Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:38-39

Matthew 5:38-39

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.(NET Bible)

What not to do

You do not have to read the newspaper for long to find stories about someone who is thrown out of a bar, gets a weapon out of his car and goes back in to settle the score. Gang retaliation is also common in many places. Divorced parents commonly fight over child custody, sometimes falsely claiming abuse by their ex or even through kidnapping the child.

But Jesus has a more important mission for his disciples than being involved in personal retaliation. Whose mission absorbs you?

As before, Jesus cites part of the law given through Moses; this time he quotes the laws related to legal recourse for personal injuries (Exod. 21:21-24 and Lev. 24:19-20). Even before Moses, the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 B.C.) instituted similar laws to limit the degree of retaliation for personal injuries in the Babylonian empire. The basic idea was that a law court would exact a punishment for personal injury that was proportional to the crime. By the time of Jesus, most such punishments were monetary.

It is important to dissect the phrase do not resist the evildoer (5:39). This probably means that the disciples were to forego the legal recourse that the law provided for them. This principle is best understood by means of the first example in which someone strikes a disciple on the right cheek. A backhanded slap to the right cheek was the severest form of insult, and the one struck could seek double damages.[1] The disciples of Jesus were not to seek such damages.

Jesus concedes the wrongness of the conduct by calling the striker the evildoer (5:39). So, the issue is not whether the disciple could win his suit in court. Instead, Jesus calls on his disciples to decisively break the natural chain of evil action and reaction that characterizes human relationships.[2]

But Jesus demand on his disciples goes ever further by forbidding resistance to further insult: turn the other [cheek] to him as well (5:39). This probably means that the failure to resist in court may well lead to further mistreatment. God will deal with that in due time!

What reason did Jesus have for giving such a command? Keener strikes the right note in saying that Jesus spoke in exaggerated terms to challenge his disciples about what they valued:

Jesus words in this case strike at the very core of human selfishness, summoning his disciples to value others above themselves in concrete and consistent ways. They have no honor or property worth defending compared with the opportunity to show how much they love God and everyone else.[3]

Before we apply todays lesson, it is important to note that this command does not deal with the behavior of nations, or cases of spousal abuse. Blomberg says, In no sense does v. 39 require Christians to subject themselves or others to physical danger or abuse, nor does it bear directly on the pacifism-just war debate.[4] Jesus is dealing with personal retaliation.

No, Jesus summons his disciples to a life characterized by kindness, not retaliation or defense of their honor. The alternative is the so-called honor killings that characterize life in certain areas of Asia and Africa today.

Whose mission? Whose honor?

Instead of defending our turf or getting back at others, Jesus calls on his disciples to consider how giving up our own rights or honor in obedience to him can bring greater honor to God and his kingdom.

The old Russian proverb says that the one who seeks revenge should dig two graves. Far better to follow Jesus and bury revenge instead!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 220.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 113.

[3] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 195.

[4] Blomberg, Matthew, 113.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:36-37

Matthew 5:36-37

Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be Yes, yes or No, no. More than this is from the evil one.
(NET Bible)

What is your word worth?

Shakespeare put in the mouth of Katherine, kinswoman to King Henry VIII, a negative opinion of the recently-dead Cardinal Wolsey: He would say untruths, and be ever double, both in his words and his meaning.[1]

Whenever someone speaks to us, we must run a calculation: What are they saying? Can their words be trusted? Others run the same calculation in relation to us. How does their answer about our truthfulness relate to Christ?

In yesterdays lesson, Jesus gave negative reasons in support of his command to avoid all oaths (5:34). That negatively-stated theme continues in 5:36. After ruling out any oaths secondarily related to God (e.g. oaths sworn on the temple, heaven, etc.), Jesus says his disciples must not even take oaths related to their own bodies, over which they have little control.

As he has done before, Jesus next drives the spiritual point deep into the heart of his disciples. The disciple who speaks without deception has no need of an oath. In Matt. 5:37, I prefer the ESVs translation: Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil. Since God is witness to every word we speak, the use of an oath does nothing to add weight to a disciples words.

In the time of Jesus, the Essene community — makers of the Dead Sea Scrolls — held a position very similar to that stated by Jesus. The Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37 c.100) described them by saying, Every declaration they make is stronger than an oath, and indeed they avoid swearing since they regard it as worse than perjury on the grounds that anyone who cannot be believed without an appeal to God is already condemned.[2]

Consider the unfortunate case of Peter. While Jesus was being accused before the high priest, Caiaphas, Peter was out in the courtyard warming his hands when a slave girl accused him of being a follower of Jesus (26:71). Peter denied it again with an oath, I do not know the man (26:72). He did so again just minutes later (26:74). In fact, two of the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus, he did so under oath. These oaths did nothing to make his words true!

Jesus put his finger on the inner issue of integrity, an issue that affects many aspects of society. Keener points out that Jewish teachers frequently had to arbitrate which oaths were binding.[3] The one swearing an oath wanted to stay as far from implicating God as possible to avoid danger from God over violating the oath. The one receiving the oath wanted as much leverage from God as possible. Jesus cuts through all such practices by saying these oaths give opportunity for evil to find expression.

Should a Christian ever take or make an oath? R.T. France prudently says, They should not be needed, but in practice they serve a remedial purpose in a world where the ethics of the kingdom of heaven are not always followed.[4] He also points out that refusing to take a required oath can easily create the wrong impression. Jesus is not making new law; he is demonstrating that the true interpretation of the law leads his disciples to make sure their hearts are right before God, who witnesses their every word.

People of integrity

There should be no doubt that the Bible says a lot about our actions, but a great deal of what happens between people is fueled by words spoken between them. Can those words be trusted? The answer depends directly upon the integrity of the person speaking.

Todays lesson reminds us of what Jesus promised earlier to the pure in heart: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt. 5:8). That purity comes out in the integrity of our words. Make them count for Christ!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2.

[2] Quoted by R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 216, footnote 128, from The Jewish War (2:135).

[3] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 194.

[4] France, Matthew, 216.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:33-35

Matthew 5:33-35

Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord. 34 But I say to you, do not take oaths at all — not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

How do you establish reliability?

The Alaska state trooper pulled over the pickup after seeing two people lying in its bed. He quickly confirmed two minors who had drunk too much alcohol. Next he queried the driver about any drinking, which was vehemently denied. The driver actually swore that he had no alcohol to drink, but a breath test proved otherwise. Finally, the young man admitted to drinking.

The state trooper was not amused by the false oath. Neither was God.

Jesus taught both positive and negative ideas about oaths. In this section we deal with the negative side (5:33-35), and the next section (5:36-37) will consider the positive commands about oaths that Jesus gave his disciples.

It may be hard to understand the importance of oaths in first-century culture, because our own ways are so different. The ancient world did not issue drivers licenses for identification or credit cards for commercial transactions. In place of our written contracts — so common that we generally sign without reading them — the ancients often used verbal agreements bound by an oath before God. This means that, in our culture, fear of lawyers has replaced the fear of God.

The importance of oaths in first-century culture meant that the scribes and Pharisees had developed a fully-elaborated set of rules to guide their use. Jesus first repeats what the ancients were told by Moses (5:33) and then shows how the labyrinth of oath-law may be altogether avoided: But I say to you, do not take oaths at all (5:34a). The phrase at all is emphatic in the Greek original.

Why should oaths be avoided? R.T. France explains, Jesus is not so much opposing OT legislation as telling his disciples not to take up an option which the law offered but did not require.[1] In particular, Jesus discounted the standard oath-forms authorized by the religious establishment. In a form of pseudo-holiness, they advocated swearing oaths by heaven (5:34) rather than using Gods name, allegedly out of respect for God.

R.T. France notes how Jesus often enumerated these oath-forms: Here Jesus lists oaths by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and ones own head, while in 23:16-22 he will add a further list (the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar). . . . All such surrogate oaths display not reverence but theological superficiality.[2]

That phrase theological superficiality is a treasure! Jesus sweeps away all these verbal tricks by pointing out that every single oath is uniquely related to God. You are no safer to swear by Jerusalem than to swear by Gods name. There are no safe oaths!

The plain fact is that everything we do and say is done with God as our witness. Every act by a disciple reflects on Jesus and will be judged by Jesus as such. There is no way to create a safe zone in which we can act as we please without implicating Jesus.

Who is your witness?

When an American acts the fool in a foreign country, his conduct reflects upon our country. In a similar way, when a believer in Jesus proves unreliable, the kingdom of heaven receives harm.

The book of Hebrews reveals something surprising when it says: God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:16b). God identified himself to Moses by saying, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:6). Be sure to live in a way that God is not ashamed to be called your God!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 214.

[2] France, Matthew, 215.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:31-32

Matthew 5:31-32

It was said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document. 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
(NET Bible)

Headline: An exception has swallowed the rule

In the engineering of systems for naval, nuclear power plants, we tried to make everything sailor-proof. In other words, we tried to make it impossible to make a serious error. Unfortunately, we found that sailors are marvelously inventive!

During a ships construction we made sure the nuclear reactor compartment was carefully cleaned every night. What we never imagined is that a worker would clean up and then pull off the protective cover over the end of one of the main pipes and put the trash in there! We did not appreciate that kind of creativity; we were not amused. Neither was Jesus amused by those hunting loopholes in what God commanded them. Do you look for ways around what God says?

Divorce was as common in Jesus day as it is today. They relied on Deut. 24:1, which says, If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house. Turner says, Apparently, many teachers of Jesus day had taken this passage as carte blanche for divorce.[1] A spoiled meal, a loud retort, or even the availability of a more beautiful woman were all accepted reasons for a man to divorce his wife! He need only give her the required certificate.

In contrast to the Pharisees, who seized upon the concession Moses had made because of hardened hearts, Jesus had a different teaching for his disciples. Jesus declares that these casual divorces were forcing the women involved into spiritual disloyalty to God. Craig Blomberg clarifies 5:32 by saying, Jesus maintains that the divorce itself creates adultery — metaphorically, not literally — through infidelity to the lifelong, covenantal nature of marriage.[2]

It is important to address the phrase except for immorality (5:32), because it appears to be the sole cause that Jesus will accept for divorce. The underlying Greek word is porneia, and it generally refers to unlawful sexual relations (i.e. between unmarried people); that could include both fornication and adultery. So, Jesus allowed divorce related only to serious sexual sin, not the trivial causes allowed by the Pharisees. Further, Jesus did not command divorce in such a case even though both Roman and Jewish law required divorce for these grounds.[3]

The Pharisees stressed the provision Moses made for divorce caused by hard-heartedness (Matt. 19:8), but Jesus emphasized Gods original purpose in marriage to create a one-flesh relationship (Matt. 19:4-6). Because of the teaching of the religious leaders, the exception allowed by Moses had swallowed the rule established by God! Without contradicting Moses, Jesus emphasizes the sanctity and seriousness of marriage.

The fact that Jesus did not intend a flat prohibition of divorce is proven by the fact that Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, expressly allowed divorce in a different situation than that defined by Jesus (1 Cor. 7:15-16). Craig Keener says that ancient hearers expected that statements of general principle needed to be qualified for specific situations, and they waited to hear the nuances.[4] Jesus intended here not to lay down the law but to combat complacency about divorce and to reassert Gods original intention for life-long marriage.

Jesus expects more of his disciples than the lax standards set down by those who neglect Gods Word. The exception never swallows the rule with Jesus, because Jesus is the rule!

Back to the future

Reasons for divorce are as lax today as among the Jews in the first century.

If we give our concentrated attention to protecting and nurturing marital relationships, then we will honor our relationship to Christ and show the world that his kingdom surpasses all others!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 171.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 111.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 467.

[4] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 190.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:29-30

Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Just how deep does this problem go?

It is amusing to watch aging officials in business attire and hard hats grab a shovel at a ground-breaking ceremony and move a shovelful of dirt. Anyone with common sense knows this is only a photo-op that contributes nothing to the completion of the project. Are we making the same token efforts in living for God?

Before I state what this passage does mean, it is prudent to eliminate what it does not mean. Jesus is not teaching self-mutilation, which is prohibited by the Law of Moses (Deut. 14:1). Logic should also tell us the same thing since the sin of lust would simply continue with the remaining eye and hand! Further, New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg tells us, It is quite possible to be blind or crippled and still lust.[1]

No, Jesus is using provocative language to get the audience to sift through the inconsistency of their own position and conclude that it is not the hands and eyes that cause one to sin, but the heart.[2] Remember that in the immediate context (5:28) Jesus has already identified the heart as the place where the adulterous decision is made.

In instructing his disciples about the kingdom, Jesus was overthrowing the then-prevailing idea that keeping the commandments outwardly — not murdering or committing adultery — was sufficient. Jesus shows instead that the commandments actually penetrate to spiritual issues of the heart.

If Jesus is not advocating actual removal of an eye or a hand, what is he saying? David Turner explains Jesus point by saying, It is better to deal decisively with lust than to be thrown into hell because of it.[3] R.T. France offers a broader view by explaining, The theme is impediments to salvation, and the importance of eliminating them at all costs, a theme which could have many different applications to relationships, activities, mental attitudes and the like.[4]

In these verses Jesus opens a subject that recurs often in Matthew: to cause someone to stumble, or a cause for stumbling. In this case it is a heart devoted to lust that causes someone to sin. The Greek verb underlying this concept is skandalizo— related to our English word scandal — and it means cause to stumble.[5] From the physical idea of stumbling there emerges the figurative idea to cause to do wrong or sin, and that is the meaning we see in Matt. 5:29-30.

Jesus is telling us that the state of the heart is what leads to sin, not the eye or the hand, and radical action is required to bring things right. Prior to this day, Jesus proclaimed, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (4:17). Sadly, some disciples who were confronted with this demand from heaven eventually fell away by rejecting it. For them, the gospel and the person of Jesus the Messiah became a stumbling block (13:21).

Be clear about the fact that Jesus says the end of any disciple who refuses to repent will be a stumbling entry into hell itself!

The insecurity of half-measures

If you have given your heart to Jesus Christ, you have no reason to fear the future. But make sure that you have not fallen into the half-measures that the Pharisees proclaimed, which Jesus declared insufficient for the kingdom. It is simply too easy to get complacent and think you are special to God because you have not murdered anyone, stolen anything or committed adultery.

Jesus has made it possible for us to repent, receive the Holy Spirit, resist sin — even sexual sin — and live for God. His grace to us is boundless!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Developed from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 109.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 693.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 171.

[4] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 206.

[5] Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), skandalizo, to cause to stumble, q.v.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:27-28

Matthew 5:27-28

You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

At these words, all men flinch!

In a highly sexualized society, many things that we consider to be normal actually offend God. So, television offers the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and the annual Victorias Secret fashion show in prime time. Some specialized channels have even worse content.

Perhaps you think all is well because you do not participate in those exact media events. Yet lust is a daily temptation that confronts all of us.

Few verses cause more doubt about self-control than the two we consider today. The problem centers in our hearts where we have uncritically internalized cultural values about lust. We are much like the men of the ancient Mediterranean area who — Keener[1] tells us — thought lust was a healthy and normal practice.

First, we will take a closer look at what Jesus said. As before, he quotes the Ten Commandments by citing the prohibition against adultery (Exod. 20:14). But, starting in 5:28, Jesus gives this text a powerful interpretation. The phrase whoever looks at a woman (5:28) expresses the underlying Greek present participle, which usually conveys an ongoing action. This probably implies more than a glance; this is a long, lingering look.

But what may we say about the woman (5:28)? In the context of the original commandment, this was someones wife, and that is confirmed by the reference to adultery. But the whole tenor of Jesus teaching is not such as to encourage limiting the scope of his words. Along with Turner[2], I believe Jesus is speaking about looking at any woman, not merely someones wife.

The nature of the look is important. The key phrase looks at a woman to desire her (5:28, NET) is more commonly translated looks at a woman to lust for her (HCSB; joined by NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, and KJV with slight variations). Desire can imply simple sexual attraction, which is biological, whereas lust for suggests greater intensity, imagining and especially planning for sexual activity.

The influential church father John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) tellingly described the one experiencing this lust: he who gathers in lust unto himself; he who, when nothing compels him, brings in the wild beast upon his thoughts when they are calm. For this comes no longer of nature, but of self-indulgence.[3] The church fathers knew human nature as well as we do!

We can summarize the danger point using a six-word epigram: The move from Wow! to How? R.T. France says the sin comes in the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison.[4]

Jesus evidently demands more of his disciples than mere obedience to the commandment (You will not commit adultery); he requires that you not want to do so either![5] That will be so much easier if your mind is focused on what Christ has done for you, what you can pray about, and who you might tell about the gospel. The battleground is the mind, and focusing your attention on Jesus will allow you to survive many struggles with lust.

Planning for a pure heart

We have to conclude that Jesus does not look with favor on a world full of pornography, sexual slavery and a casual attitude toward marriage. Though you may be an independent-minded American, a disciple of Jesus is not free to do anything they like.

Remember that many disciples before you have had to live in sex-saturated cultures. Jesus does not command you to do anything that he will not also empower you to do. A pure heart is something you have to want and also seek every single day.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 186.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 170.

[3] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, Ed. (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887-94) 113.

[4] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 204.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 187.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:25-26

Matthew 5:25-26

Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
(NET Bible)

Who needs to avoid the danger?

The nature of being human is that we do not always know how things are going to turn out. We may think it is manly to plunge forward, heedless of danger. Any of us knows how to play the big man until we run into something bigger still. (Women can do this as well.)

Jesus commands his disciples to settle one issue swiftly, while the matter is still in their hands: what claim might others have on you before God? But will his disciples listen?

Jesus imagines a dispute in which two Jews are on their way to a court to have their dispute adjudicated. But what court? In this context, there can only be one answer: Gods court of divine judgment. In effect, Jesus says do not show up before Gods judgment with matters still in doubt. You cannot afford to lose there!

R.T. France points out one clue when he says, The inclusion of I tell you truly . . . alerts us to a more important purpose than merely avoiding imprisonment: like the other parable of debt and imprisonment (18:23-35), it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven.[1]

Who would be likely to find themselves in such danger? The wealthy and the powerful had little to fear in any earthly court, but, in the court of heaven, even the smallest might bring them down. How else may we understand Jesus words to the Pharisee: Give from your heart to those in need, and then everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). The Parable of the Rich man with poor Lazarus lying at his gate, unaided, will surely account for the rich man ending up in hell (Luke 16:19-31) and Lazarus in paradise.

Under the law, the rich were responsible before God to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the alien. How can they expect anything but ruin when the matter comes before God?

If this is the case, then how could the wealthy and powerful settle with others who had a claim on them? First of all, they could repent of their disobedience to the law and begin to practice the love, justice, mercy and humility that God demands of us all (Micah 6:8). Only by showing mercy can they have hope of finding mercy before a holy God.

The closing warning (5:26) is dire. It begins with the solemn words I tell you the truth. It continues with the most powerful negation in Greek: you will absolutely not get out of there until you have paid the last penny (my translation of Matt. 5:26b). The amount of money mentioned was 1/64 of a denarius, which was one days wage for a laborer. In our country, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and 1/64th would be a little over 11 cents.

Thinking theologically, we must ask how a disciple could discharge such a debt, one gained over a lifetime of neglect. The only chance was to repent and seek Gods mercy. Such were the powerful demands that Jesus brought upon his disciples.

Act while time remains!

In all of his teaching about resolving differences within relationships (5:21-26), Jesus has stressed the need for unity and the peaceful resolution of differences. Indeed, broader social obligations must be met before they arrive for adjudication before Gods throne.

Cain rhetorically asked God, Am I my brothers guardian? (Gen. 4:9). Gods unspoken answer was Yes! Many of us do not talk like Cain, but on this question we may manifest his values.

How do some find it possible to live with such self-focus when the one we call Lord set aside the splendor of heaven to die in our place, paying a price we could never pay? How should we live to show him that we understand what he wants?

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 203-204.