Sermon on the Mount Part Two

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:25–48 ESV)

A great part of Christian apologetics should be practical in living an ethical life before others.  This teaching gives us great places to start.  Jesus tells us that the ethical life does not begin with the outside but with the inside.  It is not enough to just stop short of adultery or murder.  We must take care of things long before then.

The teaching on divorce may seem oppressive to some today where divorce is extremely easy.  This teaching was given in a culture where is was fairly easy for the man to initiate divorce.  There were suggestions by some rabbis that burning soup could be a good reason for divorce.  In a society where there was no support for divorced women, this could be devastating.  Divorced women could be forced into begging or prostitution.  By limiting divorce, Jesus was doing something significant to help women.

What do we do about the teaching to cut off what causes sin?  Should we start amputating body parts?  Ironically, Origen, who was known for his allegorical interpretations, took this literally and castrated himself.  Jesus is dealing with the real reasons that cause us to sin.  It is not about body parts but relationships and situations.

Jesus’ teaching on love for enemies is essential for those interested in apologetics.  For those of us who interact with skeptics and people of other faiths, conversations can get heated.  It is easy to take things personally and to be tempted to say things to make the opponent foolish rather than to win them for Christ.  This option is not given to us.  Our love for the skeptic must be front and centre in all our apologetic interactions.

Sermon on the Mount Part One

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
“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.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
(Matthew 5:1–24 ESV)

What is the apologetic value of the beatitudes?  First of all, I want tackle some misinterpretations.  Some Christians have looked at this and have acknowledged that this is hard.  So some have concluded that this must be for the millenium/heaven/resurrection.  Others have looked at this and concluded that this is just to remind us of what we cannot do and force us to seek grace.  I believe that Jesus actually expected us to follow his teaching right now in this life.  Imagine the apologetic of a church who took even just the beatitudes, much less the rest of the sermon on the mount and put our energy and resources into following it!  The attractiveness of the Christian faith would be so great that people would hardly be able to keep away.

Jesus’ teaching on the city on the hill that cannot be hidden has many applications.  It includes our life of worship and love and relationships and ethics.  I believe it could also include the apologetic nature of the church.  Apologetics does not always have to be defensive or reactive.  We can demonstrate to the world an active and healthy intellectual life.  People should not have to guess what we think.  Let us shine the light of Jesus that also transforms our minds.

Apologetics Guy

I am so thankful that there are many people on the Internet working at expressing the Christian faith in a rational way.  In the next little while I am going to point you toward some other blogs to check out.  Today, I am going to recommend Apologetics Guy by Mikel Del Rosario.  Mikel seeks to equip Christians in the area of apologetics and has developed a curriculum to do this.  Make sure to check it out.

Advice to Christians

I would like to encourage Christians, especially those interested in dealing with people of other beliefs, to read what others say about Christianity.  Read religious studies descriptions of Christianity.  Read what atheists, Jews, Muslims, etc. say about Christianity.  If you do, you might find that they attribute beliefs or interpretations that you would never take on your self.

Why is this important?  Because Christians often state what Muslims, Mormons, etc. believe, when in fact they might not even recognize our summaries of their religion as their actual beliefs.  If we know what people are saying about us, we will seek to express what we believe.  At the same time, when we want to communicate with people of other belief systems, we need to take time to hear from them what they believe instead of imposing our opinions of their religion on them.

The State of Apologetics

One of the people in the apologetics field that I respect the most is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.  Brian spends a lot of time providing resources, as well as interviewing a wide range of apologists.  I was pleased to see that someone thought to interview Brian.  Lee Strobel interviews Brian on the current state of apologetics.  I found Brian’s observations to be insightful, balanced and well worth paying attention to.  You can find the interview here.

A God Without a Mythology

One of my loves is studying ancient religions and mythologies.  I have always found it fascinating.  I have found it to also be helpful in my understanding of the Bible.  As I study the Bible and as I study mythology, I become more and more convinced of the uniqueness of the biblical faith.  I do not mean just that the biblical God is real and the mythological gods are false.  What I mean is that how the God of the Bible is described is unique in its ancient religious context.

For one thing, the God of the Bible is a God without a mythology.  The ancients were very interested in their gods and the stories about them.  They examined where the gods came from, what they looked like, where they lived, what they did, who they were married to and so on.  The Bible does not seem to be interested in this.  There is no explanation of where God came from, the Bible starts with the assumption that he was just there and that everything came from him.  We are actually not told much about what God is like, in the sense of his interaction with others as we see in the myths of other gods.  Most of what we know about God’s personality comes from prophets.  Much of the Bible does not deal directly with God and what he is doing but rather what his people are doing and how obedient or disobedient they are.  When God does reveal himself, it is not with stories about what he has done, but rather with revelation of his expectations within a covenant context.

We can look at the ancient gods of the Ancient Near East or Egypt or Greece and write at least short biographies of where they came from, what they were like and what they did.  To attempt that with Yahweh would result in something much different.  I would encourage you to read the ancient myths and then go back and re-read the Bible and notice the incredible uniqueness of the God of the Bible, the God without a mythology.

Early Ministry

“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:12–25 ESV)

Some have concluded that because of a Hellenistic presence in Galilee, that Jesus’ ministry must have been thoroughly Hellenized and that he may even have been a Cynic.  There is a point that Jesus would have had contact with Greeks and may even have spoken Greek.  But the content of the Gospels reveals a very Jewish ministry.  Any Greek influence would be through the ways Hellenism affected Judaism (even the word ‘synagogue’ is Greek so we know there was influence.

If we are to identify false messages, we need to be able to recognize the true Christian message.  For Jesus, the primary content of the message was the kingdom of God.  When Matthew speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he is not speaking of the afterlife but of the kingdom of God using heaven as a name of God because of Jewish sensitivities.  The kingdom of God is about the arrival of God’s reign.  Heaven is a part of it, the church is a part of it, but it really is just about where God’s rule is present.  Notice that as Jesus proclaims the arrival of God’s kingdom, he also performs healings and other miracles.  These are not “attention-getters” but demonstrations of the loss of Satan’s power and the arrival of God’s rule.  It is unfortunate and concerning that the concept of the kingdom of God plays so little role in Christian preaching today.