Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Leaving it all on the course for Him Matthew 5:21

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have left it all on the field for Jesus said … AMEN!

You’ve heard the interviews after an athletic contest, one of the most common phrases; “I left it all on the field”, basically I gave everything I had in order to win. It can get a little cliché, but by the same token, I have no doubt that each person who says that truly believes it. At the end of that contest; a race, basketball game, matholympics, I gave everything I had, physically, mentally, emotionally in order to win, or at least to do my best. I’ve done races where I expected it to be a little more challenging and at the end upset with myself that I was holding back too much and I could have pressed harder on the bike or the run. By the same token I’ve seen people sprinting to the finish line, giving everything and as soon as they crossed, going off somewhere and literally getting sick right after they finished. No question they exceeded their normal physical ability in order to find that tiny little bit that they had left in order to finish as well as they could.

We certainly see this in so many of the people described in the Bible. King David wrote dozens of Psalms, but if you think he was all about sitting at a desk pen in hand and dreamily wondering how to compose his poetry, you would be mistaken. Most of his prose was about the different ways that he was left it all out on the field for God. David was a powerful soldier, his soldiers followed him into many different situations, they trusted him as a leader who would be there for them, do whatever it took for his men and defeat his enemy. David had no compunction going out on that field and doing what God directed him to do and pouring every last ounce he had into the fight for his men, his country and very much so for his God. David lived his life for Yahweh, there were times when he failed in that and he failed in a way that only a great king and general could fail. As Dr Luther wrote: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”[1] If King David had known about Jesus and written about Jesus, he would have understood completely what Dr Luther wrote.

In a lot of ways that is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, you have to go over and above, you have to leave it all out there. There may even be a physical price to pay. The Beatitudes can be taken in a legalistic way. Jesus is not saying you have to do this, you have to do that in order to be saved. People have told me that they live by the Beatitudes. It’s not about grace, it’s about them and their performance, what they need to do, that God is keeping score and waiting for them to tank, to hit the wall, to not finish the course. If they somehow fail in one of Jesus’ directives they failed to leave it all out on the field for Jesus, they kept some back for their own pleasure, maybe cheated on the course somehow and didn’t completely live up to what Jesus directed us to do.

The fallacy is this, the Gospel doesn’t tell us that unless we are picture perfect, that we have somehow failed and therefore don’t manage to hit the finish line having left it all out on the course for Jesus. The Gospel does say that Jesus who is entirely perfect God and perfect man, something we could never be, a person that we will never be because there was only one Jesus. Jesus absolutely did leave it all out on the course and it was entirely for us, Jesus didn’t do all that He did for Himself. What’s the point? Jesus is the One through whom all creation came into existence, He is perfectly God, all He did was not for Him, but entirely for us. Nothing we can do, can add to what Jesus did for us, not one iota, not one jot or tittle.

Yet, many people are pretty sure it’s about sticking to the letter of the Law in the Beatitudes and that gets you over the line. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be obedient, Jesus said “if you love Me, you will obey Me.” But Jesus knows that we are fallible, that our obedience is qualified by our failings as sinful people in a sinful world. However, for all that Jesus did for us, how can we not strive to be obedient? How can we not strive to leave it all out on the course for Jesus?

Does a completely good, completely holy, completely gracious God want us to pluck out our eye and throw it away if we are not completely perfect in everything? In this day and age you can’t look anywhere that doesn’t offend your eye. The issue is, did you let your eye linger over that which offended? Or did you realize, “hey, this isn’t glorifying Jesus or doing me any good”, and just turn away? That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, in the Beatitudes. He exaggerates to make a point. He might say. “You really want to try to earn your way, this is what has to happen, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. I’m thinking, none of us would truly stand that test. That does not, however, minimize the fact that we should strive to avoid things that offend our eye or what we do with our right hand, or our left hand in order to sin.

Marge and I were at Pastoral Leadership Institute immersion this past week, which, ironically is about us and our performance, and driving us higher in Jesus. It’s an honor to be asked to attend, not everyone is, and it’s recognition of the fact that we are striving in evangelism and discipleship and given the opportunity in PLI to push to the next level. It doesn’t makes us more saved, but it does push us to better serve you and the Kingdom of God as leaders of His church.

The Father is not trying to impose unrealistic expectations on us, He is trying to get us to realize that we can’t get there on our own effort. We will fail! We will have plenty of good efforts, being obedient to the things Jesus asks of us, but at some point we will fail to push as hard as we could. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost, that we should cut off our hand. Matt Popovits was one of the speakers, the overall subject was discipleship, which was great, I emphasize discipleship in my ministry. While we are called to be strong and faithful disciples of Jesus, our performance in that respect is not what saves us. The thesis was “How do I measure my worth?” For those who are so sure that it’s all about me and my “opinion”, because my “opinion” is so vitally important! I have bad news for youse, your opinion just doesn’t really matter. Heavens, how can I say such a thing, come on pastor, we all know it’s all about me! It really isn’t. I can tell myself how great and special I am, but despite what I think, it’s not going to get me diddly. Whose opinion does matter? Oh yes, God’s opinion. That is a great thing! By the way, I told Matt I was going to rip him off relentlessly here, he said “fine, go for it!”.

Anyway, Matt talked about “Performacism”, this idea that we measure our worth by what we do, how well we do it, in and of ourselves. Performacism drives you to the following: 1) The fear of and trying to avoid a horrible outcome, a false Hell that you’ve created, that you’re running from in order to make it to an “unfulfilling heaven, that you earn the applause and approval of your peers. That heaven can’t do what you want, doesn’t fulfill your life.”[2] God’s not all powerful, it’s all about you and what you do and more importantly the way you want it to play out. It drives me nuts hearing people talk about heaven as a boring place, “why would I want to end up there”. Heaven is not our ultimate destination, our ultimate destination is the eternal resurrection. We will be put back on this earth in our physical bodies in order to live our lives the way God intended us to live, a world filled with unlimited possibilities and life fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine. Matt points out that Adam and Eve rejected the “Garden of Yes” in favor of the “tree of no”. We make that wrong choice all the time, a garden full of all kinds of possibilities in order for us to indulge in our personal besetting sin.

Matt further observes that we make ourselves a “Functional Savior” that it’s all in our hands whether or not we make it to that amazing eternity. It’s our activity, and accomplishments that save us, so that we are valued by ourselves and by others, because, heavens! in today’s world, it is all about everyone else’s who so precious opinion. We have that problem on a massive scale in our society today and something that our youth get so caught up in, but we’re all susceptible to it. Our self-image, whether our physical attractiveness is valued by others. In a world where everyone’s equal regardless, ya right! Our hypocritical world is just so full of themselves. The fight is to be as superficially attractive as possible to be of value, if you’re not, you might be patronized a little, but just not taken seriously. We see girls today going to extremes because hey the vital thing is to be beautiful, get the right guy, have all kinds of worldly wealth and live happily ever after. Forgetting that despite all our efforts, some, like me, who’ve just been ugly from birth, end up simply being dumped out the other end of life, whether we were beautiful  or not because we no longer meet the standards.

The cut to the chase is this; Jesus tells us that we can do it the hard way, by our own standards, our own worldly, wrong opinions. Or, because Jesus did it the hard way for us, we can trust in Him, that He has done all that’s necessary. Yes, we should leave it all out on the course for Jesus, because that’s what He’s done for us, but never think that is what gets you His promises.

We are so incredibly valued by the Father and there’s not one thing that we can add to that, not by anything we’ve done, not done, or done wrong, but solely who we are in Jesus, so incredibly valued because of who we are in Him and that He died a horrific death in order to save us. For such a huge price and to be adopted into true life in the Father’s family in baptism, we are, each one of us, so incredibly valued and loved. There are those of us who the Holy Spirit is moving to do big things, to serve at high levels. There are those of us who just physically can’t or who are called to do what we feel are humble things. Doesn’t matter to the Father, yes we should follow our calling, but no, we should never doubt how precious we are to the Father and what we are to Him in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Dr Ryan M. Reeves https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ryanreeves/2016/04/20/did-luther-really-tell-us-to-love-god-and-sin-boldly/

[2] Matt Popovits PLI seminar, Cary, NC, February 9, 2017

You want legalism? Rely on your works?

ImageJesus’ Sermon on the Mount, also known as the Beatitudes have been the lectionary lessons for the last few weeks and has raised some interesting discussions. Among them is that guy who lets everyone know that he “lives by the sermon on the mount…” Yea, not so sure that was what Jesus was really intending. That same guy never got angry with anyone and called them a fool, never looked anyone with lust, never stole? Yea, really? Kinda doubtin’ it.

To drive home the point though, because what we are talking about is somehow being saved by grace, vs by your works and “living by the sermon on the mount”, would be your works, if you never do anything bad, you have nothing to be forgiven for kind of thinking.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had added on something like an additional 200 commandments and 300 laws, over and above what God told Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and they continued to do so, well after Jesus was gone. To the Jew the Law is the ultimate, everything according to the most minute detail. We know we cannot live perfectly under the Law, as Christians we know we need grace. The Law does not save, it only means you didn’t break it. By not breaking the Law does not put God under obligation to save you, only through the grace, sacrifice and redemption of Jesus have we been saved. To illustrate how abstruse the whole procedure became, I have quoted, at length, a passage out of James Michener’s book The Source (which is a really great book, fictionalized account of generations starting at the beginning and going up to the present in Israel).

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In the middle years of the fourth century there was in the Roman city of Tiberias, called Tverya by the Jews, a lively community of thirteen synagogues, a large library and an assembly of elderly rabbis who met in continuous session to discuss the Torah and its later commentaries, seeking thus to uncover the laws which would govern all subsequent Judaism. For hours and even months they debated each phrase until its meaning was made clear, and it was to this body of men that Rabbi Asher directed himself in the spring of 329. He had no need to hurry, for the assembly had been in session, off and on, for a hundred years and would continue for another century and a half, if not in Tverya then in Babylonia across the desert.

…an extensive courtyard in which stood two pomegranate trees and a large grape arbor, beneath which huddled a circle of old men who did not bother to look up at his approach. At their feet, literally, crouched groups of students, following their words affectionately, while at a table under one of the pomegranate trees sat two scribes making notes of how the argument progressed. When decisions were reached, these scribes would compress into a few pithy lines the debate of months, and that would be the law. This day they wrote little as four rabbis engaged in energetic debate on a minor point. FIRST RABBI: We are concerned with one question alone. Protecting Shabbat. I say that the man may not wear it. SECOND RABBI: Speak out. On what authority do you make this claim? THIRD RABBI: Then listen. Rabbi Meir had it from Rabbi Akiba that if a woman goes out of her house on Shabbat with a bottle of perfume so that she may smell nice, she is guilty of vanity and has broken Shabbat. This case is the same. FOURTH RABBI: More to the point. The law of the sages prevents a man on Shabbat from carrying in his pocket a nail from a gallows. Why? He carries it only for good luck and it is forbidden. SECOND RABBI: What nonsense. The man we are talking about does not seek good luck. FIRST RABBI: Listen to t…

FOURTH RABBI: Nor shall she go into the street wearing a hair net. The same case, surely. SECOND RABBI: But remember this. A woman may go abroad on Shabbat sucking a peppercorn to keep her breath sweet. FIRST RABBI: Only if she placed it in her mouth before Shabbat began. THIRD RABBI: Also, the sages always held that if she happened to drop the peppercorn from her mouth during Shabbat, she could not put it back until Shabbat had ended. SECOND RABBI: TO all of that I agree. But our man is not going to drop it from his mouth. And he placed it there before nightfall on Friday. FIRST RABBI: On those requirements we agree. It must be in his mouth before Shabbat begins. THIRD RABBI: The real question. Has he any right to have it there at all on Shabbat? No, because it is an act of vanity. Lik…

SECOND RABBI: Agreed. If it is merely an ornamentation, the man must not have it [a gold tooth] in his mouth on Shabbat. FOURTH RABBI: And I insist that it is merely an ornament. SECOND RABBI: Hold now! He wears his false tooth in order to eat better. FOURTH RABBI: But he could eat just as easily if he didn’t have it. A false tooth for a man is no more, no less, than a gold headdress for a woman. SECOND RABBI: That cannot be the case. The headdress is ornamentation. The tooth is a necessity. THIRD RABBI: False. A gold tooth is just as attractive to a man as a gold … SECOND RABBI: Who said a gold tooth? I said a tooth. A false tooth added to the mouth for the purpose of chewing better. THIRD RABBI: Is there a difference between a false tooth and a gold false tooth? FIRST RABBI: Indeed! The gold tooth i…

FOURTH RABBI: Error! Error! THIRD RABBI: Is not a false tooth placed in the mouth the same as a woman’s curls added to her forehead? And do not the sages say that she may not wear such curls unless they are sewed on permanently? FOURTH RABBI: Why permanently? THIRD RABBI: Lest she inadvertently add them to her head on Shabbat. FIRST RABBI: Sewing she can be trusted not to do because three acts are involved. Needle, thread and sewing. She knows that each is forbidden. But pinning a curl to the head is not a usual act and this she may forget, so it is forbidden. THIRD RABBI: And a false tooth is not added to the mouth permanently, but must be put in each day, and is therefore exactly like the false curl of the woman, which may not be worn.”

Still want to be a legalist, still want to live according to a bunch of laws? And if that doesn’t convince you check out the Code of Federal Regulations and imagine that as part of your personal life.

I don’t know about you, but I just wanted to go crawl into a corner after reading this. How can you really live your life this way and when Jesus told His listeners that in order to be righteous, you had to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, he knew that couldn’t be done, He knew that even the Pharisees couldn’t do it. That is why God gave us grace, that is why He gave His Son Jesus to be the propitiation of our sin. Otherwise we would all be doomed to condemnation. Hey, not my rules, the reality is the Bible, I’ve seen a lot of other “realities”, but they never seem to have the authority to back up what their “reality” is.

So you can get caught up in your works, that just aren’t going to save you. Or you can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit, feel the salvation of Christ. As always you, your family, are welcome to worship at First St Johns, be a part of the family of Christ here at First St Johns, 140 W King St, downtown York, Pa. 10:30 am, plenty of parking in rear. God bless you all. Image

And please check out our Lent/Easter worship schedule at http://www.lutheransonline.com/firststjohns