivering a lengthy prayer before his Sunday sermon
A quick prayer before a family meal
The classic picture of Jesus praying in the garden (see here).
Even outside of Christianity, many world religions have incorporated prayer as part of their rites. There are the Buddhist prayer wheels, the Hindu mantras, the Muslim prayer beads, and the Jewish Wailing Wall. Even the Catholic Church has candles and the rosary.
It is still common to see someone in a movie or on television attempt to pray when they are really scared. We still occasionally see a popular athlete pray on the sidelines after a game. All of these images bring together some popular thoughts about prayer:
It matters most that you pray, not necessarily to whom you are praying.
Prayer is for the weak.
You pray as a last resort.
Those who pray in public are putting on a religious show.
You need to say a lot of prayers before God will listen to you.
Don’t expect any real answer from God.
How many of these thoughts about prayer are true? What does Jesus say about prayer?
In his novel, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens describes a man who was a perpetual actor. James Steerforth was wealthy, articulate, handsome, and cheerful to everyone he met. But he secretly used his good looks and charm in order manipulate everyone around him. People were only valuable to him for what he could get out of them. In the story, Steerforth ended in complete disaster.
When we look at the New Testament, the Greek word for actor is hypokritēs (ὑποκριτής). The actors in the ancient Greek world would cover their faces with masks, intended to express the feelings and the attitudes of their characters.
But far beyond the direct definition, hypokritēs was also used to describe a person who would go through life as an actor, pretending to like what was popular and not showing their real self. This term for an actor quickly became known in religious circles as one who only pretended to be devout, yet had no real commitment.
We know these actors today by the same word: hypocrites.
Jesus describes hypocrites in His Sermon on the Mount when teaching about good deeds. 15 It is disturbing to read through His warnings about hypocrites. They are not overtly terrible — rather, when we look closely, they can look a lot like us!
“Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue” – John MacArthur 5
Using common examples in in righteous living, Jesus shows how easy it is for us to forget about our good deeds, and to start thinking about ourselves.
Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
After teaching about the law (see here), Jesus next teaches about good deeds. We are expected to do good works when we know Jesus Christ and are following Him (see here). Jesus has already taught that we should let people see our good works so that they can glorify God the Father (see here): 13
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
But when our goal is to build up ourselves in front of others, or to look extra good or spiritual, then something is wrong. God will not reward us for putting on a religious show. Instead, we show ourselves to be hypocrites.
Jesus uses three examples of upright living. These are three activities that we should be doing in our lives, that will either bring us closer to God when done right, or reduce us to worthless hypocrites when done as a show for others.
The three activities that Jesus uses as examples are giving, praying, and fasting, or as one author put it, “What I do with others, what I do with God, and what I do with myself.” 12
I like to watch hockey. Where else can you see people crash into each other at high speeds, regularly, repeatedly, for over an hour every night? And all for the goal to get this tiny, heavy puck into the other team’s net.
One of the tactics of the game is to antagonize the other players. Players use verbal insults, badgering, legal and illegal hits to get their opponents to focus on them instead of the game. When you get your rival angry enough to think about fighting you instead of playing their game, you have a much better chance of winning.
But the same thing happens at every game. The final period ends. The clock runs out and everyone goes home. It is just a game.
In real life, though, it is too easy to get caught up in revenge. When we are insulted, hurt, or otherwise offended, our first thought is to fight back. We need to “get even” for what they did to us.
And the conflict always escalates. You hit them once, they hit you back twice. They hit your arm, you hit their face. We see this on the road every day. One driver is too slow so another driver cuts them off. A small driving mishap can quickly turn into a deadly “road rage” incident.
We assure ourselves that we would never go as far as what we hear about in the news. We could never do the horrible deeds committed by these road warriors! But at our core, we are all like that. We all want revenge when someone hurts us. We all want to see our enemies suffer.
In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been teaching about the law. He did not come to do away with the law. Instead, He has been using illustrations to show that we should hold to a much higher standard than what has been written down (see here).
Now, His final two examples are about revenge and how to treat our enemies.
These are some of Jesus’ most famous words. Even those who don’t know the Bible, who may have no interest in Jesus Christ, tend to know that He said to “love your enemies.” Even if they don’t know what it means, most people have heard the quote to “turn the other cheek.”
These are some of the easiest words to remember, but some of the hardest commands to obey. But what was Jesus saying?
Was He teaching that, like Ghandi, we should use passive resistance?
Was he teaching that we should all be easy targets for any predators that may come
Should we be pacifists? Abandon the police force?
Should we (as many people do) simply ignore what He says?
Jesus teaches that, when confronted by persecution, we need to surrender our rights and to love our enemies.
We all know about little “white lies”, when a small lie seems harmless and the actual truth may not be well received.
Jesus takes time in the middle of His great sermon to talk about honesty.
Jesus has been teaching about the law in the Sermon on the Mount. He showed that God’s law is not simply a list of do’s and don’ts, it is a relationship with Him (see here). He then uses a series of examples to show that there is a much higher standard than the written law if we are to be His followers, and part of His kingdom.
He starts with the example of murder. You cannot say you are a good person, simply because you never murdered anyone. Even hatred, anger, and broken relationships leave you guilty before God (see here).
The next example is adultery. It is not just the physical act of adultery, but any lustful thought leaves you guilty before God (see here).
Jesus follows the example of adultery with the example of divorce. Marriage is holy and honorable before God. It is not to broken by unfaithfulness, nor by divorce. Simple legal proceedings do not entitle you to separate from your spouse, and any such actions leave you guilty of both your own and your spouse’s unfaithfulness (see here).
Jesus then uses the next example to warn His listeners about taking an oath. At a first glance, this is not the example that we would expect to follow. Jesus has been talking about serious issues: murder, adultery, divorce, … now oaths? How can this be as serious as the others?
But taken from another perspective, Jesus is not teaching about rituals but about our character. He is not giving new rules to govern murder but He is teaching that we must show forgiveness. He is not giving new rules to govern adultery but He is teaching that we must show purity. He is not giving new rules to govern marriage but He is teaching that we must show faithfulness.
And finally, He is not giving new rules to govern how to give oaths but He is teaching that we must show honesty.
Matthew 5:33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
There is a lot of talk about marriage in the church. It is a constant subject in pulpits, books, blogs, and social media. Everyone has an opinion about marriage — from philosophers, to musicians, to politicians, to movie stars.
Through all of this talk, we are bombarded with several false myths:
“Marriage exists to make you happy”
“Everyone has the right to marry whomever they want“
“Love is all you need”
“You should leave when your partner no longer makes you happy”
“Half of all marriages end in divorce” (this myth is refuted here)
Unfortunately, the church is often guilty of making things worse. We thunder at the evils of this world, whether it be a new celebrity scandal or the latest political attack from homosexual activists. We are quick to attack the broken world, yet we ignore the broken people that we pass by every day.
In the church, we are glad to lift up a happy, wholesome marriage, but we are too quick to shove them aside when problems arise. When a marriage starts to disintegrate into separation and divorce, we tend to fall to one of the two extremes: we either gloss over the issue, ignoring real problems, or we pronounce judgement on the victims, isolating them when they need us the most.
What does Jesus say about marriage? What does He say about divorce? How can we apply His commands in our broken world today?
Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Are you a good person?
In Jesus’ day, people thought they were good because they kept the Ten Commandments. They did not worship any idols. They showed respect to God’s name. They honored the Sabbath day. They honored their parents. They did not commit murder. They did not commit adultery. They thought they were pretty good!
But Jesus showed them that they did not understand the law. They could never keep the law because they did not understand that it is all about a relationship with God (see here)!
In His first example, Jesus showed them that the law was more than just about murder. Even hatred and bitter anger will also leave you separated from God (see here).
In the next example, Jesus taught about adultery. It is not only the physical act of adultery, but also your lustful thoughts that leave you guilty before God:
Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
To put it into today’s terms, you are guilty before God if you have an affair with another husband or wife. But you are just as guilty when you have the longing gaze, or when you indulge your thoughts about desiring someone else. You are just as guilty as the “home wrecker” who is involved in the affair.
This warning does not matter if you are married or single. Although Jesus’ audience at that time were men, the warning is for both men and women.
This warning includes the movies and television you watch, the books you read, the music you listen to, your trips to the beach, and, of course, your time on the internet.
Do you stop your mind from wandering when it heads toward a forbidden place? What is the remedy?
How many times do we deal with anger each day? We yell at other drivers on the road when they cut us off or slow us down. We may put on a casual face when insulted at work or school, but we are boiling inside.
We never know what kind of example we set. I was driving home from school one day when we were cut off by another driver. Before anyone could respond, my elementary-age daughter yelled out, “Jerk!”
But often the results of anger can be much more serious. Our words and our actions can leave a trail of devastation and broken relationships if we do not control our temper.
Anger can blindside us. I was once at a gathering when a friend had had too much to drink, and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was a liar and was always trying to insult them. How can you not get angry when you are accused without a cause?
Sometimes we can cause conflicts, even when we try to do our best. Several years ago, I started such a conflict when I confronted a close friend about a problem. He responded by not speaking to me for several months. His wife even called my family, saying that I was such a terrible person. How can you keep from getting angry when your best intentions get thrown back at you? Especially when people attack those who are close to you?
These are only minor examples of the conflicts that we often encounter through life. What do you say to those who have suffered deep hurt — even tragedy or abuse — at the hands of others?
What does Jesus say about our response? Don’t we have a right to be angry? Or are we supposed to paste on a happy face?
Jesus does talk about anger, but with an answer that is as startling today as when He first taught it!
Do we need to follow rules in order for God to accept us?
If not, do the rules matter at all?
Didn’t Jesus fight back against the rules and traditions of His day?
If the rules are important, which ones are most important? What happens to those who disobey?
It is popular today for people to think of Jesus as a rebel, going against the religious establishment. He is often pictured as fighting against the religious leaders and standing His ground against the ruling Romans.
Even in Jesus’ day, people expected that He was against the Law. He did not show respect for the religious leaders, nor their large set of traditions. Surely he must be trying to turn people from the Law, wasn’t he?
It is important to remember that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples (see here). Jesus started by showing that being a true disciple is the way to true blessings and happiness (see here). He then began to teach about the Law, and what it means to keep the rules in God’s sight.
Matthew 5:17-20 “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The famous opening to the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, starts with this sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The pursuit of Happiness.
What makes you happy?
What does it mean to be happy?
How do you define happiness?
If we honestly answer this question for ourselves, we often expect to find happiness at the end of our pursuits. The businessman expects to find it at the next promotion or closed deal. The athlete looks for it after the next win. The concerned parents look for happiness in their “successful” children. The romantics look for happiness in the man or woman of their dreams.
We find temporary happiness at the top of the mountain that we are climbing. But like the old song about the bear that went over the mountain, all we really see is another mountain. The happiness of success, of reaching your goals is temporary.
Common descriptions of a happy person today would include adjectives such as: smart, successful, wealthy, winning, powerful, proud, self-reliant, trouble-free, and able to get everything he wants.
The descriptions of a happy person in the first century would be very similar. The Greeks valued the wise and the educated. The Romans valued the powerful and the ruthless. The Jews valued the devout and the pious.
But Jesus gave a completely different view of the happy person. The happy person was not the powerful, the successful, the educated, nor the pious one. The happy person was low enough to enter God’s kingdom.
Jesus used a word for “happy” which has a much deeper meaning than the fleeting good feelings that we may have. The true happiness gives you joy and hope, even through terrible circumstances. This word is often translated as “joyful” or “blessed”.
“‘Blessed’ implied an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that did not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” – Warren Wiersbe 5
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The happy person is not the wealthy or the wise one, but the one who recognizes that they have nothing that they can give to God! When you come to God, you don’t start on your knees, you start by crawling on the ground! It is only when you realize that you are totally destitute that you can come to Him. Happy are those who recognize their absolute, total need for Him, for these are the ones who are in His kingdom!
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The happy person is not the one who is laughing, but the one who is mourning. We have nothing to offer God, and our very nature is to rebel against Him and disobey Him. The truly happy person is the one who is brought to grief over his failure to please God, for he will be comforted. It is when you mourn over your disobedience that you can come to God for forgiveness, and He will comfort you.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The happy person is not the assertive and the proud, but the one who is humble and restrains himself. It is the one who responds with humility — even when pushed around — that is part of God’s kingdom. The meek and the humble are looked down upon in our culture, but these are the ones who will rule over the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The happy person is not the one who is content, but the one who is starving for justice and an upright life. The members of God’s kingdom earnestly desire to see right done in the world. Those who need to see righteousness like this will be brought to God Himself — the true source of everything right and good in the world!
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
The happy person is not the one who is served, but the one who helps others who are in need. The members of God’s kingdom will show kindness to those in need, even when they are getting what they deserve. For it is those who are showing mercy who realize how much mercy God has given to us! We were the destitute, the mourning, and the humbled!
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The happy person is not the one who follows after life’s pleasures, but the one who pursues God’s glory. This is the one who keeps his heart pure and set apart for God. God shows mercy to those who have come to Him in humility and grief, and he cleanses their hearts and makes them pure. These are the ones who can truly know God!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The happy person is not the winner, but the one who negotiates peace. This is the one who works through interpersonal conflicts in order to bring unity among others. But this is also the one who goes to the lost ones who have rebelled against God, and shows them that they need to repent and turn to Him. The peacemakers are the ones who work for peace between others, and peace with God. When we negotiate peace, we are representing God Himself as His sons. Not simply children of God, but sons of God, bearing His image and authority.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Finally, the happy person is not the one who is free from trouble, but the one who is harassed for the sake of Jesus Christ. We identify that we are part of the kingdom of heaven when we are persecuted and harassed for His sake. We are also in great company, including all of the great prophets of old, and we will have a great reward in heaven!
This is the key to ultimate happiness. We will go through poverty, mourning, humility, and persecution, but we have the ultimate joy of knowing that we will be with Jesus Christ in His kingdom!
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9