My Life Group lesson for Jan. 17, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
So none of us here won the Powerball lottery last Wednesday night. If you did, you wouldn’t be here, you’d be in hiding with your new personal accountant. Y’all would be in the Caribbean planning your life of luxury.
Whether you have 1.6 billion dollars or just a few, we put a lot of faith (*cough*) into our money. What gives our money its value?
Our money used to be backed by gold, which meant that there was a solid foundation for it. Now we just have faith in what the Federal Reserve tells us is its worth.
Our Scripture today teaches us about our spiritual foundation.
God would have us as Christians to value all human life as well, as much as He does.
Jesus teaches us to love and show kindness, even to those who are less than lovable.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** We back up a chapter from last week, when we talked about the Lord’s prayer and hypocrisy in fasting. These verses come between that and the Beatitudes, which we studied two weeks ago.
--- In the Beatitudes Jesus offered eight traits of a believer, all of which the religious leaders of the time weren’t showing.
*** In these verses we’ll talk about how Jesus not only upholds the Old Testament’s laws, he provides context to show the religious leaders how they should have been interpreting it all along.
LOOK TO THE SCRIPTURES (Matt. 5:17-20)
17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
*** I’m your Huckleberry.
--- In the movie "Tombstone" we see two examples of how to run the law in a town, obeying the law strictly or leave some gray areas. Some are Wyatt Earp, some are Doc Holliday.
--- The religious leaders of the time – especially the Pharisees – not only enforced Old Testament laws strictly, they had an additional 600 (!) interpretations.
--- Jesus stressed that he didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament. What He wanted was for the people to see how the Old Testament points to Himself as the Messiah.
--- The leaders accused Jesus of undermining the law. (Picking grains on the Sabbath to eat! The horror! – Matthew 12)
--- On the contrary, Jesus said that even the smallest aspects of God’s law will endure “until heaven and earth pass away” (v. 18).
--- The Pharisees were always trying to rank the importance of laws. In verse 19 Jesus said that even what they considered the least of them should be treated the same as the ones considered most serious.
*** Jesus was speaking against legalism.
--- Religious leaders at the time had the belief that salvation can be earned by obedience to laws.
--- It was a frequent target of criticism in the New Testament writers who pointed out that Jesus Christ is our redemption, the whole point of those Old Testament laws.
--- Galatians 2:16 - know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.
--- Jesus wasn’t criticizing the Pharisees for obeying the laws (“whoever breaks one of the least … will be called least in” heaven, v. 19). Obeying God is required.
--- But the leaders loved being seen and praised for their adherence to the laws without the right inner attitude. (ex. - Healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12)
Think of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee who prayed to thank God for him being better than others, and the tax collector who rightly prayed for God to forgive him as a sinner.
*** Righteousness above and beyond.
--- Jesus probably shocked the crowds by saying that they could surpass the righteousness of their religious leaders.
--- How? The Pharisees weren’t humble and weren’t listening to Jesus as the Savior. Their hearts weren’t in the right place. They thought that they were destined for all the coolest rewards in heaven because of how awesome they were.
(Just as the disciples argued over who got to sit next to Jesus in heaven, Jesus replied that those who think they’re most worthy for their actions on earth, aren’t.) (Luke 9:46, Luke 22:24)
--- You can never make yourself righteous enough to enter heaven. We have to depend on God. Make yourself righteous by following Christ, who changes hearts and minds.
Romans 3:10,21-22 - as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. … But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction.
*** Question – What is wrong with the opinion that salvation is achieved and maintained through the keeping of God’s law?
VALUE HUMAN LIFE (Matt. 5:21-22)
21 You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.
*** But wait, there’s more!
--- You know how infomercials hook you into their awesome product but you're not quite ready to pick up the phone and buy it, but then they say, "But wait, there's more!"
--- The religious leaders in Jesus' time were all about following the letter of the laws. Jesus, however, said, "But wait, there's more!" He pointed to the intent behind the law.
--- Jesus gives six examples of higher righteousness that fulfills the law:
1. Murder: God intended that believers avoid not just murder but also anger and hatred, the root causes of murder.
2. Adultery: Jesus said you have to address lustful thoughts that lead to the act.
3. Divorce: Many men were abusing divorce laws for selfish reasons. Jesus emphasized consequences of divorce.
4. Oaths: People were making promises by things associated with God without using God specifically, as if God wasn't aware of loopholes. Jesus said to stop taking oaths altogether and be honest.
5. Revenge: Instead of “eye for an eye” Jesus countered with a demand to “turn the other cheek” and go the “second mile.”
6. Love your neighbor: He called for an above-and-beyond attitude to love not only your neighbor but your enemy as well.
*** Thou shalt not, and then some.
--- In verses 21 and 22, Jesus reaffirms the law against murder, then goes one further to say that unrighteous anger also makes you subject to judgment.
--- The sixth commandment says not to murder, but refraining from killing someone wrongfully is easy. Jesus goes deeper and says that the root cause also must be addressed.
--- Anger shows itself in hatred, revenge, pride, or bitterness. When we disrespect another person in any way, we break God’s law.
It's a lot harder to obey when Jesus says not to be angry than just to say, "Don't murder."
*** Question - Why do we consider anger to be a lesser sin than murder? Under what circumstances might anger be appropriate?
Ephesians 4:26 doesn't say all anger is bad, but it needs to be under control: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
Have any of you seen someone whose life is worse for uncontrolled anger? What happens?
LOVE BEYOND EXPECTATIONS (Matt. 5:43-45)
43 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
*** Say what now?
--- Perhaps the most demanding of all, Jesus challenged His listeners to exhibit righteousness by loving others beyond expectations.
--- This is one of the key doctrines that sets Christianity apart.
--- Everyone was perfectly happy when the law said that you could love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18) and the people assumed that meant they could hate their enemies (not Biblical). To them, “neighbor” meant other Jews and friends. That's easy peasy.
--- But they missed the spirit of the law. Jesus excluded hatred of anyone.
--- In His story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus saw a neighbor as anyone who needs help. He placed no limits on love.
--- Jesus showed us this kind of love on the cross. He prayed for the forgiveness of His accusers and tormentors. He defined sacrificial love for Christians.
*** Question - How do you relate to a person who holds different political, philosophical, or religious views from yours? How do you maintain a warm relationship with a fellow believer with whom you differ in spiritual matters? (Which is more difficult?!)
Last Tuesday the president delivered his final State of the Union address.
For the past seven years, President Obama has spoken against cynicism in the government. You can decide for yourself if he was a cause or a victim.
The message in all of Washington is usually the same as ever: If you agree with me, you’re reasonable. If not, you're my enemy.
Dealing with government is certainly one of the harder things for a Christian to do. Government forces Christian companies and colleges to pay for abortions, forces bakers to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, and treats believers of other religions with more respect and tolerance.
In today's verses Jesus makes obedience a matter of the heart and not just an action that everyone can admire. One way we do that is by showing love to those who oppose us.
*** How is your heart today? Are you following the Lord with your heart or just what everyone else sees?
*** Are you having anger issues? Pray about how God can change your attitude.
*** Pray for those who persecute you, or those whom you just don’t like. It’s a lot harder to actively hate them and might actually change your heart if not theirs.