Are We Living A Performance Or Living For God?

I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.

In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.

Righteous Play-Acting

Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.

Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Continue reading

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Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity

If you’re a Christian, it’s a good bet you’ve read and/or heard the Sermon on the Mount more than once. And if you’re like me, you probably think you’re pretty familiar with this straight-forward message Jesus delivered during His time here on earth. But in a sermon a few weeks back, the speaker said something that prompted me to take a deeper look.

I hadn’t thought before about what a radical message this must have seemed when first preached. Matthew even tells us people who heard Jesus were “astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28, KJV). Throughout Jesus’ words a message is woven that tells us our human way of looking at things is wrong. Something that makes no sense to us might be exactly what God is looking for, and the things we’d consider reasonable might not be what He wants at all. This sermon is about showing us a new way of thinking and living.Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Questions Of Law

Following the Beatitudes (which we talked about last week), Jesus describes people who follow Him as salt and light. All the attributes described earlier are meant to be visible in His people, showing the world good works that will cause them to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16, WEB). Jesus then makes a statement about how His teachings relate to the Old Testament Law and Prophets. People often like to take Paul out of context and say Christians today have nothing to do with the Law, but that’s not what Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) taught. Continue reading

A Closer Look At The Beatitudes

When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He began at what we now call the Beatitudes. He says, “Blessed are” the sort of people who probably don’t feel all that blessed — those who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled. We don’t like being poor, or in grief, or humble enough to put others first, or attacked by the people around us. It’s hard work being a peacemaker, or showing mercy, or staying pure of heart, or constantly yearning to get closer to God’s righteousness.

It’s interesting that two of the beatitudes mention righteousness: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” and “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:6, 10, KJV). This word refers to “the condition acceptable to God” and/or “the doctrine concerning the way which man may attain a state of approval by God” (Thayer’s G1343, dikaiosune). It relates to our state of being and the way we live. In fact, when you think about it, all the beatitudes relate to something we do and/or become as we follow God.

We Need A Relationship

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3, KJV)

There’s more than one word that could be translated from Greek as “poor.” This one means “reduced to beggary” and “lacking anything” (Thayer’s G4434, ptochos). When we’re like that in our spirits, we’re really in a place to recognize how much we need a relationship with the Father and Jesus. We become the sort of person the Lord is talking about when He says, “to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2, WEB).

We Have Broken Hearts

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4, KJV)

We all experience grief. The death of a parent, child, or dear friend. The loss of a hope held close to our hearts. The decay of a relationship. Betrayal from a friend. And even in the midst of that mourning, we’re blessed because God promises comfort (John 14:16-18; 2 Cor. 1:3-7). He can respond to our tears as powerfully as He did for David in the situation recorded in Psalm 6. Continue reading

Walking Through Philippians 3: Paul’s Thoughts on Following Jesus

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (KJV). If we want a how-to guide for the way Paul follows Jesus, we can find a succinct version in the 3rd chapter of Philippians. This chapter is a bit unusual. Rather than speaking generally to his fellow believers or addressing a specific issue in the church, Paul gets real about his own walk of faith.

Paul’s Zeal

We break into the middle of the letter to the church in Philippi. Paul has been warning against “dogs, “evil workers,” and “the mutilation.” He gives a general principle that physical things like circumcision aren’t what determines whether or not you’re part of God’s chosen people. “We are the circumcision,” he writes, “who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:2-3). He then shifts to using himself as an example.

Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

What a pedigree! Under the Old Covenant, Paul was as perfect as you could get. There was no stain on his Israelitish lineage. His parents kept the Law and had him circumcised. He became an elite leader in the Jewish community and an expert in the Law, which he kept to the letter. He even actively persecuted heretics.

Then, suddenly, Jesus Himself showed up and told Paul those weren’t heretics. The Messiah had come and Paul was fighting the next step in God’s plan. In response, Paul gave up power, prestige, and (parts of) the belief system he’d poured his entire life into to follow Jesus. And that’s an aspect of Paul’s life that we’re supposed to imitate. Continue reading

Weightier Matters

The scribes and Pharisees had a lot going for then. They were well-educated, well-respected, and held positions of authority in the community of believers. People thought they were important, and they were. Then this guy Jesus showed up and started condemning them for not following God correctly.

Can you imagine how this looked? Here are these men who’ve been the authority on worship tradition for years confronted by a young carpenter who just appeared out of nowhere. He didn’t even go to a good school! Worse, they know He’s right. But if they admit it, they lose their power.

A similar thing can happen in our churches today. When leadership is focused on maintaining church tradition, there’s a danger of developing a Pharisaical attitude. A certain amount of resistance to change is needed to keep from forsaking sound doctrine, but often church tradition isn’t rooted in the Bible at all and if that’s the case it’s fair-game for reexamination. We can also, as the Pharisees did, error in emphasizing certain doctrines to the neglect of others. Continue reading

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy

This isn’t the first time a Bible study has brought tears to my eyes. Usually that happens when I’m studying God’s love, but there’s also something inspiring, humbling and wonderful about His righteousness and mercy. They’re aspects of God’s essential character, and the more I learn about who the Father and Yeshua are, the more inclined I feel to just sit here in awe.

In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said, “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We have a responsibility to grow toward perfection, developing God’s character inside us. If we’re going to mimic His character, we have to study and learn about who and what He is, so we can display those traits as well.

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’ve already written many posts on this blog about “God is love” (there’s even a whole ebook free if you click here), so that’s not what we’re going to focus on today. Instead, I want to spend our time together this Sabbath focusing on two key character traits that are aspects of God’s love.

The Lord is Righteous

If you search for the phrases “the Lord is …” and “God is …” trying to find descriptions of His character, the first you come to is in Exodus.

And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. (Ex. 9:27)

Even a pagan ruler on the receiving end of God’s judgement recognized that “the Lord is righteous.” In Hebrew, the word is tsaddiyq (H6662). For human beings, righteousness involves fulfilling the commands of God. It “consisted in obedience to God’s law and conformity to God’s nature” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1879). Like love, righteousness isn’t just something God shows toward us — it is one of His essential character traits. We define righteousness by pointing to God’s standard.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer. 23:5-6)

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.comNot only is God Himself righteous, but all our righteousness is found in Him. This prophecy points to Christ’s role as the one who makes us righteous. Only by following in Yahweh Tsidkenu’s footsteps can we continue in righteousness.

As we’ve seen, God’s righteousness is closely connected to His law. It follows that as a Being of righteousness He must institute penalties for disobedience as well as rewards for obedience. Daniel recognized this in his prayer for the exiles.

As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice. (Dan. 9:13-14)

It is righteous for God to let evil befall a nation that broke their covenant with Him. Covenants aren’t just about the good things both parties get out of the agreement — they also include consequences for breaking the covenant, which is what we do when we sin (Dan. 9:4-5). Because God is righteous, He keeps the entire covenant — including the part that stipulates consequences for sin.

The Lord is Mercy

Daniel also calls on another of God’s essential character traits; one that goes hand-in-hand with righteousness.

And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of facebecause we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. (Dan. 9:4-5, 7, 9)

If God was not mercy as well as righteousness, we would be in grave straits indeed. We have all sinned, and if God righteously rewarded us for that we would all be dead (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Yet Jesus Christ took on Himself the death penalty required by covenant. Instead of rewarding us as we deserve He offers mercy, as He did to “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” who became the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 1:13).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph. 2:4-5)

Mercy is as much a part of God’s being as love and righteousness, and it has always been this way. Back in the Torah, Moses makes a prayer for Israel very similar to Daniel’s plea. The people have rebelled, and Moses is asking for God’s mercy to mingle with His righteousness.

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 14:17-19)

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.comMoses is directly referencing God’s own description of Himself in Exodus 34:6-7. These are the character traits of “God is love” which back-up the covenant God makes with His people

In the Old Testament verses we’ve been quoting, “mercy” is translated from the Hebrew chesed (H2617). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament points out that this word is often connected with covenant — most likely in that God’s covenant is a result of His chesed and includes the promise of His loving kindness. As those in covenant with God, we’re expected to show mercy as well.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7)

In Greek, “mercy” is elos (G1656). It’s different from grace, which is a free gift from God that consists of removing the penalty for sin. Mercy goes along with that and takes a step farther by alleviating the miserable consequences of sin (Zodhiates Key-Word Study Bible).

Jesus has compassion and mercy on us because He sympathizes with our weakness, having experienced what it’s like to be human even though He never sinned (Heb. 4:15-16). We, too, should exercise mercy towards others. As sinners ourselves, we’re in a unique position to respond to the suffering we see in others with loving kindness rather than condemnation. We must learn to follow God’s example of mingling righteousness and mercy. We never forget or ignore the covenant laws and our commitment to righteousness, but we also remember to always act out of mercy and love.