Virtues of the Law

As James shares his unmarked letter, devoid of a return address that might allow us to chat him up about some points of difficulty, he writes in James 2:8~If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (NIV) To fulfill the Royal Law is a tall task and some Jews that day listening to Messiah speak may have taken Him as a radical, who was discarding the Old Testament. Focusing their shadowy vision, Jesus says, Matthew 5:17~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. (ESV) The terms Law and Prophets refer to two of the three components of the Old Testament, wisdom literature rounding it out. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament, which is filled with prophetic utterances and promises of God’s salvation through Messiah, rather Jesus would meet each one to fulfill them all. He would live Ten Commandments. Matthew 5:18~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. (ESV)

The word iota or jot refers to the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is Yod. No, not the little green guy from Star Wars, in need of an ear trimmer. Though it could play from Lucas’ Jewish roots. This  smallest letter, not unlike our lowercase “i,” with a dot, in Hebrew is known as a tittle. Jesus says I Am, paying attention to the smallest detail. This means God’s divine inspiration includes not only the words but also the letters of the original text. 2 Peter 1:21~For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

Jesus warns if anyone breaks 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 (5:19) In the centuries of silence known as the intertestamental period, rabbis had begun to rate Old Testament commandments according to what they believed were the most important and least important. This is not unlike what we encounter from pulpits today. However, Jesus is saying greatness in the kingdom of heaven depends on maintaining absolute obedience to all Scripture. 

I know this can be hugely frustrating to some, who like to hear clothesline peaching. Well, pastor, that was a good word today, cause I don’t do any of those things, shoot, I’m a pretty good Christian. When what the Lord says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or no heaven for us. (5:20) Well, that is something to get upset about. Remember who Christ Jesus is speaking to that day, in His outdoor amphitheater they are people under the Law, not grace. Like many Christians today, they thought the Bible could be obeyed like going to Mortons for lunch, in an a-la-carte style. Christ Jesus then explains with the precision of an Ophthalmologist here are 6 subjects for what the Law requires of each of us and Life lessons will soon follow, even though you never enrolled in Life University. Christ Jesus explains all of this over the remainder of Matthew chapter 5:21-48. 

Without even knowing it, the weary travelers in search of relief and something more form life got signed up for a J-Term or Jesus Term, where we learn a life lesson. Ever started a J-Term like these in the outdoor classroom, individuals who were cumbered with cares and looking for a miracle in their lives. As Jesus opens enrollment that faithful day, He says, welcome to Life U. We are glad you all have gathered here today for our new J-Term, short for Jesus Term. Our Lord shares how we all face, at seemingly sundry times, a well-planned series of Life Lessons aimed at focusing your life on living as Christ in a fallen world.

These life lessons are geared at making us all that we were created to be in Christ. Today, after you have prayed, take time to ponder the life lesson(s) that the Lord has you enrolled in and what you are learning and applying to your life and faith.  

The Way of Righteousness

Today, we return to Jesus sitting and teaching hillside, His question still hanging mid-air, are you righteous or just religious? Like anyone who’s looked through binoculars or a scope, Jesus sets about focusing our understanding. Opening with 8 steps to living a blessed life. (Matthew 5:3-12~“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “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. (ESV)) 

Jesus says to be the people who enhance life’s flavor in Jesus because you’re going to meet people on the hunt for a savory life (Matthew 5:13~You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (ESV)) and share how He, the Great I Am, is the only answer. (Matthew 5:14-16~You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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. (ESV)) So Jesus commands us to be a light to those you meet, who are surrounded by darkness. Now with the copious skill of an Ophthalmologist, Christ Jesus asks A—or—B, as He speaks of the piety and religiosity of present-day scribes and Pharisees. They went to the synagogue every Sabbath, tithed on all they earned (even the herbs of their gardens), they were, by all accounts, very respectable. (Luke 11:42~Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (ESV))

Even though they have done all of this to get to heaven, Jesus reminds us that our works will not get us into heaven. So I ask you, are you righteous or just religious? Philippians 3:9~and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (NIV) If we can learn to master following Jesus Christ by living in faith, we’ll accomplish the heart of what Christ Jesus is sharing here hillside as He shares 7 components of The Way of Righteousness. Join us this week as we tackle: Fulfill, Anger, and Lust.

Salt & Light

Today we consider what it means to live as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says His followers are the salt of the earth. For thousands of years, salt has remained the primary way to enhance food flavor. Moreover, salt is a preservative. Papaw Wright used salt in his smokehouse to preserve meat. Notice, Jesus doesn’t call us to be sugar (sticky and sweet); He calls us to be salt. Salt can be irritating. I used to keep course salt for my wrestlers who had cuts and abrasions from their braces after properly administer cross-faces.

Christ Jesus says in Matthew 5:13~You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It’s no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (ESV) In ancient times, contaminated salt was scattered on the soil of flat roofs to form a crust. Remember Casablanca and the rooftop cool evening. This salt systematically strewn across flat soil covered rooftops prevented leaks. Offering a great place to enjoy a cool evening breeze on an oppressively muggy night. These are not three dog nights my friend, NO, You sit over there and as old Bogey would say, “here’s looking at you kid.”

Yeah, if we become contaminated by deviating from biblical teachings about morality, we will make no positive difference in our world. We are called by God, to live uncontaminated lives that offered the flavor of Jesus Christ, and we do this, by living a pure and undefiled life before God as James 1:27~ Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV) So, if that task is not tall enough Christ Jesus says be useful salt and then layers on the light. Matthew 5:14~You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (ESV) If you have ever struggled to see where you are in life or in faith, then you are in good company on Mt. Beatitudes. These people were sitting on a hill and yet, they like us, were struggling to understand in a physical sense, how transformative light truly is. As the light of the world spoke, He enabled us to see form take shape, to witness the vibrancy of color come to life in Jesus. Light allows us to see things as they really are. In the spiritual sense, light enables us to see spiritual truths as they are illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We are not to shine our own lights, in an attempt to reveal our religiosity like a Pharisee. Instead, we are to let the light of Jesus shine through us. Ephesians 5:8~For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (NIV) 

Light is so very conspicuous in darkness. That is why Jesus says: A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Church, it is time for us to stop hiding in plain sight. Sitting here hillside with our Lord, we have more ability than we could ever imagine. Light glistens against the velvety blue hew of night, as it beckoning to all, come near. The darker your school, place of employment, or even your neighborhood, the more the light of Jesus Christ will be visible. It is time the church stopped throwing shade and allowed Jesus Christ to shine in our dark world. That we take off the confines and limits to the Lord that we have for so long allowed to hide the light of Jesus Christ. 

Continuing His discourse, Jesus says in Matthew 5:15~Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. (ESV) It would be foolish to light a candle and cover it, just as it is foolish to hide the light of Christ because He is the only true Source of light in our dark world. 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. (ESV) The way we let our light shine is through good works. Sometimes, as we emphasize salvation by grace alone, and it is, but not to the neglect or minimization of good works. Ephesians 2:8-9~For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works so that no one can boast. (NIV) So we take the whole of scripture as our reference and guide for living, we add in James 1:22~Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV) We realize it is not an either-or, but rather a both-and. Grace is what propels us to do good works as we bear fruit born of the Holy Spirit and share it with others. 

So, who here has ever seen an apple tree in an apple? Likewise, we bear fruit for the consumption of others. Having a fruit stand full of diverse fruit places us in a unique position to meet the needs of those the Lord places on our path as we journey through life and faith. As important as it is to listen to the Word of God, you cannot stop there. Doing the Word must be the response. Doing the Word requires good works. To be a hearer only is just self-deception. 

Our Takeaway for the week is: Step into the light and shine for Jesus Christ. To get right and stay right with God will cause us to live a blessed life and live as salt and light. Today, you heard our Living Lord Jesus preach a sermon from Mt Beatitudes, now, it’s time to go and do, making disciples.