Sermon on the Plain

Please read and memorise Luke 6:17-49

Then he came down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his talmidim was there with great numbers of people from all Y’hudah (Judea), Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and the coast around Tzor (Tyre) and Tzidon (Sidon); they had come to hear him and be healed of their diseases.  Those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being healed;  and the whole crowd was trying to touch him, because power kept going out from him, healing everyone. Luke 6:17-19 CJB

In a visual sense, Yeshua’s withdrawal and ascent up the mountain, followed the next day by His descent with the Twelve, announced them to the gathered multitude from near and far. It also implicitly signalled to the diverse crowd the formal organization of His new community – the establishment of a new foundation of 12 – soon after Yeshua had told them the parables about the “new” and “old” (Luke 5:36–39). This was part of the new wineskin to carry the new wine that He brought.

Yeshua had been up on the mountain praying all night (possibly Mount Arbel). After the sun rose He had called His talmidim (disciples) to Him and chosen 12 of them whom He designated apostolos (apostles), and had given these Twelve authority to do what He had been doing – healing the sick and casting out unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1, Mark 3:14-15). Now He came down from the mountain with His newly appointed apostles, along with the rest of His talmidim, to a level place where the growing crowds had been gathering.

In the hills that ring the Sea of Galilee on the east, north, and west sides, a single area stands out as an extensive level area that matches Luke’s description. It lies on the northwest shore about three miles west of Capernaum and stretches away from the lake for about a mile before abutting high hills. It is called the Plain of Ginosar (Gennesaret).

In the assembled crowd included not only people from Galilee, and from Judea and Jerusalem where He had taught and done miracles during the Jewish feasts, but also from places that Yeshua had not been to: “from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him” (Luke 6:17). By the time that Yeshua delivered this Sermon on the Plain, people had heard about Him from far away and travelled great distances to listen to Him and be healed by Him. The access road for those from these coastal regions to the northwest was through the Arbel Pass that leads down from Upper Galilee and brings travellers onto the flat area of the Plain of Gennesaret.

At the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul, as they entered a season of teshuvah (repentance), we had seen Yeshua ascend the Mt of Beatitudes to sit down and teach the people, as was done in the synagogues, proclaiming His Sermon on the Mount, searching and exposing the hearts of all the people before the light of God as He declared the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now He was leading His Twelve newly appointed and empowered apostles, along with the rest of His talmidim (disciples), down Mt Arbel to meet the needs of the gathering masses on the level ground of the Plain of Gennesaret. Here there was no opportunity to formally sit and teach – Yeshua stood on a level place as power kept going out of Him, healing everyone who sort to touch Him. None was excluded and none was left out. No one went away disappointed that they had not received the miracle they’d come for. Everyone was healed.

They had come to this level place from as far away as Judea and Jerusalem in the south, and Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast to the north-east. Several days worth of walking had brought Jews and Gentiles alike to listen to Yeshua teach, and to be healed of their ailments. The Hebrew prophets’ use of the word “level” (pedinos in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings) provides the background for its use here. “Pedinos” often referred to places of corpses, disgrace, idolatry, suffering, misery, hunger, annihilation, and mourning (see Jeremiah 9:22; 14:18; 30:4; Daniel 3:1; Joel 1:10, 20; 2: 22; 3:19; Habakkuk 3:17; & Zechariah 12:11). At the same time, the prophets foresaw God renewing the level places. The glory of God (salvation) would be revealed in them (see Isaiah 40:4, 18 & Ezekiel 3:22, 23; 8:4). Yeshua brings healing and deliverance and teaches the ways of the Kingdom to all who have come from their very different walks of life to the ‘pedinos‘ place, in need of Him. There were no exemptions. There on the level place, the power of God’s love healed everyone.

Although Yeshua had given the Twelve apostles authority to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons (Mark 3:15), there is no record of any of them joining Him in meeting the people’s needs yet. They had the authority but were not practiced in using it. They were still just watching and learning. Interestingly, when Yeshua turned His attention to teaching them it was not instructions on using their newly acquired authority to heal and deliver that He gave them, but dealing with the attitudes of the heart.

There, on the ‘pedinos‘ place, Yeshua turned His gaze towards His Talmidim and taught them. Yeshua‘s words, like those of every Jewish rabbi in His day, were designed to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation. His words contained a wisdom that was contrary to how the people thought then, even as they are contrary to most teaching now.

Blessed” – μακάριος, makarios – describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. It is the joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.

Woe” – οὐαί, ouai – is an interjection of grief or of denunciation. It is suggestive of being under divine judgment awaiting great loss and pain.

He looked at his talmidim and said:

“How blessed are you poor!
    for the Kingdom of God is yours.
“How blessed are you who are hungry!
    for you will be filled.
“How blessed are you who are crying now!
    for you will laugh.
“How blessed you are whenever people hate you and ostracize you and insult you and denounce you as a criminal on account of the Son of Man. Be glad when that happens; yes, dance for joy! because in heaven your reward is great. For that is just how their fathers treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already had all the comfort you will get!
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will go hungry!
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and cry!
“Woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is just how their fathers treated the false prophets!
Luke 6:20-26

Although the multitudes were there, pressing in to get a blessing from Yeshua, to get healing from Him, it was not to the multitudes that Yeshua directed this next teaching, but to His talmidim, to those who had chosen to follow Him and learn of Him how to live as citizens of the Kingdom. The values of His Kingdom are so opposite to the values of this world. Still today, many of those who claim to walk with Yeshua have difficulty with what He taught us here:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God –
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied –
But woe to you who are well fed now, for you shall be hungry.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh –
But woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Blessed are you when all men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way your fathers used to treat the prophets –
But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

Yeshua begins this teaching by pronouncing a blessing on the poor – πτωξος, ptochos“one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” Blessed, in receipt of God’s favour, salvation and joyous fulfilment, are those who are totally destitute with no means to care for themselves or others. Those who are greatly devalued in this world are greatly honoured in the Kingdom of God. It is an exhortation for the crouched down ones to stop believing they aren’t worth anything and start lifting their heads up as royalty, as children of the King. Yeshua had begun the Sermon on the Mount, heralding the Jewish time of teshuvah (repentance), with an exhortation: Blessed are the poor in spirit, referring to those who are repentant – coming to God recognising that they are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness. It was an invitation to bow low. Now He begins the Sermon on the Plain with an invitation for the despised lowly ones to raise up and stand tall: “blessed are the poor“.

That Yeshua was here speaking about physical poverty, not the repentant attitude of being ‘poor in spirit‘, is confirmed by His corresponding woe to those who are rich and living in comfort. He then goes on to deal with three aspects of living in poverty – being hungry, weeping, and being despised. For each He pronounces blessing and provides an eternal promise – to be fed, filled and satisfied; to laugh with joy; and to receive a great reward in heaven – to be honoured before all creation. Yeshua’s words turned man’s thinking upside down. They comforted the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable. They lifted the disciple’s focus from the things of this world to the things of heaven. Who do we give more honour to – those who are wealthy and popular, or those who are poor and despised? Are we viewing people from a worldly perspective or from God’s perspective?

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-36 NIV

Having raised them up as having great value, worth and authority, Yeshua now instructs His talmidim in the purposes and use of such self-esteem. We are not raised up in His Kingdom in order to crush our enemies, but in order to love them. We are not raised up in order to withhold, but in order to give over and above. We are not raised up in order to execute revenge but in order to be willing to suffer further loss and pain for the sake of those who were trying to oppress us and hold us down. For the Kingdom of God is not of this world.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?  


The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Luke 6:37-45 NIV

As He had done in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua, again contrasted judging others with discerning what is good or evil. His command to avoid judging and condemning was not a command to blindly accept everything as good. It was not a tolerance of sin, but an abhorrence of the sin of failing to love our neighbour. We need our eyes opened by Christ’s word and not blindly follow or lead others to destruction. We need to be fully trained by Yeshua such that we have become like Him. Both planks and specks are injurious and need to be removed from our eyes. Trees are recognised by their fruit. Our words and actions reveal what we have stored in our hearts.

What is the state of your heart?

Again, Yeshua finished His sermon with a warning of the need to not only hear His words, but to put them into practice. Just memorising what God’s Word says is not enough, we need to LIVE what it says at all times. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 
As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  
But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” Luke 6:46-49 NIV

It doesn’t matter how big or fancy our building is, it doesn’t matter how much work we have put into making it look spectacular, if it is built without foundation it will surely collapse and we’ll lose everything when the storms of life come and beat against it. The ONLY foundation that can hold our lives up is Jesus. To secure our lives to the Rock of Ages we have to obey everything He says. Partial obedience is not sufficient to withstand the storms of life, we must take head to everything Yeshua has told us and fully obey it all.

REFERENCES

1. Thomason, Steve. and stood on a level place | A Devo on Luke 6:17-26. Following the Cloud. [Online] February 1st, 2017. https://www.stevethomason.net/2017/02/01/stood-level-place-devo-luke-617-26/.
2. Allen, Ronald J. Commentary on Luke 6:17-26. Working Preacher. [Online] February 17th, 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3960.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What do you think the significance was of Jesus going down from the mountain to the level plain before teaching His disciples?
* What insights have your congregation gained from memorising Jesus’ teaching on the level place?
* Where did you meet Jesus, what was happening in your life at the time?
* How would you describe the power that kept going out from Jesus and healing everyone?
* Luke keeps telling us that everyone who came to Jesus was healed. To what extent are we following in His example? Why are some people who come to us not healed – can we know the answer?
* It sounds like a very chaotic, noisy class – trying to teach his disciples outside in the midst of a crowd of thousands all pressing in trying to touch Jesus and receive their healing. Why do you think Jesus chose that setting for these lessons? How did Jesus’ sermon fit in with what He was teaching them through His actions?
* Often people think that acts of loving our enemies (like letting them take from us) show weakness, how are they really acts of strength?
*How do you describe the difference between judging and discerning?
*How can we fully obey all that Jesus said?

12 Chosen

Please read Mark 3:13-19 & Luke 6:12-16

The nation of Israel began with God choosing Abram and calling him out of Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan, establishing a covenant with him:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1–3 ESV

Yet, for many decades Abram’s wife, Sarai, remained barren and it looked like God’s promise would fail to come to pass. In Genesis 17 God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (meaning “father of a multitude“), and Sarai’s name to Sarah (meaning “princess”) and said:

“…Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Genesis 17:19 ESV

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.   Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.   Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Genesis 21:1-5 NIV

God reaffirmed the same covenant with Abraham’s promised son, Isaac:

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.  I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 26:3-4 ESV

Isaac married Rebecca and had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the first-born but sold his birth-right to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup. Years later, at Rebecca’s urging, Jacob pretended to be Esau and tricked Isaac into giving him Esau’s firstborn blessing. None the less, God had chosen Jacob and renewed the covenant with him that He had made with his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham.

I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.   Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28: 13-15 NIV

Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and the covenant was affirmed:

The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.” Genesis 32:28 CEV

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.  God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 
Genesis 35:9-12 NIV

Thus, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are referred to as the patriarchs of the Jewish people and God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15; Acts 7:32). God’s faithfulness and Israel’s blessing were directly tied to Israel becoming a nation and possessing the Promised Land.

One man is not a nation. Abraham had more than one son, yet only one, only Sarah’s son according to God’s promise, was to enter into his father’s covenant with God and inherit the land. Isaac had twin sons, yet only the youngest, Jacob, was to enter into his father’s covenant with God and inherit the land. Before God changed his name to Israel, Jacob had 12 sons. It was not until these 12 sons that God’s promise rested on all the sons of a patriarch and they could begin to grow into a nation, a nation consisting of twelve tribes. From here on in the Bible, the number 12 serves as a perfect governmental foundation and symbolizes completeness or the nation of Israel as a whole.

Jacob’s twelve sons were (in order of birth): Reuben (Hebrew ראובן‎ Rəʼûḇēn), Simeon (שמעון‎ Šimʻôn), Levi (לוי‎ Lêwî), Judah (יהודה‎ Yehuḏā), Dan (דן‎ Dān), Naphtali (נפתלי‎ Nap̄tālî),  Gad (גד‎ Gāḏ), Asher (אשר‎ ’Āšêr), Issachar (יששכר‎ Yiśśāḵār), Zebulun (זבולון‎ Zəḇūlun), Joseph (יוסף‎ Yôsēp̄) and Benjamin (בנימין‎ Binyāmîn). They became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49 record’s Israel’s prophetic blessing of each of his sons.

Twelve tribes makes for a complete nation. Thus, Deuteronomy 27:12–13 lists the twelve tribes:

Once you have crossed over the Jordan River, the following tribes will stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these are the tribes that will stand on Mount Ebal for the cursing: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali

Joshua 13-21 describes how the Promised Land was divided into twelve sections corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. However, the list of tribes receiving land differed from the list of Israel’s sons. The tribe of Levi had no land allotment, but were given the administration of six Cities of Refuge and the Temple in Jerusalem. There was no land allotment stated for the Tribe of Joseph because Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each received a land portion. This was in accord with Israel giving the eldest son’s double portion to his eleventh son, Joseph, instead of to his first, Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1-2 Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel) and this being expressed in Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each receiving an inheritance as though sons of Israel (Genesis 48 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine). Thus the tribes receiving land were: Reuben, Simeon, Ephraim, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Manasseh and Benjamin.

In Revelation 7, the twelve tribes of Israel are listed again, however this time Levi is included once more but Dan is excluded and both Joseph and his son Manasseh are included:

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed from every tribe of the Israelites:  From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed; from the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand;  from the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand; from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed. Revelation 7:4-8 CEB

While we see some changes in the list of the tribes, they are still listed as the 12 tribes of Israel. Even as there was a change in one of the 12 apostles (with Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias) but they remained a foundation of 12. In the Bible the number 12 symbolizes God’s power and authority, as well as serving as a perfect governmental foundation. It can also symbolize completeness or the nation of Israel as a whole. The Bible lists 12 tribes of Israel; 12 princes of Ishmael; 12 pillars on Moses’ altar; 12 stones on the high priest’s breastplate; 12 cakes of showbread; 12 silver platters; silver bowls; and gold pans for the service of the tabernacle; 12 spies to search out the land; 12 memorial stones; 12 governors under Solomon; 12 stones in Elijah’s altar; 12 in each group of musicians and singers for Israel’s worship; 12 hours in a day; 12 months in a year; 12 Ephesian men filled with the Holy Spirit; 12,000 from 12 tribes sealed and preserved through the tribulation; 12 gates of 12 pearls in heaven, and 12 angels at the gates; 12 foundations in the New Jerusalem; it’s length, breadth, and height are all 12,000 furlongs; and the tree of life in heaven has 12 fruits.

So, it is significant that Yeshua chose 12 men to be the governmental foundation for the establishment of kingdom of heaven on earth, and that role was given the term ‘apostle‘. Such significance was placed on this that, although Yeshua had many talmidim, the only ones that are named in the Gospels as talmidim are the 12. That is, except Nathanael, who was named as one of the first called by Jesus, but not a member of the 12 unless we assume he was also called Bartholomew, as many Christians do. The 12 were birthed out of Israel, they were ALL Jews, but they were not Israel, nor did their appointment by Christ give them any political, religious or military power in Israel. The authority Yeshua invested in them was not an authority over people, but an authority over that which attacks people – sickness and demons. This was not about ruling or exalting the nation of Israel, but about Israel being a blessing to the nations of the world by bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to all mankind. It was not yet time for that kingdom to rule the nations, but rather to permeate them and transform them from within through the influence of the apostles (ambassadors of the Kingdom).

Jesus Appointed 12 Apostles

Once again, this significant development in Yeshua’s ministry was preceded by His withdrawing from all the people to spend extended time in prayer.

Then He went up the mountain and summoned those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He also appointed 12—He also named them apostles
to be with Him,
to send them out to preach, 
and to have authority to drive out demons.
He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, He gave the name Peter;  and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, He gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder”); Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. Mark 3:13-19 HCSB

It was around that time that Yeshua went out to the hill country to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 
When day came, he called his talmidim and chose from among them twelve to be known as
emissaries (apostles):
Shim‘on (Simon), whom he named Kefa (Peter);
Andrew, his brother;
Ya‘akov (James);
Yochanan (John);
Philip;
Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew);
Mattityahu (Matthew);
T’oma (Thomas);
Ya‘akov (James) Ben-Halfai (son of Alphaeus);
Shim‘on (Simon), the one called the Zealot;
Y’hudah (Judas) Ben-Ya‘akov (son of James); and
Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas Iscariot), who turned traitor.
Luke 6:12-16 CJB

ἀπόστολος, – apostolos = a delegate / messenger / representative / emissary/ ambassador / apostle – one sent forth with orders; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; an official representative of Christ. Note that this governmental foundation is not that of an office of one that rules in this world or conquers this world, but of one who represents a kingdom not of this world. An ambassador does not attack or try to conquer the nation they are set to, nor do they express their own opinions; they treat their host nation with respect and express only the opinions and positions of the kingdom they represent. An ambassador does not live in their homeland, but lives in a foreign land as a representative of their kingdom in order to bring the influence of their kingdom into this foreign land. The 12 were appointed as representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to the empires and peoples of this world, beginning with Israel.

Ambassadors represent their country of origin, in place of the leader – following his orders, carrying out his policies and representing his views. Apostles represent the kingdom of Heaven, in place of Jesus – following His commands, carrying out His will and speaking His word. Ambassadors are also known as diplomats, a more general term describing those that work in a foreign country while retaining citizenship in their homeland. All disciples (talmidim) of Yeshua are diplomats whose citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven and who work in the foreign nation of this world.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. John 17:16

But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim (priests), a holy nation, a people for God to possess! …Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; … I urge you as aliens and temporary residents … to live such good lives among the pagans that even though they now speak against you as evil-doers, they will, as a result of seeing your good actions, give glory to God on the Day of his coming.   For the sake of the Lord, submit yourselves to every human authority — whether to the emperor as being supreme, or to governors as being sent by him to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what is good….  Be respectful to all — keep loving the brotherhood, fearing God and honouring the emperor. 1 Peter 2:8-17 CJB

confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.  Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return.  But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16 HCSB

So then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers. On the contrary, you are fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s family.  You have been built on the foundation of the emissaries (apostles) and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself.
Ephesians 2:19-20 ESV

The foreign country, known to ambassadors as the ‘host nation’, serves as their base. From this base, they promote international relations on certain areas of government, stating their home country’s position on many political, social, and economic platforms.  Ambassadors also help others from their home country if they are having difficulties in the host nation, and can invite residents of their host country to immigrate to their home country, explaining the needed procedures for obtaining the visa and becoming citizens. All of these actions are meant to protect their home country’s interests within the host nation. The Kingdom of Heaven’s interests within all host nations is to show everyone there what Heaven is like and invite each person to become citizens of Heaven, clearly explaining the requirements of citizenship – all are invited but can only come through Jesus and must express loyalty and obedience to Him out of love.

While the 12 apostles were not given authority over peoples at this time, in another example of the significance of their being 12 chosen Yeshua declares:

Yeshua said to them, “Yes. I tell you that in the regenerated world, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Isra’el. 
Matthew 19:28 CJB

How Old Were The 12 Apostles?

While the scriptures do not give us the age of any of these 12 apostles, there is scriptural and cultural evidence that they were likely between about 13 and 21yo. This is in contrast to what we see in most paintings and movies, where they are assumed to be around the same age as Jesus.

In Jewish culture at this time a child began his schooling at the age of 5 and continued to age 12 or 13. If a boy was intelligent and interested in continuing his religious studies, he would then seek a rabbi to disciple him and would follow and pattern his life after the rabbi until age 30. At that time he could take on disciples of his own. Yeshua, likewise, started training talmidim when He was 30yo. A young man’s discipleship training under a rabbi would usually begin between the ages of 13 and 15. If this pattern was consistent with the followers of Yeshua, some of them may have joined Yeshua as early as age 13 and would have still been teenagers at the time of His death, resurrection and ascension.

In Exodus 30:11-16, Jewish law states that every male over the age of 20 is to pay a half-shekel as a census offering and the money was to be used for the service of the Tent of Meeting. During the Second Temple period, on the first day of the month of Adar, the beit din (Jewish court) would issue a proclamation reminding people that they needed to give a half-shekel to the Temple. By giving a flat-rate contribution, each person, regardless of his wealth, had an equal portion in the communal Temple offerings.

On the first of Adar, announcements are made concerning the payment of shekels” (Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1).

In Matthew 17:24-27, Yeshua instructs Kefa (Peter) to go fishing and to find a shekel in the mouth of the fish he catches; enough to pay the tax for just two men, Kefa and Yeshua. This suggests that the other apostles were less than 20yo and did not need to pay the temple tax.

When they came to K’far-Nachum (Capernaum), the collectors of the half-shekel came to Kefa (Peter) and said, “Doesn’t your rabbi pay the Temple tax?”  
“Of course he does,” said Kefa.
When he arrived home, Yeshua (Jesus) spoke first. “Shim‘on (Simon), what’s your opinion? The kings of the earth — from whom do they collect duties and taxes? From their sons or from others?”  
“From others,” he answered.
“Then,” said Yeshua, “The sons are exempt. But to avoid offending them — go to the lake, throw out a line, and take the first fish you catch. Open its mouth, and you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them for me and for you.
” Matthew 17: 24-27 CJB

Kefa being the only one of the 12 apostles over the age of 20 would concur with him always seeming to be the one who speaks for the other apostles (Acts 2:14-36, etc.), being the only disciple said to be married at the time of Christs’ ministry (Matthew 8:14-17, etc.) and having such a  prominent role in the period of the very early Church (Galatians 2:9). It was customary in Jewish society at this time for a man to be married around 18 years of age, yet only Kefa is recorded as having a wife before Yeshua’s death and resurrection.   This would also fit with the ease with which the 12 apostles dropped everything to follow Yeshua when He moved on from their Capernaum base to take the gospel into all the other towns. It may also help us understand how Ya‘akov (James), the eldest half-brother of Yeshua, so quickly became a co-leader of the church in Jerusalem as his aprox 30yo presence would have brought some needed maturity to the group.

Another set of behaviours which suggests youth are the ways Salome, mother of Ya‘akov (James) and Yochanan (John) promoted her sons to Yeshua. For the mother of teenage boys to do this is embarrassing, but having mom fight their battles for them if they were grown men in their thirties (as is often depicted) would suggest a concerning lack of maturity on their part (Matthew 20:20-24). Indeed, many of the behaviours of the 12 apostles fit with them being young men in their middle to late teens rather than mature men in their thirties. Even Yeshua’s nickname for Ya‘akov and Yochanan, “Sons of Thunder” is suggestive of their youth.

While it cannot be proven that the 12 were youths, the probability of such is a useful reminder to us of how powerfully God can use young people in ministry. Yeshua choose young people for the responsibilities of ministry and being His ambassadors to the world.

Who Were the 12 Apostles?

We’ve already read the names of the 12 apostles whom Jesus chose as a foundation in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. There is also a list of them in Matthew 10:2-4:

These are the names of the twelve emissaries: First, Shim‘on (Simon), called Kefa (Peter), and Andrew his brother, Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai (James son of Zebedee) and Yochanan (John) his brother, Philip and Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew), T’oma (Thomas) and Mattityahu (Matthew) the tax-collector, Ya‘akov Bar-Halfai (James son of Alphaeus) and Taddai (Thaddaeus), Shim‘on (Simon) the Zealot, and Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas the Iscariot), who betrayed him. CJB

The names that don’t need translation were Greek names, indicative of the influence of Hellenisation on the Jewish population at this time. If we carefully examine all four lists (the fourth being in Acts as the Gospel of John does not provide any list of the 12) we can see that the apostles had such common names that there are two Simon’s, two James’ and two Judas’ included in the 12:

What do we know about each of these Apostles? For men who have such important roles as judging the 12 tribes of Israel, surprisingly little is written about most of them in the scriptures. Their role was not to make a name for themselves but to spread the name of Jesus Christ / Yeshua HaMashiach. Most of them had very common names and several of them were called by more than one name, which has led to some confusion as to who is being referred to in early documents. Church tradition adds more details, but is often contradictory and it can be difficult to separate fact from legend.

Shim‘on whom Yeshua called Kefa / Simon Peter & Andrew

Simon Peter and Andrew-sons of Jonas, were born in Bethsaida. Peter was the older brother. Peter married and they settled in a home together in the town of Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee. They were fisherman and partnered with Zebedee, the father of James and John. Peter and Andrew were early followers of Yochanan the Immerser (Mark 1:16-18). It was Andrew who first introduced his older brother Peter to Yeshua when they were in the wilderness with Yochanan (John 1:40-42).  There are other instances in the gospels of Andrew bringing people to Yeshua, convinced that He will meet their needs.

In every apostolic list, the name of Peter is mentioned first, which fits with the theory that he was the eldest of the 12. Among the twelve, Peter was the leader. He stands out as a spokesman for all the twelve Apostles. It is he who asked the meaning of the difficult saying in Matthew 15:15. It is he who asked how often he must forgive. It is he who inquired about the reward for all of those who follow Yeshua. It is he who first confessed Yeshua and declared Him as the Son of the Living God. He was one of Yeshua’s three closest disciples. There are three times in the synoptic gospels where Peter, James, and John get to witness Yeshua do things no one else saw:

  1. raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37),
  2. the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–11, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) and
  3. keeping watch with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal (Matthew 26:36–46).

Yet, it is Peter who denied Christ before a servant girl.

After the resurrection, Peter did evangelistic and missionary work among the Jews, going as far as Babylon. His wife was known to travel with him when he was on mission (1 Cor. 9:5).  His assignment was to bring the Gospel to the circumcised (Gal. 2:7). He authored the two New Testament epistles which bear his name. Tradition says he was crucified, head downward, in Rome during the reign of Nero. After the resurrection Andrew preached in Scythia, Greece and Asia Minor, according to scholars, and died a martyr’s death declaring: “Oh, cross most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being a scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearn to embrace you.”

Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai / James & Yochanan / John – sons of Zebedee

James and John were sons of Zebedee and Salome. James was the older brother and tradition has it that John was the youngest of the 12 apostles. Like Peter and Andrew, they were born in Bethsaida and later moved to Capernaum where they were fishing with their father when they first saw Yeshua. It was when mending the fishing nets with their father Zebedee in Capernaum that James and John were first called to follow Yeshua(Matthew 4:21-22). John was possibly as young as 13yo and James around 15yo when they were called. Yeshua gave James and John the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:6-9). There is speculation that this was due to their passionate tempers, the most prominent example of which is recorded in Luke 9 when a group of Samaritans didn’t welcome Jesus into their village, so James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54). Despite their youth, James and John were both in the group of Yeshua’s three closest disciples, with Peter, who were with Yeshua at the Mount of Transfiguration and saw Jairus’ daughter raised to life and were asked to pray with Him in the Garden. James and his younger brother, John, appear to have been an inseparable pair (Mark 1:19-20; Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:1-11).

After the resurrection James preached in Jerusalem and Judea. These three who were especially close to Yeshua, Peter, James and John, were esteemed as pillars of the early church (Galatians 2:8-9). James was the first of the twelve to become a martyr, beheaded by Herod in AD 44 (Acts 12:1,2), and the only disciple to have their martyrdom recorded in Scripture.  John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Domitian (where he wrote the book of Revelation). Later he was allowed to return to Ephesus where he governed churches in Asia until his death at about  A.D. 100. The books of 1, 2, and 3 John focus more on love than any other New Testament author. John is the only disciple believed to have been spared martyrdom, dying of natural causes in his old age.

Phillip

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town from which Peter and Andrew came (John 1:44). Like Andrew, Philip’s parents had given him a Greek name. Although the first three Gospels record his name (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), it is in the Gospel of John that we learn more about this young man who was a disciple of Yochanan the Immerser when Yeshua first called him:

The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)

When Philip met Christ, he immediately found Nathanael and told him that “we have found him, of whom Moses … and the prophets, did write.” Nathanael was sceptical but Philip did not argue with him; he simply answered, “Come and see(John 1:45). This tells us two important things about Philip. First, it shows his approach to the sceptic and his simple faith in Christ. Second, it shows that he had an evangelistic focus. We also read of him in John 6:5-7, John 12:21 & John 14:8-11. Philip and Nathanael were close companions and possibly studied the Torah and Prophets together, and had followed Yochanan together.

Tradition says that Philip preached in Phrygia and died a martyr – some suggest stoned and crucified, others contend that he died by hanging at Hierapolis.

Natan’el / Nathanael, also called Bar-Talmai / Bartholomew

Nathanael / Bartholomew lived in Cana of Galilee and spent a lot of time with Phillip. Bartholomew means son of Tolmai. Yeshua called Nathanael, “An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47). The name Nathanael is only used in the Gospel of John, and the name Bartholomew is never mentioned in this Gospel but is used in every list of the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). The author of the Gospel of John appears to consider Nathanael to be one of the Twelve (John 21:2), and both names are closely associated with Philip in the gospels and church tradition, so many think Nathanael and Bartholomew are different names for the same person.

Tradition says he preached with Philip in Phrygia Hierapolis, and also in Armenia and India. The Armenian Church claims him as its founder and martyr, but it is believed that his martyrdom occurred in India where he was flayed alive with knives.

Mattityahu / Matthew, also called Levi Ben-Halfai / Levi son of Alphaeus

Matthew, or Levi son of Alpheus, lived in Capernaum. James son of Alpheus, who was another of the twelve Apostles, may have been Matthew’s brother. Matthew’s names mean “a gift of God”, yet he had become a despised tax collector. In New Testament times tax collectors were classified with harlots, Gentiles and sinners (Matthew 18:17; Matthew 21:31, 33; Matthew 9;10; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:30). They were considered traitors and criminals in Jewish society. Tax collectors had been known to assess duty payable at impossible sums and then offer to lend the money to travellers at a high rate of interest. Such was Matthew. Yet, Yeshua chose a man all men hated and made him one of His men. The call of Matthew to the apostolic band is mentioned in Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27-28. From these passages, we learn that Matthew also was called Levi. Some suggest that he came from the priestly tribe of Levi. Matthew became the first man to write down an account of the teachings of Jesus, and he wrote this account in Hebrew.

After the resurrection Matthew took the gospel to Ethiopia and Egypt. He also wrote the Gospel account that bears his name. It is believed that he died a martyr in Ethiopia, Hircanus the king had him killed with a spear.

Ya‘akov Bar-Halfai / James son of Alpheus

James son of Alpheus lived in Galilee. Of all the apostles, this James is one of the most obscure. We don’t have a lot of information about him. Some scholars believe he was a brother of Levi son of Alpheus, the tax collector (Mark 2:14), however the gospel accounts do not specify them as brothers and they are not listed next to each other in the lists of the apostles. Some believe he is James the ‘lesser’ (meaning younger or smaller) mentioned in Matthew 27:56 & Mark 15:40 as having a mother, Mary who stood with Mary Magdalene and Salome at the cross, and brother, Joseph/Joses.

According to tradition he wrote the Epistle of James, preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt. Another tradition says James son of Alphaeus was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Still another tradition says that he died as a martyr and his body was sawed in pieces.

T’oma / Thomas called Didymus

T’oma means twin in Hebrew and Aramaic, and Didymus is a Greek word which means also means twin (although a twin brother or sister is never mentioned in the Bible.) Thomas lived in Galilee. No details are given about Thomas in the first three Gospels other than the mention of his name. He’s only mentioned eight times in the entire New Testament, and four of those times are just lists of the twelve apostles. Thomas’ first mention in the Gospel of John is an exclamation of courage and loyalty: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16 NASB) as the disciples feared for the life of Yeshua and themselves if they were to go back to Bethany to raise Lazarus. In John 14:6 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then in John 20:19-28 Yeshua appears to the other disciples but Thomas refuses to believe their testimony unless he sees for himself, and is confronted with his own words when Yeshua then appears to them all. Thomas responded with a powerful exclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God!

Tradition says Thomas was a missionary to Parthia, Persia, and India. He is honoured as having started the Christian church in India and for suffering martyrdom in Mylapore,  a neighbourhood in the central part of the city of Chennai, in the north of the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Syrian Christian tradition specifies that this took place on July 3, 72 AD and The Acts of Thomas says he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear (or lance).

Taddai/Thaddaeus also called Y’hudah Ben-Ya‘akov/Judas son of James

He was one of the little-known Apostles. Matthew (10:3) and Mark (3:18) both call him Thaddeus (which means “courageous heart”)—but in the King James and New King James translations, they call him Labbaeus. Luke calls him the Hebrew name: יְהוּדָהY’hudah – which means ‘praised’ and is translated as Judah, Judas, or Jude. This was another very common name for Jews, so Luke is careful to avoid him being confused with the more notorious apostle who also bore this name: “Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6:16). There is some contention among scholars as to whether the more correct translation is “Judas son of James” or “Judas brother of James”. John’s Gospel also refers to him as Judas and likewise distinguishes him from the other Judas chosen as an apostle: “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world‘” (John 14:22)?

Most early tradition says that Judas, son of James, took the gospel north to Edessa, a Syrian city near the Euphrates River in upper Mesopotamia a few years after Pentecost. There he healed the King of Edessa, Abgar, and many others, and many believed in the name of Yeshua. Eusebius, the historian, said the archives at Edessa contained the visit of Judas and the healing of Abgar (the records have now been destroyed). Tradition says Thaddeus preached in Assyria, Armenia and Persia and died a martyr, killed with arrows at Ararat in Persia. Another tradition is that he was clubbed to death for his faith around 65 AD in Beirut, Lebanon.  He is revered by the Armenian Church as the “Apostle to the Armenians.”  Those who interpret Luke 6:16 as “Judas brother of James” conclude that Jude the apostle wrote the Epistle of Jude as the author introduces himself as “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James. ” Jude 1:1 CEB

Shim‘on / Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot is one of nine people named Simon in the New Testament. Two of them are among Yeshua’s Twelve Apostles—Simon the Zealot and Simon Peter. The other Simons are:

  • Simon Iscariot, father of Judas Iscariot (John 6:71).
  • Simon is the name of one of Jesus’ brothers (Mark 6:3), who’s traditionally believed to have succeeded James as head of the church in Jerusalem.
  • A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus over for dinner, where a sinful woman famously poured perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:40).
  • Simon the Leper hosted Jesus for dinner in Bethany (Mark 14:3).
  • Simon from Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry his cross (Mark 15:21).
  • Simon the Sorcerer attempted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter (Acts 8:9-24).
  • Simon the Tanner was hosting Simon Peter at his house when Peter had his vision of unclean food (Acts 9:43) in preparation for sharing the Gospel with the gentile Cornelius’ household.

We know very little about Simon the Zealot. He is only ever mentioned by name in the four lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:1-13). He’s never mentioned in the Gospel of John, as John never explicitly lists all the apostles. Nor is Simon the Zealot’s ministry described in Acts or any of the epistles. The moniker “the Zealot” comes from the Greek word zēlōtēs, which Luke used in both his gospel and Acts to distinguish this Simon from Simon Peter. Matthew and Mark give him the title kananaios, which most scholars believe comes from the Aramaic word qan’an, meaning “zealous one.” The failure in ancient manuscripts to distinguish formal nouns allows for differing interpretations regarding the use of the term ‘zealot.’  It could mean he formally belonged to a Jewish sect known as the Zealots, who were associated with violent uprisings and expected the coming Messiah to violently overthrow Rome. Or he may have simply been zealous for the Mosaic Law, or for Yeshua and his teachings.

There are numerous accounts of Simon the Zealot’s death, but the earliest records come centuries after his death. Like many of the apostles, it’s hard to conclude exactly which tradition (if any) is accurate:

  • In the fifth century, Moses of Chorene wrote that Simon the Zealot was martyred in the Kingdom of Iberia.
  • The Golden Legend says he was martyred in Persia in 65 AD.
  • Ethiopian Christians believe he was crucified in Samaria.
  • Another tradition says that after preaching on the west coast of Africa, Simon went to England where he ended up being crucified in 74 AD (or 61 AD).
  • In the sixteenth century, Justus Lipsius claimed Simon was sawed in half.
  • Eastern tradition claims he died of old age in Edessa.
Y’hudah from K’riot / Judas Iscariot

As we’ve seen, he had a Hebrew name: יְהוּדָהY’hudah– which means ‘praised’ and is translated as Judah, Judas, or Jude. There are three people named Judas in the gospels (and eight total in the New Testament). Two of them were disciples of Jesus, and one of them was one of Jesus’ half-brothers. Most scholars believe Iscariot means that Judas came from the town of Kerioth, which could make him the only apostle from Judea (the others were from Galilee). But there have been a number of other theories, including the possibility that it identifies him with the Sicarii—a group of Jewish rebels who were trained as assassins.

Here are the few details we know about Judas Iscariot from the gospels:

  • Yeshua knew what he was like even before He chose Judas Iscariot. Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him. John 6:70-71
  • Judas didn’t care about the poor—and he was a thief.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?”
    Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. (John 12:6)
  • Judas was Yeshua‘s treasurer. John goes on to tell us, “as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6b) For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor. (John 13:29)
  • Judas sort to betray Jesus. Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. Mark 14:10
    At this point the Adversary went into Y’hudah from K’riot (Judas Iscariot), who was one of the Twelve.  He approached the head cohanim (priest) and the Temple guard and discussed with them how he might turn Yeshua over to them.  They were pleased and offered to pay him money.  He agreed and began looking for a good opportunity to betray Yeshua without the people’s knowledge. Luke 22:3-6 CJB
  • Judas was looking for monetary gain.  Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16)
  • Judas came under the influence of Satan.  “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve” (Luke 22:3). After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)
  • Most infamously, Judas betrayed Jesus with an act of friendship:

While he was still speaking, a crowd of people arrived, with the man called Y’hudah (one of the Twelve!) leading them. He came up to Yeshua to kiss him, but Yeshua said to him, “Y’hudah, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Luke 22:47-48 CJB
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” 
. Matthew 26:45-50

  • Judas’ betrayal was a fulfilment of scripture. While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12) “Son of perdition” essentially means he was eternally damned, doomed to hell, and trapped in unrepentant sin (and thus would never receive forgiveness).  Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up [his] heel against me. (Psalms 41:9) May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership. (Psalm 109:8) Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: ‘They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’ (Matthew 27:9-10)
  • Judas felt remorse, but not repentance producing godly sorrow. Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3–5) Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • Judas Iscariot died around the same time as Yeshua.  “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” Acts 1:18-19.
  • The Field of Blood. “The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. ” (Matthew 27:6–8)
Matthias

Matthias is a diminutive form of the same Hebrew name as Matthew: Matityahu. They both mean “gift of God.” After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and while the 120 were praying in one accord in the upper room, seeking God’s leading and awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter, compelled by the need to have the foundation of 12, urged them to replace Judas Iscariot:

During this period, when the group of believers numbered about 120, Kefa (Peter) stood up and addressed his fellow-believers:  “Brothers, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) spoke in advance through David about Y’hudah (Judas), and these words of the Tanakh had to be fulfilled. He was guide for those who arrested Yeshua – he was one of us and had been assigned a part in our work.” … “Now,” said Kefa, “it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his estate become desolate, let there be no one to live in it’; and Let someone else take his place as a supervisor. Therefore, one of the men who have been with us continuously throughout the time the Lord Yeshua travelled around among us, from the time Yochanan (John) was immersing (baptising) people until the day Yeshua was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
They nominated two men — Yosef Bar-Sabba
(Joseph called Barsabbas), surnamed Justus, and Mattityahu (Matthias).  
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen  to take over the work and the office of emissary (apostle) that Y’hudah (Judas) abandoned to go where he belongs.”  
Then they drew lots to decide between the two, and the lot fell to Mattityahu. So he was added to the eleven emissaries
(apostles).” Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 CJB

This version describes the role Matthias was to take hold of as “a supervisor“, NASB describes it as an “office“, NIV as “leadership” and KJV as “bishoprick”. The Greek word is ἐπισκοπήepiskopḗ– and it refers to oversight that gives personal care and attention, help that is appropriately fitting. This 12th apostle was needed as a witness with the 11 to Christ’s resurrection. Peter determined that it had to be someone who had been with them from the time Yochanan baptized Yeshua until the time He ascended to heaven, someone who was an eye-witness of Yeshua’s life since the beginning of His ministry. The 120 nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Neither of these men are mentioned by name in any of the gospel accounts, they are part of the anonymous group of Yeshua’s talmidim who faithfully followed Him. They were probably both part of the 72 unnamed other talmidim whom Luke records as being sent out (apostello) by Yeshua:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.  Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  … …
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:1-9, 17-20 NIV

The 120 prayed, and then cast lots, and Matthias became the new 12th apostle. The principle of casting lots goes back to the Old Testament – it was a process the Israelites used to discern God’s will, seek His wisdom, or learn the truth. Thus, Matthias was chosen by God just as surely as the other 11 apostles. Yeshua did not reveal His choice for the 12th apostle before His ascension, but it was the first thing that He revealed to His birthing church after His ascension, as they prepared to receive the Holy Spirit. Now they were in unity (Acts 1:14) and complete. They were ready for what God would do.

Like several of the 12 apostles, Matthias is not mentioned again in the scriptures, but according to historical sources Matthias lived until 80 A.D. and spread the gospel on the shores of the Caspian and Cappadocia, Aethiopia (modern-day Georgia). Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos was a fourteenth century historian who built on the work of his predecessors and had access to important texts that no longer exist. He claimed Matthias preached in Judea, then in Aethiopia (by the region of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia) and was there stoned to death. A marker placed in the ruins of the Roman fortress at Gonio (Apsaros) in the modern Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at that site. While the tradition of the Greeks says that St. Matthias planted the faith about Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea, residing chiefly near the port Issus. The Synopsis of Dorotheus contains this tradition: “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Alternatively, another tradition maintains that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the local populace, and then beheaded (cf. Tillemont, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siècles, I, 406–7). According to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem.

Although little is known about several of the 12 apostles, one thing is certain – they were each chosen by Yeshua. This is the most important thing about each of them, this is what transformed their lives and set them as a foundation for transforming the nations / turning the world upside down.

REFERENCES

1. Guzik, David. Genesis 48 – Jacob Blesses Joseph’s Sons. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-48/.
2. Calahan, John. Why is the tribe of Dan not among the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8? Never Thirsty. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/why-is-tribe-dan-not-among-144000-in-revelation7-4-8/.
3. Armstrong, Stephen. Why is the Tribe of Dan Missing in Revelation 7? Verse By Verse Ministry International. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/why-is-the-tribe-of-dan-missing-in-revelation-7.
4. Gina. Joshua 16-18. Reading the Bible Chronologically in 365 days. [Online] 18th April 2013. https://hisstillsmallvoice.wordpress.com/tag/josephs-sons-ephraim-and-mannasseh-receive-a-double-portion-for-joseph/.
5. Hamilton, Jeffrey W. Joseph was the favorite of all of Jacob’s sons, so why did Judah get the blessing? Christian Library. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Jeffrey_W_Hamilton/LVanswers/2011/02-05.html.
6. Editors. Why does God refer to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Got Questions – your questions Biblical answers. [Online] [Cited: 16th August 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/God-of-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob.html.
7. —. How old were Jesus’ disciples? Got Questions? Your questions, Biblical answers. [Online] [Cited: 18th Auguat 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/how-old-were-Jesus-disciples.html.
8. Cary, Otis & Frank. HOW OLD WERE CHRIST’S DISCIPLES? . The Biblical World. [Online] [Cited: 18th August 2020.] https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/475815.
9. Herbert, R. How Old Were the Disciples? Living with Faith. [Online] 28th November 2018. http://www.livingwithfaith.org/blog/how-old-were-the-disciples.
10. Kirkpatrick, David Paul. Jesus’ Bachelors – The Disciples Were Most Likely Under The Age of 18. Living In The Metaverse. [Online] 25th March 2013. https://www.davidpaulkirkpatrick.com/2013/03/25/jesus-bachelors-the-disciples-were-most-likely-under-the-age-of-18/.
11. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why Give Half-Shekels to Charity on Taanit Esther? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 22nd August 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/3942732/jewish/Why-Give-Half-Shekels-to-Charity-on-Taanit-Esther.htm.
12. Spetter, Rabbi Moshe. In Remembrance of the Half-Shekel – 5766. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 11th March 2006. https://torahmitzion.org/learn/remembrance-half-shekel-5766/.
13. Hattin, Rav Michael. The Half-Shekel of Silver. The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash. [Online] [Cited: 22nd August 2020.] https://www.etzion.org.il/en/half-shekel-silver.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What is the significance of Jesus choosing 12 apostles?
* What can we learn about God’s choice for leaders from the 12?
* Do your people have a connection to your land like the Jews have to their land? Please describe.
* Why do you think the scriptures tell us so little about the apostles Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alpheus, Thaddaeus or Matthias?
* What doe sit mean to be an apostle, or ambassador, of Christ?
* What have you learnt from studying the 12 apostles?

New Kingdom – New Structure

Please read Matthew 9:14-17, 27-38 & 12:1-21, Mark 2:18-28 & 3:1-12 & Luke 5:1-11, 33-39 & 6:1-16

It was the Jewish month of Elul, the sixth month in the calendar God had established in the Torah (God having given this mitzvah (commandment) to Moses concerning Nisan: “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year” Exodus 12:2), and the twelfth month in the ‘civil’ calendar the Sages had developed in line with the agricultural year and their teaching that God had created man on 1st Tishri. The summer fruits had ripened, and the grape harvest begun.   Juicy grapes were being picked, eaten, and crushed to make sweet wine.

It was now a year since Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) received his call and began summoning Israel to repent and be baptised in the Jordan River as a sign of that repentance. 

 Yochanan had been imprisoned by Herod for several months now (http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2020/06/13/confronting-power-and-expectation/) and his situation continued to look dire, but his disciples remained faithful to him and his calling. It was a call to teshuvah (repentance), and teshuvah was associated with fasting.

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.  The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. 2 Samuel 12:16-17

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting Psalm 35:13a

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.  This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.  But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:5-9

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Daniel 9:3-5

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:12

Likewise, the month of Elul was associated with teshuvah and fasting. Traditionally, the beginning of Elul marks the start of the Jew’s spiritual preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה – literally meaning “head [of] the year”, the ‘civil’ Jewish New Year), and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which follows 10 days later.

According to the Jewish sages, on 6th of Sivan (Shavuot/Feast of Weeks/ Pentecost), seven weeks after their Exodus from Egypt, Moses first ascended Sinai to receive the Torah

40 days later, on the 17th Tammuz, the tablets with the 10 Commandments were broken when Moses came down from the mountain and saw Israel’s horrific sin in idolatry with the golden calf .  

Moses then interceded for Israel for another 40 days – during which we see the first mention of the Book of Life when Moses asked to be stricken from “the Book You have written” if God would not make an atonement for His people (Exodus 32:32-33). At the end of those 40 days, on Elul 1st, Moses was called back up to Sinai.

Over the following 40 days, as the people were in repentance below, Moses on Mt Sinai received the revelation of the name YHVH (Exodus 34:4-8) and the Second Tablets. He returned to camp on 10th Tishri, when the repentance of the people was complete, carrying the 10 Commandments written on stone tablets. Tishri 10th would become the most holy day of the Jewish religious calendar, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – the only day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to present the blood for the atonement of Israel’s sins. He also ceremoniously laid – via confession – all Israel’s sin on the head of a male goat chosen by lots. This scapegoat was then led outside the camp into the wilderness, signifying the removal of sin from the people. Thus were the entire year’s sins forgiven and removed, making the way for reconciliation with the holy God.

These last 40 days, from Elul 1st until Yom Kippur, had become the Jew’s season of Teshuvah (repentance) – in commemoration of those 40 days and nights of Israel’s repentance as Moses communed with G-d on Mt Sinai.

In Aramaic, the word “Elul” means “search,” it is the time of the year when Jews must search their hearts and repent of all that misses the mark of G-d’s perfection.

Thus, during the month of Elul, Jews engage in teshuva beyn adam laḥavero  (reconciliation between human beings). This requires acknowledging where we have made mistakes, treated others badly, been selfish or self-absorbed; and apologizing; and making amends, repairing the damage we have done to others; and then seeking forgiveness and forgiving others. 

Teshuvah (repentance) was understood to be a three-stage process:
1. We must regret our actions, confront the reality of what we have done, apologize and make recompense.
2. We must reject that flawed conduct for ourselves, acknowledge that is not the way for people of God to behave.
3. We must resolve to live differently in the future, and if confronted with the opportunity to sin again, we must behave differently, for that is when we know we have truly repented.

According to the Rabbis, after the reconciliation month of Elul, on Rosh Hashanah (New Years Day), God decrees His judgment on each person, whether fit for the Book of Life or not. People then have one last opportunity during the following 10 Days of Awe to affect that proclamation before God seals it on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which is the day they believe God seals a person’s destiny for the coming year. On Yom Kippur the nation sort t’shuva beyn adam lamakom (reconciliation between human beings and God). This was done through the priest’s sacrifices for the people with the blood placed on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.

At the beginning of this month of teshuvah (repentance), Yeshua had proclaimed His sermon on the Mount, searching and exposing the hearts of all the people before the light of G-d. After that He had declared the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven, and proven His authority to do such by healing him. Then He had called the tax collector Matthew (Levi) to be one of His talmidim, and then accepted the invitation to dine with Matthew and all the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ invited to celebrate Matthew’s acceptance by Christ.

Neither Yochanan’s talmidim, nor the Pharisees could understand why any man of God would be openly dining and celebrating with his talmidim at such a time as this, during the repentance month of Elul.

Next, Yochanan’s talmidim (John’s disciples) came to him and asked, “Why is it that we and the P’rushim (Pharisees) fast frequently, but your talmidim don’t fast at all?”  Yeshua said to them, “Can wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then they will fast.  Matthew 9:14-15 CJB

Also Yochanan’s talmidim and the P’rushim were fasting; and they came and asked Yeshua, “Why is it that Yochanan’s talmidim and the talmidim of the P’rushim fast, but your talmidim don’t fast?”  Yeshua answered them, “Can wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, fasting is out of the question.  But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; and when that day comes, they will fast.  Mark 2:18-20 CJB

Next they said to him, “Yochanan’s talmidim are always fasting and davvening (offering prayers), and likewise the talmidim of the P’rushim; but yours go on eating and drinking.”  Yeshua said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them?  The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; and when that time comes, they will fast.”  Luke 5:33-35 CJB

Repentance was not the only focus of Elul. The Jewish Sages also teach that “Elul”, spelled in Hebrew “Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed”, is an acronym for the verse in Song of Songs 6:3: “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” The Rabbis’ declare that, according to this verse, the relationship between God and Israel is like the relationship between a pair of lovers. The Pharisees recognised God as the Bridegroom, the “Beloved”, and the nation of Israel as the Bride, “I“, in this scripture. So, when Yeshua referred to Himself as the “bridegroom” it was a declaration of the incarnation (the He is God), which was both an affront to the Pharisees and a comfort and affirmation to Yochanan’s talmidim.

Interestingly, each of the four Hebrew words of this verse ends with the letter Yud. Numerically, the four Yuds together equal 40, corresponding to the 40 days between the first of Elul and Yom Kippur. More important was the anticipation in this verse of the final goal – a state of closeness to God. The month of Elul was a time of preparation for being with God as lovers, as bride and groom.

The entire purpose of Yochanan’s talmidim’s and the Pharisees’ fasting was to show a longing for the day God would show up and show favour to Israel again. Yeshua, the “Beloved“, was right there with them! There was no need for fasting at that moment, a wedding banquet is always the time for feasting and joy in celebration of the beloved and His bride coming together.

Yeshua’s talmidim had, right in this moment, what Israel looked forward to at Sukkot, “the time of our joy, when ‘God brings us into His inner chamber’ and we take refuge in the shade of the Sukkah, a feeling of love between the Almighty and the Congregation of Israel can be felt, like a bride and groom, like a pair of lovers”. The tax collectors and sinners who had experienced Yeshua’s forgiveness instinctively knew this, but the religious Pharisees found it difficult to comprehend.

Yeshua‘s response had not only declared Himself God, Israel’s Bridegroom, but also predicted His death that would bring their atonement: “the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made.  Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the skins would burst, and the wine be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9: 16-17 HNV

 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or else the patch shrinks and the new tears away from the old, and a worse hole is made.  No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and the wine pours out, and the skins will be destroyed; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:21-22 HNV 

He also told a parable to them. “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old garment, or else he will tear the new, and also the piece from the new will not match the old.  No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.  No man having drunk old wine immediately desires new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'” Luke 5:36-39 CJB

Yeshua was bringing something new, the fulfilment of reconciliation with, and closeness to, God that Torah and the Prophets had promised. That fulfilment was in His presence, it was in coming to Christ acknowledging their need of God’s forgiveness, it was dependent on relationship with Him. That fulfilment was the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. It was not a righteousness that they earned through obeying all the dictates of the Pharisees, but a righteousness which was given to them in response to hungering and thirsting for His kingdom. It was not the exaltation of David’s earthly kingdom but the descent of God’s heavenly kingdom to permeate throughout the earth. This new kingdom needed to be put in new structures, trying to use it to stitch together the kingdom of Israel would just result in more tearing, trying to fill the religious structures of Judaism with it would burst them. The Pharisees were not ready to embrace it, they kept declaring, “the old is better“.

Yeshua was establishing a new kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Jewish nation was a kingdom of this world that God had established and blessed in this world to bless all the nations of this world, to bring His Son into the world through Israel.   But His Son, although also the Son of David, had not come to raise up the kingdom of Israel.  He was that rock from Daniel’s vision, which was cut out of the mountain without hands and grew to fill the whole world.  The Kingdom of Heaven was not a fix for the kingdom of Israel, but a new kingdom birthed out of Israel in fulfilment of the Torah and the Prophets.  It was the new garment that should not be used to try to patch the old.  It was the new wine that could not be contained in the old but required a new wineskin, a new structure.   It was the fulfilment of what Yochanan the Immerser had been preparing the people for with his message of “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and thus an encouragement to Yochanan’s talmidim.  Yet so many in Israel were not looking for a Messiah to establish a heavenly kingdom, but for a Messiah to fix and empower their earthly kingdom, to raise Israel over all other earthly kingdoms. 

The Pharisees questioning Yeshua this day were not ready to embrace G-d incarnate, they kept declaring “the old is better“. There is a principle in halacha that a rabbinic decree remains in force even when the original reason for the decree is no longer relevant.  All that is permitted is stitching something new to the old rabbinic decree, but Yeshua had come to replace those decrees which had been added by men and were contrary to the Father’s will, with the true decrees of the kingdom of heaven. This contrast between man made decrees and God’s holy law incited much conflict between Yeshua and the religious leaders whose trust was in their own righteousness through obedience to those decrees.

Things operate very differently in the Kingdom of Heaven to how the religious leaders had organised them in Israel.  Essential to their old garment were all the extra laws they had made regarding the Sabbath.  All the laws, mitzvah, that God had given Israel were a reflection of the laws of the kingdom of heaven. Yet men had taken those mitzvah and, in attempting to enforce obedience to them, had changed and added to them. They thought they were explaining and improving on what God had written, but God incarnate had come and He kept directing their practice back to His original intent. Yeshua was establishing the structure of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Here He began with a foundational concept in Judaism – Shabbat (the Sabbath).

One Shabbat during that time, Yeshua was walking through some wheat fields. His talmidim were hungry, so they began picking heads of grain and eating them.  On seeing this, the P’rushim (Pharisees) said to him, “Look! Your talmidim are violating Shabbat!”  
But he said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry?  He entered the House of God and ate the Bread of the Presence!” — which was prohibited, both to him and to his companions; it is permitted only to the cohanim (priests).  “Or haven’t you read in the Torah that on Shabbat the cohanim profane Shabbat and yet are blameless?  I tell you, there is in this place something greater than the Temple!  If you knew what I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifice meant, you would not condemn the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of Shabbat!” Matthew 12:1-8 CJB

One Shabbat Yeshua was passing through some wheat fields; and as they went along, his talmidim began picking heads of grain.   The P’rushim said to him, “Look! Why are they violating Shabbat?”  
He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry and needed food?  He entered the House of God when Evyatar (
Abiathar) was cohen gadol (high priest) and ate the Bread of the Presence,” — which is forbidden for anyone to eat but the cohanim (priests)— “and even gave some to his companions.”  
Then he said to them, “Shabbat was made for mankind, not mankind for Shabbat; So the Son of Man is Lord even of Shabbat.”
Mark 2:23-28 CJB

One Shabbat, while Yeshua was passing through some wheat fields, his talmidim began plucking the heads of grain, rubbing them between their hands and eating the seeds.  Some of the P’rushim said, “Why are you violating Shabbat?”  
Yeshua answered them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the House of God and took and ate the Bread of the Presence” — which no one is permitted to eat but the cohanim.  
“The Son of Man,” he concluded, “is Lord of Shabbat.”  Luke 6:1-6 CJB

As we saw back in http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2020/06/06/yeshua-taught-in-their-synagogues/, God had commanded the people rest and honour Him on the seventh day (Shabbat), and the Pharisees had interpreted this by defining thirty-nine categories of activity that they declared forbidden on Shabbat. The third of these was ‘Reaping’  (Hebrew: קוצר Koṣer) – removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth; and the sixth was ‘Winnowing’  (Hebrew: זורה Zoreh) – sorting undesirable from desirable. Rubbing a couple of grains in your hand to remove the husks before eating them was considered “winnowing” and therefore forbidden.  Yeshua used the Torah, which they claimed to be enforcing, to illustrate how they had misunderstood God’s command and in so doing were condemning the innocent. Then concluded by saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. As the king of the kingdom of heaven, Yeshua is the one to define what His commandments entail. The rest that God had commanded did not consist of the Pharisee’s laws, but rather of walking in step with the law giver, the Lord of Shabbat.

The old is better“, the Pharisees declared.

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue. A man there had a shrivelled hand. Looking for a reason to accuse him of something, they asked him, “Is healing permitted on Shabbat?”  
But he answered, “If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you won’t take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.”  
Then to the man he said, “Hold out your hand.” As he held it out, it became restored, as sound as the other one. 
Matthew 12:9-13 CJB

Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 
Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” 
But they said nothing. Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy.
Mark 3:1-5 CEB

On another Shabbat, when Yeshua had gone into the synagogue and was teaching, a man was there who had a shrivelled hand.  The Torah-teachers and P’rushim watched Yeshua carefully to see if he would heal on Shabbat, so that they could accuse him of something.  But he knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Come up and stand where we can see you!”
He got up and stood there.  Then Yeshua said to them, “I ask you now: what is permitted on Shabbat? Doing good or doing evil? Saving life or destroying it?”  
Then, after looking around at all of them, he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” As he held it out, his hand was restored. 
Luke 6: 6-10 CJB

Just as the Pharisees had forbidden any playing of musical instruments during Shabbat worship, for fear that the musician might be tempted to tune their instrument and thus violate the thirty-eighth category of work they had determined to be forbidden on Shabbat (Fine-tuning / Repairing a Utensil (Hebrew: מכה בפטיש Makeh Bapetish), so also they had forbidden any act of healing on Shabbat for fear that a person might need to grind herbs or the like to prepare the medication and thus violate their forbidden category of work of Grindingav melachah  of tochen, ie breaking a large object into smaller pieces which can serve a new or better purpose). ‘Healing’ in this context of being forbidden on Shabbat was considered broader than just the act of taking medicine – it also included any other action which had a “curative effect.”

Yet, a bedrock principle in all of Jewish law is that protecting a person’s life (in Hebrew, pikuach nefesh) is of paramount importance. If there is any question about a person’s life being in danger, then not only are they allowed to violate Shabbat, but they are required to do so. It is this requirement that Yeshua alludes to in His answer. God had established Shabbat for the doing of good, not the doing of evil by using it as an excuse to fail to care for one’s fellow. Yeshua kept Shabbat as He had ordained it in Torah, but not all the complicated additional laws that had been devised, which necessitated the people’s dependence on the Pharisees for guidance in every situation, and by which they judged others. Shabbat had not been commanded for the sake of all these rules and regulations, but for the sake of man drawing closer to God.

The old is better!” They insisted.

But the P’rushim went out and began plotting how they might do away with Yeshua.  Aware of this, he left that area. Matthew 12:14-15a CJB

At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus. Mark 3:6 CEB

But the others were filled with fury and began discussing with each other what they could do to Yeshua.  Luke 6:11 CJB

They had no answer for Him. He was turning their world upside down – disregarding their rules that had taken generations to develop and refine. “Leading the people astray“, they concluded. Pronouncing a man’s sins forgiven. Calling Himself “Lord of Shabbat”. Openly disregarding their law forbidding healing on Shabbat, and that done in the holy synagogue which was dedicated to teaching the people to obey such. These Pharisees were sure they knew what Yeshua was – a false teacher. The ignorant masses needed to be protected from such. “For the sake of the people” they had to get rid of Him, so all these masses could be brought back to what they considered to be ‘true Judaism‘. “The old is better!”

Yeshua had been welcome in the Capernaum synagogue, and taught there most Shabbats, until now. As His popularity had grown and his teachings became more obviously different to theirs the synagogue leaders had been becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this man who filled their pews. They had gone from welcoming the new life He brought to looking for reasons to expel Him. Instead of rejoicing in God’s goodness healing the man’s withered hand they had been horrified and angered at Yeshua’s lack of any attempt to please or appease them. They would not countenance such insubordination in their sacred space. They had an obligation to protect the people from such “false teaching” – teachings which differed from theirs.

Yeshua healed them all…

Such distain from the religious officials did not deter the crowds. So many were sick and had needs that their leaders could not meet. They came to Yeshua and He healed them all, so more kept coming.

Jesus left with his disciples and went to the lake. A large crowd followed him because they had heard what he was doing. They were from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the area surrounding Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus told his disciples to get a small boat ready for him so the crowd wouldn’t crush him. He had healed so many people that everyone who was sick pushed forward so that they could touch him.  Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, “You are God’s Son!”  But he strictly ordered them not to reveal who he was. Mark 3:7-12 CEB

Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret;  and he saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets.  And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat.  And when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught”.  
And Simon answered and said, “Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets”.  And when they had done this, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking; and they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  
But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken;  and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed him.  Luke 5:1-11 ASV

Many people followed him; and he healed them all but warned them not to make him known.  This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Yesha‘yahu (Isaiah 42:1-4) the prophet,
“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will announce justice to the Gentiles.  He will not fight or shout, no one will hear his voice in the streets; he will not snap off a broken reed or snuff out a smouldering wick until he has brought justice through to victory.  In him the Gentiles will put their hope.” Matthew 12:15b-21 CJB

The lake (Sea of Galilee) became His synagogue, and the boat His ‘Seat of Moses’ where He sat to teach the people. Matthew again links Yeshua’s life to the Messianic prophesies. When they had rejected Him in the synagogue He had simply left – and preached elsewhere, and kept healing and doing miracles, and the multitude followed Him.

As Yeshua went on from there, two blind men began following him, shouting, “Son of David! Take pity on us!”  
When he entered the house, the blind men came up, and Yeshua said to them, “Do you believe that I have the power to do this?”
They replied, “Yes, sir.”  
Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen to you according to your trust”;  and their sight was restored. Yeshua warned them severely, “See that no one knows about it.”  
But instead, they went away and talked about him throughout that district. As they were going, a man controlled by a demon and unable to speak was brought to Yeshua.  After the demon was expelled the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Isra’el,” they said.  
But the P’rushim said, “It is through the ruler of the demons that he expels demons.”
Yeshua went about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and weakness.  
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his talmidim, “The harvest is rich, but the workers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:27-38 CJB

New Structure

After another night spent alone on the mountain in prayer, Yeshua made the momentous decision to choose twelve. This was the foundation of a whole new governmental structure. Another step forward in establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. Although Yeshua had many talmidim (disciples) following Him, only these 12 are ever mentioned by name as disciples in the gospels. In our next blog we’ll examine the meanings behind this and significance of the twelve.

It was around that time that Yeshua went out to the hill country to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  When day came, he called his talmidim and chose from among them twelve to be known as emissaries (apostles):  Shim`on (Simon), whom he named Kefa (Peter); Andrew, his brother; Ya`akov (James); Yochanan (John); Philip; Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew);  Mattityahu (Matthew); T’oma (Thomas); Ya`akov Ben-Halfai (James, son of Alphaeus);  Shim`on (Simon), the one called the Zealot; Y’hudah Ben-Ya`akov (Judas, son of James); and Y’hudah (Judas) from K’riot (Iscariot), who turned traitor.  Luke 6:12-16 CJB

REFERENCES

1. Katz, Steven. In Days of Awe, Rituals Sweet and Somber. Boston University. [Online] September 2010. http://www.bu.edu/articles/2010/in-days-of-awe-rituals-sweet-and-somber/.
2. Parsons, John J. Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Yom_Kippur/yom_kippur.html.
3. Kaminker, Rabbi Mendy. How To: “Soul Accounting” in 5 Steps. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/971407/jewish/Soul-Accounting-in-5-Steps.htm.
4. Parsons, John J. Cheshbon HaNefesh & Self Examination. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Elul/Cheshbon/cheshbon.html.
5. Weinberg, Rabbi Noah. Spiritual Accounting System. Aish HaTorah. [Online] 22nd May 2002. https://www.aish.com/h/hh/gar/sa/Spiritual_Accounting_System.html.
6. Schneerson, Rabbi Menachem M. “I Am My Beloved’s, My Beloved is Mine”. The Rebbe – Living Torah. [Online] 12th Sptember 1990. https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/livingtorah/player_cdo/aid/1600166/jewish/I-Am-My-Beloveds-My-Beloved-Is-Mine.htm.
7. Levanon, Rabbi David Dov. Elul’s Intimate Relationship. Yeshiva. [Online] [Cited: 1st August 2020.] https://www.yeshiva.co/midrash/3959.
8. Yolkut, Rabbi Elianna. What’s Love Got to Do With It? The Power of the Jewish Month of Elul. Haaretz. [Online] 26th August 2012. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/the-pregnant-power-of-elul-1.5291133.
9. Breslov, Rebbe Nachman of. Preparing for High Holidays during Elul. Beth Shalom Synagogue. [Online] [Cited: 1st August 2020.] https://bethshalomsynagogue.org/preparing-for-high-holidays-during-elul/.
10. Simmon, Alan Goldman & Rabbi Shraga. 17. Tochen – Part 2: Healing on Shabbat. Aish HaTorah . [Online] [Cited: 11th August 2020.] https://www.aish.com/jl/jewish-law/shabbat/17-Tochen—Part-2-Healing-on-Shabbat.html.
11. Wineberg, Menachem Mendel. Tochen – Grinding. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aufgust 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4740282/jewish/Tochen-Grinding.htm.
12. —. The 39 Melachot. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 11th August 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/102032/jewish/The-39-Melachot.htm.
13. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited By Law. Orthodux Union. [Online] 17th July 2006. https://www.ou.org/holidays/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/#38.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What was the most important thing you learnt from this study?
* Concerning communion, Paul wrote: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). What can we learn about properly examining ourselves from the Jew’s teshuva during their month of Elul?
* How was Jesus’ declaration about the bridegroom both an affront to the Pharisees and a comfort to John’s disciples?
* What was the Pharisee’s response to Jesus? Why do you think they responded in this way?
* Have you ever concluded that another minister was a false teacher? If so, on what basis and how have you responded to that?
* What was Jesus’s response to those who accused Him of being a false teacher? Give examples.
* How did Jesus respond when He disagreed with a teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees or leaders of the synagogue? Give examples.
* What was the significance of healing in Jesus’ ministry?
* What have you noticed in these scriptures that is similar to your culture, and what is different?

Cleansing, Forgiving & Calling

Please read Matthew 8:1 – 9:13, Mark 1:40-2:17 & Luke 5:1-32

Yeshua’s sermon had been timely. They were now entering the sixth month of the Jewish year, Elul, which had been set aside by the Jewish sages as a season for cheshbon hanefesh – “an accounting of the soul”, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe which culminate in the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.   Cheshbon hanefesh involves engaging in an honest self-evaluation about our behaviour over the previous year.   It was a time to contemplate the most important “business”—that is, service of our Creator, to meticulously analyse if there had been progress towards the goal of better serving G-d during the past year.  A time for each Jew to contemplate where they were in life, how they got here and what direction they were heading in. A time for each one to examine what actions they had done which led to this point in their relationships with others and with G-d.  They were to evaluate if, over the past year, they had become better people, better Jews.  This process of self-examination is in order to grow – let go of the pain of the past and move forward.   It involved confession – coming naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about oneself.  Different sins required different types of confession.  Sins against God required confession to God alone for the sake of obtaining divine forgiveness.  Sins against others required personally acknowledging our harm to them and asking them for forgiveness.  Sins against ourselves required admitting that we had damaged our own lives and being willing to accept personal forgiveness.  The focus of this process was responding to our own sinful condition. Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount had opened their eyes to a whole new way of evaluating their lives from G-d’s perspective and finding the way forward.

After Yeshua had come down from the hill (mountain), large crowds followed him.  Then a man afflicted with tzara`at (leprosy) came, kneeled down in front of him and said, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  
Yeshua reached out his hand, touched him and said, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” And at once he was cleansed from his tzara`at.  
Then Yeshua said to him, “See that you tell no one; but as a testimony to the people, go and let the cohen (priest) examine you, and offer the sacrifice that Moshe (Moses) commanded.” Matthew 8:1-4 CJB

A man afflicted with tzara`at came to Yeshua and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  
Moved with pity, Yeshua reached out his hand, touched him and said to him, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” Instantly the tzara`at left him, and he was cleansed. 
Yeshua sent him away with this stern warning: “See to it that you tell no one; instead, as a testimony to the people, go and let the cohen examine you, and offer for your cleansing what Moshe commanded.” 
But he went out and began spreading the news, talking freely about it; so that Yeshua could no longer enter a town openly but stayed out in the country, where people continued coming to him from all around.
. . . Mark 1:40-45 CJB

Once, when Yeshua was in one of the towns, there came a man completely covered with tzara`at. On seeing Yeshua, he fell on his face and begged him, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Yeshua reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” Immediately the tzara`at left him.  Then Yeshua warned him not to tell anyone. “Instead, as a testimony to the people, go straight to the cohen and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moshe commanded.”   Luke 5:12-14 CJB

In Matthew we read of “large crowds” following Yeshua. The particular Greek word translated “crowds”, is the plural ὄχλοi – oxloi, which suggests that there were multiple groups within the larger group. There was a collection of various interest-groups following Yeshua. Some were eager to learn more from Him, some were wanting the excitement of seeing miracles, some were in need of His touch, and some were jealous of His popularity and there only in order to find some fault in His teaching or actions so that they could denounce Him.

Leviticus 13 & 14 outlined the Jewish laws concerning leprosy. The priests were to examine anyone who had a skin disease to determine the nature of the disease, whether they were ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’. Leprosy was especially abhorrent to the Jews because it brought ceremonial defilement – banishing the person from the Temple and from relations with fellow Jews. As such, it symbolised sin.

Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. Leviticus 13:45-46

The man with leprosy dared to come into the town to seek after Yeshua. He came with a simple faith; “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Yeshua responded by doing the unthinkable – He reached out His hand and touched this man. Leprosy was contagious, none dared touch a person with leprosy. They had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people would know to stay away and not come into accidental contact with them. Yet Yeshua had a cleanliness, a holiness, that was even more contagious. His touch could make one clean. Yeshua came as our sin offering and Leviticus 6 speaks thus of the sin offering:

It is most holy… Anyone who touches its flesh shall become קָדַשׁ – qâdash Leviticus 6:25b, 27

קָדַשׁ – qâdash – to be made clean (ceremonially or morally); to consecrate; to be holy; to purify; to sanctify / be sanctified.

In cleansing the leper, Yeshua was demonstrating His authority over both sin and disease – His capability of setting us free from both. A leper might make others unclean, but Yeshua made the leper clean. He was not defiled by this man’s leprosy because His holiness is more powerful than our sin – He came as the holy sin offering for us.

Leviticus 14 gave very clear instructions of the process for anyone healed of leprosy to be cleansed and accepted back into the Jewish community. Yeshua had stated in His sermon on the mountain, that He had just come down from, that He had not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfil it. The fulfilment of Torah required not just for a leper to be made whole, but for the full priestly examination of such, the procedure for pronouncing them clean, the washing and complete shaving of the cleansed one, and then eight days later, after another ceremonial washing and complete shaving, taking the offerings that Moses had commanded to the temple in Jerusalem.

The priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water.  Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields. The person to be cleansed must wash their clothes, shave off all their hair and bathe with water; then they will be ceremonially clean. 
After this they may come into the camp, but they must stay outside their tent for seven days.  
On the seventh day they must shave off all their hair; they must shave their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair. They must wash their clothes and bathe themselves with water, and they will be clean.
On the eighth day they must bring two male lambs and one ewe lamb a year old, each without defect, along with three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil. The priest who pronounces them clean shall present both the one to be cleansed and their offerings before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Leviticus 14:5-11 NIV

The cleansed leper was so excited about his healing that he just wanted to tell everyone. He saw little point in going through the procedure commanded by God, even though the One who healed him had affirmed the need for such. All that washing and shaving and waiting, and the long journey to Jerusalem. All that being stripped of everything he had carried with him in his leprosy, even the hair on his head, beard and eyebrows, to have a fresh new start. He knew that he was healed, what did anything else matter?

But the news about Yeshua kept spreading all the more, so that huge crowds would gather to listen and be healed of their sicknesses.  However, he made a practice of withdrawing to remote places in order to pray.  Luke 5:15-16 CJB

There was now no spare time for Yeshua to be able to ply his trade as a carpenter. Every day crowds sort Him out to teach them and heal them. It appeared that His ministry was flourishing and all Israel wanted to follow their Messiah. All the scriptures about Him being despised and rejected seemed like an impossibility as the adoring crowds kept growing and seeking him out.

Yeshua had compassion on the people and kept extending Himself to meet their needs, but He never allowed the demands of such large crowds to distract Him from seeking the Father’s face and doing the Father’s will alone. Yeshua prioritised getting alone with the Father to pray προσεύχομαι – proseúchomai – an interactive exchange; engaging in two-way communication with the Father to exchange human desires for divine will; coming into agreement with God; being God-ward focused, waiting on Him.

Today’s lesson was on Yeshua’s authority to forgive sinners – and the implications of that.

Yeshua came from his time of prayer knowing what He needed to teach the people today – that He has the authority to forgive sins.

 After a while, Yeshua returned to K’far-Nachum (Capernaum). The word spread that he was back (at His house), and so many people gathered around the house that there was no longer any room, not even in front of the door.
While he was preaching the message to them,  four men came to him carrying a paralyzed man.  They could not get near Yeshua because of the crowd, so they stripped the roof over the place where he was, made an opening, and lowered the stretcher with the paralytic lying on it.  
Seeing their trust, Yeshua said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 
Some Torah-teachers sitting there thought to themselves,  “How can this fellow say such a thing? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except God?” 
But immediately Yeshua, perceiving in his spirit what they were thinking, said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?  Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man? `Your sins are forgiven’? or `Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk’?  But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralytic, “I say to you: get up, pick up your stretcher and go home!”  
In front of everyone the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and left. They were all utterly amazed and praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Mark 2:1-12 CJB

So he stepped into a boat, crossed the lake again and came to his own town.  Some people brought him a paralyzed man lying on a mattress.
When Yeshua saw their trust, he said to the paralyzed man, “Courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.”  
On seeing this, some of the Torah-teachers said among themselves, “This man is blaspheming!”  
Yeshua, knowing what they were thinking, said, “Why are you entertaining evil thoughts in your hearts?  Tell me, which is easier to say — `Your sins are forgiven’ or `Get up and walk’?  But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your mattress, and go home!”  
And the man got up and went home.  When the crowds saw this, they were awestruck and said a b’rakhah to (glorified) God the Giver of such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:1-8 CJB

One day when Yeshua was teaching, there were P’rushim (Pharisees) and Torah-teachers present who had come from various villages in the Galil (Galilee) and Y’hudah (Judea), also from Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); and the power of ADONAI (the LORD) was with him to heal the sick.  
Some men came carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. They wanted to bring him inside and lay him in front of Yeshua,  but they couldn’t find a way to get him in because of the crowd. So they went up onto the roof and lowered him on his mattress through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, right in front of Yeshua.  
When Yeshua saw their trust, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”  
The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim began thinking, “Who is this fellow that speaks such blasphemies? Who can forgive sin except God?”  
But Yeshua, knowing what they were thinking, answered, “Why are you turning over such thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier to say? `Your sins are forgiven you’? or `Get up and walk’?  But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
He then said to the paralytic, “I say to you: get up, pick up your mattress and go home!”  
Immediately, in front of everyone, he stood up, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home praising God.  Amazement seized them all, and they made a b’rakhah (began glorifying) to God; they were awestruck, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”  Luke 5:17-21 CJB

Despite everything that Yeshua had been saying and doing, all the different people whom He was miraculously healing, still there were many sceptics. Some of those who were most sceptical about Him were the very ones who should have been in the best position to recognise Him as their Messiah, those whose lives were filled with the study and teaching of the Torah and the Prophets. Sadly, their study and teachings had become so full of the opinions of men that they failed to recognise God when He came to them.

Yeshua had chosen to return home for this next lesson He was to teach His disciples. It was a lesson that would profoundly affect everyone who was there, and thus is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The ever-increasing crowds of Jews from all over Israel were becoming normal. People coming desperate for healing were also now common, although most of them did not feel the need to break through the roof of a house to get it. Luke records that at this time “the power of ADONI was with Him to heal the sick“, it was one of those divine moments when God’s power was manifest and the friends of the paralytic man were not going to let this moment pass without getting their friend right in front of Yeshua.

All eyes were fixed on the paralytic as he was lowered down in front of Yeshua. Everyone knew what he needed. Everyone, it seemed, except Yeshua who stunned them all with His next pronouncement: “your sins are forgiven.” No mention of his paralysis. No display of the healing power which was so obviously with Yeshua on this day. Rather, Yeshua saw a greater need – both for this young man and for all those crowding in on him. Yeshua spoke what only God could declare, and all the religious teachers who had used their standing in the community to push their way to the front in Yeshua’s house immediately started criticising Him in their hearts. Yeshua did not let them savour that sweet sense of superiority for long before He addressed it head-on:  “Which is easier to say? `Your sins are forgiven you’? or `Get up and walk’?  But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

There we have it. This is what the Son of Man came for. It was not just to teach us. It was not just to heal sickness and disease. He came to forgive sins – to remove that barrier between us and God. This is what the whole month of Elul was about – being reconciled to God. That is what He had drawn everyone to His house for. Now for the proof – “pick up your mattress and go home!” Immediately, in front of everyone, he stood up, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Yeshua’s critics had nothing they could say to that, and would have been drowned out anyway by all the rest of the people glorifying God for what He had just done in their midst. Yeshua has proven authority on earth to forgive sins.

Yeshua went out again by the lake. All the crowd came to Him, and he began teaching them.  As He passed on from there, He saw Levi Ben-Halfai (Levi the son of Alphaeus) sitting in his tax-collection booth and said to him, “Follow me!” And he got up and followed Him.  Mark 2:13-14 CJB

As Yeshua passed on from there He spotted a tax-collector named Mattityahu (Matthew) sitting in his collection booth.
He said to him, “Follow me!” and he got up and followed Him.
Matthew 9:9 CJB

 Later Yeshua went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi sitting in his tax-collection booth; and He said to him, “Follow me!”  He got up, left everything and followed Him.  Luke 5:27-28 CJB

There was good reason Yeshua had chosen this moment to assert His authority to forgive sins, and it wasn’t just for the sake of the paralysed young man. Yeshua was setting things up for doing the unthinkable, to the Jewish mind. He was going to call a despised tax-collector to be one of His Talmidim. Rabbis were known to only call the most pious, best and brightest young men to be their Talmid. Yeshua had broken the mould by calling some rough fishermen to follow Him, but at least they had honest jobs.

This man was a τελώνης telṓnēs – literally means “paying-at-the-end” and referred to the toll-house where the Romans collected taxes from the public. Tax-collectors were also called “publicans” because they pressured the Jewish public (their country-men) to pay all the money they “owed” to Rome. As a class they were detested not only by the Jews but by other nations also, both on account of their employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they prosecuted it. Jewish tax-collectors were despised by their fellow Jews as traitors to Rome and apostates who chose to be defiled by their working with Gentiles.  They were not allowed to give evidence in a Jewish court, nor welcomed into their synagogues, and they were disqualified from holding any public or religious office. Tax-collectors were thus considered to be the worst of sinners and excluded from all pious Jewish society. So, we can see why it was essential for Yeshua to establish His credentials as One who could forgive sins before He called Matthew the tax-collector to follow Him.

This was not the first encounter Matthew (Levi) had with Yeshua. From his vantage point near the Sea of Galilee, Matthew had witnessed the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John. He had witnessed many being healed by this man. He had sat, taking in every word the Son of Man had preached up on the mountain outside Capernaum. And he had joined the crowds thronging in around Yeshua’s house and heard those life-changing words spoken to the young paralytic “your sins are forgiven“. Here was a man who had the power to forgive sins and re-instate Matthew into the community of God’s people. This man was calling him now. Matthew didn’t hesitate. He got up, left everything and followed Yeshua.

Levi gave a banquet at his house in Yeshua’s honor, and there was a large group of tax-collectors and others at the table with them.  The P’rushim (Pharisees) and their Torah-teachers protested indignantly against his talmidim, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?” 
It was Yeshua who answered them: “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick.  I have not come to call the `righteous,’ but rather to call sinners to turn to God from their sins.”  Luke 5:29-32 CJB

As Yeshua was in Levi’s house eating, many tax-collectors and sinners were sitting with Yeshua and his talmidim, for there were many of them among his followers.  When the Torah-teachers and the P’rushim saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his talmidim, “Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?”  
But, hearing the question, Yeshua answered them, “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. I didn’t come to call the `righteous’ but sinners!” Mark 2:15-17 CJB

While Yeshua was in the house eating, many tax-collectors and sinners came and joined him and his talmidim (disciples) at the meal.  When the P’rushim (Pharisees) saw this, they said to his talmidim, “Why does your rabbi eat with tax-collectors and sinners?”  
But Yeshua heard the question and answered, “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick.  As for you, go and learn what this means: `I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifices.’ For I didn’t come to call the `righteous,’ but sinners!”
Matthew 9:10-13 CJB

Levi had one thing he wanted to do before leaving everything behind. He gave a great banquet and invited everyone he knew, everyone who was not accepted in ‘polite’ Jewish society, everyone who had been ensnared in sin and rejected by the religious establishment as he had been. He invited them all to come and meet the Man who had transformed his life. He invited them to come and see the reason he was willing to leave everything of his old life behind and give up all his future earning potential. Matthew wanted them all to have the opportunity he had received, to hear the truth, to be overwhelmed with the love, and to be set free. Yeshua was the guest of honour at this banquet, and he had no hesitation in accepting the invitation.

All aspects of Jewish life were perceived as spiritual occasions, there was no concept of any part of life being secular in nature, all was an expression of their relationship with God and with each other. Sharing a meal in Jewish culture held both religious and relational significance. In the Torah, great and important things happened over meals. A b’rit (covenant) was sealed with a meal. The first time Avraham (Abraham) arrives in Jerusalem he has a meal of bread and wine with Malki-Tsedek (Melchizedek). When Avraham and Sarah enter the covenant and are visited by significant guests, the birth of Isaac is announced over a meal. Then we have what is probably the most important meal in the Torah. On the night before liberation from slavery, God instructs the Jewish people to commemorate the move from slavery to freedom by conducting the Passover Seder, with matza and maror and the Passover lamb.  Thus, there was a sacredness to sharing a meal with someone.

Though there are many biblical examples of Jews sharing meals with non-Jews and accepting food from non-Jews in earlier times (Gen 14:18, 26:30; Exod 18;12; Deut 2:28, 23:4-7; 2 Kings 4:8, 25:29-30), the social and the spiritual meanings attached to meals during the Second Temple Period restricted such interaction. The developing Oral Law forbade any sharing of a meal with Gentiles, and table fellowship was often restricted even between the members of various Jewish groups (Qumran Community Rule, 1QS 6:16-21, Josephus, Wars II.139). Jewish tradition recognized a meal as a time when social bonds were formed through fellowship, and significant conversation. As people were fed and nourished in this intimate setting they would talk with each other about important matters. Rabbis would say that if people ate together and Torah talk was not exchanged then the meal had been a vain enterprise. They also counselled against sharing the treasures of Torah with those they considered unworthy of such – the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ gathered around these tables certainly fell into that category in the minds of the Pharisees. This made eating with them a vain, frivolous, undiscerning exercise, totally inappropriate for any man of God. Yeshua saw things differently, He saw these people differently, He saw their potential for repentance, forgiveness and entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.

In this month of Elul, every Jew’s focus was on the need for repentance and reconciliation with God before their fate was sealed on Yom Kippur. The prevailing attitude among the Pharisees was that only the pious, those who made every attempt to obey all their rules and regulations to fulfil Torah, could receive God’s forgiveness and be given right standing with Him. Yeshua demonstrated that all the people they thought were disqualified could also be forgiven and brought into right standing with God. Not only that, He made a habit of going to where they were and inviting them to the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisees thought that God’s kingdom would consist only of people like themselves. Yeshua invited everyone in, yet His requirements for entry and demands for true holiness were greater even than those of the Pharisees – for He examined each person’s heart.

Dining areas were typically shaded from the sun, sometimes indoors, at other times on the roofs and on porches attached to the exterior of the house. Seating at meals was arranged by status and places of honour (Mat 23:6), to the right and to the left of the host (1 Sam 9:22-24; Matt 20:21-23).  It seems that the crowds, including the religious leaders, were continuing to follow Yeshua everywhere. The Pharisees felt that they had every right, even necessity in exposing this man, to interrupt someone else’s banquet in order to denounce attendance at such. This, too, had been part of Yeshua’s lesson for that day. The topic was the forgiveness of sinners. Yeshua had proven His authority to forgive with the paralysed man, then exercised that authority in calling Matthew (Levi) to follow Him, and was now describing His call in terms of that authority to forgive: “I have not come to call the `righteous,’ but rather to call sinners to turn to God from their sins.” 

 In this season of cheshbon hanefesh it was the denounced sinners who were doing a true, lifechanging, accounting of the soul; while the ‘righteous’ Pharisees remained blinded to their own sin as they focused on what they saw as other’s wrongs.

REFERENCES

1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Tax collectors in the ancient world. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2020.] https://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=39&sub=430&cat_name=Manners+%26+Customs&subcat_name=Tax+Collectors.
3. Tax Collector. Encyclopedia of the Bible. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2020.] https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Tax-Collector.
4. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli. Understanding Jewish Meals In Their Ancient Context. Israel Institute of Biblical Studies. [Online] 21st May 2014. https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/jewish-meals-in-context/.
5. Poupko, Rabbi Yehiel E. Why are food and meals so essential to the Jewish experience? Jewish United Fund. [Online] 26th November 2007. https://www.juf.org/news/thinking_torah.aspx?id=28094.
6. E. SchürerA History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Eng. tr. 1897-1898), I, ii, 65-71; I.
7. AbrahamsStudies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1st series (1917), 54-61.
8. Kaminker, Rabbi Mendy. How To: “Soul Accounting” in 5 Steps. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/971407/jewish/Soul-Accounting-in-5-Steps.htm.
9. Parsons, John J. Cheshbon HaNefesh & Self Examination. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Elul/Cheshbon/cheshbon.html.
10. Weinberg, Rabbi Noah. Spiritual Accounting System. Aish HaTorah. [Online] 22nd May 2002. https://www.aish.com/h/hh/gar/sa/Spiritual_Accounting_System.html.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What was the most important thing you learnt from this study?
* What are some insights you have gained from the healing of the leprous man?
* What were some of the blessings and some of the challenges Jesus would have faced with having increasing numbers of people following Him?
* Scripture does not describe Jesus as having a large crowd who were united in wanting to follow Him, but large “crowds” ὄχλοi – oxloi – comprised of different groups of people with very different agendas. What were some of the different reasons that people might have been gathering around Jesus?
* Some people keep getting too busy to pray, what was Jesus response when He was kept busy by an increasing number of people wanting Him to minister to them and answer their questions?
* What difference do you think the times Jesus spent alone in the wilderness praying made to His ministry?
* What fills most of the time of the ministers that you know – prayer, studying the scriptures, meeting the people’s needs, on the internet seeking donors, ministering to the sick, teaching, evangelising, what else?
* What do you think the significance of Luke’s statement “the power of ADONI was with Him to heal the sick” is?
* How was Jesus able to forgive sinners before He had been to the cross?
* Forgiveness is a central theme in the gospels – why do you think it is so important and what difference does it make to how we live and minister to others?

Discernment Sayings

Please read and memorise Matthew 7

Yeshua finished this sermon, up on a mountain near Capernaum, with some memorable sayings to teach the people the difference between godly discernment and unrighteous judgment of others. All prejudices are based in unrighteous judgment. Pre-judging others on the basis of their colour or race, tribe, gender, social status, height, weight, disability, wealth, education, literacy, age, health, language, nationality, or any other worldly attribute is an unrighteous judgment. In response to all these Yeshua taught: “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged” and “treat people the same way you want them to treat you,” Matthew 7:1 & 12 NASB. None of us wants to be pre-judged on the basis of what someone thinks “all those people” are like. Those of us who are seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness value conviction and correction of anything in our lives that is not of Christ.

Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.  For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you.  Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite! First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!” Matthew 7:1-5

Don’t judge” was written in the Negated Greek Present Imperative tense, meaning this action must be stopped if it is already underway and constantly avoided, continually resisted. We are to keep resisting the temptation to wrongly judge others or to try to divert attention from our sins by focusing on those of others.

Notice that in denouncing judgment of others Yeshua was not advocating blindly accepting everything others say or do. He was not advocating a permissiveness that accepts every sin as though it were righteousness and every evil as though it were goodness. Rather, He was commanding us to clean up our own act first, seek His righteousness in our own lives first, before helping others deal with their sin. Too often people try to hide their own sins behind condemnation of others, thinking they can make themselves look more righteousness by drawing attention to the sins of others and demanding such be punished harshly and eradicated. “Moral crusaders” who highlight other’s faults, demanding harsh punishments for such, while refusing to acknowledge or deal with their own sins find themselves coming under the judgment of these verses. Yeshua here issued a just reproof to those who condemn small faults in others while ignoring greater faults in themselves.

In this illustration, Yeshua used the language of a carpenter.

A “log” (i.e. dokos, δοκός) is a beam of timber, a plank of wood such as is used in a weight-bearing capacity in construction. It is large and thick and unyielding.

Notice how Yeshua described a ‘small’ fault – as a splinter in the eye. While not as totally blinding and dangerous to others as having a huge log in our eye (a phrase used for the hilarious memorable word picture it creates), having a splinter in the eye is still very painful and could quickly become debilitating. Splinters, as well as logs, need to be removed before we can be well, comfortable or see clearly.

One difference between a splinter and a log is that, because of its size, we can (or, at least, should be able to) see and remove the log from our own eye – it’s that massive thing protruding out from the front of our face; whereas we cannot see a little splinter in our own eye, just feel the pain of it, and need another’s assistance to remove it.

He who removes a painful splinter from his brother’s eye does him a good service, but none of us wants someone blinded by a log in their own eye trying to perform such a delicate operation on us.

We must judge ourselves, and judge our own acts, recognise any log in our own eye and remove it. We need to take the path of the beatitudes to be filled with God’s righteousness, not deceived by self-righteousness, if we are to see well enough to provide the delicate service to our brother of removing the painful splinter from his eye. Our debt of love compels us to lay aside our premature judgments, which keep agape love from flowing out of us. Blind prejudice can do nothing but maim and blind others as that hefty log swings around with every turn of the head, knocking others out and leaving a scattering of splinters imbedded in those it strikes. When we become unconditional lovers, seeing Christ’s beauty in the other and desiring only that which will benefit them and honour God, only then can we see clearly enough to remove a splinter from another’s eye and thus relieve their pain.

Don’t give to dogs what is holy, and don’t throw your pearls to the pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, then turn and attack you.” Matthew 7:6 CJB

Don’t give” was written in the Negated Greek Aorist Imperative tense, conveying in the original text: “Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about doing this.” Dogs, in Jewish culture at this time, were associated with violence and uncleanliness. They were not household pets, but roamed as a pack animal that scavenged anything, attacked the vulnerable and had the most disgusting habits. They liked to hang around humans for what they could scavenge from them.

Symbolically, dogs were unholy and free to partake of the unholy, even as the Jewish people were holy to God and forbidden to partake of anything unholy. 

You shall be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.” Exodus 22:30

Dogs were considered synonymous with pigs in that they were both ritually unclean:

Of all the animals that walk on all fours, those that walk on their paws are unclean for you; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening.” Leviticus 11:27

The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.” Deuteronomy 14:8

It was totally unthinkable to a Jew to allow any dog to ever enter the holy temple courts where the sacrifices were made to God and lick up some of the blood of the sacrifice or chew on some of the sacrificial meat. Only those who were in covenant with God were allowed to partake of that which He set apart for His people.

Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about giving to dogs what is holy (ἅγιος , hágios). The core meaning of hágios is ‘different’. In the NT hágios has the technical meaning of “different from the world” because of “likeness of nature with the Lord“. In Yeshua’s time the Jewish people knew they needed to be hágios, different to all the other peoples around them through their obedience to Torah. God had commanded Aaron:

You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean, so that you may teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given them through Moses.” Leviticus 10:10-11 BSB

Ezekiel 22 records Yahweh‘s judgment on Jerusalem as He outlines the sins of the different sectors of society. In verse 26 God charges the priests:

“Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” Ezekiel 22:26 NIV

Ezekiel 44 describes the restored priesthood and again commands them:

They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” Ezekiel 44:23 NIV

Dogs don’t discriminate. They totally fail to distinguish between what is holy and what is common. If allowed, they would lick the blood of the holy sacrifices one moment, eat some animal’s faeces the next, and then delight in chewing on a pig bone while they roll in something dead that smells disgusting. Do not ever, not even once, don’t even think about giving what is holy, separate and different from the world, to such as these who will treat it as just another worldly thing to satisfy their desires.

and don’t throw your pearls to the pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, then turn and attack you.” Matthew 7:6b CJB

Don’t throw“, like the previous “don’t give” was written in the Negated Greek Aorist Imperative tense, conveying in the original text: “Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about doing this.” The adages and interpretations of the rabbis were figuratively called “pearls” at this time.  Other Jewish rabbis also counselled against sharing the treasures of Torah with those they considered unworthy of such. These, they defined as individuals who were not suitably trained, idolaters, Gentiles, or a generation that does not cherish the Torah:

A treasure must not be revealed to everyone, so also with the precious words of Torah. One must not go into the deeper meaning of them, except in the presence of those individuals who are suitably trained. (y.Avodah Zarah 41d)

Rabbi Ammi said, “The teachings of the Torah are not to be transmitted to an idolater, for it is said [in Psalm 147:20], “He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them.” (b.Chagigah 15a)

Rabbi Hillel used to say, “If you see a generation that does not cherish the Torah, hold in your words.” 

Yeshua used very colourful and poetic language that would immediately invite a visceral response in his Jewish audience, when describing those who were not worthy of the treasures of Torah and His teachings. Of all non-kosher animals, the pig is far and away the most reviled by Jews.   It’s not just because it may not be eaten: there are plenty of other animals that aren’t kosher either, but none of them arouse as much disgust as the pig. Colloquially, the pig is the ultimate symbol of loathing; when you say that someone “acted like a chazir [pig],” it suggests that they did something unusually abominable. That is because, in Jewish thought, pigs symbolize deception and hypocrisy. There are two identifiers of a kosher animal: cud-chewing and split hooves. A cow is an example of an animal that fulfils both requirements, and is thus kosher. A horse is not kosher because it fulfils neither. There is only one animal in existence that appears kosher because it has split hooves, but is really not kosher because it doesn’t chew its cud — the pig. When it lies down, the pig stretches out its split hooves as if to fraudulently say, “See, I am kosher.” Pigs are intelligent and have the outward appearance of being ceremonially clean animals, but when you carefully examine their behaviour it reveals the true nature of the animal’s inward condition – it’s digestive system is not that of an animal that chews its cud. For Judaism, nothing could be worse than making a holy façade when your inside is unclean. To Jews, pigs represent hypocrites who display pious pretentions and profess to be holy and honourable but have a hidden unholy agenda. They are the self-righteous who claim to be rich in spirit and reject God’s righteousness. Never do this, not even once, don’t even think about throwing pearls to pigs.

Next, Yeshua taught us what we need to do in order to have the discernment needed in order to be free from any planks in our own eye, skilfully remove the painful splinter from our brother’s eye, avoid giving to dogs what is holy or throwing our precious pearls to pigs. It comes from our relationship with God, we need to ask, seek and knock.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

Ask“, “seek“, and “knock” were all written in the Greek Present Imperative tense – they each command ongoing action that is repeated progressively and continuously to become a habitual lifestyle, a regular long-term way of acting. Ask and make it your frequent habit to keep asking. Seek and make it your frequent habit to keep seeking. Knock and make it your frequent habit to keep knocking.

Ask” comes from the Greek word αἰτέω – aiteō – it involves asking in keeping with an existing connection. Our connection to God is through Jesus Christ. He is the mediator of the new covenant by which we are called sons of God and can refer to Him as our Father in heaven. It is a covenant in which Jesus is both our saviour and Lord, so our asking is to be under His Lordship – ie as directed by Jesus. Asking for things to satisfy our fleshly desires or sinful nature is not in keeping with the nature of our connection to God. Jesus’ promise here is not to satisfy our lusts, but to empower us to be and do all that He is calling us to. David provides us with an example of asking in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 BSB

Seek” comes from the Greek word ζητέω – zēteō – it involves seeking by inquiring, investigating to reach a binding resolution. It focuses on the moral attitude and internal convictions driving the seeker. Seeking God’s direction in His Word so as to come to a binding resolution of what we are to do next. Seeking God that we might truly know and walk with Him, reflecting His nature and bringing honour to His name. Our motives in the seeking are continually reviewed by the Lord and the promise of finding is dependent on pure motives, an undivided heart.

But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. Psalm 14:2 ESV

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 ESV

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Proverbs 8:17 ESV

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 ESV

Knock” comes from the Greek word κρούω – krouō – and means to strike, to knock at a door. Having sort God’s will so that we now know which door He wants us to go through, we go to that door, knock and keep on knocking until it opens for us. What Jesus opens for us no man can shut.

“I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “ Isaiah 22:22 BSB

Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia: “…See, I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut...” Revelation 3:8 BSB

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11 NIV

We can come to God as our Father in the absolute assurance that He is good and will only ever give us good gifts. Our heavenly Father gives to those who seek Him all they need to live righteously. Yeshua made this even more explicit in a later sermon recorded by Luke:

So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! Luke 11:10 BSB

As we ask, seek and knock we receive what we need from our heavenly Father. He will never give us something worthless or harmful in place of what we are asking for.

In both sermons Yeshua referred to us as being “evil” πονηρός – ponērós – in the Greek, which means burdened pressed and harassed by toils, diseased, pain-ridden, heavy labours, annoyances, hardships and perils. All these things were the consequences of the fall in Genesis 3.

I will sharply increase your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children…. cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread... ” Genesis 3:16-19

The other meaning of πονηρός – ponērós – is second-rate or worthless. This describes our position in contrast to God who is holy and perfect and worthy of all glory, honour and praise. Yet, despite our inherent comparative worthlessness as sinful creatures, God places such great value on us as to send His holy Son to die for us.

Yeshua described the gifts we give when providing bread and fish to our children, in contrast to our pain-ridden worthless nature, as “good” ἀγαθόςagathós – in the Greek. ἀγαθόςagathós means inherently intrinsically good in its character or constitution and beneficial in its effect, bringing health and joy. It describes what originates from God in our lives, as indeed God created both grains and fish to nourish our bodies and enable a child to be healthy and grow. In asking for bread or fish the son is requesting something that is inherently good for him, and even pain-ridden human fathers who are burdened, pressed and harassed by toils and hardships will respond by giving their son this good that he needs and not something worthless like a rock or harmful like a snake. How much more so will our heavenly Father give us what we need to be nourished when we ask Him for it?

“Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 CJB

Yeshua had a way of making things simple, yet profound. The Jewish sages had complicated things, teasing out 613 “Torah  mitzvot  (commandments)” from the books of Moses, but Yeshua condensed it all into one: “always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” In everything, make sure that every action you undertake involves doing for others what you would like them to do for you. Just as a father gives good gifts to his son, and our heavenly Father continually lavishes good gifts on us as we habitually ask, seek and knock – so we are to continually do to all others.

The implications of this single command are so transformative for society that it has been called the “Golden Rule”. Imagine what your community would be like if everyone lived like this. Imagine what your nation would be like if all those in power and with money lived like this. Imagine what the world would be like if we all followed this one command. There would be no more wars or brutality, no more poverty or hunger, no more slavery, rape, slaughter or theft. All children would be loved and cared for, all elderly would be honoured and assisted. This is the law of the kingdom of heaven and the fulfilment of the commandments.

 “Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. ” Matthew 7:13-14 CJB

Go in” – from the Greek Εἰσέλθετε eiÎseÑrxomai – means come into, or enter into for an important purpose, it stresses the purpose (result) of the entering in. It was written in the Greek Aorist Imperative tense which commands the action to reach completion, do this immediately and decisively.

through” – from the Greek διά – diá – meaning to go all the way through, “successfully across”. Not stopping half way, not sitting on the fence trying to be in two places at once. Go all the way through the narrow gate, total commitment to that path alone, leaving every other way behind.

narrow gate” – from the Greek στενόςstenós – meaning narrow (from obstacles standing close about) or strait; and πύληpylē – which is a feminine noun in the Greek and refers to an exit door or gate with the focus on what proceeds out of it (the masculine noun pylon referring to an entrance gate – opportunity to go into something).

So, Yeshua is saying “enter in to His way through the narrow exit from where you are”. The gate that leads to life is an exit from all the ways of the world. It is a narrow exit – to get through it we have to leave everything behind. We cannot carry the things of this world through that gate, so many choose instead the wide gate that allows them to carry all their worldly longings, lusts, pride, possessions, ambitions and sins. To “always treat others as you would like them to treat you” sounds simple, but the cost to our own personal ambitions is so great that most refuse this narrow path and choose instead the popular, broad highway that allows them to carry all their fleshly desires with them.

That broad way most choose leads to “destruction” – from the Greek ἀπώλεια apṓleia – which comes from the Greek word apollymi meaning to “cut off”. It speaks of destruction where someone is completely cut off from what could or should have been. It is not a ceasing to exist, but an existence that is cut off from all that we were created for. It focuses on what is forfeited, or lost, by the choice made. It is the total destruction, ruin and waste of a life that results from being utterly detached from our potential, completely detached from God and His purposes for our life. In trying to keep what we have, we loose everything we could be.

In this version the road the leads to life is described as “hard“, several other versions translate it as “narrow“. The Greek word θλίβω – thlibō – means to squeeze, to press together (as grapes in making wine), to crush, squash, hem in, compress, press hard upon, a compressed or narrow way; metaphorically it refers to trouble, affliction or distress. It is not the easy life that leads to the fulfilment of what God created us for, eternal life, but the narrow, pressed in, squeezed, difficult, afflicted and distressed pathway. The track to the mountaintop is not a broad highway but a difficult, steep narrow path. That is why so few choose to follow it. Yeshua urges each one of us to be among those few, for the alternative is to be totally cut off from all that we were created for.

Beware of the false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves!   You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?   Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit.   A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit.   Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire!   So you will recognize them by their fruit.  Matthew 7:15-20 CJB

Having exhorted His audience to go into the kingdom of heaven through the narrow gate, Yeshua now warns against those who would suggest that the wide gate and easy, comfortable route can lead to life – false prophets. He spoke of things that they all knew well, wolves & sheep, grapes & thorn bushes, figs & thistles, and trees that bear fruit. Yeshua often explained spiritual principles using things of the natural world that His listeners could see all around them.

In verse 6 we learn to discern not to give the spiritual treasures of Christ’s deep teaching to those who are like dogs or pigs, and now we are warned not to receive teaching from those who are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, thorn bushes, thistles or trees bearing bad fruit.

False prophets” comes from the Greek ψευδοπροφήτης – pseudoprophḗtēs – those who specializes in the art of misimpression, acting the part of a divinely inspired prophet, pretending to speak the word of the Lord while uttering falsehoods. A phony, an imposter, who claims to have been commissioned by God to spread their teaching and in Jesus’s name, but deceitfully declares untruths as they operate by self and for self. We will know them by their fruit, they refuse to enter by the narrow gate or walk the crushing path of treating others the way they would like to be treated.

 “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who do what my Father in heaven wants.  On that Day, many will say to me, `Lord, Lord! Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we expel demons in your name? Didn’t we perform many miracles in your name?’  Then I will tell them to their faces, `I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!'”  Matthew 7:21-23 CJB

Yeshua masterfully brings our attention back to our own state before God. Yes, we need to discern dogs and pigs so as to avoid a dishonouring of the holy and the highly valued treasures, and we need to discern false prophets so as not to be led astray by them, but we have no business judging if others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Once again we are brought back to the place of checking our own eyes for logs. Paul, as an apostle, took this warning seriously:

 I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27 BSB

It is good to call Jesus “Lord”, to prophesy and cast out demons and do miracles in His name. All these things are needful, but they are not our qualification for the kingdom of heaven – that comes from a depth of relationship which is demonstrated in lives of obedience to the Father’s will, demonstrated in the practical display of God’s love that treats others as we would like them to treat us. To call Jesus “Lord” while failing to obey His word is to live a lie – regardless of how many “good” or “spiritual” things we might say or do. We do not get to enter the Kingdom of Heaven on our terms but on His. Our relationship to God is demonstrated in how we relate to others.

 Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God.  Those who do not love, do not know God; because God is love. … God is love; and those who remain in this love remain united with God, and God remains united with them. …  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Yes, this is the command we have from him: whoever loves God must love his brother too. 1 John 4:7-8, 16b, 20-21

Again, we’re brought back to that place of recognising our own spiritual poverty and needing to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Sitting on a rock on that mountain just outside Capernaum, overlooking the Sea of Galilee where ferocious storms could arise and down whose slopes flooding rains could turn into destructive torrents, Yeshua spoke of the house that could survive any onslaught and that which was doomed to collapse when the elements turned against it.

So, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock.  The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed — and its collapse was horrendous!” Matthew 7:24-27 CJB

Each and every person who hears ἀκούω – akoúō – gives attention to, carefully considers and understands the full meaning of Yeshua’s words is building a house. The treasure of His words provides all the materials for building a very fine and large house. Yet, not every large house remains intact. Each and every one of our lives will be assailed by storms. Those storms will reveal what foundation we have built our house on.

It is not enough to just hear Yeshua’s words, not enough to just memorise them. Unlike the Hellenizers’ exhortation of “knowledge”, the Jews focused on how that knowledge was demonstrated in the way a person lived. The Jewish religion had never been a matter of saying that one believed in God but of demonstrating that belief through obedience to Torah in every aspect of daily life. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah (70-135AD) lived and taught in the years following the destruction of the (second) Beth Hamikdosh (temple) by the Romans, and expressed this fundamental principal of Judaism thus:

“The man whose knowledge exceeds his works, to whom is he like? He is like a tree which had many branches, and only a few roots; and, when the stormy winds came, it was plucked up and eradicated. But he whose good works are greater than his knowledge, to what is he like? He is like a tree which had few branches, and many roots; so that all the winds of heaven could not move it from its place.”

Following Jesus is not a matter of what we say that we believe, but of how we demonstrate our belief in the way we live. Disciples did not just learn their rabbi’s teachings, they lived their rabbi’s ways. Daniel had revealed something of this rock as the Kingdom of Heaven:

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.” Daniel 2:44-45a NIV

When Yeshua had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at the way he taught, for He was not instructing them like their Torah-teachers but as one who had authority Himself. Matthew 7:28-29 CJB

Yeshua had delivered the edicts for His kingdom, with the authority of kingship. It is a kingdom established in holiness and built on love. A kingdom whose every subject is to exude the nature of the Father in all we do and say. A kingdom of those set apart for the Father’s glory and filled with His righteousness, manifesting itself in continual acts of love for others, treating them as we would like to be treated.  This had been the most strict, pure, holy, profound, and sublime sermon ever delivered to man; and yet so amazingly simple that a child could apprehend it! The young tax-collector, Matthew, had drunk in every word and taken meticulous notes. He’d never been terribly impressed with religious teachers before, but there was something so different about Yeshua – He was one that Matthew would like to follow, but no one in Israel would ask a despised tax collector to be their disciple.

REFERENCES

1. MJL. Judaism and Dogs. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: July 18th, 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-dogs/.
2. Dogs, Pigs, and Holy Pearls. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: July 18th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/dogs-pigs-and-holy-pearls.html.
3. Kaminker, Mendy. Pigs & Judaism – Deep revulsion, but a promising future. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2376474/jewish/Pigs-Judaism.htm.
4. Greenbaum, Elisha. Jews Vs. Pigs. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/281647/jewish/Jews-Vs-Pigs.htm.
5. Shurpin, Yehuda. May a Jew Raise Swine? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/976496/jewish/May-a-Jew-Raise-Swine.htm.
6. Editors. What did Jesus mean when He said to not cast your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6)? Got Questions – Your Questions. biblical Answers. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2020.] https://www.gotquestions.org/pearls-before-swine.html.
7. Polsley, Evie. Reader Question: Throwing Pearls to Swine (Matthew 7:6). New Living Translation. [Online] October 31st, 2018. https://wpmu.azurewebsites.net/nlt/2018/10/31/throwing-pearls-to-swine-matthew-76/.
8. Mindel, Nissan. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: July 24th, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112067/jewish/Rabbi-Elazar-Ben-Azariah.htm.
9. Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary Matthew 7. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: July 24th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/clarke/matthew/7.htm.
10. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How would you describe the difference between the judgment of others that Jesus forbids and the discernment of others that He commands?
* Describe an example that you have seen of someone with a ‘log/beam’ in their eye trying to remove the ‘splinter’ from another’s eye, and what damage they caused. Then describe an example when the person had dealt with the wrong in their own life and skilfully and compassionately removed a ‘splinter’ from another’s eye.
* What things do you think are logs or splinters?
* Jesus spoke about dogs and pigs because of how they were thought of in Jewish culture at that time. If He was speaking in your city or village, what animals do you think Jesus would use to illustrate those who have no appreciation for what is holy and for those who display a holy façade but have an unholy hidden agenda?
* What is the purpose of asking, seeking and knocking?
* Fish and bread were the stable foods for those who lived on the shores of the sea of Galilee. What are the stable foods in your community, the ones every child is told are most essential for growing strong and having the energy to work? What foods would Jesus have described a son asking for in your region?
* In Jesus’ day you had to go through the city gates of Jerusalem to go into or out from the city. Some of those gates were larger, and some were smaller. To go out through the city gate would take you away from the safety and security of the city to start your journey. The roads to other cities were wide and many travelled on them so they were considered to be the safest routs, yet Jesus told us to choose the narrow, difficult, way – can you describe when Jesus has called you to leave the security of what you know and risk all to follow Him?
* Both grapes and figs are very sweet fruit that many farmers grew around the Capernaum area. Grapes were also used to make wine. What fruits and thorny plants in your area would Jesus talk about to illustrate the difference between true and false prophets?
* What insights have people in your congregation shared with you from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7?

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

Please read and memorise Matthew 6:22-34

Having cautioned against seeking the praise of men and taught the people how to pray, Yeshua had challenged them:For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He continued stirring up in them a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of this world. Our focus, and our longing, needs to be on God and His goodness.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV

λύχνος – lychnos, refers to an oil-fed portable lamp. The Jewish lamp was made of clay (even as we are), shaped to carry oil and with a wick which could be lit to provide a portable source of light that could fill, illuminate, the whole room. While many different types of oil could be burned for a smoke light, the cleanest burning oil is olive oil (representative of the Holy Spirit). As such lamps were used in every Jewish home, they would all know from experience that impure fuel, having anything else mixed in with the pure olive oil, could fill the room with chocking smoke. The other cause of a smoking lamp is having the wick too high. Doing our good deed before men to be praised by them is raising our wick up too high – instead of the pure light of the Holy Spirit we produce a lot of smoke. Make sure that your wick is either trimmed flat or into a point, and that there are no carbon deposits around the top from the last time it was lit, if there are, trim them off. We need to be trimmed for our eye to be good and our vision clear

Our eye needs to be ‘good‘, this version says, a more accurate translation would be “focused“. The NASB translates this ‘if your eye is clear‘, the ASV ‘if therefore thine eye be single‘, the CJB ‘if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous]‘, the AMP ‘if your eye is clear [spiritually perceptive]’, TPT ‘unclouded‘, YLT ‘perfect‘, Phillips ‘If your eye is sound‘, and the OJB ‘if your eye is unblurred‘. The Greek word translated in all these different ways, ἁπλοῦς – haploús, has a literal meaning of “without folds“, and refers to having a pure, single, uncompromised, undivided focus with nothing hidden. The Septuagint uses haploús with the sense of generous – “The generous (Hebrew = berakah = a blessing; Lxx = haploús) man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25) Having all our treasure in heaven, not some in heaven and some on earth; having all our focus on the kingdom of God, not some on His kingdom and some on the kingdoms of men; being concerned only with what God thinks of us and not live for the approval of man or the acquisition of wealth. Christ, having warned us against coveting the praise of men, proceeds next to warn us against coveting the wealth of the world. Haploús is the opposite of diplous, which means ‘double’ and can be related to being two-faced or deceitful. A diplous eye tries to focus on worldly possessions (material gain) and on God at the same time which confuses the person (“spiritual double vision”) and they cannot see their way clearly as they walk through life. Our vision must be fixed solely on God. If it is the pure oil of the Holy Spirit that is illuminating our life then all that we do in our body will be full of light (the manifestation of God’s presence) and free from obscuring smoke.

If your eye is bad...Greek πονηρός – ponērós – is derivative of πόνος – pónos – toil, laborious trouble, pain ridden; and σαπρός – saprós – rotten, putrid, corrupted and no lounger fit for use, degeneracy from original virtue, second-rate or worthless. A πονηρός – ponērós -eye is not focused on the things of God so cannot see them clearly, which makes it useless and worthless. It may work hard and strain to see, but its focus is captured by the wrong things so it fails to do that which it was created for. Like someone who is so cross-eyed that they can only see their own nose and not any of the wonders of creation around them.

“…your whole body…” every part of you, your total being, all your actions “…will be full of darknessσκοτεινός – skoteinós – comes from σκότου – skotos – opaque, not letting any light in so left in total darkness. If our focus is on the things of this world and on the troubles and painful difficulties in our life, on the wrongs that have been done to us, on being a victim of other’s attitudes and actions, then we become opaque instead of transparent and our focus stops any light from entering our lives so we remain in pain riddled darkness.

If therefore the light…” φῶςphṓs – light, source of light, radiance; figuratively: manifestation of God’s self-existent life, divine illumination to reveal and impart life. “…that is in you is darkness…”σκότοςskótos – darkness, obscurity, darkened eyesight or blindness; (metaphorically) ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery in hell, the principle of sin with its certain results. “…how great is that darkness!” C H Spurgeon wrote:

A man should live up to his light; but if that light is itself darkness, what a mistake his whole course will be! If our religion leads us to sin, it is worse than irreligion. If our faith is presumption, our zeal selfishness, our prayer formality, our hope a delusion, our experience infatuation, the darkness is so great that even our Lord holds up his hands in astonishment and says — “How great is that darkness!”

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24 NKJV

This verse starts with an emphatic οὐδείς oudeís – no one, none, not even one, nobody, never – it powerfully negates any possibility and rules out by definition. There are no exceptions, no extenuating circumstances that could make this possible. Not a single person can ever, in any way or under any circumstances, serve these two masters. As we gain an understanding of the depth of meaning in the word ‘serve‘ we start to gain insight into why this is. δουλεύωdouleúōis to serve as a slave with all personal ownership rights assigned to the owner, it focuses on the fact that the slave belongs to their master. We belong to God who created us, yet we sold ourselves to sin, but He redeemed us back from slavery to sin through the cross of Christ so that we can be free to once more live as those who belong exclusively to God. κύριος – kýrios – refers to one who is supreme in authority, one who exercises absolute ownership rights, lord, master. We cannot, it is absolutely impossible, to live under the complete authority of God in total obedience to Him, and under the complete authority of anything or anyone else at the same time. Not a single one of us can serve two masters.

“…for either he will hate the oneμισέω miséō – speaks of a comparative hatred, to love someone or something less than someone or something else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favour of another. The comparative meaning of miséō is grounded in moral choice, elevating one value, person or thing over another. “...and love the otherἀγαπάω – agapáō – to prefer, to love, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection, valuing someone or something above all else. God must be the first preference in our lives, and everything else submitted under Him. If food, clothing, housing, transport or money is your top priority then God is not.

“… or else he will be loyal to the oneἀνθέξεταιanthexetai – holding on in a way that is corresponding to that being held. “…and despise the other.καταφρονήσει kataphronēsei – bring down in your estimation, devalue, deeming to be unworthy and hence despised or scorned. The word does not denote a mere feeling of contempt – it is active, and thus includes the actions which demonstrate a putting down, devaluing contempt to the extent of “making absolutely nothing of”.

You cannot serve (douleúō) God and mammon.” μαμωνᾷ – mamōna – an Aramaic term, related to the Hebrew term ‘aman (to trust), the wealth a person trusts in. In the Greek, a literary device called “contrast emphasis” is used with God and mammon to highlight how opposite trusting in God is to trusting in things (money, house, car, food, motorbike, wealth, etc). The two are opposed to one another in seeking to own us.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25 NKJV

For this reason – because God owns us and we have chosen to trust in Him and exalt Him above all else, because we have chosen to put our trust in God rather than mammon – we are not to be worried about what we will be able to eat, drink or wear. Yeshua spoke these words to an oppressed people under Roman occupation and heavily taxed by their oppressors. He spoke these words to people who worked hard to try to earn enough to feed and cloth their families, many of the were day labourers and many knew what it was to go without. To illustrate His point and help them remember it in the everyday moments of their lives, Yeshua drew the people’s attention to God’s creation in the Galilee area on this beautiful summer’s day – the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I say to you: λέγωlégōsummarise into a final opinion, bring to a conclusion, bringing His listeners to the end-point moral lesson of what He had been talking about, laying the matter to rest.

Do not be worried: μεριμνᾶτεmerimnate – drawn in opposite directions, go to pieces as pulled in opposite directions, divided by the force of sinful anxiety, disunified within and robbed of God’s peace (His gift of wholeness). It has been said: “anxiety pulls in different directions making our head go one way… and our feet another!” God’s love makes us whole, being worried divides us and brings us into conflict with ourselves. We overcome being driven by worry and anxiety when overcome by the love of the Lord.

About your life: ψυχῇpsyxē – soul, unique personhood, personality, identity. It corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word נֶפֶשׁ nephesh – soul, whole being, unique person. It includes both personality and the living physical body through which this is expressed. After God had formed man from the dirt, from the land, God breathed into man’s nostrils and he became a living נֶפֶשׁ nephesh (Genesis 2:7).

Food and drink is necessary for life, without such we will die – but Yeshua concludes that we are not to worry even about such necessities. We can live in the wonderful peace of God (שׁלום shalom – whole and complete, living in a state of well‑being, tranquillity, prosperity and security).

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Matthew 6:26-32 NASV

Yeshua’s argument for ceasing to worry was not that food and clothing are unimportant, He used these as examples of the necessities of life, but that God can be trusted to provide these for us. Our loving heavenly Father abundantly feeds the birds flying over the see of Galilee and magnificently cloths the grass of the fields in the surrounding hills – God is willing and well able to likewise care for our needs.

ζητεῖτε zēteite – to seek by inquiring, investigating to reach a binding resolution, to search through all the layers to find the true essence of the matter. This word focuses on the moral attitude behind the searching, the personal motivation shaping how one comes to a decision, the premises that guide our search will determine whether we only look for information to confirm our biases or seek accurate (unbiased) information, wherever that may lead us. It is not just about desiring to gain knowledge but the purpose one is wanting to use that knowledge for. Zēteite (seek) is written in the Greek present imperative tense, which means that it commands ongoing action that calls for an ongoing lifestyle – a regular, long-term way of acting. We are to seek and keep on seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness habitually, continuously and progressively as a lifestyle.

Not only are we to seek and continuously keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness, we are to do so πρῶτονprotos – first, foremost. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with an overriding concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or a passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion. Our number one priority is to seek and keep seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first thing in the morning before you do anything else in the day. Seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness as first priority throughout the rest of the day and night, let that seeking govern what you do and how you respond to everything else in the day.

This fits with blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled, and is contrasted with the previous verse which talks of the Gentiles eagerly seeking the necessities of life – food, drink and clothing. Our freedom from worrying over such things is not because they cease being necessary for life, but because we know that God is loving and trustworthy, He knows our need of these things and promises here that all (πάνταpanta – each and every one of) these things προστεθήσεταιprostethēsetai – will be put towards, will be increased for, will be added to, us.

Note that Yeshua was not saying here that there is anything wrong with owning material things, just that it is wrong to allow them to own us. In Judaism wealth is viewed as a blessing from God that is bestowed on those who live right, and from the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) there has been a strong culture of wealth creation within Judaism:

Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South.  Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Genesis 13:1-2

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him.  The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous;  for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. Genesis 26:12-14

Thus the man (Jacob) became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. Genesis 30:43

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:18

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.
Psalm 112:1-3

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. Proverbs 28:19-20

These were scriptures that everyone up on that mountain had memorised and Yeshua had said that He did no come to do away with any of this which had been written in the Torah, but to fulfil it. He was speaking to people living in difficult situations, suffering from the effects of the sins of their nation, oppressed and largely despised by their Roman overlords. It was a time when many were struggling just to provide the basics for their family and these scriptural promises of blessings and wealth seemed very far off to most. It was a time when many were worried about how they would be able to feed or cloth their family, and yet they had left all that behind to follow Yeshua up this mountain and learn from Him. He was encouraging them that God was indeed able to care for them and provide for their needs as they put Him first.

Lastly, in this declaration against worry, Yeshua addresses our fears for the future, fears of what might happen tomorrow. Do not worry, do not allow yourself be torn apart inside, about what might happen. How much time and emotional energy is wasted worrying about things that never actually come to pass? Such worry reveals only a lack of trust in God. Tomorrow is in God’s hands and God is love, and in His love He is well able to take care of whatever might happen. Ours is just to rest in him, trusting in His goodness and His ability to carry us through all things. Don’t let your thoughts get consumed with worry about what will happen, or what might happen, but instead discipline your mind to focus on God and His goodness, discipline your mind to focus on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness and on doing all in this moment to honour and glorify Him, to live in this moment as citizens of His eternal kingdom.

REFERENCES

1. Spurgeon, C.H. Exposition to the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 6. God Rules. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] http://www.godrules.net/library/spurgeon/45spurgeon9.htm.
2. Hurt, Bruce. Matthew 6:22-23 Commentary. Precept Austin. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.preceptaustin.org/matthew_622-23.
3. Strong. Strong’s #4655: skotos (pronounced skot’-os). Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/G4655/skotos.htm.
4. 4655. skotos. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/greek/4655.htm.
5. “Light” and “Fire”. Christ’s Words – What is Lost in Translation from Greek. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://christswords.com/content/light-and-fire.
6. Henry, Matthew. Matthew 6. Bible Study Tools. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/6.html.
7. Guzik, David. Matthew 6 – The Sermon on the Mount (Continued). Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-6/.
8. Matthew 6:24. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 20th, 2020.] https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/6-24.htm.
9. The Discovery Bible software.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* In this section of His sermon, Jesus calls attention to what we are focusing on, for this will determine the direction of our whole life. What are the things that people in your area are focused on and what impact is that having on their lives?
* As pastors and ministers we can get focused on many things that seem good or needed but take our attention away from Jesus. What are some of the things that you have noticed can take away from our devotion to Christ and what effects can this have on our ministry?
* Money is needed for doing many things in the church, how can we keep from serving mammon while seeking the provision for all these things?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:22-34?
* How do we keep from worrying in the midst of difficult situations when it looks like we will not have what we need?

Living Prayer

Where is your heart?

Please read and memorise Matthew 6:1-21

Yeshua had begun his sermon on this mountain with the beatitudes, urging His listeners to recognise their spiritual poverty, that we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven, and need to yield totally, hungering and thirsting for that righteousness. The answer to all our struggling and striving to be good enough is to give up trying to accomplish what only God can do, and instead cultivate our hunger and thirst for the beautiful purity of His righteousness. For then, Yeshua promises, we shall be filled.

Throughout the rest of His sermon, Yeshua is focused on stirring within us that hunger and thirst. No one who thinks themselves full, hungers and thirsts – but only those who recognise how empty they are. Thus Yeshua goes through the different aspects of our heart attitudes, revealing how lacking we are, so that we can be stirred to desire to be filled. Now He shifts the focus from wrongdoings to be avoided, to righteous doings requiring pure motives.

Tzedakah (Hebrew: צדקה) is a Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness“. It is the Jewish social justice religious obligation to do what is good and just in providing for the poor. In Jewish thought, giving to people in need is not something extra; it’s just the correct, honest thing to do in obeying Torah. Hence, some English versions render it: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others” (NIV); and others: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men” (NKJV). For these Jews, charitable deeds (giving to meet the needs of the poor) was one of the most fundamental and essential forms of righteousness.

The Jewish ‘mitzvah of tzedakah‘ is considered to be one of the most important of their 613 commandments derived from the TorahTzedakah is so hardwired into the Jewish faith that the Talmud in Tractate Baba Bathra 9a says: “Charity is equal in importance to all other commandments combined.” This critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone – rather, it must be done with someone.  In Hebrew, the word meaning “to give” is Natan. In Hebrew and in English, the word can be read forward and backward, showing that in Jewish philanthropy the idea of “to give” it is also about “to receive.” As the poor receive money or other material assistance, the donor receives the merit of sharing the Almighty’s work and in so doing ensures that God will hear his prayers. This has significance for what Yeshua has to say here, that giving in order to be able to be seen by men negates any reward you might have been expecting from heaven. God doesn’t wait for an audience before He gives to us, and bestows so much good on each of us without any announcement that if any one of us were to start counting all that God has blessed us with we would be humbled and amazed.

Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, when you do tzedakah, don’t announce it with trumpets to win people’s praise, like the hypocrites in the synagogues and on the streets. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you do tzedakah, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Then your tzedakah will be in secret; and your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4 CJB

Other Jewish rabbis would also develop teachings against publicly announcing your giving. The Talmud, in Hagiga 5a, tells the story of Rabbi Yanai, who once saw a man give money to a poor man publicly. He said, “It would have been better for you not to have given him anything rather than giving to him as you did, causing him embarrassment.” Yeshua’s focus, however, was on the effects on our relationship with God, and need for heart righteousness fit for the kingdom of heaven.

Since, to the Jewish mind, tzedakah and having God hear and answer your prayers were closely linked, Yeshua’s progression to instruction on prayer would have made perfect sense to his audience.

Yeshua began with the same contrast between doing good out of our relationship with God, and putting on a performance of ‘good’ to gain the approval or respect of man. Too many of the religious leaders prayed to men rather than to God; whatever was the form of their prayer, the scope of it was to beg the applause of men, and capture man’s honour and respect. The kingdom of heaven is not about outward appearances but about heart attitudes, about the secret things that only God knows and sees. In all personal prayer we should strive to be alone with God, to enter into that place of intimacy with the Almighty where secrets are shared and hearts laid bare.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners, so that people can see them. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6 CJB

This was not a rebuke of public prayer where people gather together to seek God in unity, but of displaying our private prayer in public in order to win the respect and adulation of others.

From there, Yeshua went on to instruct us how to pray. His focus here was on making things simple and real. We don’t have to use a lot of words when we pray, or keep saying the same thing over and over again. God is not deaf, He hears us the first time. He knows what we’re going to say even before we open our mouth.

And when you pray, don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot.  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   Matthew 6:7-8 CJB

Yeshua was not here forbidding either a long prayer, or the use of the same words in a prayer, when the heart sincerely prompts the utterance. He himself prayed at great length, even continuing in prayer all night (Luke 6:12), and in the garden he thrice repeated the same words. What He is counselling against is making lengthy prayers to try to gain esteem among men, or trying to badger and nag God into doing things through continuous repetition: “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” (NKJV). Our faith is to be in God, our Father in heaven, not in our supposed ability to manipulate Him and get Him to answer our prayers through repetitions or religious formulas. The purpose of our prayers is to connect with the heart of our heavenly Father, not to gain esteem from men.

Next, Yeshua gave them an example of what to pray. Peacemakers, those called sons of God, can come boldly to the throne of grace and cry out “Our Father“. Start with the focus on God, our Father, on His nature, His kingdom and His will. This is the basis for everything else we pray.

You, therefore, pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven!
     May Your Name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
     Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us the food we need today.
Forgive us what we have done wrong,
     as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us.
And do not lead us into hard testing,
     but keep us safe from the Evil One.
For kingship, power and glory are Yours forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13 CJB

Once we’ve got our focus and priorities right we can petition God for our needs to be met, confident in His love and power to provide for us. Our basic physical needs, like enough food for today. Our spiritual needs, for forgiveness and protection from the attacks of the evil one. Just mentioning each need once is sufficient, our prayers don’t have to be long and flowery for God to hear and respond to them. He knows our needs even before we bring them to Him in prayer. Praying about our needs is not to inform God of our need, but to remind ourselves of our dependence on Him for the meeting of that need, and to put our confidence in His goodness.

After we’ve brought our needs to God, Yeshua encourages us to bring our focus back to where it belongs, on God whose kingship, power and glory are eternal. Our faith is in the very nature of God, not in our own religious endeavours. God gives because of who He is, not because of how we ask. He is the loving sovereign Lord over all. Nothing is too difficult for Him, no matter how impossible it looks to us. His is the kingship, power and glory forever.

One of our basic needs is that of forgiveness. Both the gift of forgiveness to be able to bestow on those who have wronged us, and the forgiveness of our wrongs.

Again, Yeshua brought everything back to our relationships with one another, and the need for these to be governed by holy love. There is no relationship with God that is independent of how we treat others. We are not to seek to impress them, for that is just lying to them about whom we really are. Our relationships with others are to be open, honest and loving, seeking always the good of the other, even at personal cost. One of those sitting listening to Yeshua this day would later pen these words:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 BSB

People mess up and hurt one another over and over again, just as we have messed up and dishonoured the Father over and over again. God stands always ready to forgive. He keeps calling us back to repentance so we can receive the full benefits of His forgiveness. How can we accept such forgiveness and refuse to offer it to others?

For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;  but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours. Matthew 6:14-15 CJB

What wrongs have others done to us? As hurtful as those things are, the debt they owe us for this wrong is still small compared with the debt we owe God for our wrong against Him. If we find ourselves lacking in forgiveness for others we bring this need to our Father as well, for they have wronged Him even more than they have wronged us and He has enough forgiveness to cover both their sin against Him and that against us. If we are willing and hungry, God will give us the forgiveness we need for each one who has done wrong to us.

Our giving is to be in secret, our prayer is to be in secret, and our fasting is to be in secret. None of these are for the purpose of looking good to others or earning the admiration of others. Notice how aptly Yeshua exposes the subtle ways we use to try to get others to notice and admire our “spirituality”. Without even a word we try to make others see what sacrifices we are making for the kingdom. God is not impressed. Citizens of the kingdom are to be motivated by our relationship with God, all our good works, prayers and sacrifice simply an outworking of that relationship. Our relationship with God is that which is expressed in the secret place, where no one else sees or knows. Pride demands that others know of our good deeds and give us the recognition that we feel we deserve, humility is content for God to be the only witness. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25. Are we more concerned about what man thinks of us or about what God thinks of us? Where are we laying up our treasure?

Yeshua continued teaching in His easy to relate to, easy to memorise way. The subject was deep and confronting, but the teaching used common things that everyone could relate to – moths, rust and thieves.

The things of this earth are ravenous, corrosive and untrustworthy, so easily destroying what we try to establish on this earth. All our efforts to become rich in the things of this world, whether material things or social standing or political power, are subject to the destructive forces of this world. It is not only ungodly to focus on building up wealth and stature for ourselves in this world, it’s stupid. All our efforts can so easily be laid to waste. But when our focus is on the kingdom of God, when we are seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, when our treasure is our right standing before God, when we joy in His delight, nothing and no one can take that from us. Only then are we truly prosperous, wealthy and secure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

REFERENCES

1. My Jewish Learning. Tzedakah 101. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: May 31st, 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tzedakah-101/.
2. DeGroot, Jacquelyn. Jewish Philanthropy: The Concept of Tzedakah. Learning to Give. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/jewish-philanthropy-concept-tzedakah.
3. Posner, Menachem. 15 Facts About Tzedakah Every Jew Should Know. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4203668/jewish/15-Facts-About-Tzedakah-Every-Jew-Should-Know.htm.
4. Friedlander, Marty. Tzedakah, the Jewish Concept of Charity . Haaretz. [Online] August 16th, 2015. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/tzedakah-the-jewish-concept-of-charity-1.5387488.
5. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – McGarvey and Pendleton. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=four&b=40&c=6.
6. Gill, John. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=gill&b=40&c=6.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* In what ways did Jesus make his teaching easy to memorise and easy for the common people to relate to?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon?
* What is Jesus stirring us to hunger and thirst for in this section of His teaching?
* Why is it important to keep from trying to earn prestige through our giving, prayer or fasting?
* Is there a time when God enabled you to forgive something that had impacted you or your family really badly?
* What importance does your culture place on meeting the needs of the poor?
* How do you give in a way that honours and enables the person receiving, and doesn’t foster dependence?

Fulfilling Torah

Please read Matthew 5:17-48

Under the clear blue summer sky, Yeshua continued unfolding the principles of the kingdom of heaven. The term (Gk) ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (“the kingdom of heaven”), is a major theme of Matthew’s Gospel, occurring 32 times (3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21, etc…). Since the expression ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶ occurs in Matthew 5:19 and 20, directly following Yeshua’s statements about the fulfilment (Gk: πληρόω, v. 17) and the accomplishment (Gk: γίνομαι, v. 18) of the Torah (Gk: νόμος) and the Prophets (Gk: προφῆται), it appears to be an integral part of that fulfilment.

Yeshua had just promised this crowd of Jews, God’s chosen people, the people in covenant with Him, that if they hungered and thirsted for righteousness they would be filled. He had reminded them that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world through their good deeds bringing glory to God.  Now, He began explaining to them what such righteousness looked like in practical application.  

First, Yeshua confirmed what the Scribes and Pharisees taught – that righteousness equalled obeying Torah, in the broad sense of everything that God has spoken to them through the Hebrew scriptures.  

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.  

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.   Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV

It was more than 1,300 years since God had come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the Jewish people, with thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain followed by a shofar blast sounding so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled as God gave the Law to Israel (Exodus 19-20). There had been major upheavals in the world since that time, empires had risen and fallen, cultures and ways of life had changed, but neither God, nor man’s nature, had altered in all that time. Yeshua declared that the Torah was just as relevant in His day as it had been when first given to Moses. He had not come to destroy or do away with any of God’s Law. The kingdom of heaven Yeshua came to proclaim was not a replacement for the Torah, but a fulfilment of it, an empowering of God’s people to live His Law, an infilling with His righteousness. Yeshua taught that even the commandment of God which we think to be of least importance is of great importance in the kingdom of heaven, and not the slightest detail of any of His Torah will be removed until all is fulfilled.

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 NKJV

The prophets had been sent to Israel throughout the ages to redirect the people to God’s idea of what obeying Torah involved.   Everything that Yeshua was teaching them was an expression, a fulfilment, a completion of what God had already told them through the Torah (Law) and the Neviim (Prophets).    Over the centuries God’s intent had been twisted and distorted by man’s ways, His priorities upended, and His words endowed with meanings quite different to what He had spoken to Moses and reiterated to the prophets.   Yeshua had come as a Jewish reformer, to restore their understanding and practice of His Torah.   Yeshua had come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through living them fully. He had also come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through being the fulfilment of what the Hebrew scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and establishes a New Covenant.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… …” Jeremiah 31:31-34

As the summer fruits were ripening, Yeshua outlined the fruits of righteousness which were to be produced in their lives, the proper outworking of the law of love that had been given to govern their lives. The Scribes and Pharisees had so many outward displays of “righteousness” in their conspicuous observance of all the “Oral Law” established in their community, but Yeshua declared that such was by no means adequate for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He agreed with the Pharisees on the need to live in obedience to Torah, but disagreed with their interpretation of Torah. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven, He declared, required first and foremost being poor in spirit, being repentant, acknowledging that neither their birth as Jews, nor all their outward displays of ‘righteousness’, met God’s requirement of holy perfection.

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NKJV

Next, Yeshua went through some examples of how the way that the Scribes and Pharisees were living Torah failed to display the true righteousness of God required of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these Yeshua uses the formula “you have heard that it was said to those of old…. … but I say to you... ….” in order to contrast the legalistic observance of the Torah with the heart-motivated observance of the Torah in living out God’s love and holiness.

Any harsh word or judgment against our brother is a breach of the law of love. Exodus 20:1-17 lists the 10 Commandments, and “You shall not murder” (Vs 13) is the 6th of these. Murder was against the law of the land and would be judged and punished by the Sanhedrin (Jewish council/law court, who both defined the law and executed judgment on serious law breakers – the highest court of the Jewish people). Unjustified anger, and any insults or put-downs are against God’s law of love, the law of the kingdom of heaven, and will be judged and punished by the King in fulfilment of all righteousness.

Yeshua was quick to remove all sense of complacency about their standing before God. The righteousness required by the kingdom of heaven was far greater than the outward compliance with the law that they were used to, and the alternative to the kingdom of heaven was the fires of Gehenna. The word translated “hell” in many English versions of the scriptures is “Gehenna”, which is derived from the Hebrew words “גי” and “הנם,” which mean “Valley of Hinnom.” This steep, narrow valley just outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem was notorious as the place where king Ahaz had led Judah in sacrificing children by fire in worship of the heathen God Molech (2 Chronicles 28:2-3), as did his grandson king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6) and Manasseh’s son Amon (2 Chronicles 33:22). Josiah, the reforming king, had stamped out that worship, and had ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place (2 Kings 23:10). Jeremiah likewise prophesied against this valley (Jeremiah 19:2-6). In consequence of this, the Valley of Hinnom became the place where the refuse of the Jerusalem was cast out and burned. It is also the location where the bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. It has been suggested that the Romans, the only people living in this region who cremated their dead, also performed this rite in the Valley of Hinnom. Always the fire smouldered in it, and a pall of thick smoke lay over it. Isaiah 66: 24 speaks of looking upon the eternally suffering of the dead who had rebelled against God; “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” The ancient Aramaic paraphrase translations of the Hebrew Bible known as Targums supply the term “Gehinnom” frequently to verses touching upon resurrection, judgment, and the fate of the wicked. So Gehennah, the Valley of Hinnom, had become identified in people’s minds with all that was accursed and filthy, the place where useless and evil things were perpetually destroyed by a fire that was never quenched. This picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in ancient Jewish writings such that it is recorded in the Mishnah in Kiddushin 4.14, Avot 1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t. Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b. Bereshith 28b. Gehenna had become a synonym in Jewish thought for the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, and it was in this sense that Yeshua used it when warning the people of the dangers of unrighteousness.

It was no light matter for Yeshua to tell this crowd that being angry with their brother will be judged and a penalty for such will have to be paid. Even more serious was His warning that whoever calls his brother ‘Raca‘, a derogatory term meaning worthless, empty headed fool, would be guilty before the highest religious court in the land, the Sanhedrin, if they judged properly. Then comes Yeshua’s most devastating pronouncement; that the one who denounces another as a fool, a wicked rebel against God, is in danger of the fires of God’s eternal punishment. Verbal attacks, gaslighting and bullying have no place in the kingdom of heaven. How greatly we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness!

The Hebrew scriptures spoke much about anger and the power of our words:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:8

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. Proverbs 11:12

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18

A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace. Proverbs 18:19

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

In times to come a Pharisee in training, Saul, would be transformed by the risen Christ to become the apostle Paul, and write this description of the kingdom love we are to demonstrate to our brother:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV

Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, reminding His audience that they could as likely be the one who had done wrong as the one who was in danger of being angry because they had been wronged or let down.

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26

According to the Oral Law, the requirements for Temple sacrifices took precedence over everything else. Hence the instrumental worship in the Temple that was not allowed anywhere else on Shabbat. Yet, Yeshua, here stated that the Kingdom of Heaven law of love took precedence even over this. Nothing, not even a sacrifice in worship of God, is more important that righting our wrongs and being reconciled to one another. Like Yochanan the Immerser, Yeshua‘s teaching on righteousness focused on treating all others with love and respect.

Yeshua then moves on from the 6th Commandment to the 7th – “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14. Contrary to many in His day, and the teachings of many even today, Yeshua places the full responsibility on the man for his lust:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin (stumble or offend), pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:28-30

Our sin is our responsibility, no one else’s. Yeshua did not say, “if the woman’s dress causes you to sin“, but “if YOUR eye causes you to sin“. Sin is birthed in the heart of the person who commits it, not in the actions or clothes of others. Joseph here provides the perfect example for us (Genesis 39). Regardless of how Potiphar’s wife dressed or what she did to try to entice him, Joseph remained steadfast in His commitment to God and His righteousness. Likewise, Job declared:

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. Job 31:1

Indulging in pornography is not the righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. The people who were listening to Yeshua speak up on that mountain did not have ready access to pornography, such increased greatly when printed materials became readily available, and has exploded to epidemic proportions with the internet – so much so that it is now ensnaring women as well as men. One survey of 18-35 year olds in a western nation (Daspe et all 2017) found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months. $3,075.64 is spent on internet porn every second, that’s $265,735,290 every day. Think how many orphans and widows could be fed around the world with over two hundred and fifty million dollars a day, if all those people lived by the Kingdom of Heaven‘s law of love instead of gratifying the lust of their eyes! Disturbingly, far too many Christians, and even church leaders, have fallen prey to this evil. According to a survey by the Barna Group in 2016:
– 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn on a regular basis and are currently struggling. That’s more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders.
– 43% of senior pastors and youth pastors say they have struggled with pornography in the past.
– Only 7% of pastors report their church has a ministry program for those struggling with porn.

Yeshua’s words are even more necessary for us now than at any time in history (and could well include “if your computer causes you to sin“, or “if your phone causes you to sin“):

If YOUR eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you.… … And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you;…”

Lustful looking is contrary to the law of love. It involves regarding others solely as opportunities for one’s own gratification. Lustful looking offends God as much as adultery does. He has called us to love which respects and delights in others for who He created them to be, not for what we can get from them. His righteousness is love which seeks the good of others and the honouring of God, love which is faithful to covenant. All of this was God’s intent with the 7th Commandment. All of this is the fruit of being filled with His righteousness, which Yeshua promises to do for us if we hunger and thirst for it.

Yeshua, like Yochanan the Immerser before Him, was a reformer who spoke truth to power. The two institutions of legal and religious power in Jewish society at this time, the synagogue and the Sanhedrin, consisted solely of men. Thus we see later on (John 8:1-11), when a couple were caught in the act of adultery, only the woman was brought to Yeshua with the charge: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women“. Yeshua’s confrontation with the prevailing power structures blaming women for men’s lust did not in any way condone women lusting after men as Potiphar’s wife had done, it just removed all excuses men had for blaming women for their own sin of lust. Yeshua was safe for women to be with, He treated them with love and respect, like sisters. He expected His disciples do to likewise, and never even contemplate anything else. In the kingdom of heaven women do not have to carry the responsibility for men’s lust, but each one stands before God for their own heart attitudes, words and actions.

Yeshua had warned about the fire of hell (Gehenna) in his discourse on the 6th Commandment, prohibiting murder. Now He twice warns about your whole body being cast into Gehenna in His discourse on the 7th Commandment, prohibiting adultery. There is an alternative to the Kingdom of Heaven, there is an alternative to being poor in spirit (repentant), there is an alternative to taking responsibility for your sin and casting it away from you, there is an alternative to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You can choose to satisfy the lusts of the flesh and have your whole body cast into Gehenna.

Notice the slight change in wording here. A shift from “you have heard that it was said to those of old“, to just “it has been said.” Yeshua is still speaking on the topic of adultery. The shift has been made from the 7th Commandment to a practice that God never commanded, but allowed because He knew what hardened hearts would do if not regulated in some way. Divorce was never part of what it was to be God’s chosen people, set apart as an example to the nations of how people were created to live. It appears to have been a practice that the Israelites took with them from Egypt, as the process under the Pharos was much the same as what they adopted. In Pharaonic Egypt, if a husband wanted to divorce his wife, in addition to saying: “I’m leaving you as a wife”, he had to also hand over a written divorce document confirming the end of the marital relationship between them and explicitly giving her the freedom to marry another if she wants. The passage in Deuteronomy, which is the only scripture in the Torah mentioning any procedure for divorce, alludes to the Israelites having continued this practice after leaving Egypt:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,  and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,  and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,  then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NIV

You can see that Moses is not here commanding divorce, or even saying that only the man and not the woman can divorce their spouse, but simply acknowledging that, despite God’s word which says the two are now one (Genesis 2:24), divorce sometimes took place among the Israelite people, so He adding a limit on it that the man could not later go back and remarry a woman whom he had previously divorced (Vs 4). The Pharisees in Yeshua’s day had re-interpreted this passage in terms of an argument between them over what grounds God’s law permitted for a man to divorce his wife. This was hotly contested between the two major schools of Pharisees in Yeshua’s day – Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Here is a snippet of some of the debate between them:

The house of Shammai say, a man may not put away his wife, unless he finds some uncleanness in her, according to (Deuteronomy 24:1) The house of Hillell say, if she should spoil his food, (that is, as Jarchi and Bartenora explain it, burns it either at the fire, or with salt, i.e. over roasts or over salts it,) who appeal also to (Deuteronomy 24:1). R. Akiba says, if he finds another more beautiful than her, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 24:1) “and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.

On most topics Yeshua’s teaching was more in line with that of Bet Hillell than that of Bet Shammai, but He would have nothing to do with such a degrading of covenant and leaving women totally at the mercy of the man’s whim (Matthew 19:3-9). Divorce is not one of the kingdom principles, and indicates only a failure, by one or both marriage partners, to live by those principles. Interestingly, since Jewish society at this time gave all the power to the man, claiming it was God’s law to do so – both schools of Pharisees interpreted this passage as God giving approval for man to divorce his wife but forbidding a woman from divorcing her husband, Yeshua laid all the responsibility on the man, stating that his divorcing of the woman “caused her” to commit adultery. By divorcing his wife and sending her out from their marriage, the man was putting her in the position of needing to be joined to someone else, thus “causing her” to commit adultery and so bearing the guilt for this. The only exception to the man being responsible for the ensuing adultery was if his decision to divorce his wife was because she had been sexually immoral, unfaithful to their marriage covenant and therefor an adulterer before he divorced her. Those who have the power also carry the responsibility, and will have to answer to God for the impact their decisions have on those they exercise power over.

As we follow the life of Messiah, we will see how strongly committed He is to the covenant of marriage being honoured in the kingdom of heaven. Divorce may be prevalent in the world, but our citizenship is in a kingdom built on faithful love and such is the salt and light this world needs. If you enter into covenant you are not to look for ways out of it, God desires faithfulness in His people – faithfulness to Him and to one an other.

Yeshua moved on to the focus of the ninth Commandment – honesty and integrity. Speaking the truth so consistently that none have reason to doubt that your “yes” is truly “yes” and your “no” is truly “no”. The basis for this in the Torah included both the ninth commandment, and teaching in Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy:

Do not give false evidence against your neighbour. Exodus 20:16 & Deuteronomy 5:20 (The Ninth Commandment)

Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai. Leviticus 19:12 CJB

...when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. Numbers 30:2 CJB

If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NIV

Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, Do not break your oath, and Keep your vows to Adonai.  But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne;  not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1); and not ‘by Yerushalayim’ (Jerusalem), because it is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48:1-2).  And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. Matthew 5:33-37 CJB

The Torah provided for basic justice in Israel’s courts. Wrongdoing that brought harm to another would be repaid with equal harm being inflicted on the one who did wrong – no more and no less. This provided deterrent to inflicting harm, a sense of justice being done, and limited any retribution to the harm that person had inflicted on another. It also took retribution for wrongs out of the hands of the individual who had been wronged, or their family, and put it into the hands of the legal system – it was the responsibility of the state to execute justice so as to maintain the good order of society.

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25

Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Leviticus 24:19-20

The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite,  then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.  Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:18-21

As Yeshua had said at the beginning of this discourse, His words were not to be construed to be undermining or contradicting any of the Law given to Moses for governing the people: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” He was not critiquing the Law given for governing the people, nor the operation of their courts, but taking things deeper to the heart level where only God sees.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. ” Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV

The first thing to note in Yeshua’s words here is His directness is describing the one who slaps you on your cheek, wants to sue you for your tunic or compel you to go a mile with them as “an evil person“. These are wrongs that are being done, not accidentally but through evil intent. They are unjust actions, and the sort of wrongs that society should protect you from and execute judgment on the “evil person” doing the wrong. The responsibility on those in power, and society as a whole, to deal with such wrongs is not diminished by Yeshua‘s exhortation for our heart response and personal actions.

At first glance, Yeshua’s instruction not to resist an evil person seems so unjust. Why just let someone abuse you? Under Roman occupation Yeshua’s audience had plenty of experience of being unjustly treated. Occupation soldiers often took out their frustrations on innocents in the population, or sort to enrich themselves by taking from the peoples of the land. The Zealots had an answer for such – get revenge, gorilla warfare, take from the Romans every time they took from the people of Israel, murder Romans for every Israelite they killed. Yeshua’s response was the total opposite. His advice for regaining personal power in the situation was not to resist the evil person, but to go above and beyond what they demand. Do extravagant good to the evil person. Do not allow their evil to dictate your actions or entice you to respond with corresponding evil. Choose to be different. Choose to stand apart as God’s special people displaying His character by doing good, no matter what.

Some oppressed peoples have taken hold of Christ’s words here and seen the power in them. Dr Martin Luther King stated it thus: “The ancient law “an eye for an eye” will make all people blind. It is immoral because it is trying to subdue the enemy, and not to achieve his understanding, it seeks to destroy, not to win over.”

Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, as He had done with His teaching on murder and anger, taking His hearers from the place of being oppressed by those more powerful to that of being the ones with the power, the ones capable of giving and lending to those less fortunate than themselves: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” This again, is a fulfillment of Torah:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Yeshua continues with His theme of responding to evil with good, of responding to hate with love, of the kingdom of heaven being an outworking of love so powerful it conquers all else. This is what the Torah has to say on it:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. … And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Exodus 23:4-5

And the Proverbs say:

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” Proverbs 24:17

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” Proverbs 25:21

Note that Yeshua again omitted the phrase “to those of old”, for only half of this saying was in the Torah, the second half was a more recent addition within the tradition of the community. The command to love your neighbour is in the Torah, and Yeshua confirmed this, but the Torah contains no command to hate your enemy. Thus, in commanding His disciples to love their enemy Yeshua was again urging full obedience to Torah, rather than contradicting or doing away with it. What Yeshua was contradicting was a popular adage among the Zealots: “Love your neighbour, but hate your enemy.” That is to say, “Love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbour), but hate the Romans.” The Dead Sea community in Qumran went even further. They taught their followers to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,” understanding the sons of light as members of their own sect and sons of darkness to be other Jews outside of their sect (Dead Sea Scrolls). Yeshua was calling those Jews gathered up on that mountain with Him to repent from such a distortion of Torah and return to it’s true meaning, in line with the demands of the kingdom of heaven:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV

Once again Yeshua presents love as the empowering force with which they were to combat all hatred, curses, abuse and persecution. Here He promises the same reward as that accorded to the “peacemakers“, those who confront sin and offer God’s terms for reconciliation, being sons of God, sons of our Father in heaven. Our love is to extend beyond those in our own social circle, extend beyond those of our own tribe, extend beyond those who are kind or friendly towards us, extend beyond all boundaries to include all people, even those who do evil to us or rule unjustly over us.

Yeshua concludes this portion of His sermon with a crescendo. Everything He has being teaching with regard to “you have heard that it was said…. but I say unto you” has been building to this point. You are not to be like the peoples of other nations. You are not even to be like the Scribes and Pharisees. Don’t compare yourselves to other people. God has called and chosen you to be like Himself, to be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect. This has echoes of what has been referred to as the ‘fundamental commandment’ of the Hebrew scriptures: For I am Adonai your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44). Perfect (τέλειοι) here refers to being complete, fully developed, mature, even as your Father in heaven is. Such a state is not reached by human efforts, but by being in union with the perfection of God. It is that which His righteousness accomplishes in us as we are filled in response to hungering and thirsting for His perfection. It comes through being poor in spirit, repentant from every reliance upon self to meet God’s standards; through mourning, bringing all our pain and woundedness before God; through meekness, yielding everything to God; and through hungering and thirsting of desperate necessity for righteousness.

REFERENCES

1. Toit, Philip La Grange Du. The fulfilment of the law according to Matthew 5:17: A dialectical approach. Research Gate. [Online] December 2018. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329613156_The_fulfilment_of_the_law_according_to_Matthew_517_A_dialectical_approach.
2. Westerholm, Stephen. The Law in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 5:17-48. Criswell Theological Review. [Online] 1992. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/ctr-nt/westerholm-lawinseronmount-ctr.pdf.
3. Covenant Eyes. Pornography Statistics. Covenant Eyes. [Online] https://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/.
4. New World Encyclopedia. Gehenna. New world Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: May 17th, 2020.] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gehenna.
5. Gill, John. Matthew 5:22. Bible Study Tools. [Online] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-5-22.html.
6. Cochrane, Ross. Matthew 5 – Part 13 – Am I Going To Hell For Calling Someone A Fool? . Sermon Central. [Online] January 3rd, 2010. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/matthew-5-part-13-am-i-going-to-hell-for-calling-someone-a-fool-ross-cochrane-sermon-on-hell-142699.
7. Dashish, Ali Abu. Divorce in Ancient Egypt. See News. [Online] September 11th, 2019. https://see.news/divorce-at-ancient-egypt/.
8. MJL. Jewish Divorce 101 – An overview of how marriages are traditionally dissolved. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-divorce-101/.
9. Greenberg, Blu. Divorce in the Bible. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/.
10. Guzik, David. Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/deuteronomy-24/.
11. Krol, Peter. Context Matters: You Have Heard That it was Said…But I Say to You. Knowable Word. [Online] July 27th, 2018. https://www.knowableword.com/2018/07/27/context-matters-you-have-heard-that-it-was-said-but-i-say-to-you/.
12. Chery, Fritz. Eye For An Eye. Bible Reasons. [Online] Jenuary 12, 2020. https://biblereasons.com/eye-for-an-eye/.
13. Love your Neighbor but Hate Your Enemy. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: May 25th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/love-your-neighbor-but-hate-yo.html.
14. Pennington, J.T. 2008. The kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12(1):44-51
15. Mitch, C. & Sri, E. 2011. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture).
16. Evans, C.A. 2012. Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (New Cambridge Bible Commentary).
17. Carson, D.A. 1984. Matthew. In: F.E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 3-599.
18. Daspe M, Vaillancourt-Morel M, Lussier Y, Sabourin S & Ferron A (2017): When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What insights have your people shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon?
* In what ways was Jesus fulfilling what is written in the Old Testament Law and Prophets?
* How does Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount help us to teach and obey God’s commandments?
* How can our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees?
* If Jesus was to come and teach on a hill in your area and started saying “you have heard that it was said … … but I say unto you” what misunderstandings, distortions and false teachings do you think He would address, and how would He correct them?

Salt and Light

Please read Matthew 5:13 – 16

Yeshua’s voice was strong, yet gentle. His teaching was clear and simple, yet incomprehensible. What He said had the ring of the scriptures they had memorised as children and heard in the Synagogue every Shabbat, yet so different to the interpretations they were used to hearing from other religious teachers. He spoke with a profound authority, yet compassionately. This man viewed the world through a different lens. The crowd mulled over what He had called blessed and the way that He was introducing the kingdom of heaven to them. It was both familiar and yet strikingly unique.

Those last words on being blessed if you are persecuted had struck a nerve.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

It was their own people who had persecuted the prophets. The Jews liked to think of themselves as a people who honoured the prophets and heeded their words, but their history, as recorded in their scriptures, told a different story. Prophets spoke a word from God that the people did not want to hear. They called the people to repentance and set forth God’s terms for them to be reconciled to Him, but most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His. Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets rather than conform to God’s terms for relationship with Him.

Yeshua had set forth a vision of the kingdom of heaven which included being peacemakers – boldly declaring God’s conditions for being reconciled with Him. Then He had related such to being persecuted. He connected living in God’s righteousness with being persecuted. He had spoken about being reviled, falsely accused and hunted down by their own people for righteousness sake, just as the prophets before them had been. Those were not easy words to hear when all their lives they had been taught that they would be honoured in their community for being righteous like the Pharisees.

Some commentators have suggested that Jesus’ teachings here were for that select group called ‘disciples’, or even just for “the twelve” (who had not yet been selected), for those who were ‘part of the kingdom’, “genuinely committed believers”, and not for the multitudes who had followed Yeshua up this mountain to hear His teaching. What they failed to recognise was that Yeshua had not come to ‘start a new religion’, but to reform Judaism – to call the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, back to God’s original purpose for them and help them understand what it really means to live in obedience to God’s Law.

First centenary Jewish society did not have “believers” and “non-believers” the way we think of them in modern western nations. Their distinction was between Jews and non-Jews. Knowledge of God permeated every aspect of Jewish life, it was woven into the fabric of their culture and coloured every activity of daily life. It was the aim of the Jewish people to be part of the kingdom of heaven, it was their birthright as Jews. This was tied up in their expectations of a coming Messiah. Everyone of the multitude of Jews who followed Yeshua up that mountain and listened to this ‘Sermon on the Mount’, had a hope and expectation of being citizens of this kingdom. Everyone of them knew that Yeshua’s words were for them. This was what God had established Israel to be – His kingdom, salt and light to the world.

Yeshua continued His teaching with two simple illustrations which were easy to remember, yet profound. Again, these were designed to be memorised, meditated upon, discussed, lived, and shared with others.

You are the salt of the earth; … Matthew 5:13a NKJV

Salt is essential for life in general. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, thus salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. Salting is also an important method of food preservation. With the spread of civilization, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. Wars have been fought over salt and it has been used as currency and to raise tax revenues. It was prized by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese. Salt thus became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans.

Salt had an especially strong significance for the Jewish people. It is a very stable mineral – tastes the same in a week’s time, in a year’s time, in a hundred years time, in ten-thousand years time. Other elements of a meal – meat, grains, vegetables and herbs all degraded over time. Salt carried a sense of permeance, of endurance, it hinted at eternity. Not only that, but it helped preserve these other foods, it lengthened their life and improved their flavour. So salt had become an essential part of any covenant. In a covenant of friendship between families the meal shared had to include salt, include that which is enduring. Likewise, in God’s covenant with Israel the sacrifices offered to God had to be salted.

You shall season your every offering of meal (grain) with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt. Leviticus 2:13

When you offer them (young bull, male goat without defect and ram form the flock) before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Ezekiel 43:24

And whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail. Ezra 6:9

God also made two lasting covenants which He referred to as berit melakh, “covenant of salt“. The first was with Aaron and his descendants to be priests and partake of the offerings “for all time“. The second was with David and his descendants to have kingship over Israel “forever“. Thus, God kept the two branches of governance over His people, the priesthood and the kingship, separate so that each would be accountable to the other and all accountable to Him.

All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for God I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring as well. Numbers 18:19

Surely you know that the God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel forever—to him and his sons—by a covenant of salt. 2 Chronicles 13:5

This second covenant of salt is particularly interesting because of it’s connection with Messiah, stating clearly that he must be a descendant of David. Anyone having messianic rule over Israel who was not a descendant of David would be a breach of this enduring covenant. God simply would not do such a thing, He is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. The genealogies in both Matthew and Luke importantly show that Yeshua was indeed a descendant, a ‘son’, of David, and thus He is the fulfilment of this “covenant of salt” that God made with David and with Israel.

All the multitude of Jews sitting up on the mountain with Yeshua knew that He was speaking to them when He said: “You are the salt of the earth…”. The Jewish people are essential to life and civilisation on earth. They are essential as a witness and example of God’s dealing with mankind. They are essential as a testimony to God’s goodness and truth. That is what God had established the Jewish nation to be, salt preserving the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In calling them the salt of the earth Yeshua gave importance to the Jews scattered throughout the nations as well as those living in their homeland, for salt has to be scattered over the whole of the offering if it is going to be accepted, not just piled up on one portion of it. Everywhere that the Jews went throughout the earth they were to be salt in that place, a testimony by how they kept God’s covenant, to the nature and goodness of the one true God, creator of the universe and husband to their nation.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6

… but if the salt looses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.  Matthew 5:13b

To us, talking about salt loosing it’s flavour might not make much sense. We have been focusing on it’s enduring nature, so how could it lose its flavour? To the scientist, salt (NaCl, sodium chloride) is one of the three or four most stable compounds in the world.    Virtually no natural reaction can cause salt to turn into any other compound.  It does not change, it does not degrade, salt is always salt and it is always salty.

but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13b

But these Jews had experienced salt that had lost its flavour, they knew what Yeshua was talking about. Pure salt cannot lose its flavour, but not all the salt they purchased was pure. Indeed, the cheaper salts sometimes contained a mixture of salt with some other cheap and tasteless mineral (such as Gypsum, which was also abundant in the area) that, when ground up, nevertheless looked like salt. When the percentage of impurities in the salt got too great it lost its flavour and became worthless. No man would allow it to be thrown onto his field because it would destroy the fertility of the ground. The only place for it was on the street, where it would be trampled underfoot by men.

God’s covenant with the Jewish people was both wonderful and terrible. There were blessings for obedience, but there were also curses for disobedience. The people had stood on two mountains (now located in Samaria) and spoken the blessings over themselves from one mountain, and the curses over themselves from the other (Deuteronomy 11:26-29 & Joshua 8:33-35). Yeshua was now speaking prophetically to them of what would happen if the Jewish people lost their saltiness, rejected His words, they would be good for nothing as far as the kingdom of heaven was concerned, thrown out of their holy city of Jerusalem and trampled underfoot by men.

The need to remain pure was not new to Judaism. All the laws of the Pharisees were focused on keeping the people pure. The ‘fence they built around the Torah‘ was to keep the people pure. All their ritual hand washings and mikvah’s were to ensure the purity of the people. What Yeshua was saying was, in many ways, very close to what the teachers of the law were saying about the need for them to be pure before God. And yet, it was also so very different. Yeshua had just told them what the Father required in their purity, and there was not a ritual washing or shunning of other peoples in it – be poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Pride and self-righteousness, judgmental and hateful attitudes were the sort of impurities that Yeshua was warning against as things that could make them tasteless and useless to the kingdom.

The title “light of the world” appears frequently in rabbinic literature to describe a source of wisdom, goodness, or holiness. Different rabbinic sources use the term “light of the world” to describe the menorah, the Temple, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, the sages, specific rabbis, the whole nation of Israel, the redemption, the Torah, and even God Himself. The concept of the Jewish people being the light of the world was founded on Deuteronomy 4, in combination with Isaiah 42, 49 & 60, and depicted in the menorah.

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you…. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2 & 6-8 NIV

I, Adonai, called you righteously, I took hold of you by the hand, I shaped you and made you a covenant for the people, to be a light for the Goyim (Gentiles).” Isaiah 42:6 CJB

I will also make you a light to the nations, so my salvation can spread to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6b

Arise, shine [Yerushalayim], for your light has come, the glory of Adonai has risen over you. For although darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness the peoples; on you Adonai will rise;
over you will be seen his glory. Nations will go toward your light
and kings toward your shining splendour.
Isaiah 60:1-3 CJB

Israel was to model before the nations a lifestyle governed by the light of God’s instructions. The successful and blessed lives that they would live in obedience to the Word of God would enlighten the Gentiles and turn them to God. As they elevated the light of the menorah, Israel would also be exalted. The Jewish people see in the seven flames of the menorah the collective souls of Israel as God’s light to the nations. Even the words of the commandment for lighting the menorah speak of Israel’s being elevated so as to enlighten the Gentile world. The command is, “When you raise the light” (Numbers 8:1). Israel was designed to lift up God’s fire upon a lampstand so it would give light to the household of humanity. They were not to hide, or lower, the light. They were to raise it, exalt it, make it glorious. Israel itself was elevated above the other nations of the world for the express purpose of raising the light: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, NKJV). Israel was chosen in order to raise God’s light, to be a demonstration of God’s holiness. God had formed Israel according to the heavenly pattern to be a menorah, a lampstand on which the light could be raised to radiate into the world. God had chosen to place His light in an insignificant, nomadic tribe and, by illuminating their lives with the goodness of His Torah, make them His menorah to the nations.

Even today the Jewish people recognise God’s intent that they be the light of the world, as can be seen in the selection of the menorah as the national emblem of Israel, and their prime minister’s words:

…as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as ‘Light Unto the Nations’.” Benjamin Netanyahu, 2010.

Yeshua was not saying anything new to these Jews gathered up on the mountain to hear His teaching. It was a generally accepted doctrine that God had established their nation to be the light of the world. But Yeshua placed this teaching in a different context, in the context of the Beatitudes. In the context of being peacemakers, inviting all to be reconciled to God.

A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14b-15 NKJV

Every Jew immediately thought of Jerusalem as the city set on the hill, the city that was ordained to light the whole world with the knowledge of God. Here again was a prophetic hint at the coming destruction of that city if they continued to fail to shine the light of obedience to God’s covenant with them. A lamp placed under a bowl extinguishes itself for lack of oxygen. Likewise, the light of the world where the Temple stood, the menorah burned, the Sanhedrin convened, the rabbis taught, the Torah was studied, and the nation of Israel assembled, was in danger of being extinguished. Poverty of spirit, repentance, was needed to bring the nation back to God’s intent.

The interior walls of first-century houses had small niches in which the homeowner placed an oil lamp for illumination, and from that perch the lamp “gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). All of a sudden the pharisees’ Eighteen Articles”, exclusivist measures which included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours, seemed like a pretty poor addition to what God had commanded them. To hide from, and cut off all positive contact with, their heathen neighbours would hide their lamps under a basket of hatred for the other. God had called them to shine before all men of all nations so that they, too, could be drawn to Him.

This teaching was not just for the Jews sitting up on the mountain listening to Yeshua, it was for them to share with all their Jewish neighbours and the Jewish traders from different areas who came to this major trading centre of Capernaum for business.   “This teacher says that we are the salt of the earth, wherever you live and travel you need to keep covenant and remain pure to show all peoples what the one true God is like.”   And then again; “this teacher says that we are the light of the world, we are not to hide ourselves away from others but to show them God’s goodness through our good deeds.” Listening, learning, memorising, living and sharing – that was the task of all who sat as disciples (students) of Yeshua this day.

Reference List

1. Chan, Edmund. What does it mean to be Salt of the Earth? Salt & Light. [Online] 23rd January 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://saltandlight.sg/faith/edmund-chan-what-does-it-mean-to-be-salt-of-the-earth/.
2. Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise) . 1706.
3. Ellicott, Charles John. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1863.
4. Benson, Joseph. Benson Commentary. 1857.
5. Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes on the Whole bible. 1838.
6. Nicoll, William Robertson. The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 1897.
7. Emil G. Hirsch, Immanuel Benzinger, Cyrus Adler, M. Seligsohn. SALT. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13043-salt.
8. Donovan, Richard Niell. Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Matthew 5:13-20. Sermon Writer. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-513-20/.
9. Fleischmann, Neil. Salt of the Earth. The New York Jewish Week. [Online] 20th March 2012. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/salt-of-the-earth/.
10. Rosenfeld, Dovid. Covenant of Salt. Ask the Rabbi. [Online] [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://www.aish.com/atr/Covenant-of-Salt.html.
11. Bernard, Tim Daniel. A Covenant of Salt. JTSA. [Online] 27th March 2020. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jtsa.edu/a-covenant-of-salt.
12. Brama, Dror. The Covenant of Salt – 5767. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 23rd March 2007. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://torahmitzion.org/learn/the-covenant-of-salt/.
13. A Hidden Teaching in the Light of the World. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: 4th May 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/a-hidden-teaching-in-the-light.html.
14. Artson, Rabi Bradley. The Menorah: Let Your Light Shine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-menorah-let-your-light-shine/.
15. Quinn, Carissa. Who Has God Chosen? Bible Project. [Online] 25th November 2019. [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://bibleproject.com/blog/who-has-god-chosen/.
16. Netanyahu, Benjamin. Address by PM Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference. s.l. : Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs., 2010.
17. Garr, John D. God’s Lamp, Man’s Light – Mysteries of the Menorah. Bridges for Peace. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.bridgesforpeace.com/letter/gods-lamp-mans-light-mysteries-of-the-menorah/.18. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.
18. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Fall 1992. [Cited: 10th May 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/.
19. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* “Most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His” – what of God’s terms do people in your area try to avoid?
* What does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth, and how do we lose our flavour?
* What does it mean for us to be the light of the world, and how does that light get hidden?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words about salt and light?
* What testimonies have people in your congregation shared about how others have responded to their good works (Matthew 5:16), and to their sharing Jesus’ words?

The Beatitudes (blessings)

Please read Matthew 4:23 – 5:12

When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them.  But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.”   Luke 4:42-43 CJB

So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:39 CJB

The news spread quickly, and people came from everywhere to hear Yeshua speak, and to be healed by Him.   Soon there was not just Andrew, Šimʻôn, James and Yochanan (John) following Yeshua and listening to His every word, there were multitudes.  Philip, from nearby Bethsaida, and Natan’el, from Cana, were likely quickly among them, eager to keep following the Lamb of God whom Yochanan the Immerser had introduced them to.   We know from Acts 1:21-23 that Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthiah were also among them. 

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.   Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.  Matthew 4:24-25 NASB

Although much of Yeshua’s earliest ministry had been in Jerusalem and Judea for the feasts, it was now predominantly in the norther region, in Galilee.   It appears that the author of the fourth gospel was either unaware of the new developments in Galilee, or unable to leave his responsibilities in Jerusalem at this time to join the multitudes, as this ‘John’ does not provide witness to any of this in his gospel account. On the other hand, Matthew the tax collector appears to have left his booth and followed the crowds to hear what this new teacher had to say – for he gives us a carefully compiled account of the full days’ teaching. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have been shunned in the synagogue, but there was no one policing who came up this mountain to listen to Yeshua. It had a profound impact on this outcast from Jewish religious society.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…  Matthew 5:1-2 NASB

Large crowds in towns and cities attract attention, sometimes the unwanted attention of Roman soldiers. Yeshua led His group away to the safety of a more isolated place. Here, on this unknown mountain, probably just outside Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes, the people could relax and focus on what Yeshua was saying. Just as Moses had given the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people on earth, so now Yeshua was going to explain to the people how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first part of the lesson was a very practical one – get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take time out to commune with Him.

Yeshua sat to teach the people on the mountain, just as He did to teach them in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). “He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire.“(C. H. Spurgeon). Yeshua had chosen the place for this teaching. Once He came to the perfect spot He sat down, and those following Him gathered around to hear what He would say. Yeshua spoke with an uncommon authority, He sat as a king decreeing the laws of His Kingdom, a kingdom so unlike any other they had ever known.

As the crows eagerly watched Him, Yeshua opened His mouth and began teaching them. The topography of the region around the Sea of Galilee allowed His voice to travel well as He opened his mouth to project it out to the crowd. Spurgeon wrote: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” God had spoken to His people through the prophets in times past, now He opened His mouth and spoke to them directly through His Son.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son… Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV

What Yeshua had to say goes straight to how we live every moment of our lives. Judaism had always been as much about how one lived their life as about what one believed – the two were inseparable. Belief manifests itself in attitudes and actions, in a total way of life. Yeshua’s words deconstruct our habits and ways of being and reform them into His likeness – they teach us what it is to be His disciple. Importantly, Yeshua‘s words were meant to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation.

Talmidim (disciples) were to memorise the words of their rabbi, meditate on those words, discuss those words, live out those words, and then teach others those words – that was the task of a disciple. (1)

Memorisation was essential to all first centenary Jewish education. With manuscripts being expensive, and having to be written by hand, most did not have direct access to them, so learning was dependent on being able to memorise large portions of scripture and children were expected to memorise the whole Torah through their first five years of schooling. In nations where many cannot read, or afford their own copy of the written word, and in those where persecution robs people of their written copies of the scriptures, returning to the way Yeshua taught His disciples offers opportunity to truly learn from Him. Yeshua made it easy for his first disciples, and for us, to memorise His words by presenting them in a memorable thematic structure with vivid images and poetic language. So, as we go through Yeshua’s verbal teachings, take the time to memorise what He says, and in your sermons teach your people also to memorise the words of our Saviour, recite them to each other, think on them and discuss them through the week, and share them with others.

The Beatitudes

The first section of Yeshua’s teaching is often called “the Beatitudes“, which means “the Blessings”. The Beatitudes were spoken in two sets of four, with the fourth one in each set focusing on righteousness. The first four Beatitudes speak to how we enter the kingdom of heaven – by acknowledging our lack and pain, acknowledging Jesus’ right to reign over us and longing for His righteousness. The second four speak to how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven – loyal to His covenant with us, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted because our loyalty has shifted from the world to God. There is nothing in here which is an optional extra if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. Some emphasise this with a play on words, the “beatitudes” giving the believer our “be – attitudes” – the “attitudes” we should “be.” We have no part in Jesus, or in His kingdom, if we are not committed to His ways.

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 filled.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain 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 they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
” Matthew 5:3-12

Each statement begins with the word “Blessed“. This comes from the Greek μακάριος, makarios, which describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, makarios becomes the express symbol of a joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.

The first reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is the kingdom of heaven. Yochanan the Immerser had preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) After Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been imprisoned He began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Now He describes the state of those who will become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, those whom God will extend it to: the “poor in spirit“.

The Greek noun πτωξοςptochos – translated “poor” in this beatitude means literally: “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” The one who is ptochos has nothing and no means to care for themselves nor to give to another, they are totally destitute. “Poor in spirit” is repentant – coming to God recognising that we have no righteousness of our own, we are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness.

We need to come to the realization of our own spiritual bankruptcy and tum in total dependence to God if we are to come into His kingdom. The Pharisees were basing their approach to God on their good works and strict Torah obedience, but Yeshua was declaring that was not the way to come to God. We are not good enough in ourselves, nor nearly good enough, nor somewhat good enough, we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...” Romans 7:18a.  “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)

For the high and exalted One, He who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy says this, “I dwell on the high and holy place, but also with the contrite and humble in spirit. In order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin].” Isaiah 57:15 AMP

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 NIV

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one..”… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:10, 23-24 NIV

The acknowledged owners of nothing shall be the recipients of everything.

Blessed are the poor in spirit – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are the repentant who recognise their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The next reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is comfort. The Greek verb translated comfort, παρακαλέω parakaléō, comes from para, meaning “from close beside”, and kaléō, meaning “to call”. To be comforted is to be called near, to have God come to our side, as He describes in Isaiah 57:15 which we read above. It is not just an emotional comfort that Yeshua is offering us here, although that is an essential part of His offer. Parakaléō also has legal overtones – He is offering to be our advocate before the throne of God, as well as One coming close beside with emotional comfort.

My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik (Righteous One), who pleads our cause with the Father. Also, He is the kapparah (atonement) for our sins… 1 John 2:1-2a CJB

Mourning is the pre-requisite for this life-giving comfort. The Greek verb πτωξος pentheo, means deep grief or intense sorrow, openly manifested by weeping audibly. This speaks of the most intense human emotional pain and suffering. It can be anguish over the personal losses we experience in life, or anguish felt within the spirit of man for the state of his own soul held captive in sin and death, or for the state of a lost sinful world. Those who mourn experience a closeness with Yeshua, the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), as they partake in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Intense pain is intense pain, and Yeshua makes no distinction here as to the cause of our deep grief and intense sorrow. All who mourn, all who suffer from deep grief and intense sorrow, all who choose not to hide from that pain or deflect it onto others, all who are willing to experience the agonies of truly loving in this world, all who mourn will be comforted.

The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me, because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favour of Adonai and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” Isaiah 61:1-2 CJB

Blessed are those who mourn – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who do not try to hide from their pain but agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow – for God Himself shall draw near and they shall be comforted.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 KJV

Next Yeshua offers the state of blessedness of inheriting the earth. The Greek noun, γῆ gê, refers to the physical earth, to land, country, soil. Many indigenous people groups understand such a blessing, for they are closely tied to their land, even as the Jews were closely tied to their land.

It appeared as though the Romans, with their brute force, were inheriting the earth – conquering one people’s land after another. Their whole lives these people had witnessed Rome fulfilling Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast:

After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. Daniel 7:7a CJB

But Yeshua assures the people that this is not the end of the story. Despite the fact that all of history shouts that it is the brutes, the devious schemers, the warlords, who inherit the earth, yet still all of Daniel’s vision shall come to pass:

“As I watched, thrones were set in place; and the Ancient One took his seat. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head was like pure wool. His throne was fiery flames, with wheels of burning fire. A stream of fire flowed from his presence; thousands and thousands ministered to him, millions and millions stood before him. Then the court was convened, and the books were opened. … …
“I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence.  To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:9-14 CJB

The promise of messiah was not for the Zealots engaged in gorilla warfare to try to re-take their land, convinced that their acts of bravery and brutality would entice the anointed one to join them and supernaturally defeat the Roman armies and remove all gentiles in a great slaughter. It was not physical violence that would restore the land to Israel or bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Yeshua’s words were not new to Judaism, King David had written:

Don’t be upset by evildoers or envious of those who do wrong, for soon they will wither like grass and fade like the green in the fields. Trust in Adonai, and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.  Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to Adonai; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till he comes. Don’t be upset by those whose way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset — it leads to evil.
For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Adonai will inherit the land. Soon the wicked will be no more; you will look for his place, and he won’t be there. But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Psalm 37:1-11 CJB

So, what is it to be meek? The Greek πραΰς, praǜs, is usually translated as ‘meek’ or ‘gentle’. It contains the idea of having power under authority, strength under control. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us without disputing or resisting, it involves relying on God, rather than our own strength, to defend us against injustice. The meek quietly accept criticism without retaliation or defensiveness. It is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Most importantly, meekness is acknowledging Christ’s lordship over us, and placing our lives in His hands to do with as He pleases.

In another context, the Greek word praǜs was used to describe a well trained horse that would respond fully, and only, to it’s rider’s command, a horse that was unmoved by everything else happening around it. A praǜs (meek) horse was one that did not demand its own way, one that went wherever the rider wanted to go at the speed the rider wanted to travel, one that you could trust to walk behind, one that did not shy or buck at sudden movements or loud noises, or even at threats like a snake or battle, because it was so yielded to its rider that its only response in every situation was obedience to the will of the rider. The strength of this powerful animal was totally under the control of the slightest whisper of the rider, or movement of their finger. Only such a horse can be trusted in battle.

Blessed are the meek – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to those who totally yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives – for they shall inherit the land.

To be ‘filled‘, some versions translate this as ‘satisfied‘, is to have all that you were longing for. It can also be translated ‘to be made fat’. Righteousness shall not evade those who hunger and thirst for it. We are not called to be content with partial righteousness, or with a little righteousness. A hungry man will not be satisfied with just one grain of rice, nor even with a handful. He will eat, and eat, and eat until he cannot fit any more food in, only then will he be full. If he has eaten in the morning, he will be hungry again before the day is through, and once more eat and eat until there is no more space left in his stomach. The offer here is to be so full of righteousness that there is no room for anything else in our lives. Such fullness is not a once only event, but a continual process of hungering and being filled, hungering and being filled. The moment we cease to hunger and thirst for righteousness we shall cease to be filled, and the resulting emptiness will attract all sorts of other things into our lives.

So, what is righteousness? The original Greek word δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosýnē, comes from dike, which translates as “a judicial verdict”. You will remember that the Greek word translated comfort, parakaléō, also has legal overtones which places Yeshua as our legal advocate before the Father who judges all. The literal translation of dikaiosýnē is “judicial approval”. God is the judge of all, so righteousness is that which has divine approval. It is that which God, as judge over the universe, approves of.

Isaiah calls to the people:

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no silver come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3a

Yeshua calls us to hunger and thirst for both personal righteousness and community righteousness. Personally, we enter into God’s divine approval when we welcome Jesus Christ as our saviour and lord. We are to hunger and thirst for the approval of God which can only come through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. We are also to hunger and thirst for our thoughts, words and actions to be pleasing to God, to be that which He approves of. Since God isn’t about to change and start approving of sin or the works of the flesh, we hunger and thirst for our lives to be brought into line with His will, to walk by the Spirit.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25

Righteousness produces love and concern for others and their wellbeing. It is not greedy, self seeking or corrupt. We need only look around to see that our world is grieving and groaning, longing to be made right. So many are suffering through injustice, poverty, immorality and the greed of others. It is not God’s righteousness for people to go hungry, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to suffer sickness and disease, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to be oppressed by the Devil, that is not what He approves of. Yeshua invites us to hunger and thirst, to connect to our deep longings and needs, to grieve and groan with our world, and to call on God to bring justice, peace and wholeness to our world. When we’re surrounded by so much suffering and injustice, it can be easy to become numb or indifferent to the pain around us. But God calls us to long for righteousness so much that we keep crying out to Him for it like a child cries for food or drink when they have none, and we keep living out righteousness in holiness, showing love and kindness to our neighbours.

If we do not desire God’s righteousness, we do not desire Him. If we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, both in our own actions and in this world, we do not know Him. There is no fellowship with God apart from righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who long, as a desperate necessity, for that which God approves of – for they shall be filled.

Now that we have seen what is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and be granted citizenship there, we come to the four beatitudes which describe our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. These next attributes are not ones that the natural man is capable of, hence our need for the emptying and longing of the first four beatitudes that bring us to the cross, dependent on receiving God’s righteousness through His grace towards us who are incapable of meriting such. It is only on the basis of God filling us with righteousness, as He promises in the fourth beatitude, that we are able to live the following beatitudes – merciful, pure peacemakers rejoicing even in persecution.

The Cambridge dictionary defines mercy as: kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish. While this definition describes an element of mercy, it lacks a crucial component of Biblical mercy, the Greek ἔλεος éleos, being translated from the Hebrew חַסְדֹּֽו׃ , chas·dov, which involves loyalty to God’s covenant with us (The Discovery bible). Biblical mercy is ‘covenant-loyaltymercy‘ or ‘covenant-love-mercy‘, it is an attitude and actions that are founded on God’s covenant with us and are consistent with that covenant. It is the loving loyalty which actively affirms all that is in keeping with God’s covenant, and equally opposes all that is contrary to it. Thus, it is inextricably linked to faith. It is an act of mercy to bring God’s righteousness to a situation.

Psalm 136 is the great mercy psalm as it traces God’s actions in covenant with Israel. Some of those actions might not sound merciful to western ears, like killing the firstborn of Egypt, or drowning their army in the sea, but they were all merciful by God’s standards because they were all in fulfilment of His covenant.

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: and brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: … … And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever: even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: and hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:10-26 KJV

God’s mercy is His covenant with us. That covenant is through Christ Jesus and His blood atoning for our sins. Again we see the graciousness and severity of God’s mercy, for it doesn’t evade His judgment on sin but rather executes that judgment on His Son in our place. God said of the Jewish people:

For I desired mercy (loyalty to My covenant), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Hosea 6:6-7 KJV

So, how does loyalty to God’s covenant fit with “kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish?” God’s covenant is a covenant of sacrificial love. When God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant they made with Him in Exodus 24, He showed unmerited kindness towards them whom He had the right and power to punish, by sending His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. God’s mercy established a new covenant.

He had promised this back in Jeremiah 31:

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” … … “Behold, the days come”, saith the Lord, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them”, saith the Lord: “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days”, saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them”, saith the Lord: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:3,31-34 KJV

Yeshua confirmed that He had come to establish a new covenant with us, this is the mercy we obtain from Him:

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 NIV

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV

This covenant was for those who deserve God’s punishment, those who were sinners and enemies of God:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Romans 5:8-10 NIV

It is a merciful covenant, but not an unconditional one. We need to remain loyal to our covenant with God:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 NIV

Blessed are the merciful, ἐλεήμονες eleēmones, those who act consistently with the revelation of God’s covenant. A believer is being merciful when we forgive another because Christ has forgiven us, regardless of whether the other has done anything to deserve forgiveness or not. Mercy is responding to God’s covenant rather than to the other’s actions or attitudes. When we remain loyal to God’s covenant in all our dealings with others then we receive all the benefits of that covenant, we receive mercy.

Blessed are the merciful – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who lovingly live in absolute loyalty to God’s covenant – for they shall receive the mercy of all the benefits of God’s covenant.

The longing to see God, to perceive His presence, to behold His glory, is at the heart of all spiritual practice. Abraham had such an experience with God and Moses did not want to move unless God’s presence would go with them:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Genesis 17:1 NIV

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … …
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
Exodus 33:13-18 NIV

David beautifully depicted the intensity of that longing:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2 NIV

Isaiah saw the Lord and immediately recognised his need to be purified:

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. …
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6:1,5-7 NIV

The Sadducees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through the temple sacrifices. The Pharisees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through strict obedience to all the laws and customs they had built as a fence around the Torah, including all their ceremonial washings and bodily immersions. Yeshua’s audience were well aquatinted with all the ceremonial washings and immersions required by the Pharisees before entering the synagogue or temple to ‘see’ God through the sacrifices, worship or Torah reading. Yeshua here reminds the people that God’s focus is not on how they wash their hands or immerse their bodies, but on the condition of their hearts.

Our perception of God is dimmed and distorted by any impurities that we harbour in our heart. To be pure, καθαροὶ katharos, in heart is to be without mixture, free from contaminants, separated from all the lusts of the flesh, all false concepts of God and all hurts and wounds that distort our perceptions. David prayed:

...give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart… Psalm 86:11-12a

Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 AMP

Such purity of heart is not something that we come to God with. It is not something that we can bring about through our own efforts. We come to Him poor in spirit, hurting and mourning, willing to yield completely to Him and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, purifies and fills us. That is His covenant with us, His mercy towards us, that we loyally honour out of gratitude for all that He has done for us by guarding our hearts.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage]
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure.
Proverbs 4:23-26

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NIV

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV

Blessed are the pure in heart – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those whose heart is free from all contamination – for they shall see and truly know God.

The previous blessing spoke of our vision of God, our capacity to perceive His presence, His goodness, in our lives. This one speaks of our relationship to God. The Greek word κληθήσονται, klēthēsontai, translates as to be called, invited, chosen. This blessing, this joyous fulfilment as God extends Himself to us, is a calling into the most exalted place. Not just called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but called to be members of the royal family, nay even more than that, called to be sons and heirs of God.

The Greek word υἱός, hyiós, is literally translated as a son (by birth or adoption). Figuratively it is used to denote anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. Hyiós, both emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father and highlights the legal right to the Father’s inheritance. We are called to share the same nature as the Father. Back in the garden we were created in God’s image. This image was distorted by sin but is now restored through Christ. Our great privilege now is to resemble our Father.

Paul expands on the theme of our sonship:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NKJV

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”   Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 NASB

The Greek word translated as “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιός, eirēnopoiós, and it denotes a person who bravely declares God’s terms to make someone whole. That is, a person who shares the gospel with others. A “peacekeeper” might try to avoid controversy or saying anything unpopular, but a “peacemaker” confronts sin and offers God’s terms for reconciliation, which brings His gift of wholeness. Paul wrote on this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NASB

Blessed are the peacemakers – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who boldly declare the gospel, begging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God – for they shall be called sons of God, resembling the Father and being heirs.

We have returned to where we began with these blessings – the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua sandwiched all the other blessings between two assurances of the kingdom of heaven. We gain a bit more insight into the kingdom of heaven in the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NIV

The kingdom of heaven consists of people from every tribe and language and nation. This is where Yeshua had come into conflict with the good people of his hometown, Nazareth – they were convinced that God’s blessings were exclusively for the Jews and so became violent when Yeshua gave examples from the Hebrew scriptures showing that God also extends His blessings and calling to those of other nations. Revelation had not yet been written, but Yeshua’s audience had Isaiah and Daniel’s prophesies, and on this basis they had been hoping for a messiah and a kingdom. This is what they could learn from the prophets about the kingdom of heaven:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:2-4 NIV

In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory. Isaiah 24:21-23 NIV

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 NIV

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” Isaiah 28:16-17a

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.  Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour.
Isaiah 60:17-21 NIV

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 65: 17-25 NIV

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22-23

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7:27 NIV

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 NIV

As we follow through Yeshua’s ministry we will explore the many parables He told to help the people understand more of what the kingdom of heaven is like. For now they knew enough to know it was their heart’s desire to be part of this kingdom. In this blessing we see clearly how all the blessings surpass the things of this world. Blessings is not health, wealth, prestige, power or physical life, for any or all of these may be taken from us through persecution, yet still we are blessed, joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to us.

It is worth noting that the blessing is not for any and every persecution, but only for that which ignited by being filled with righteousness as in the fourth blessing. There is no blessing in being persecuted for being an idiot, for doing wrong, for lying, for being proud and arrogant, or for being bitter, critical or hateful. Where as all who mourn, agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow, are comforted, only those whose persecution arises out of their walk with Jesus receive the blessing. Only those who are living the other seven beatitudes can live this one. Only those who are living Christ (verse 11), are blessed with great reward when they are persecuted, .

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

Persecution can take many forms. Three different words are used in verse 11 to describe what we might suffer for righteousness sake. The first is ὀνειδίσωσιν, oneidízō, which is to disgrace, reproach, mock, curse, insult, shame, cast blame – viewing someone as culpably guilty and therefore deserving punishment. The second is διώξωσιν, diṓkō, which is to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch. The third is ψευδόμενοι, pseúdomai, which is to lie, falsify, and wilfully misrepresent in accusing of all kinds of πονηρὸν, ponērós, that is evil which causes pain and agony. Just because a follower of Jesus is doing good does not mean that they will be honoured for that good, often the reverse is true, as it was true of our Saviour. Isaiah had written:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 NIV

Many times people will try to hide from their own sin and shame by calling evil good and good evil. Such is the opposite of being poor in spirit. Persecution aims to silence the peacemakers and cause the righteousness to suffer. It seeks to bring disgrace and shame to the righteous, casting them as being unfit for ministry, or for life. It lies. Yeshua assures us that it does not matter if others call our good evil, because the reward for the righteous is not on this earth but is great in heaven (the infinite dimensions in which God dwells).

Blessed are those who are persecuted – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who suffer disgrace, reproach, mockery, curses, insults, shame, false blame, declared guilty, are hunted down, misrepresented and accused of evil for righteousness sake – for theirs is the everlasting kingdom of heaven.

Summary

Christ leads us to the kingdom of heaven through repentance (poor in spirit), acknowledging our pain (mourning), yielding completely to God (meek) and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He answers that hunger and thirst by filling us with righteousness, the old has passed away behold all things have become new. Out of the fullness of righteousness that we receive in Him we respond with loyalty to His covenant of mercy (merciful), our filled hearts have no room for the things of this world (pure heart), we boldly declare the gospel that people may be reconciled to God (peacemakers) and suffer persecution for our shift in loyalty from this world system to God. In all this God blesses us with the kingdom of heaven, His comfort, the earth (our land), righteousness, mercy (all the benefits of His covenant with us), seeing God and adopting us as His children. How wonderous is all that Jesus offers us through His teaching on blessings.

REFERENCES

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9. —. The Beatitudes, Part One: The Sermon on the Mount. Bible Tools. [Online] [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/195/The-Beatitudes-Sermon-on-Mount.htm.
10. Archer, Dr. Gary Hill & Dr. Gleason. HELPS Word-studies devotional lexicon. Discovery Bible.
11. Guzik, David. MATTHEW 5 – THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. Enduring Word . [Online] 2018. [Cited: 19th April 2020.] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-5/.
12. John F. Walvoord. The Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible.org. [Online] 1st January 2008. [Cited: 20th April 2020.] https://bible.org/article/kingdom-heaven.
13. Allen, Judy. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Unlocking the Bible. [Online] 10th May 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://unlockingthebible.org/2017/05/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/.
14. Piper, John. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness . Desiring God. [Online] 16th February 1986. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
15. Kreminski, Karina. Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Common Grace. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.commongrace.org.au/beatitudes_hunger_and_thirst_for_righteousness.
16. Kinsolving, Carey. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Creators. [Online] 17th June 2013. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.creators.com/read/kids-talk-about-god/06/13/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
17. Doriani, Daniel. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Tabletalk. [Online] June 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/06/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/.
18. mercy. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mercy.
19. New Covenant. Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/new-covenant.
20. Travers, Joshua. Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: 27th April 2020] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/christian-conversion/the-sermon-on-the-mount/beatitudes/blessed-persecuted-righteousness-sake/

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How have your people responded to memorising Jesus’ words?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you from their week of meditating on the words of Jesus that they memorised and talking with each other about what He said?
* What has been the response to members of your congregation sharing Jesus’ words with others?
* How did Jesus present the gospel of the kingdom in the Beatitudes?
* What additional insights have you gained about the gospel through studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:4-12