Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven

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Matthew 26:36-46; Matthew 6:5-15

What is God up to in the world?

Here’s a word to drop into conversation:  God is ouranifying the earth.

Ouranos is the Greek word for heaven – it’s where we get the name for the planet “Uranus”.  And here Jesus tells us that God’s desire is to ouranify the earth.  You might say – to heavenize the world.

What does that mean?  Well in heaven, everyone unquestioningly and gladly honours Jesus as Lord.  And the Father’s will is for earth to be like that.

Jesus says that very thing in John 6:40:

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

And so we pray “Father, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven!”

We want heaven to come to earth.  This is a point we discussed last time. The direction of our prayers is always for God’s kingdom to come to us. The trajectory is heaven to earth.  And that’s a revolutionary thought even, and perhaps especially, for religious folk.

You see religious types are always wanting to build a bridge from earth to heaven and/or to escape nasty earth and flee to nice heaven.  But Jesus says His way runs in exactly the opposite direction.  And we need to hear that point, especially in the wake of Harold Camping’s predictions last year.

Camping taught that on May 21st, 2011, Jesus would snatch up all the true believers from the earth and let the world go to hell.  The faithful would be beamed up and planet earth would be consigned to the flames.

Of course Camping’s a fool for predicting the date.  Of course he’s a fool for misleading thousands of people.  But even apart from those issues, the trouble with Camping was where he directed people’s hope.  He encouraged believers to want to flee nasty planet earth and go and live in a nice other-worldly paradise.

Now heaven is a wonderful place.  But it is not our ultimate hope.  And whilst we still have breath we are to pray for heaven to come here, not that we might go there.

Jesus did not say in Matthew 5:5 that the meek shall inherit heavenThe meek shall inherit the earth.  The wicked won’t inherit the earth – believers will.  Why? Because the Kingdom is coming to earth.  That’s the direction of travel.

The Son of God has been earthed into our humanity for all time.  He was the advance party.  And Revelation 21 tells us that one day heaven will come to earth and the Father and Son will set up home on a renewed earth.  The Christian hope is not, ultimately, us going to heaven.  It’s heaven coming to earth.

And while we wait for that day, we pray for the ouranification – the heavenization – of this place, as more and more people find grace in the Kingdom of Christ: “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

Thy kingdom come

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Psalm 72; Matthew 6:5-15

First we remember who God is (Father) and where we have come in Christ in order to speak with Him (Heaven).  At this point the Lord’s Prayer is wonderfully personal.  The One on the throne is Father.

Then we ask that the Lord’s gospel character (His name) be more richly prized in our hearts.  Here we pray for internal things, (though prayer for others is also included here).

Now the Lord’s Prayer really opens out to the world:

“Thy Kingdom come.”

God’s Kingdom is the place where God’s King Reigns.  Wherever Jesus is known as Lord – there is the Kingdom.  He reigns in the lives of believers today, and one day He will come and physically establish His rule to the ends of the earth.

And we can’t wait.  So we pray “your kingdom come.  May the just and gentle rule of King Jesus extend to all my family, all my friends, all my work colleagues. To my people, my nation, to the whole world”.  We pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

Notice how we relate to the kingdom.  We don’t build it.  We don’t establish it.  This is not like the tower of babel which began on earth and reached up into heaven.  It’s the exact opposite.  It’s God’s Kingdom and it’s always coming down to us as a gift.  The direction of travel is always heaven-to-earth.  Just as the King earthed Himself into our humanity and will live a human life forever more. Just as, one day, He and His Father will move from heaven to set up home on the new earth, so the church prays for the kingdom to come down.  We could never drag the King down to earth, and neither can we drag the kingdom.  It’s always something beyond us that can only be received.  And so we pray “Thy Kingdom come.”

Hallowed be thy name

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Isaiah 26:1-15; Matthew 5:5-15

This one needs some unpacking.  Firstly that archaic word “hallowed.”

In modern English, the word “hallowed” is only really preserved for sports venues.  For a football supporter, Wembley is hallowed ground. For a cricket fan, Lord’s is hallowed turf.

Hallowed means ‘regarded as holy.’

But “holy” needs explaining too.  It means ‘set apart, devoted, consecrated, special, committed.’

And here’s how Jesus teaches us to pray.  Once we’ve recognised who we’re praying to – our Father – and where we’ve come – in heaven – now we pray, “Father, many your name be regarded as sacred/special/set apart.”

One final word to be considered: “Name.”  What is God’s “name”?

When we considered “taking the LORD’s name in vain” we saw that God’s name is His character.  It’s His gospel nature which is expressed in Jesus.

And so to put all this together, what is this prayer asking?  May your gospel character, as I see it in Jesus, be regarded as precious, first in my heart and then in the world.

What do you hallow?  Football fans hallow Wembley.  Cricket fans hallow Lord’s.  What is sacred, special, precious in your sight?  By nature it’s not Jesus.  By nature we prize things more than we prize our Lord.  By nature we are captivated by a thousand competing gods.  And so we pray, Dear Father, reveal more of your attractiveness.  Win my heart again.  May Jesus be my highest affection.  “Hallowed be thy name.”

Our Father which art in heaven

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Luke 11:1-12; Matthew 5:5-15

What does true prayer look like?  Luke chapter 11 gives us the ultimate picture:

“It came to pass, that… Jesus was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray…”  (Luke 11:1-2)

And from there, Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  This is where the Lord’s Prayer comes from.  It begins with Jesus’ own prayer life.

Jesus is the Ultimate Pray-er.  From before the world began Jesus has been communing with the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Between Jesus and the Father there has always been a word-full, joy-full heart to heart.  And now Jesus has come into the world.  He has come into our human life.  And He carries on the conversation.  He’s still talking to God, but He’s talking to God as one of us.  Jesus has earthed the Prayer Life of God into our Human Existence.

So there He is praying on the mountaintop – God the Son who has become God our Brother.  And He’s praying “My Father, My Father, My Father”.  In fact it’s more intimate than that.  We know from Mark chapter 14, verse 36 that He calls God, “Abba, Father.”  There is incredible intimacy here.  Abba is a word for Father in many languages from the Middle East.  It’s one of the first words a baby will say.  And it will continue to be the way a child addresses their father throughout life. There is beautiful intimacy and respect here: “Abba, Father”

The disciples see it from a distance and they want in on it. “Lord teach us to pray.”

And, wonder of wonders, Jesus replies

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father…  (Matthew 6:9)

Glory!  We get to call God Most High, what Jesus does.

Not because I’m good.  No, I’m wicked.  Not because I’m religious.  I’m not.  Not because I’m a prayer-warrior.  I’m anything but.

How do I get to call God Father?  God the Son became my Brother, He took me to Himself and brought me home.  Now I am in on the eternal prayer-life of God.

And this revolutionises our prayers.

So often we feel we have to yell our prayers up to a silent heaven.  Jesus says, “Come on in.  Come in to the heart of heaven.  Come in my name.  In Me you are as close to God as I am.  You don’t have to yell up to heaven.  You can whisper in His ear and call Him Abba.

Jesus has warned us in verses 5-8 about hypocritical pray-ers.  They pray to be seen by men.  Jesus says pray to be heard by your Father.

If that privilege doesn’t do something to our hearts, we’re going to pray like hypocrites rather than children.  Perhaps we need to quote Matthew 18 verse 3 to ourselves until true prayer is birthed in us:

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

We are not world-weary soldiers calling on a heavenly Sergeant Major.  We are not over-worked employees calling on our divine Line Manager. We are children, adopted in the Son, calling on our Abba, Father.

And once I remind myself of that, I remind myself of where He is:

Our Father which art in heaven.

The Bible speaks of three heavens.  The first heaven is the home of the birds.  The second heaven is the home of science fiction.  And the third heaven is paradise, the dwelling place of the Most High God.

And Jesus says “Your Dad, sits on that throne.”

It’s nice to have friends in high places isn’t it?  Our Father rules the cosmos!  Or put it another way – the One who rules the cosmos is our Father.

Without a heart-felt knowledge of these truths, all our praying can only ever be “vain repetitions” or “much speaking”(v7).  Therefore Jesus urges us, before we pray anything else, to remember Who we’re praying to, and where we’ve come to.  In all our sinfulness and weakness we have come in Jesus’ name to the throne room of heaven.  Here we are little children in the Son.  And in Him we have the ear of a loving Father who rules this world and this week.  Now pray…

Let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth

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Isaiah 64; Matthew 6:1-4

There are many people who do good.

Which is good.

And there are many people who care nothing for any reputation for doing good.

Which is also good.

But seldom do both qualities coincide in one person.

And that’s bad.

In this world there are those who do good – and don’t they know it! – and those who don’t do good – and couldn’t care less.  But what a rare thing it is, to meet a person who does good and couldn’t care less about it?  Jesus says, that’s the Christian.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus has just been talking about the law – filled full and accomplished by Himself.   He was addressing moral issues like anger, lust, marriage, forgiveness.  Now in chapter 6 He turns to the subject of religious practices.

All religions have something to say about alms-giving (v1-4), prayer (v5-15) and fasting (v16-18).  But according to Jesus, there’s a major problem with our religious efforts: Pious folk do things “that they may have glory of men.” (Matthew 6:2); “that they may be seen of men” (Matthew 6:5); “that they may appear among men” (Matthew 6:16).

And this isn’t only true for traditionally religious types.  Recently I was walking through Brighton – seat of Britain’s only Green MP – and I came across a graph that was painted down the length of the street.  It charted the CO2 emissions of the houses on that street as compared to the national average.  Needless to say, these environmentally conscious citizens were vastly more ecologically righteous than most.  And there it was in yellow paint, for all to see.

There is something deep within our humanity that takes “doing good” and makes it an occasion to boast in ourselves.  And suddenly, doing good isn’t the issue – we are.

So Jesus lifts the lid on the do-gooders’ dirty little secret.  Do-gooders don’t do good to do good.  They do good to be seen to be doing good. And Jesus says, Christians beware:

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:  otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:  That thine alms may be in secret:  and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”  (Matthew 6:1-4)

These hypocrites cut a ridiculous figure – commissioning a trumpet fanfare to publicise their offerings!  They want the “glory of men”.  And if that’s what they seek, that will be their reward.  And only that.  Our unseen Father remains unimpressed.

But there’s another kind of giving which is so self-forgetful it’s as though the hand that gives is acting completely independently.  We “let not our left hand know what our right hand doeth.”  That is, we do good, but we don’t connect it to our selves – to our sense of identity and worth and “glory.”  Our giving is like an involuntary nose scratch, it’s just something we do.  It draws no attention to itself.  It doesn’t attract the attention of others, and it doesn’t even attract our own attention.

Such giving is not even an occasion for private enjoyment – you know the sort of thing: “Others will never know but I can always take pride in my anonymous offering.  In ten years time no-one will know, but I will be content with the fact I did my bit.”  No, not even that.  Not our head, not our heart, nor even our other hand will reflect on the act.  We will just do good.  No fanfare, no smugness, no self-congratulation, no appeasement of conscience.  We’ll just do good and move on.

How is that possible?  Jesus is describing an incredible level of contentment.  What He’s describing is just not natural.  Because we are, by nature, approval seeking sponges.  We need to be seen and rewarded. Jesus knows that.  Which is why He doesn’t tell us “Don’t be so needy, Don’t let other people tell you your worth, Just get on with it.”  No Jesus knows that we can’t bestow worth on ourselves.  He knows that we need a verdict to come from outside ourselves, to tell us “I see you and I love you.”

And so Jesus does not prohibit doing good “to be seen”.  He prohibits doing good “to be seen by men.”  Instead we do it knowing that “thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”  We can’t escape doing good for an audience.  Jesus says, Switch your audience.

Only the person certain of their position in Christ could ever live like this. But if we do know our adoption by the Father, our union with Jesus, our anointing with the Spirit, we can walk out into the world in the sunshine of heavenly approval and simply live.

Jesus began His ministry hearing the Father’s benediction: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:17)  And He travelled through the world, the freest man who ever lived.  He never pulled Peter to one side saying “How do you think that talk went down? I think some of them were unhappy with how I ended the parable…”  He never reminded His grumbling disciples “Hey, can I have a bit of respect here, do you have any idea what I’m doing for you?”  There are no fanfares or ego trips.  He just does good, forsaking the approval of men but knowing the smile of His Father.

That’s the life He gives to us.  He’s not calling us to more giving, praying and fasting.  He’s inviting us into a whole new paradigm, in which giving, praying and fasting aren’t the point.  And we are not the point.  Our Father is.  And the goodness of the deed is.  But our selves and our “glory” is cleared out of the way.

It is in Jesus, and in His Sonship before the Father, that we find true freedom from status anxiety.  We’re free from the need to prove ourselves, from the glory of men.  And this freedom is a freedom for the life of the Son – a life of giving where our left hand doesn’t even know what our right hand is doing.

Love your enemies

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Luke 6:27-36; Matthew 5:38-48

What does divine perfection look like?

Usually we think of God’s perfect nature as that which excludes.  You know the sort of thing – “God is perfect, you are not.  You’ve got a snowflakes chance in hell with a perfect God, etc, etc.”

When we think like this it shows that we don’t really like God very much. I mean, we hate the idea of a ‘perfect’ person don’t we?  Because the person we imagine is someone who can’t tolerate imperfection. Perfection, to our way of thinking, is actually pretty unattractive.  It’s austere and distant.  Everything is in its right place but there’s no room for mess.  No room, in other words, for us.

On this view perfection is the enemy of that which is broken, faulty, sinful.  God’s perfection, we think, excludes.

But listen to how Jesus teaches on the perfection of God.  He begins by speaking of our lives, but ends up speaking about God.  Notice the logical connection…

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Did you notice what it is that makes our heavenly Father perfect?  The word “therefore” in verse 48 is important.  All the behaviour of verses 43-47 is meant to be our human equivalent to God’s perfection.  And what do verses 43-47 describe?

Love for enemies, blessings for cursers, charity towards haters, prayer for persecutors.  If we do these things we are “children of our Father” – chips off the old Block!  Because here’s the point:  In what does God’s perfection consist?  Answer:  His love for enemies.  See how Luke records this same saying: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”  God’s perfection is His mercy.

Divine perfection is not exclusive – it’s inclusive.  Jesus reveals the nature of God’s perfection.  It is to have mercy on rotten sinners, bless the cursers, do good to the haters, pray for the persecutors.  In short, God’s perfection is His love for enemies.

And if we ever doubted that we only need look to the cross where the divine majesty shines at full strength.  There we see arms outstretched to a disobedient and obstinate people (Romans 10:21).  The glory of God is His grace.  The perfection of God is His love for enemies.

And when we get that through our thick skulls, then we’ll start being like our merciful God.

Going the extra mile

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Matthew 5:38-48

We think “going the extra mile” means giving 5-star service when much less would do.  It’s when you go “above and beyond” the call of duty to offer something special.

But that’s not really what it meant originally.   Here’s how Jesus puts it in the sermon on the mount:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”   (Matthew 5:38-41)

Jesus is giving us three parallel responses to being wronged.  We are to “turn the other cheek” to violent aggressors; to give our cloak to malicious suitors and to “go the extra mile” with whoever is “compelling” us.

It’s not hard to imagine such “compulsion” in first century Judea – Roman soldiers perhaps asking Jews to carry their heavy packs for the next mile.  And when they told you to “go a mile” they weren’t asking, they were “compelling”!

So what should the Christ-follower do?  They should say “A mile?  Tell you what, you look like you’re tired, why don’t I carry it two miles?  It looks like you could do with a break.”

“Going the extra mile” is not about putting in extra hours to impress the boss.   Unless, that is, it was a bullying boss who was “compelling” you to work beyond what was reasonable.

Imagine if we responded to the bullying boss with some “tit for tat”.  Our boss compels us to work under unreasonable conditions.  We grudgingly submit to their regime, but get back at them in other ways.  What will be the response?  Surely a perpetuation of the cycle – evil for evil for more evil for more evil, and so on.

Or imagine if we responded by shrinking back – passively taking on burden after burden.  We never say anything because we don’t want a confrontation and it grinds us down into the dirt.

Some people imagine that this is what Jesus is suggesting here.  Instead, Jesus wants there to be a confrontation.  But a very different confrontation – it’s the shock of being presented with a willing sacrifice. This is the third way to respond.  And it would never naturally occur to us.  Jesus says, Shock the boss by working over over-time.  That’s very different.

It’s not answering evil with evil.  It’s not accepting evil as the norm.  It’s confronting evil with good.  It’s standing firm in unconditional blessing. Only this breaks the cycle of evil.   Because it says to the bully:

It hasn’t worked has it?  You want me to diminish myself – either by descending to your level, or bowing under your power-plays.  But here I am, rising above it with an unnatural buoyancy.  You have not won.  I have arrested the cycle of aggression.   I’m outmanoeuvring you.  I have entirely changed the terms on which we are relating.   And my grace will convict you more than justice ever could.

Over the past few days we’ve been seeing how Jesus is not only and not mainly a law-giver.  First and foremost Jesus is the Law-Accomplisher.  So how does Jesus go the extra mile?

Well, unjustly, the Roman soldiers compelled Him to carry a load that didn’t belong to Him.  And yet He did not merely take on Himself that burden.  He took the sins of the world on His shoulders.

For those with eyes to see it, we are confronted.  But the confrontation is not “payback” for our evil.  We’re confronted when we see His willing sacrifice.  We were the aggressors shouting out “Crucify Him”.  And He “repays” us by opening wide His arms.  It’s not His justice but His grace that shocks us, and we are won.

“Going the extra mile” is not about hard work.  And it’s not about bowing to injustices.  It’s the counter-conditional grace that shocks and wins the world.

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Exodus 21:12-36; Matthew 5:38-48

When we were moving through Exodus we came across the Old Testament law: “an eye for an eye.”  It limited the kind of retribution the injured party could pursue.  The law says you may exact only as much as it cost you.  There is to be no escalation of violence according to the law of Moses.

But here in Matthew, Jesus ‘fills full’ the law of reciprocity.  He doesn’t just seek to limit the payback we seek.  He tells us to pay back in a completely different way.  To answer evil with good:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39)

Here’s what Jesus is saying:

When you are struck…

  • don’t strike back, take the blow
  • don’t protect yourself, expose yourself
  • don’t lead with justice, lead with mercy
  • don’t retreat into safety, advance into danger
  • don’t retaliate with strength, retaliate with weakness
  • don’t shrink into self-pity, move out into self-giving
  • don’t insist on your rights, open yourself to wrong
  • don’t cower in defeat, hold fast in meekness
  • don’t stand on your dignity, stand on your shame
  • don’t harden into bitterness, soften into tenderness

.

  • be defiantly peaceable
  • be immovably vulnerable
  • be steadfastly gracious
  • be victoriously wounded
  • be like Jesus.

Who, when we lashed out at Him…

  • did not come in violence, nor remain in indifference
  • did not strike back, nor shrink back
  • did not retaliate, nor harden

.

He absorbed the blow

And He turned again to us.

He upheld His offer.

Arms outstretched, even to His killers.

Especially them

Only them

You, even.

.

There is strength in this weakness.

Strength to redeem the world.

.

It begins with surrender.

Laying down your arms.

Receiving His peace.

.

It continues with service.

Following His way.

Absorbing your own blows.

Today.  Every day.  Turning your cheek.

To this you are called.

.

To be lower than a door-mat.  Far lower.

A door-mat is passive

But you throw yourself under the feet of your enemies.

.

To be lower than a slave.  Far lower.

A slave walks his allotted mile grumbling in his heart.

You walk two miles with a glint in your eyes.

For you know the power of this weakness.

It reconciles the world.

Turn the other cheek

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Exodus 21:12-36; Matthew 5:38-48

When we were moving through Exodus we came across the Old Testament law: “an eye for an eye.”  It limited the kind of retribution the injured party could pursue.  The law says you may exact only as much as it cost you.  There is to be no escalation of violence according to the law of Moses.

But here in Matthew, Jesus ‘fills full’ the law of reciprocity.  He doesn’t just seek to limit the payback we seek.  He tells us to pay back in a completely different way.  To answer evil with good:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39)

Here’s what Jesus is saying:

When you are struck…

  • don’t strike back, take the blow
  • don’t protect yourself, expose yourself
  • don’t lead with justice, lead with mercy
  • don’t retreat into safety, advance into danger
  • don’t retaliate with strength, retaliate with weakness
  • don’t shrink into self-pity, move out into self-giving
  • don’t insist on your rights, open yourself to wrong
  • don’t cower in defeat, hold fast in meekness
  • don’t stand on your dignity, stand on your shame
  • don’t harden into bitterness, soften into tenderness

.

  • be defiantly peaceable
  • be immovably vulnerable
  • be steadfastly gracious
  • be victoriously wounded
  • be like Jesus.

Who, when we lashed out at Him…

  • did not come in violence, nor remain in indifference
  • did not strike back, nor shrink back
  • did not retaliate, nor harden

.

He absorbed the blow

And He turned again to us.

He upheld His offer.

Arms outstretched, even to His killers.

Especially them

Only them

You, even.

.

There is strength in this weakness.

Strength to redeem the world.

.

It begins with surrender.

Laying down your arms.

Receiving His peace.

.

It continues with service.

Following His way.

Absorbing your own blows.

Today.  Every day.  Turning your cheek.

To this you are called.

.

To be lower than a door-mat.  Far lower.

A door-mat is passive

But you throw yourself under the feet of your enemies.

.

To be lower than a slave.  Far lower.

A slave walks his allotted mile grumbling in his heart.

You walk two miles with a glint in your eyes.

For you know the power of this weakness.

It reconciles the world.

Hell fire

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Matthew 5:21-48

To put it mildly, hell is a stark reality. But, considered rightly, it’s also one of the most liberating doctrines in the Bible.  To understand it can bring health to your soul.  But you might need some convincing about that…

We’ve already said that modern people seem far more fearful of “fire and brimstonepreaching than of “fire and brimstone” itself.  But the fires of which the Bible speaks are the flames of God’s jealous love.  The LORD who says “I am a Jealous God” burns with zeal for His people.  Those on the inside of this fierce, committed, marital bond experience it as the sunshine of His love.  Those on the outside experience it as a consuming judgement – hell fire.

But who is “hell fire” for?

One answer from Matthew’s Gospel is this: “the devil and his angels”.  In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats.  He speaks of Himself as the Judge of the world who will finally and fearfully separate humanity into only two groups.  This is His final word to those condemned (the “goats”):

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”  (Matthew 25:41)

Hell fire is for Satan and his servants.

In the popular imagination hell is full of devils with pitchforks prodding humans.  This is not Christ’s picture.  The devil and his angels are not the jailers of hell, they are chief among those punished.  Indeed, first and foremost, hell is the judgement reserved for these supernatural enemies of God.

In a very deep sense, hell fire is not for human beings.

Yet, soberingly, in another sense, hell fire is for all of us, and even in all of us.

The context of the phrase is the sermon on the mount.  Jesus proclaims the Good Life from the mountain, like Moses before Him.  Yet, unlike Moses, Jesus also proclaims Himself to be the Fulfiller and Accomplisher of the law.

So from Matthew 5, verses 21-48 He fills full the law of Moses, contrasting what was said in the Old Testament (ye have heard that it was said) with His own filled-out interpretation (but I say unto you).  Verses 21-22 fall within this whole “filling full” section:

“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:  and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council:  but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”  (Matthew 5:21-22)

Someone might have read “Thou shalt not murder” as a simple prohibition against homicide, but, says Jesus, it’s much deeper.  And so is our sin.  Similarly, (v27-28), you might understand “Thou shalt not commit adultery” as a command to stay out of other people’s bedrooms.  But it’s deeper than that, and so is our depravity.

Every lustful thought shows me to be tangled up in sin and Satan and heading for “the judgement.”  Every angry word convicts me that I deserve “hell fire”.  Not those wicked people over there - me!  To say to another human being “Idiot!” is truly damnable.  In fact it is the unleashing of the powers of damnation, as James would say:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity:  so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:5-6)

Hell fire is not simply a destination – there and then.  It is a power, here and now, the influence of which we all feel.  That should make us shudder.  Hell is a power that we often wield – even we who belong to Jesus!   And it’s a power that grips the whole world.

The judgement of the wicked will not be the consignment of sinners into the hands of some foreign power.  It will be a case of leaving sinners in the hands of their life-long master.  Hell fire is not just there and then, it’s also here and now.

So when our anger or lust or any sin condemns us, we should feel it very keenly.  It is sulphurous evil that belongs to the deepest pit.  We haven’t merely made a mistake or committed some religious faux pas.  We have proven a natural bent to evil whose end is utter destruction.  Given this understanding of the seriousness of sin, we must give up the pretence of piety and confess that it’s hell we deserve and hell which bubbles out of us.

When we do this, we begin to know the health-giving power of the doctrine of hell.  It shows us our smallness and our complete inability to save ourselves.  We can’t insulate ourselves from hell fire – the problem is within.  Such a realization ought to make us despair of ourselves and our own religious powers. And it ought to drive us to Christ.

It’s then that we realise: Jesus not only filled full the law, He also accomplished it.  He practiced the kingdom-life that He preached – a life of peace and purity.  A life that brings my hellish sin into sharp relief.

And then on the cross He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This means He became the world’s most heinous murderer… and sex offender and… insert the name of your sins here.

Christ fought fire with fire – and it’s the only power to save hell-bent sinners.

The doctrine of hell powerfully takes the focus off me.  I cannot quench the consuming fire.  When I face my sin properly I realise that my life does not douse the flames – it’s fuel.  Hell is so much bigger than me.  But then, Christ is bigger still!

When I stop trusting myself and cry out in helplessness, then ‘hell fire’ has done its work.  When I see the hell He bore on the cross, that’s when I understand His work.  At that point, ‘hell fire’ has liberated me. I’m freed from a focus on self and brought to see the magnitude of my Saviour.

 

Every jot and tittle

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Galatians 3:26-4:7; Matthew 5:17-20

We might say “He dotted every i and crossed every t”.  A Hebrew speaker would say “He swished every jot and swirled every tittle.”

“Jot” was the smallest Hebrew letter (the letter yod).  “Tittle” was the smallest stroke of a pen – a tiny flourish that was the only distinguishing mark between the two most similar Hebrew letters.  And Jesus says, when it comes to the law, He is an absolute stickler for every word, every letter, every speck of Moses.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:  I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)

Notice that Jesus does not say that He is a law keeper.  No, He is much more than that.  He is the law-fulfiller.  He doesn’t merely abide by it.  He fills it full.  What does that mean?

Well, imagine that we go to the pub.  We stand at the bar and you hand me a pint glass.  That could mean one of two things depending on whether or not the glass was full.  If you hand me an empty glass then I know you’re making a demand, it must be my round.  I have to pay to fill up your glass.

But if you hand me a full glass, then that’s a gift for me to enjoy.  With a full glass I take it within myself and enjoy its benefits.

It’s the same with the law.  Jesus has not come not to abolish the law. Through baptism and temptation Jesus has stepped into our shoes to repent and believe at our Head.  He has come as the true Israel to live the life of faith and obedience in our place and on our behalf.  He does the very opposite of abolishing the law.  He submits Himself to it in every way and He hammers out in His flesh a perfect legal obedience.  Here is the Lord of Moses coming under the law of Moses and doing it right – filling it full.

This is vital to understand.  Because Jesus is about to preach His interpretation of the law and it is pure, concentrated legal perfection (Matthew 5:17-48).  What are we meant to do when Jesus turns up the heat on the old standards?  He says, Don’t just refrain from homicide – never hate.  He says, Don’t just refrain from adultery – never lust.  He says, Be perfect just as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Do we try to be sticklers for this law?  Fastidious keepers of “every jot and tittle”?  Well, Jesus is calling us to more than this, not less.  Jesus is handing us law.  But it is law that is brim-full with His finished work.  His peace and purity and perfection fills up and fills out every demand.

If it came from Moses’ hand it could only condemn us.  If we take it as our demand, it will only kill us.  But it comes from the hand of Jesus who has filled the law full with His own spotless life and death.

Now we receive it from Jesus as the gift of righteous living to be received by faith.  Here is the righteousness that fills we thirsty souls (Matthew 5:6).  He fills every demand and overflows to us in grace.

As the Apostle Paul says:

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  (Galatians 4:4-7)