Facing reality

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Do you ever struggle with moral frailties? In today’s reading Jesus doesn’t offer bland reassurances. Instead he offers the scrubbing brush of direct confrontation.


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Bible passage Matthew 5:21–32


Murder
 21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

 23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

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

Adultery
 27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If 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. 30And 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.
Divorce
 31"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


Audio Bible passage


The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


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Hyperboles for hypocrisy
Jesus uses a set of contrasts, shifting between clichéd truisms and real spirituality. Each starts with ‘You have heard that it was said …’ and then pivots, ‘But I tell you …’ The first statements were sound, but the counterpoints touch deeper heart issues: anger, hypocrisy, lust, and marital failure.

Jesus raises the prospect of being thrown into prison (v 25) or of cutting and gouging out the physical instruments of sin (vs 29,30). He was using hyperbole, of course, yet he was also deadly serious.

Danger of sin
Sin threatens our lives. As much as the religious leaders in Christ’s day were too willing to entertain ungodly desires, we must not go there. And if we are there already, we’re being called to turn back and seek the transformation only Jesus provides.

Later in the sermon Jesus will say more about the dilemma of entangling sins. For now we need to face reality and take our first steps into the obedience Jesus invites.


Respond


In our life of faith, as in medicine, a sound diagnosis comes before coming to a cure. If you find anything of yourself in this reading, receive it as a gift of God and respond appropriately, ready to listen and act.

Ron Frost


Deeper Bible study


‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.’ (Matthew 15:19)

Matthew 5:21–48 lists six antitheses, introduced by formulae such as ‘You have heard that it was said’ or ‘It has been said’, about certain aspects of the Law. Each is then followed by Jesus’, ‘But I tell you’, where he further explains the true meaning and purpose of the Law. What Jesus highlights here are specific examples of the perversion of the Law of which the religious leaders are guilty –and his correction of such abuse and misinterpretation.

Take, for example, the sixth commandment: ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13). The Pharisees restricted this commandment to the act of murder only. They believed that if they refrained from spilling blood in killing they had kept the commandment. Jesus, however, disagreed with their understanding. The true application of this commandment extends further: the malicious anger and insults we throw at others are horrible; so is every action and thought by which we hurt others; a failure to forgive, which runs deep within us, is equally damaging. Jesus challenges us to search deep within ourselves and to be more sensitive to these evils. Once we are aware of them, we are to deal with them immediately. Let us take the initiative to amend a strained relationship, apologise for the wrong we commit and forgive those who hurt us. If we want to avoid committing murder, we are to take the practical steps to live in peace with others. Jesus extended similar application to the issues of lust (vs 27–30) and divorce (vs 31,32).

These are hard sayings. We would rather see our enemy suffer rather than forgive them, but let us remember that we too have offended God and yet he chooses to forgive us. We do not deserve the grace God has extended to us, so who are we to withhold forgiveness from others?

Kar Yong Lim


Unfamiliar terms


Rabbi
A title of honour, meaning ‘great’, by which people addressed their teachers.

Raca
Probably derives from an Aramaic word meaning ‘blockhead’, though this is disputed. Names were taken very seriously in ancient Israel, and to call someone ‘Raca’ was equivalent to character assassination – even if the insult was not expressed outwardly. The three sins of anger here are probably restatements of the same point, stated in increasing forcefulness. Vilifying another human being who has been created in God’s image is as bad as murder and equally deserving of death.

Sanhedrin
From the Greek synedrion, meaning a council. The Sanhedrin was the highest court of the Jews. It is often referred to simply as ‘the council’.

Hell
The reference is to Gehenna, a valley near Jerusalem, where at one time children had been sacrificed. It came to mean a place of unquenchable fire, and so a place of eternal punishment.
The Bible has a lot to say about judgement, but not much about hell. Much of the imagery we traditionally associate with hell comes not from the Bible but from the Roman poet Vergil. Hell is ultimately the absence of God.

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Audio


Speak O Lord
Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music
Buy this and other great worship songs at www.integritymusic.com



Lord reign in me
Brenton Brown
Copyright© 1998 Vineyard Records (UK/Eire)
Buy this and other great worship songs at www.vineyardrecords.co.uk




Comments
  • Sue Hanson | Wednesday, 03 January 2018

    "Hell is ultimately the absence of God" We are to pray continually for relatives and friends who turn their backs on God.....But for some of us who may be deeply hurt by someone .... How hard is it sometimes to forgive . But how can Gog forgive us while we hang on to unforgiveness in our own lives.

  • Hannah Watson | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    I know how much Mike Thomas' blog adds to my bible reading every day so I'll keep sharing it. https://bttb365.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/04-01-2018-the-heart-of-the-law/

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    Sin doesn’t just happen any more than children just happen. Sin has to be conceived. First comes the thought and then the desire. Next comes the lust. The act of sin follows. As long as we are in the world, we will be exposed to evil thoughts. However, 2 Cor 10:4-5 clearly states that the Lord has given each one of us spiritual weapons that can subdue and take every thought captive to obey Christ. We can limit our contact with sinful thoughts much more than most of us have ever imagined. We do not have to let thoughts become lusts. SUE, I agree it is impossible in our own strength to forgive. I remember Selwyn Hughes years ago after seeing his son badly beaten up, saying to God something like 'How could I forgive what this man has done' and immediately a picture of Jesus on the cross came to him and how much he had been forgiven and how much it cost Jesus.

  • Angela Munday | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    I so value everyone's personal comments; thankyou Gilvin and Sue; looking forward to yours too, Hannah. Jesus hides nothing from us and wants us to know exactly how things look to God as He watches and listens to us. Good behaviour is expected from God-filled people; how does anything else make sense? How can allegiance to a Holy, Loving God result in love-less words and actions? Jesus promises a new way of living that brings glory and honour to the God we love and adore.

  • Ken Sykes | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    Your comment on sin GILVIN reminds me of the Jungle Doctor story... "You can't stop vultures flying around your family tree but you can stop them landing on the branch". Lots of good lessons in that series.

  • Ruth Lewis | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    Thank you HANNAH. I am also being Blessed by the Blogs!!!

  • Lynda Spencer | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    A long time since I heard of the 'Jungle Doctor', KEN! I loved those stories as a child, and read them to my own children. Do you remember the author? I'd love to track them down again. Re the picture of the vultures and taking thoughts captive, an old pastor of ours (now with the Lord) used to say, "You can't stop birds from landing on your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair." I find 'replacement therapy' helps, as advocated by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4 v 8. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1M_-8dD_sI

  • Linda Penrose | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    LYNDA Jungle Doctor written by Paul White. I have just sorted through my books and taken loads to the charity shop but couldn't part with the book presented to me in 1963 for the Sunday School Union exam Senior Division B - Jungle Doctor on the Hop!!!

  • Lynda Spencer | Thursday, 04 January 2018

    Thanks LINDA! Jungle Doctor here I come!

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