Monday, January 27, 2014

Living Jesus: Fulfilling the Law

Jesus boldly proclaims in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

Jesus is going to accomplish them. He is going to put flesh on them bones.

Jesus expects the same from His listeners.

There are 2 choices:
You can either ignore parts of the law that aren't convenient to you
You can practice AND teach the whole thing.

Jesus loved to jab at the Pharisees. Here is one of first pokes at them. They are very righteous, but they were flawed. They would change the law to suit them, they would exalt the points of the law that were easy for them and they would do it all to try to get praise from other people.

Let's say you take a multiple-choice test with  a fill-in-the-dot type answering sheet. What the Law does is provide you with the answer key. You can compare what you have done, with what is correct and judge yourself by that standard. You can even give yourself a score. Unfortunately (for us and them), the only score that is acceptable to God is 100%

Jesus comes in and says, "I'm not getting rid of the answer key. I'm going to explain to you what is right and why it is right and how to get to the right answer." Instead of learning that "b" is the wrong answer, you are going to learn what the right answer is and how to get to it. Jesus is going to write the problem on the board and step-by-step solve it for you.

Let's revisit the 2 choices I listed above:
Ignoring parts of the law would be like using that answer key to determine you've earned a score of 82%, then going back and crossing out the questions you got wrong or deciding that some of the ones you got right were worth double. You change the rules in your mind so that you can still get 100% and be right with God. This is only in your mind and God does not accept your scoring system. You can however probably convince a lot of human beings that you have succeeded in your venture to be righteous.

Practicing and teaching the whole thing implies a nice mix of knowing and doing.
Jesus is giving a tremendous pep talk to start this lesson:

The Son of God, who quickly establishes Himself as "one who teaches with authority" is actively pursuing the lost sheep of Israel. He is finding the people who have lost their way and feel beat down and thrown out. He is taking all of the people who have done poorly on life's exam and is telling them that He will be their tutor.

I believe that offer still stands today. For the lost sheep in the world, they need to see Jesus as their Great Shepherd. For those who are in Christ, how can we "live Jesus"? I think that comes down to what Jesus told the disciples much later in Matthew's gospel, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Living Jesus: Who we are in Christ

"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said. "You are the light of the world."
I don't know how you can divorce these words from the ideas we learned about last week in the Beatitudes. There, Jesus speaks to the lowly people of the world and says, "You are the blessed ones!"
His encouragement continues - "You are the salt, you are the light!"

Ironically, thus far in the journey of "Living Jesus" we still don't need to do anything.

Perhaps that is the lesson that we have to learn.

Following Christ is not thinking that what we do makes us who we are but understanding the Christ transforms us into something we could never attain on our own and then in Him and through Him, simply by being the people He's remade us to be, we will have a profound impact on the world around us.

The action comes but without transformation and understanding we will be like the branches cut off from the vine. We could work as long as hard as we could and would never bring forth any fruit. The branch that is connected to the vine however has no claim except that it is connected to the vine. The result of simply staying attached, fruit is born.

Those who follow Christ will, on account of following Him, be salt and light.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Living Jesus: See the Blessing, Be the Blessing

Here are some continued thoughts and reactions to the Beatitudes, Jesus' blessing-filled opening to the Sermon on the Mount.

In his book, Living Jesus, Randy Harris encourages readers to identify with the "anawim," (the poor in spirit or the pathetic ones) that Jesus blesses first. When we realize that most of us are essentially "losers" we can come to appreciate how great and important Christ's blessing is AND we recognize that His blessing extends to us as well. In other words, we don't have to try to be poor in spirit, most of us already are.

After some inward reflecting on who we really are and what Jesus' blessing means to us, we should stop and look around.

Harris says, "I believe that it's impossible to live out the Sermon on the Mount if we don't first understand that we are loved and blessed by God."

Perhaps we should add to that thought that it is impossible to live out the Sermon on the Mount if we don't first understand that the world around us is also loved and blessed by God.

Brian McLaren puts it well in The Secret Message of Jesus

        "After all when you see your students, constituency, clients, or customers as people who are          loved by God and as your fellow citizens in God's kingdom, it becomes harder to rip them            off or give them second best. And when enough people begin to live with that viewpoint, in          little ways as well as big ones, over long periods of time, things truly change... each of us              not only prays, 'May your kingdom come,' but we become part of the answer to that                        prayer in our sphere of influence."

When we start seeing the blessing in other people and in the world around us, we are energized to be the blessing in their lives. A great Christian truth is that God uses his people as agents to distribute His truth and blessing to the world. He did it with Israel and He does it now through Christ and His following. 
     2 Corinthians 9:8-12
And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

***The famous "sermon on the mount" is recorded in Matthew 5-7. Last week we started our study of this sermon with the help of the resource "Living Jesus" by Randy Harris, with Greg Taylor. All of the blog posts that have "Living Jesus" in the title follow the Utica church of Christ's Sunday AM Bible study in the 1st quarter of 2014***

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Living Jesus: The Upside Down Kingdom

Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with a series of blessings for people who may not have been accustomed to receiving such blessings from their Rabbi.

Their world, much like ours tended to honor the strong and mighty, those who seemed wise and who had wealth.

Jesus starts His most famous sermon saying, "I'm going to pay attention to everyone else: the little guy. Everyone that the world looks down on, everyone who is in some kind of pain or confusion and especially those who might suffer because of believing and following me, that's who I will cater to." (These are not His exact words)

The thing is, that was not a whimsical moment in Jesus' ministry, that was the hallmark!

Jesus would go on to spend ample amounts of time with "sinners and tax collectors," because its not the healthy who need the doctor... He would teach things like, "the first will be last and the last will be first." and, "if you want to become great in God's kingdom you have to become a servant... or like a child." Oh, and by the way, if you get your reward or recognition in this world, you won't be getting it in God's kingdom... You still need to be righteous and holy, but rather than trying to impress men, you should be aiming to impress God. You can please God by helping out the "least of these": poor, hungry, naked, imprisoned, sick, etc.

Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world." That means that how we live and find success are going to be very different as well. People that follow Jesus would be very different, almost like light shining in darkness (or exactly like that). And even if a small group of people would commit to living the kingdom lifestyle in this world, they would even "turn the world upside down."

***The famous "sermon on the mount" is recorded in Matthew 5-7. Last week we started our study of this sermon with the help of the resource "Living Jesus" by Randy Harris, with Greg Taylor. All of the blog posts that have "Living Jesus" in the title follow the Utica church of Christ's Sunday AM Bible study in the 1st quarter of 2014***

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Living Jesus: Before You Go

This blog is oriented toward living out Christianity in real and simple ways.

"Living Jesus" is all about reading and studying the "sermon on the mount" with the intent of actually living out the teaching of Jesus.

Last week we saw that action is the foundation of the Christian life. Well, Jesus provides the foundation with his teaching. Wisdom or foolishness is proven by how we respond to those teachings. If we put them into action, we are wise. If we ignore them and do not live them out, we are fools.

So here we are, our minds and bodies are ready for action.

Go ahead Jesus, give us something to do.

Jesus Christ, however, does not start the sermon on the mount in this manner. He does not come out swinging with a list of commands. Instead, He opens His talk with BLESSINGS: we generally call them the beatitudes.

Christians can easily slip into two different pockets of error. In some cases (as we discussed last week), we consider the commands of Christ and rationalize our inactivity by determining that those things are just too hard to do. "Certainly God doesn't expect us to be perfect."
The other erroneous route is when we take things that are said about how to be, who to be or as in the case of Matthew 5:1-12, simple blessings to people as they already were and we translate those things into commands. Sometimes we are always looking for things to do to feel righteous or accomplished.

Geoff Surrat writes in Christ Follower (Seacoast Church), "It's easy for us to hear these words and think, Oh, so I need to be poor, I need to mourn... These are not commands to be poor, to be hungry, to be sad, to be persecuted. Actually, Jesus is explaining how life really works in the invisible, eternal kingdom of God."

Geoff also quotes Dallas Willard from The Divine Conspiracy: The beatitudes in particular are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings..."

Jesus looked around as He was about to speak and like any good orator would He "knew His audience." They were the downtrodden and outcast, the meek and the poor. They came to Christ with the mindset of, "we are not the blessed ones." So Christ makes it very clear to them, "Yes, you are. Blessed are... all of you."

So we don't get to DO anything quite yet. But that's OK.

We'll conclude with some words from  the book Living Jesus, "There are a lot of commands in the Sermon on the Mount, and through the rest of this series we'll look at those commands; but I believe that it's impossible to live out the Sermon on the Mount if we don't first understand that we are loved and blessed by God."

***The famous "sermon on the mount" is recorded in Matthew 5-7. Last week we started our study of this sermon with the help of the resource "Living Jesus" by Randy Harris, with Greg Taylor. All of the blog posts that have "Living Jesus" in the title follow the Utica church of Christ's Sunday AM Bible study in the 1st quarter of 2014***

Monday, January 6, 2014

Living Jesus

Over the course of the next 12 weeks this blog will follow the progress of our Sunday morning adult Bible class on the Sermon on the Mount. This class will be using as a guide the book called Living Jesus, by Randy Harris with Greg Taylor.

The approach that will be taken will be to examine the Sermon on the Mount with a goal of answering the question, "How can I live this out in my life?"

Perhaps that should always be the goal or at least a goal of any Bible study, but we are often content with merely trying to figure out what a particular text means.

Todd Egstrom writes, "In large groups, studying the Bible often feels like you've obeyed it. Knowledge is not necessarily obedience, however, and we need specific accountability to help our hands obey what our head and hearts know."

A friend and author of Dying to Control, Leon Hayduchok used to compare the modern day church to the Gnostics of New Testament times. For many, knowing the truth is good enough for them and even gives them feelings of entitlement and superiority. 

We must be moved by James' words, " don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves" (1:22 NLT).

And that is precisely how the Sermon on the Mount ends... 
Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders and makes it clear to the people who just heard His teaching: If you don't live these things out, if you don't follow them or put them into practice then you are a fool and when trouble comes you will fall. On the other hand, those who hear the teachings and put them into practice will be considered wise and stand firm when the storms of life pass through.

So what is the least we can do to put these things into practice?

Each week we will answer that for the section of the sermon we dissect, but for now, the main point that Harris and Taylor want us to digest is that Jesus said what He said in Matthew 7:24-28 because He fully believed that is audience (then & now) could do all of the things He taught from Matthew 5:1 - 7:23.
That is the least we can do as we begin this study: know and believe that by the grace of God, the power of His Spirit and the strength of His Son, we really can do all things and in particular, live the life that Jesus teaches.