"What You're Getting Into"#87-42
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 14, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 5:17-20
There's been an uptick in church attendance last few months—online attendance, that is. Of course, viewing a worship service online or listening to a radio program, that's one thing. Becoming personally involved with a group of people in a worshiping community, that's something else. Still, when someone's new to church or maybe has been away from church for a while, when they check out the church's message remotely, there's something important going on there. Maybe it's like going to a website before you try out a new restaurant or you ask somebody who's been there, or maybe it's like dating before marriage. In either case, you want to know what you're getting into before you commit. And maybe that's why you're listening today. What are you getting into?
You're getting into a relationship with Jesus. What does that involve? A good way to answer this is to read the Bible, read the New Testament. You could start with the first book of the New Testament; it's called the Gospel or the Good News according to Matthew. Matthew is one of the followers of Jesus. It's a biography of Jesus. And you start at the beginning and you read the Gospel of Matthew, and when you get to chapters 5 - 7, you'll come to this speech that Jesus gave. It's a famous speech, and it directly answers this question: What would I be getting into if I were to follow Jesus, if I were to be around Jesus?
Now, at the end of chapter 4, Matthew tells us that great crowds gathered around Jesus. After He had gone public with His message, Jesus was regularly surrounded by crowds, but the crowds weren't committed to Him. They wanted to see what He was all about. They were checking out His website, so to speak, viewing His YouTube channel from a distance, but they weren't ready to commit. Now, Matthew uses another word for people who were committed to Jesus. He uses the word "disciple." A disciple is someone who has come out of the crowd, who is committed to Jesus, following Him. Now, Jesus wasn't the only person in those days to have disciples. Lots of Jewish rabbis had disciples, and disciples would be devoted to their teacher and to his teachings. They would live with him and walk with him and the other disciples, and they would eat together and do life together, and they would watch their teacher. And this is how they would learn from him. And so that's what you would be getting into if you were to go along with Jesus, you would become His disciple.
And this is a big commitment. It's not something you would want to enter into lightly. And so maybe that's what you do. You just hang back in the crowd a bit and you listen, and you see what He's all about before you commit. And as you're listening, you hear Him say this to His disciples, He says to them, "You are the salt of the earth. But if that salt loses its saltiness, how will it, the earth, be salted? The salt's no longer good for anything except after being thrown out to be trampled under people's feet.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. In this way, let your light shine before other people so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
"Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law or the prophets. I've not come to do away with them, but to fulfill them. I'm telling you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of the Law will by any means pass away until all things take place. Therefore, I tell you, whoever loosens, whoever relaxes, one of the least of these commandments and in this way teaches others, he will be called least in the rule and reign of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom, in the rule and reign of heaven. Therefore, I say to you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the rule and reign of heaven."
Those are the words of Jesus from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 5. Now let's say you overhear Jesus say that to His disciples from the crowd and you start to wonder, "What would it be like if I were to be a disciple of Jesus? What would I be getting into as a disciple of Jesus?" And maybe it sounds like a tryout for a sports team.
When I was a freshmen in high school, I tried out for my school's basketball team. And right at the beginning the coach told us, "Gentlemen, you got to earn your spot on my team." He told us that everyone would be evaluated and that there would be cuts if you didn't perform. Now I loved basketball. I've been playing on basketball teams since I was in the third grade, and I had big dreams of being a great basketball player. I wanted to be in the NBA, and so I tried so hard for those basketball tryouts. I played outside on my basketball hoop and in our driveway for months, but I was five-foot-two, and I wasn't exactly Pistol Pete when it came to dribbling and shooting, and I got cut. Big surprise, right?
When you hear Jesus talk about what it means to be His disciple, it might sound like this. You hear Him say, "Unless your righteousness surpasses, you'll get cut, you'll lose your spot, not just on the team, but the kingdom, the rule and reign of heaven." See, Jesus believes that He's not just a captain or a coach of some team, He's the Jewish Messiah. He's the King, chosen by God to usher in a new world, a new era of blessing and peace. That's why He's always talking about the kingdom, the rule and reign of heaven, and its arrival on earth. Jesus' message has been "Repent!" That means turn around, come out of the crowd, off of the bench, and follow Me because the rule and reign of heaven has come near. God's kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven, get with the program. And on first hearing, it might sound like a tryout, and that being on Team Jesus depends on your performance. But you got to hear Jesus the way He wants to be heard. You can't just jump in the middle of His message; you got to go back to the beginning.
At the beginning, Jesus said to some people, "Follow Me." There was no tryout. He simply chose them, and it wasn't based on their performance.
In fact, He chose poor performers. He called them "poor in spirit." He said with the crowd overhearing, pointing to His disciples, "These people, the people who are poor in spirit are blessed, because theirs is the kingdom; theirs is the rule and reign of heaven." It means that in the things of His kingdom, these people were like clumsy five-foot-two point guards who couldn't dribble and couldn't shoot. If you're poor in spirit, it means that you've got problems—problems at the core of your being. And that if it were based on your performance or on your potential, you wouldn't be on this team. But Jesus plays by different rules. He says, "The poor in spirit are blessed, because theirs is the rule and reign of heaven."
But what does Jesus mean when He says, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom"? You won't even make it on the team. Now the scribes and the Pharisees, they're like the number-one draft pick. From a human perspective, they're the top performers. In that culture if you were to build a team you'd want the scribes and Pharisees on it. But that's not whom Jesus calls, at least not initially. He calls the last people you'd expect Him to call. He calls the poor in spirit. And the most important difference between them and the scribes and the Pharisees is not their performance. The difference is the scribes and Pharisees don't want to belong to Jesus. They don't believe He is who He says He is. They don't trust in Him. They trust in their performance, and so they don't want to admit that they are also poor in spirit and that only Jesus can help them. See in their unbelief, they've cut themselves off the team. Being a disciple of Jesus is not like a tryout, it's not based on your performance. It's non-performance-based belonging. It's grace-based belonging. It's like an adoption. You hear Jesus and you trust Him. You come out of the crowd and follow Him, because He's the only One who can help you. And that's it! You're on the team; you're in the family; you're in the kingdom 100 percent.
So to review, being a part of Jesus' team, it's not performance based, but that doesn't mean it's non-participatory. For example, I'm a part of a club that is non-participatory. There were no tryouts to be in this club. All I had to do was to be willing to let them have me on their team, in their club, and provide an e-mail so that they could send me newsletters and other kinds of updates. My belonging to this club is not based on any performance, and it doesn't require any participation, and yet I have full rights and privileges of membership, and I can access them whenever I want. No, I'm not talking about church membership, although it does sound like that now that I say it. However similar they sound, the point is this is not what Jesus has in mind for His disciples. So this is what you'd be getting into as a disciple of Jesus. It's non-performance based and full participation. What does that mean?
Let me give you another example. I had a friend; I'll call him Jeff. I got to know Jeff the year that I lived in Arkansas. Jeff was born and raised in Arkansas and while I lived there, Jeff and I and some other folks from Arkansas, we had the opportunity to take a road trip to Colorado to go skiing. I had lived in Colorado before and I grew up going skiing with my family, and so I became the informal captain of this team. Well, I wasn't a great skier, and so I knew we needed a coach. So I called up my friend Paul, who lives in Colorado and is a great skier, and I said, "Hey Paul, would you meet us at Keystone and coach some folks from Arkansas on how to ski?" And he said, "I'd love to." See Paul loves skiing. He's kind of an evangelist for skiing. I asked Paul, "What do you love about skiing?" And he said, "That's a great question, Michael. I love the views. I love that it's not about performance; it's about practice. And no matter how good you get, you never leave behind the basics. I love that you struggle on the way down and you socialize on the way up. And it's not safe. You can get hurt, you can get hurt on something steep, or you can get hurt standing in line, falling over, waiting for the lift." And it was that last part that had Jeff, my friend from Arkansas concerned. So Jeff and Paul and I were socializing on the lift on the way up, and then on the way down we struggled. It took us two and a half hours to do one run.
Jeff had fallen so many times I was thinking that we were going to have to have the ski patrol give him a ride down the mountain on their snowmobile. And to keep Jeff's knees from buckling, Paul is now skiing backwards in front of Jeff, holding him up, and Jeff is leaning his full weight on Paul like he was bracing over a toilet, waiting to be sick. For Jeff, this moment was non-performance-based participation. And I was frustrated with Jeff because of his poor performance, and I wanted to cut him from the team. See, I didn't get to go skiing very often, and we had driven all the way from Arkansas, and it was taking us hours to get down one run. But Paul was so patient. See, this wasn't the first time that he coached someone who was having a hard time with skiing, and Paul explained his coaching philosophy to me.
He said, "Even if all you can do is put a couple of turns together that day, then in my book, that's a win. That's a win for skiing, and that's a win for you." It was that simple for Paul. On that mountain, my superficial love for skiing and my half-hearted love for people came into conflict, but Paul's love for skiing and for people ran deeper that day. I watched him ski backwards for two hours, and Jeff fell on him all the way down the mountain. And he did it because you don't give up on what you love.
And this is what you would be getting into with Jesus. Jesus won't give up on what He loves. Jesus loves people, and Jesus loves life as God intended it. And He wants you and me to participate in this life: this life instructed and described by God's Law. Jesus loves God's Law. He said, "Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law. I've come to fulfill the Law." And He's speaking about the Law that God gave Moses and the people of Israel after He rescued them out of slavery. It's the Law that's summarized in the Ten Commandments and fulfilled in love—love for God and love for neighbor. And Jesus loves this Law because it's His Father's Law and even more than that, it's a reflection of His own nature as God's Son.
Loving God's Law and loving people may seem to come into conflict for us. See, I can superficially love God's Law and get angry with people when they break His Law and, ultimately, get angry with myself. Or I can half-heartedly love people and try to do away with the Law because it's too much of a burden. But Jesus' love runs deeper. He holds the two together. When He died on the cross, He took the Law's burden onto Himself because He loves people. And because He loves people, He came back from the dead to coach us in this life that He loves—life as God intended it, life according to the Law, the law of love. So what have you gotten into or what would you be getting into as a disciple of Jesus? It's not performance based like a tryout, but it is participatory like a team, like a family. And Jesus claims you for His team as you are, poor in spirit. And He blesses you, and He won't give up on you however long it takes. He will keep coaching you towards greatness.
So read the rest of Matthew today, specifically chapters 5 - 7 and see how Jesus defines greatness. And then tomorrow put it into practice. Let your good works shine and give glory to God. And in the morning, maybe you put a couple of turns together. Rather than retaliating against someone who insults you, you turn your cheek and you respond to them in kindness and love. And that's a win. That's a win for God's kingdom, and that's a win for you. But then in the afternoon you fall, and you fall hard. You fall on Jesus all the way down the mountain, and you say to Him, "Lord, I'm sorry for all this. I ask for grace. I want to do better." And then you start again at the beginning, and you hear Jesus say, "Blessed are you, poor in spirit, because yours is the kingdom of God."
Would you pray with me? Jesus, You came to save sinners of whom I am the worst of all. But for this very reason, You have shown me mercy. So that in me, the worst, the foremost of sinners, You might display Your perfect patience to those who trust in You for eternal life, because You live and You reign with the Father and the Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for June 14, 2020
Title: What You're Getting Into
Mark Eischer: Bringing you the assurance of God's presence and the power of God's Word during days of uncertainty, you're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For free online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more, visit our website, lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. We're in our second week of a series based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7. Joining me again today is Dr. Jeff Gibbs, long-time Bible teacher, specializing in Matthew's Gospel. Thank you for joining me, Dr. Gibbs.
Jeff Gibbs: It's a pleasure to be here, Mike.
Mike Zeigler: In Matthew's Gospel, we hear Jesus talk a lot about the kingdom of heaven, or as you like to say, or translate it, the "reign of heaven" or the "rule and reign of heaven." What does Jesus mean by that phrase?
Jeff Gibbs: The short answer, Mike, would be that God's people had been hoping, if you think about the first century, long ago. Hoping and praying. The world is broken. We are broken. We need our King, our God, to come down and be King, and to save us and to fix the world. And that's what the kingdom of heaven is. It's the announcement that now it's time. "You've been waiting. You've been praying. I've always loved you," God says. "But now I'm going to come down, and I'm going to be the King. And I'm going to do the stuff that a King needs to do to save and forgive and heal." And so the kingdom of heaven is not a place so much as it is deeds. It's the promised deeds that God would do as King, and it's all in Jesus, King Jesus. The kingdom of heaven has come near in Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, we hear Jesus talking about being the least in His kingdom or being the greatest in His kingdom. Now that sounds a little like competition, and Jesus is like the judge, and He's going to rank us by our performance. Am I hearing that right?
Jeff Gibbs: I'm happy to say no, not quite, I think. And you're thinking now about chapter 5:19, right? "Whoever does and teaches even the least of these commandments will be called great in the reign of heaven." I think that's just a way of saying that God really cares about His commandments. It's important to Him that I love my neighbor, even dare I say it, even my enemy, that I turn away from anger against my brother, and so forth. These things really matter to God. So, what counts? Is it getting more stuff? No, that's not great. It's turning the other cheek. It's being faithful to my wife. That's greatness, see.
And so it's not so much comparing, because all comparisons are odious. But it's what really matters to God. And this is one of the places where Jesus kind of lays that out. What really matters is that we hear what His will is for our lives and we seek to do it. That's great. That's greatness. And for the times when I falter and struggle and stumble, that's not greatness. I'm still His, I'm still in the reign of heaven, see. I'm not outside of it, but that's not what matters to Him. He really loves us to keep His commandments.
Mike Zeigler: So you would say that Jesus wants us to strive for this sort of greatness.
Jeff Gibbs: Yes, exactly right. Yeah. Without worrying about whether or not it's going to earn a place with Him, without comparing ourselves to one another. Yeah. This matters to God. It matters to Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: And maybe it's because I'm formed by my culture, the idea of striving for something on the one hand, it can be really exciting because I'm getting to do important stuff, stuff that matters to God, as you said. But on the other hand, it can be intimidating or alarming if I strive and struggle and fail, or if I think I'm doing really good and I get puffed up, as Paul warns about in his letter to the Corinthians.
Jeff Gibbs: Right, right. Yeah. Kind of the two classic problems. Well, Michael, if you become puffed up, knock it off. Stop, stop doing that. If you fail, you remember where the Sermon on the Mount begins. If you fail, it means you've experienced once again that you are poor in spirit and you wonder, does God have a good word for someone like me? And the answer is well, yes, He does. Blessed are the poor in spirit for the reign of heaven belongs to them. It's theirs.
You see that sets us free in a sense. And we have to experience this over and over and over again. I've had to experience this in my life 50 bazillion times, but it sets us free from that kind of self-condemnation and failure. And I think it also does set us free from the need to compare ourselves to other people.
Mike Zeigler: Well, thank you for joining us and helping us keep these things in mind as we listen to the Sermon on the Mount over the next several weeks.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"God Loved the World So That He Gave" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)