Tag: Sermon on the Mount

Red Letter — Cutting to the heart of the Sermon on the Mount

This is an edited transcript of a sermon on Matthew’s Gospel from City South Presbyterian Church in 2022. You can listen to the sermon here, or watch here. The running time for those options is 35 minutes.

If you were given the ability to cut out anything in the modern world to fix it, where would you be pointing your blade?

What political issue or system would you tackle to bring about righteousness?

Maybe, this week, you are feeling like it is religious freedom? Maybe it is modern economics?

What would you cut down that gets in the way of heaven on earth? Jesus has been talking about the kingdom of heaven at every turn (see Matthew 3:2), and he keeps going in this passage today. Jesus is still speaking on the mountain (Matthew 5:1-2), as the new Moses.

Moses would meet God on the mountain (Exodus 19:3, 24:18, 34:4). Mountains are a meeting place between heaven and earth. Mountains are places where God’s people would meet with God (like Jerusalem would become with the Temple) and then take God’s kingdom down to earth. When Moses did this, over time, he was transformed by being in God’s presence, till he began shining with God’s glory (Exodus 34:29).

And now Jesus describes a restored Jerusalem — a whole city of shining Moseses — people who are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-15), whose light shines, visibly — so people see our good deeds, they get a glimpse of heaven and of God and instead of glorifying us for our goodness — they see God in us and with us — and glorify Him (Matthew 5:16). He’s come to create a kingdom of Moseses.

One way to think about “glorifying” is the idea of “shining the light on” — our good deeds do this because we are carrying the light of heaven — radiating God’s character, imaging Him. This is a little picture of the kingdom of heaven; this shining people. Jesus keeps using this phrase the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19, 20). It’s what Israel is waiting for. Jesus says he has not come to get rid of the old, not to replace Moses, or the Old Testament law — or to get rid of the prophets — but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17); fulfilling their hopes for a Kingdom.

Now, we might file these bits of the Bible — law, and prophets — separately, but Jesus groups them together and says both have a purpose or a telos — or something, or someone they are pointing to — and he is it.

What follows is one of the most intense bits of Jesus’ teaching — it looks like he takes the law and makes it harder to obey — or some people think it is to teach us how impossible the law was to keep, so we rely on grace alone — and it is true only one person has fulfilled the law perfectly… and that he offers us forgiveness for where we fall short, by grace, through faith.

Jesus says those people who want to set aside these commands will be called least in the kingdom, while those who practice them and teach them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19).

Jesus is not changing the law. He is showing how the law has been misunderstood — to show people are not pursuing righteousness, because they are not pursuing God. They are not a bunch of rules with nothing to do with being the kingdom of heaven — the city on a mountain — They are not an impossible standard to ignore. They are a way of life we are invited to practice in the freedom that comes from being God’s children; those liberated to join Him in His kingdom.

Sometimes in our rush to reduce the gospel to the good news about how we are saved by Jesus — “justification,” we miss that the gospels — like Matthew — are a story that is also about what we are saved for, “sanctification,” how we are called to become like Jesus as we imitate him. This idea that we should teach these commands — and obey them — comes up again in the Great Commission — we are not just told ‘make converts by preaching the Gospel’ — we are told to take people through a new exodus — baptism — and to make disciples who will obey these commands (Matthew 28:18-20).

Back on the mountain Jesus drops this bomb. He says the kingdom of heaven requires a righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

He is playing with the expectations first century Israelites have about the kingdom. The Pharisees believed God would not send a Messiah to end the exile until Israel was cleansed. There is a document from the late first century BC called the Psalms of Solomon, reflecting their thinking about Israel’s restoration and the end of Roman rule. For this to happen God had to cleanse Israel before this day of mercy and blessing when he would bring back his anointed:

“Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David. At the time in the which thou seest, O God, that he may reign over Israel, thy servant. And gird him with strength that he may shatter unrighteous rulers.”

“And that he may purge Jerusalem from nations that trample her down to destruction. Wisely, righteously he shall thrust out sinners from the inheritance.”

“And he shall not suffer unrighteousness to lodge any more in their midst, nor shall there dwell with them any man that knoweth wickedness, for he shall know them, that they are all sons of their God.”

For this to happen, Israel would have to cut out their unrighteousness. The wicked would be removed and only children of God would remain — there would be no more enemies. No Romans.

This idea of righteousness meant the Pharisees created a bunch of extra laws going beyond the Old Testament — to create a righteous Israel, so the Messiah would come. There were other groups too.

The Zealots; they hated the Romans, and some of them even started assassinating them in the streets using a special sort of knife called a Sicarii. They wanted to bring the kingdom by literally cutting out God’s enemies.

The Essenes, who cut themselves off from those they saw to be a corrupt Israel — waiting for God’s king to lead them home. The Dead Sea Scrolls found in a place called Qumran — were probably from the Essenes. They were waiting for a priest-king who would bring a shining, glorious, kingdom. Here is an excerpt from one of the scrolls (4Q541). This Messiah would speak words from the heavens, bringing a shining light that triumphed over darkness:

“His utterance is like the utterance of the heavens, and his teaching is according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine, and his fire will burn in all the ends of the earth, and over the darkness it will shine.”

And the Sadducees were wealthy rulers who ran the priesthood in Jerusalem. They were pretty legalistic, and it seems they majored on the Torah — the Old Testament law. They were prepared to cut out sin, literally. There is an ancient source that talks about a book of decrees they had with guides for how to literally apply the “an eye for an eye, a hand for hand” law from the Torah (Exodus 21:23-25). Other groups had tried to put a money value on restoration, the Sadducees wanted to get the knives out.

All these communities came with different pictures of what a Messiah — the promised king — would be like; how he would wield the blade; and who would get cut. When Jesus says he is fulfilling the Old Testament, all these groups have different ideas (Matthew 5:17). Jesus starts unpacking where they have got it wrong. He repeats this little pattern six times in the chapter — “you have heard…” “but I tell you” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).

And the stakes on getting the kingdom right are high — not just about the political future of Israel, but cosmic questions of heaven or hell (Matthew 5:19, 20, 22). There is even what we might call cosmic geography built into some of the commands — do not swear by heaven — God’s throne — the earth — his footstool — or Jerusalem — the mountain city of God’s Messiah — when he talks about oaths, there are kingdom categories we do not typically have in mind when swearing an oath with our hand on a Bible (Matthew 5:34-35). And then Jesus goes into some examples to reveal the heart of the law — the way God’s people were always meant to understand it. Starting with anger (Matthew 5:44-45).

Righteousness is not just about actions, but about the heart — the inner person — Jesus is not coming to cut away at people’s actions, or different political groups — he is coming to cut hearts.

We can be like the Pharisees, thinking about righteousness in terms of controlling our actions, making rules or systems to stop ourselves sinning — and self-control is great — but the kingdom does not need new rules to shape your behaviour, new systems in place — it needs new hearts.

It feels odd to need to point it out — but harboring anger in your heart is absolutely less sinful than murdering them. He is not saying ‘if I am angry I may as well do more.’ Jesus is not equating the two — there is a whole heap of intersecting sins caught up in the murder of a person involving the theft of a life — a person who belongs to God and others — that means both the consequence and the offence is greater — that is not actually Jesus’ point.

Jesus is revealing that the law was always about the heart; not about being righteous through actions, but becoming righteous through the pursuit of God.

Think of it like a house — the “do not murder” a law — is the floor of the house. When you cross that barrier you are not part of the house. You are unrighteous. But walking around not murdering people is not the same as righteousness. It is the floor when it comes to writing a law, but God’s law was not just written to define the floor. In the law, and the story the law is embedded in, in the Torah, we are meant to meet the righteous and loving God behind the law — and to become like Him.

That is the ceiling.

Jesus is not changing the rules as much as saying that by looking at the floor, and making sure you do not fall through it, you have missed the ceiling.

And maybe anger is an area where you are happily not violating the floor — not murdering — maybe even putting up laws or strategies that stop you getting angry — but how are you going at loving people, rather than being angry at them.

It is the same with lust (Matthew 5:28) — adultery is much more costly than lusting after someone in your heart — but lust is already a failure to love. We are already missing the principle at the heart of the law about being like God and seeing other people like God does; we are already slipping into seeing people the way Satan wants us to see people.

God’s law is actually — and has always actually — been about hearts that are devoted to God, that produce lives that look like God, that reflect and bring glory to Him. That is the righteousness the law requires — that we actually be image bearers of God.

And this stuff is serious — it is worth cutting out. Jesus even says we should be prepared to take the knife to ourselves (Matthew 5:29-30).

Now — there have been people in history who have taken this idea of cutting off body parts that lead to sin quite literally with drastic consequences — and maybe they would be appropriate if our eyes or our hands actually caused us to sin…

But we know they do not. Do not we?

In fact, Jesus is going to say that all this stuff — anger — lust — the stuff we might blame our hands and our eyes for — murder, adultery — and other sins — comes from the heart (Matthew 15:19-20).

It is our hearts that need to go under the knife.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

The Pharisees wanted to change Israel — to produce righteousness —through new laws governing behaviours, but they missed the heart… The Zealots thought the problem to be cut out was other people — fix the system and righteousness would flourish… Get rid of the Romans…

And the Sadducees — they would chop bits of sinners to produce righteousness rather than their own bits… Jesus upends their expectations too… In case the crowd watching on has not got the point Jesus goes straight for the bit in the law the Sadducees loved (Matthew 5:38-39).

And maybe the idea driving the Zealots in their pursuit of justice through violence — and he says do not — and even — do not resist.

Overcome evil with good. If they slap you on the right cheek, turn the other one…

Now again, this is the teaching of principles — It is not actually a good idea in a whole bunch of situations to let people punch you or hit you — the point is to not retaliate with retribution, or even with justice, but with love and mercy. Taking the cost of making peace upon yourself — And, if someone wants to sue you for your shirt, give them your coat, and go the extra mile when someone is forcing you on a journey (Matthew 5:40-41).

You sense the Zealots going cold here.

The Messiah has not come to destroy Israel’s enemies — but to love them (Matthew 5:43-44).

He has not come to chop up sinners or stab Romans. He has not come leading a rebellion with swords and spears, but to lead people — even Gentiles — even the Romans, back to God.

The Pharisees might have thought Israel needed to be cleansed of wickedness — of enemies — in order for the children of God to be revealed (Psalms of Solomon). Jesus teaches that it is those who love their enemies — those who persecute us — who will be children of God (Matthew 5:44-45). And then, here is where Jesus reveals what the law was always about — the ceiling — Jesus says the task here is to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Or as Leviticus puts it — be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 20:26). It is this reflecting the nature of God that was meant to set Israel apart as God’s kingdom.

There was never a way we could hit the ceiling. The law was designed to produce godliness, by driving people towards God; depending on His grace and mercy and forgiveness. Moses became shinier the more he went back to God after Israel sinned, after he had failed, trusting in the goodness of God.

Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17) by bringing heaven and earth together — mediating between us and God, and speaking for God, the way Moses and the prophets did.

He fulfills the law by more than just keeping the law — even being perfectly holy and like God — he fulfills the law in the same way he fulfills the prophets.

He is the one the law points to — the sacrificial system, our need for God to save, the Exodus story and the idea of a kingdom of image bearing priests who would fill the earth with God’s presence.

He even fulfills the idea that the knife needed to be turned on our own hearts. Moses promised a return from exile would happen when God changed hearts — circumcised — cut them — so we might actually love God, and in loving God, find life (Deuteronomy 30:6-7). We will see Jesus pick up this language in Matthew. Then the idea of new hearts and a new covenant was picked up by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33).

Who said God’s law was going to be written on his people’s hearts — recreating a people, a kingdom, for himself — which is what Jesus comes to do, as he brings heaven and earth together by baptizing with the Holy Spirit and bringing the kingdom of heaven. Showing us it is our hearts that need cutting first — not others. Ultimately the Pharisees and Sadducees will throw their lot in with Rome — staging an insurrection against God’s king. Coming with swords to arrest him and turn him over to the Romans.

And they do this at the exact the moment the Zealots have their own insurrection — an uprising — against Rome going on in Jerusalem — that is what Barabbas, the guy whose place Jesus takes, and the thieves crucified next to him were guilty of —

And as Israel reveals what it thinks the kingdom of heaven is going to look like,

Jesus is revealing God’s kingdom. In his death and resurrection we see the heart of God, as Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets —

You want to know how the law is fulfilled, or the prophets, look at Jesus.

You want to know what the kingdom of heaven looks like, and what righteousness looks like, and what God requires in an image bearing person who radiates his glory, look at Jesus. Crucified.

This is where we see him as the one who fulfills the Sermon on the Mount — loving his enemies, praying for those who persecute him, turning the other cheek.

He does not cut up the enemies of God, but has his own skin pierced, to love his enemies and make us God’s children — bringing those who receive him as king and savior into his kingdom.

Jesus comes to show us that the problem with the world is not out there — it is not just the Roman Empire and Satan pulling the strings. It is in us. It is our hearts. He brings forgiveness of sins — cleansing — and new hearts; fulfilling the Law (Deuteronomy 30), and the Prophets (Jeremiah 31).

Whatever bringing the kingdom looks like, it is not fixing some out there thing first, but having the knife applied to our hearts, having God’s law written on our hearts, so that we pursue the God we meet in Jesus and are transformed to become his shining children, the light of the world; a heavenly city of shining ones, whose transformed lives, and utter dependence on God to save — will glorify God (Matthew 5:14-16).

Right at the end, as Jesus sends his disciples into the world — people who follow and walk with the king — he takes them up a mountain (Matthew 28:16), and sends them — and those who came after them — into the world teaching one another to obey his commands; as shining ones (Matthew 28:19-20).

When we think about how we would fix the world, we can operate like Pharisees or Zealots or Sadducees. We can be keen to reach for the knife, to take out our enemies, or cut off bits of people who have wronged us, to do our bit to create laws that will fix things; fighting some culture war, and so forgetting about the real battle, as Jesus frames it; to live lives from hearts that have been cut by God so that we obey him.

Are you prepared to make the cuts to your own heart?

To live as shining people who practice and teach the commands of Jesus, not because they save us, but because we are saved to live this way as those whose lives reflect the glory of our God and his king.

Imagine what we would look like if we practiced these commands from the Sermon on the Mount; not perfected them, but just making them practices that drive us to the heart of God (Matthew 5:44-45).

Imagine if we worked hard at being peacemakers when we have conflict with our brothers and sisters in Christ — as a training ground for how we love our enemies.

Imagine what it would look like if the church had a reputation not only for sexual purity — which we often do not — but for being a place where we do not objectify and lust not only after those in our communities — our brothers and sisters — but those outside.

Imagine if we took Jesus’ words seriously on porn, or our thought worlds, and worked harder to cut out that habit? Not chopping your hand off when it causes you to sin, or gouging out your eyes but having God change your heart, so you see those men and women as those made in the image of God who are meant to reveal his glory, but more, so that you hunger and thirst for righteousness; for God.

Imagine if we cared about our own hearts, and bringing them into alignment with the heart of God, more than the actions of others.

Imagine if we were not known for using courts or legislation to protect our rights and police the righteousness of others, but for being generous, including to those persecuting us.

Imagine, for a moment, one of the more popular scenarios in the culture wars — a Christian baker being forced to make a cake for a gay wedding cake at the threat of legal action… Whether being asked genuinely, or as part of the culture war being fought by others.

Imagine if that baker instead of doubling down and refusing to give his shirt, made two cakes, or catered for the wedding.

Imagine if we took these words of Jesus seriously, rather than putting them in the too hard basket.

Obeying them will look different for different people in different contexts — these are little stories that are not likely to happen to you tomorrow, but the principle is what we are trying to figure out. Those are the sorts of good deeds that shining people might do as we reflect a little bit of heaven on earth.

False flags, fear, Facebook and Costly love for Christ’s sake…


It’s a scary picture. A bunch of Syrian refugees in Germany gatherer around the hideous black ISIS flag. Clashing with police. Way to throw such a loving and hospitable welcome back in people’s faces right?

Or not. In that, it’s not a bunch of Syrian refugees from the latest influx gathering around this flag. It’s some German ISIS supporters, a year ago, waving a flag that Germany has since banned.

This image that’s doing the rounds on Facebook via some fear-mongering race-baiting watchdogs is from a year ago. Here’s a blog post from 2014 featuring the same image that is being shared online as though it happened two days ago.

This is something of an Internet false flag. It’s becoming increasingly common for people to take pictures out of context and harness them for agendas, often to create fear and outrage. Or fear and loathing.

And that’s dangerous.

Truth is so important. Especially in fraught and complex geo-political situations where millions of people have been displaced by evil regimes hell bent on genocide.

Wikipedia calls a “False Flag” action one that:

False flag (or black flag) describes covert operations designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them. Operations carried out during peace-time by civilian organizations, as well as covert government agencies, may by extension be called false flag operations if they seek to hide the real organization behind an operation. Geraint Hughes uses the term to refer to those acts carried out by “military or security force personnel, which are then blamed on terrorists.”

In this case, militant websites with an anti-refugee agenda are conducting operations on social media that are then blamed on terrorists. And if you share these images without verification, you’re aiding in their dark arts.

Truth is especially important for Christians because it’s part of how we love —both how we love our brothers and sisters, and our enemies. It’s important when we’re dealing with genuine refugees, including brothers and sisters in Christ, and our Muslim neighbours who are fleeing a violent and destructive regime.

Welcoming refugees involves cultural change. It involves giving something up. It involves sharing the hard fought and hard won prosperity that our country enjoys thanks to the work of previous generations. But love costs. And love always involves change. And change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly hasn’t been bad historically. Australia benefits from multi-culturalism. Though the Indigenous population in Australia have legitimate complaints about the way they were treated by a bunch of boat people. Most messages to the contrary are fear driven.

And look, it’d be naive to suggest refugee resettlement doesn’t come with some social costs — there are massive issues trying to accommodate multiple cultures in different places, there may even be criminals who take advantage of our generosity, but that’s not a good reason not to be generous. The key to minimising these difficulties is loving and inclusive communities, not panic-driven fear mongering.

A word for Christians

This is especially true for Christians, and sadly it’s those wanting to protect a “Christian” way of life who share stories like this. So let me speak directly to Christians for a moment, not because Australia is a Christian nation and we should want to protect that, but because we’re meant to be imitating Jesus in our engagement with the world. And listening to him. It may be that some ‘enemies’ of Australia, or of Christianity, come to our shores as refugees (or to European shores). Our nation will decide what to do with refugees, and fear might be part of that decision, but that shouldn’t be a result of our fear.

Here’s how Jesus says to respond to this.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:38-48

Sounds unrealistic right. But it’s what Jesus calls for us to do, and what he demonstrates, on our behalf, at the Cross. You were the evil person. Your heart is the sort of heart that lead humanity to kill God. To crucify Jesus. And yet, while you were still a sinner — an enemy — a Godkiller — Christ died for you.

There will be costs for loving and welcoming refugees. But we should be most willing to pay them.

You might be afraid of what these costs will mean for you and your children. And that’s normal. But we shouldn’t respond to fear the way the world does. Our ‘fears’ have a different perspective. Or, again, as Jesus puts it…

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. — Matthew 10:28.

Interestingly, that same chapter has something to say about providing welcome to those in need —especially those who also belong to Jesus (but all people ‘belong’ to Jesus in one sense, don’t they, whether they know it or not. That’s kind of the point of the “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” — what has Caesar’s image on it — and “give to God what is God’s”…). This is what not fearing the one who can kill the body looks like… Taking up our cross. Following Jesus. Costly love for his sake.

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” — Matthew 10:40-42

The sort of love Jesus calls us to give our neighbours, this sort of welcome, is what he also calls us to give to our enemies, in the hope they’ll become our neighbours. The apostle, John, seems to have these bits of Jesus’ teaching in mind as he writes to the church. It’s interesting to see what he does with fear, and how he values truth and love, in these words. If only we were more inclined towards pursuing truth and love, rather than fear, when it comes to what we share online.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. — 1 John 3:16-18

And here’s the bit about fear — which again nails a failure to love our brothers and sisters. Which, again, is a warning that we might need to take seriously if a significant percentage of Syrian refugees are followers of Jesus, and we might also need to take seriously if we’re called to love our enemies like Jesus did… And that’s the basis of the sort of love Jesus calls us to.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. — 1 John 4:16-20

Truth and love are so important in a fear driven world, especially where social media exists to amplify people’s outrage and loathing, where fact checking comes a distant second to opinion sharing. Please. Please. Don’t join in false flag activities as a Christian. We have a flag. We have a standard bearer. It’s the Cross, and the one who carried it first. Carry that online. Make that your true flag. Be known for holding out the love of Jesus, even to our ‘enemies’…

Loving those who hate you still shockingly newsworthy 2,000 years after Jesus

Image: Maryann Kauffman and her late husband Marcus, Source: Lifted from the Courier Mail’s Facebook post linked below

Jesus, in his enduringly popular Sermon On The Mount said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45

A few years later while he’s dying on the cross – being hated and persecuted while lovingly sacrificing himself for people (which is, itself, a demonstration of this concept), Jesus says:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

When Christians get it right this is the example we follow. Loving our enemies in a way that demonstrates how God loved us. When this happens, in the real world, it’s pretty surprising. Apparently it’s newsworthy. Even thousands of kilometres away from events.

The Courier Mail shared Maryann Kauffman’s story on Facebook yesterday. Of all the click bait ‘fodder’ the page served up yesterday, this had the least sensationalised introductory text.

Here’s how the Courier Mail billed this particular story:

“MARCUS Kauffman returned home from a church service with his wife Maryann to find burglars in their house. Marcus, 25, was shot in the head and, after nearly three weeks on life support, died. The death penalty is being sought for the killers but his widow wants something else”

Maryann has forgiven them, because she wants to love like Jesus loved. Here’s what she said…

“I don’t see any exceptions in the bible depending on how terrible the sin is, or how much it hurts me,” she went on. “Jesus forgave me, I can forgive them. Thank you all for caring, but please don’t feel hate towards them on our behalf. I don’t want that, and Marcus wouldn’t want that.”

Wow. I think this is incredible. Such a powerful demonstration of the counter-intuitive love at the heart of the Gospel. Where God loves those who, in essence, take part in the murder of his son, as we all play our part in humanity’s shared rejection of our creator (that’s the charge laid against all of us by the Bible and according to how Christians understand the world).

This is the example of Jesus put in to practice in the most horrific of tragedies.

Just in case you want some more heart strings pulled – it’s not enough these guys were so clearly in love. Maryann was pregnant when the shooting happened. Their son was born two months later. And Maryann Kauffman has forgiven the people who did this.

And how did Facebook’s punters respond to this demonstration of cross-shaped love? It was a mixed bag. A few Christians chimed in with some awkward jargony defences of Christianity. Lots of people expressed sympathy for Maryann. As you’d expect. What surprised me was the vitriolic outrage, and, in particular, the direction of this outrage.

People, real people, were prepared to put their faces and names on horrible sentences, words not directed at the murderers but at Maryann. Nasty stuff. I usually try not to read comments on stories like this. For reasons like this:

“Sounds like she’s using jesus to cover up something sinister, there’s no way in hell I’d forgive anyone no matter how religious I was”

“Sounds like she organized the murder if she isn’t even sad…”

“She is insane.. they killed her husband and she wants forgiveness. ? She cannot love her husband sorry but thats absolutely shocking… yer death penalty I say..”

“they KILLED her husband, how can she even consider forgiveness?”

“She is delusional, Jesus probably appears in her toast”

“Stupid woman, lethal injection is the way to go”

“If it’s happened to me, my family. I would not give this scums any chance to survive.”

“It may sound noble but if anyone shoots one of my relatives, I would never be able to forgive them, no matter how much it is stressed by a religion”

“There is a reason Christians used to fed to lions!”

Sorry for your lose…but the bible stuff just doesn’t cut it with me..If someone shot and killed my wife..I would want them cut to prices…without pain killers . make them really suffer as I am.

Perhaps my “favourite” bits of the vitriol are the bits where people quote the Bible (and various Ancient Near Eastern law codes) to support not forgiving.

Well im sorry but the society we live in today if you do the crime you do the time end of story . I can understand if someone dies accidentally by your hands then forgiveness may be needed but you enter private property without an invertation armed then use that gun on the owner who is unarmed and protecting his property and family well im sorry but you don’t deserve forgiveness you don’t deserve to be call a human being you don’t have a place in this society.An Eye For An Eye”

“Eye for an eye should be both put to death”

“Eye for an eye is totally just… Forgive them and they will just repeat this heinous crime encouraging others to follow. Its reality and human nature in todays day and age unfortunately”

Great…..let the Killer off with it to go kill a few more people!!!! I believe the wife is still in shock, not thinking straight right now…. There are many “Christian Opinions” just now…… But read the Bible “AN EYE FOR AN EYE”….. People were stoned to death for crimes much less violent than the CRAZY ARSED PEOPLE AROUND THESE DAYS!!! Serial killers, baby rapists, Pedo’s…. AND all at an alarming increase!!!!
The Prisons are FULL these days, the Professionals KNOW these MONSTERS can’t be rehabilitated….. Death Penalty hopefully will be brought back soon for the safety and justice of all the MILLIONS of people murdered….”

Jesus uses this “eye for an eye” quote in the Sermon On The Mount – immediately before the quote about loving your enemy. He says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. – Matthew 5:38-39

This is so counter-intuitive. An eye for an eye appeals to our rights based approach to the world, willingly giving up your rights for people who have wronged you is crazy. But that’s the heart of the Christian message. That’s why, in the age of the click bait headline (the Courier Mail’s Facebook stream is full of clickbaity badness), loving like Jesus doesn’t need to be dressed up to be shocking and newsworthy.

If the Sermon on the Mount was on YouTube

Sermon on the Mount gets the YouTube comment treatment.

Via here.

My oath

Our WCF classes have proven to be fun and exciting. Which is a surprise. We were up to Chapter 22 tonight – “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows” – it’s pretty controversial, because it prima facie contradicts instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5, and James, in James 5.

Things got heated. In a pretty good way – but raising a couple of points that I’ll post separately…

I’ve got to say that at this stage I’m with the Westminster assembly on this one. I think oaths are ok – despite the face value instructions not to swear them.

Let me explain.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees – who have completely, and terribly, misunderstood the heart of the law. That’s the problem Jesus has with their approach to everything – from adultery to generosity.

Their problem with oaths is that they’re swearing but trying to get out on technicalities. So they swear on heaven, on Jerusalem, on anything and everything but God, because it gives them a way out. So Jesus tells them that’s not on – but he doesn’t rule out swearing an oath by God – nor does he in Matthew 23, where the issue comes up again. In fact, a natural reading of Matthew 23 (verses 16-22) is to see Jesus encouraging the Pharisees to swear their oaths by God rather than working around the issue with stupid technicalities.

Deuteronomy 6:13 tells Israel to take their oaths “in his name” – not in the name of the kingdom, Jerusalem or the hairs on one’s head.

My understanding of the Matthew passage is that the Pharisees are to aim for honesty (let your yes be yes) so that complicated oaths with easy technical get out clauses are not needed. And when Jesus says “anything more is of the devil” it would seem to be referring to anything designed to obfuscate.

Then the James 5 passage is a direct quote of this one, so should be understood the same way.

I can understand the other side of the argument – but I’ve got to say I’d be pretty comfortable swearing an oath on God’s name to tell the truth provided I then did, and pretty uncomfortable if I swore that and didn’t so not swearing seems to be the safer option anyway…

What say you?

Deconstructing Dawkins

I’ve just, for reasons unknown, read an article by Dawkins that made me angry. Dawkins on “Atheists for Jesus”. Dawkins is a tool. Probably a tool of Satan. But really, a tool in the urbandictionary (language warning if you follow that link) sense of the word.

Dawkins is trying to claim Jesus for atheism the same way the homosexual lobby claimed the pejorative  “queer” as a label.

He’s reinterpreting everything Jesus had to say about God as just the “cultural norm”. Jesus was apparently a radical who only spoke about God because that was the done thing. Dawkin’s relies on biblical accounts of Jesus’ teaching for his argument – but no doubt dismisses the accounts of his trial, where he was essentially killed for believing that he was God. This is postmodern deconstructionism gone bonkers. Well, it was crazy to begin with. But this is ridiculous.

“I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time.”

Umm. What?

He basically wants to adopt Jesus because having lots of people acting like Jesus would be good for society. Except of course for the parts where Jesus claims to be God… but of course, those were just the bits where Jesus was being crazy because of the culture he lived in… WHAT? I think if you separate out all the supernatural bits about Jesus you’re left with a guy who’s not very radical at all. He’s a carpenter who hangs out with fishermen and prostitutes. Jesus without a divine aspect is not even an impressive moral teacher.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) which is arguably Jesus’ most admired speech from a secular standpoint (it regularly makes the “best speeches of all time” lists… is pretty rubbish if you remove all the bits that refer to God.

For example if you took out every bit that could be seen to refer to the actions of God, the beatitudes would be reduced to:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That’s a lot of “blessed” people with no actual “blessing”

And that famous bit about loving your enemies without any reference to God, well, that’s a real moral imperative…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Taking the God bits out of Jesus’ message leaves us all wanting to be pagan tax collectors – hardly the Utopian society Dawkins is pushing for with his piece of rabid (ill)logic.