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Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:13
In exploring how to follow Jesus on the narrow way, it is important to continue reading through the Sermon on the Mount. I find it interesting that I only studied this section of Matthew in depth relatively recently yet there are still new insights from reading it again. I guess we do that a lot in life. We think “I’ve already read that” and don’t read it again, but this is the living word of God. We can read it every day for the rest of our lives and still get new insights. It is also helpful to revisit things read in a moment, then pushed aside by everything else going on in life. How easy it is to forget what has been read, the message that has been received.
Being the salt of the earth is something I have grown up hearing. It always seemed that someone who was the salt of the earth was a good person, hard working, dedicated, trustworthy, honest. Someone with no apparent vices. Someone others respected. In a way that applies to this verse. If we follow Jesus and seek to do His will, even in our imperfect way, then we will be like that salt of the earth person.
But there is more to this terminology than our modern understanding of this ancient term.
In our modern day where salt is in everything and we would never consider it not being available it is hard to picture a time when it was more important and also harder to find. Where salt had a value because of its importance and limited availability. Before refrigeration salt was the main way foods were preserved for those times of the year when food was harder to find and for the traveller who did not have access to fresh food. Salt was essential for survival, without it food would ‘go off’ and be dangerous to eat. In our current world we don’t need salt to survive, although we all tend to love its flavouring. And that leads us to another aspect of the importance of salt. It was not only essential for warding off starvation, it was also something that made food palatable. Anyone one a low salt, or salt free diet, will tell you how bland food is without salt.
In the time of Jesus, salt was seen in the following ways:
It was pure. It was so special it was acceptable as a sacrificial offering. Jesus was telling anyone that would be a disciple that he must be pure. By pure He meant having pure motives. Loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.
With salt’s preservative qualities we can see that meat was able to remain untainted and uncorrupted. Of course the metaphor here is that the disciple of Jesus is alive and uncorrupted by the world.
As for the flavouring qualities of salt, Jesus expected His disciples to add flavour to life. So many in today’s world see Christians as joyless people who take the fun out of life. The image is of the dour, legalistic person who won’t ‘let their hair down’ and just enjoy life. There is no image of the person who loves life and greets all God’s beautiful creation with joy and delight. Yet that is what Jesus wants of us. I also wonder if He also wants us to be the one who give appropriate flavour to life by showing others how it is possible to enjoy life and life a full and fulfilling life without needing to resort to the behaviour that have become commonplace in our world.
The question for all of us is how can we be the salt of the earth? What does each one of us, individually, need to change in our own life to be the salt of the earth, as Jesus intended and commanded us.
For further reading and reflection on Matthew 5:13-16.

 

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 16:24-26
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ instruction on discipleship with the Beatitudes the picture of the perfect disciple. Many read the beatitudes in a literal way and see them as saying we should all be poor, downtrodden and submissive. The actual meaning is spiritual, not physical. We are blessed because we are Christians. Our blessing is the life we live in the joy of knowing that Jesus is our Saviour and that he died for us. In following the narrow way we make the choice to put Him first and let go of our desire to control our own lives in a worldly way, instead of listening to His instruction and putting His way ahead of all the desires we have for revenge, and the imagined easy life of not following Him. In other words He grows more and we grow less. We cannot guarantee permanent happiness, but the blessedness of the Christian is a joy that is rooted in the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ and it is permanent.
In the 1st Beatitude the man who lives in abject poverty has learned not to rely on material things to bring happiness or security. This person understands that only God can help him. As we grow in our faith in Jesus, we seek to do God’s will more than our own. Therefore, we are blessed when we realise and accept our own helplessness in being able to effectively live our lives. When we realise this, we put our trust in God. As we learn to trust God, we become obedient to His will.
The 2nd Beatitude looks at the person who mourns for his sin and that of the whole world and feels overwhelming sorrow at the realisation of the pain he has caused to Jesus. This person is blessed because of the cross and has realised the way to joy and forgiveness is through the desperation of a heart broken on the cross by the knowledge of the awfulness of sin.
The 3rd Beatitude looks at the importance of being assertive and of using self-control to deal appropriately with anger so we aim to be angry at the right time instead of angry at the wrong time. It speaks of the importance of being God-controlled and of being humble enough to recognise our dependence on God to maintain our self-control.
The 4th Beatitude considers how much we want goodness. Are we prepared to give the time or effort, the sacrifice required to have the “whole of righteousness”?
The merciful of the 5th Beatitude are about forgiving and choosing to not judge others. If we do that we will find others may well do the same for us, and we will know that this is what God in Jesus Christ has done for us.
In the 6th Beatitude the person with the pure motives was seen as being blessed. Jesus said our inability to see God is due to our lack of purity of heart. Mixed motives reduce our knowledge of God so we do not know what we are looking for and therefore cannot see God.
The 7th Beatitude speaks of the peace makers, those who seek to resolve, not suppress conflict.
The final Beatitude contains the warning that the disciple of Jesus will suffer for that faith. Work, social and family life may be disrupted by following Jesus. However, the sheep of the Shepherd walk in the world and risk the persecution of that world.
Relying on God, mourning our sinfulness, accepting our need of a saviour, being God-controlled, desperate for the whole of righteousness, forgiving others, having pure motives, good conflict resolution, and willingness to suffer persecution. These are all spiritual and physical marks of the true disciple of Jesus.
 

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:10-12
If you follow Jesus expect persecution. If you follow Jesus expect to be aware of fellow followers who are persecuted. Never forget in your time of suffering that Jesus knows what it is like to be persecuted. He experienced persecution from his infant years when His family fled to Egypt to avoid His death at the hands of Herod. In addition to this, He hung on the cross and took on all our sins, all our life experiences. What He didn’t personally experience He took on once on the cross. He experienced everything we have experienced in life. He knows what we have gone through, are going through and will go through. He has total empathy for our experience. In our walk with Him He asks us to love each other, to love our neighbour. He gives us empathy to allow us to do that, to allow us to care and be concerned for those who are persecuted, for those who suffer, for those who need love.
If you are truly following Jesus you will not only have empathy for your fellow humans, you will also experience the hardship of persecution. It may be as simple as people mocking your faith or making jokes about “those Christian hypocrites”. It may be as dangerous as being tortured and killed for your faith in Jesus. This is all part of following Jesus and being prepared to accept the consequences of following Him. After all, those who stumble in darkness, who are dying, are not going to take kindly to those who choose to step into the light and live.
The beatitude in these verses speaks of the joy of the person who rejoices in God’s love for him or her despite the things happening to that person. It speaks of the blessings of the person who seeks to do right in God’s eyes and is persecuted for that. Remember, no matter what you face on this earth, when you follow the narrow way you will reach the end of it and that end is being with Jesus in heaven.
In our safe western lives the worst persecution we are likely to suffer is that of mockery from non-believers who wish to poke fun at Christian faith and attitudes. The cost we pay is not to be killed horribly or tortured mercilessly, but to be mocked and excluded. For many who keep themselves safe in little segregated Christian groups there will be no mockery. But of course the person who keeps themselves safe like that is not following the teaching of the Beatitudes. Jesus requires His disciples to walk in the world and risk the persecution of that world. Any attempt to avoid this turns us from sheep to goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
For reading and contemplation over the coming days. Matthew 16:24-28
 

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peace makers. That is such a hard one to follow. It is linked to Matthew 5:44-45 where we are told to love our enemies because it is easy to love our friends but our enemies can only be loved with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
It is so hard to love those who hurt and harm us. As a counsellor I deal with this all the time. We are not called on to pretend people never do anything to harm us. We are not called on to never deal with conflict or allow people to walk all over us. We are called on to acknowledge that we are hurt and choose to forgive anyway.
The Peacemaker is not a passive person who avoids ever feeling angry or who ignores any wrongs done to them. The peacemaker is the one who works to make peace. The call to make peace is misinterpreted by many in western culture and in the churches as meaning there is to be no conflict by suppressing people who try to resolve a problem. But this is incorrect. Proper conflict resolution is a pre-requisite for peace. Trying to prevent a person discussing a wrong done to them will only breed resentment and bitterness and result in an unresolved conflict that will increase the chances of peace not being achieved. Acknowledging the wrong a person has suffered opens a way for both parties to a conflict to resolve this, including an acknowledgement by the other person that his/her actions have hurt another. That is peacemaking.
Those who supress conflict and prevent issues being adequately resolved or try to pretend there is no problem are not peacemakers, they are fomenters of war. Sadly, many churches place great pressure on people to suppress conflict because they misinterpret the scriptures to claim this is peacemaking! Interestingly the Jewish teachers of Jesus’ time taught that the highest which a man can perform is to establish right relationships between man and man. That is closer to peacemaking than is taught by many churches. Never forget that in following the narrow way you will have to work to resolve conflicts and to be able to forgive those who hurt you. Never forget that you always have the Holy Spirit to help you. All you have to do is ask.
 

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:8
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” NIV.
Matthew 19:14 “… Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” NIV
Who are the pure in heart? According to Jesus, those who are like children. Those eager, trusting believers with pure motives.
Why the heart? In most cultures, the heart is the centre of who we are and is used to describe our emotions. There are many who believe it is the centre of the human spirit. There are two verses in the Bible that express this. The first (Psalm 4:7) says “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when the grain and new wine abound.” NIV. The second, (Proverbs 4:23) says “above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” NIV.
So what is a pure heart? Psalm 24:3-5 says “Who shall go up into the mountain of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted himself up to falsehood or to what is false, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” The Amplified Bible. According to 1 Timothy 1:5 the heart must be an honest heart that aims for purity rather than things that cloud it. The heart must be kept pure from fleshly lusts, all unchaste thoughts and desires and from worldly lusts such as covetousness. All these come out of the heart and defile the man.
The heart is purified by faith. We see reference to this in Psalm 51:10 “create in me a clean heart, O God.” And in v17 “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
What Jesus wants more than anything else is for us to be like children. To eagerly run up to Him, to sit in His lap and delight in His presence. To want to talk to Him in prayer. To want to know Him more. To see Him with the eager innocence of children, not sullied by cynicism or thoughts of those things that tempt us away from Him.
The Greek word for pure has several meanings, all of which are relevant here. It means clean, as in clothes that are washed clean. It refers to corn that has been winnowed and cleansed of all chaff. It also refers to something that is pure and has not had anything else mixed with it. All these images are used in the Bible. It is about desiring God above all else. That is purity.
It is so easy to perform great acts in God’s name and to feel pride within the heart for a “job well done”. But that is not a pure heart, that is a heart that is thinking more of pride than God. If we obey this beatitude, we are required to examine ourselves to understand our motives. For those who go to church, here is something to ponder. How many people go to church, not to meet God, but to fulfil a habit or appear respectable? Sadly there are many who do this and it robs the churches of true faith as those with pure hearts struggle to find God amongst those with mixed motives.
According to Jesus, our inability to see God is not due to God, but due to our lack of purity of heart. We can only see what we are trained to see. If our knowledge of God is limited, then we will not see God because we do not know what we are looking for. So get to know God better. Read the Bible and pray. Delight to climb into Jesus’ lap and just be in His glorious presence.
For reading and reflecting on over the coming days: Matthew 19:13-15, Psalm 51
 

 


 
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Nan
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