Tuesday, January 27, 2009

01/20 - A Carpenter Talks about Building a Life

Matthew 7:1-12

Jesus knew nothing was sadder than watching a person’s life crash in the storms of life. He also knew nothing was more magnificent than a person facing life’s storms with strength and courage.

Certainly he had watched people in his village, even some in his own family, go through such storms, and he, like any of us, had faced some of life’s troubles. We know one great crisis he faced—his temptation in the desert.

Jesus thought a person made choices that determined the overall quality of life he or she lived. Earlier, he had described this as picking one of two roads for life. Here, with different imagery, he said a person builds a life like a carpenter builds a house. When good choices—that is, putting the words of Jesus into practice—are made during construction, a grand, strong life is created.

Some of Jesus’ teachings directly related to possible life crises; for example, worry, broken marriage, and oppression and abuse. All of his teachings built the inner strength necessary to face them.

To some, Jesus’ claim about the power of his words might sound like a most astounding display of ego. The listening crowd recognized that he assumed for himself the right to simply say what was true on any topic without any reference to precedent or other authority. He spoke as if he knew more about God’s thoughts than anyone else, including their religious leaders.

The most noticeable assumption of authority by Jesus was seen when he expanded on current religious teaching. He quoted the teaching (“You have heard …”) and then expanded it (“but I tell you…”) without any logical argument, reference to religious authorities, or statement of precedent.

Normally, people are put off by this type of attitude. However, the crowds listening to Jesus were at least fascinated by him, and some thought he spoke hope into their lives and made sense like nothing they had heard before.

Jesus the carpenter knew how to build a house that would withstand rain and flood. Jesus the teacher knew how to build a human life that would withstand storms of crises.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

01/19 - Life is Like a Journey

Matthew 7:13-23

Was Jesus angry at people who did not do what he thought they should? Was he threatening them?

Typically this passage is interpreted as if he was angry at those on the wrong road and was threatening them with hell.

Previously in the sermon, Jesus used “life” referring to the existence we now experience and its quality, not what we will experience after death. When he talked about “the road … to life” and “the road … to destruction,” it was likely in relationship to the quality of life he had been teaching about earlier in the sermon.

Jesus, a keen observer of human nature, had noticed that each person fits in one of two categories. Some people tend to make day-by-day choices that led to the quality of life he had been teaching about. Others make choices that bring destruction to their life, especially to the inward, spiritual part.

It was as if each person he met was on a road, some on a road leading to life and others on a road leading to destruction of all that is glorious about being a human. And, he had noticed it is easier for a person to get on the road to destruction than the road to life.

Jesus’ reference to “false prophets” probably meant the respectable religious people who had become spiritual leaders, a group he had already mentioned in 5:21. Several times earlier in the sermon when he said, “you have heard…,” he likely was referring to their teachings.

Jesus’ warning about spiritual leaders was very important to the common folks because, sensing intuitively the principle about the two roads, they naturally turned to established religious leaders for help.

He urged the common folks not to take the righteousness of these leaders at face value but to put them under the microscope to see what was true. This was a turnaround—religious leaders usually do the testing, mainly of the lives of their followers.

Jesus said these false prophets would come to believe they were the image they projected. When his kingdom, based on heavenly principles, would soon be revealed, they would assume they had the right to enter. He would personally block their entrance.

No, Jesus was not threatening people about wrong choices; he was describing, more with sadness than anger, the true human condition. He was willing to do anything to get a person on the right road for a journey to new life.