Weekly sermon synopsis and sermon text
The many keen observers of the Bethlehem bulletin will notice that the text I preach on today, Matthew 5:17-20, is not the assigned text Matthew 5:21-37. In fact we heard today’s sermon text last week after the section on us being salt and light (Mathew 5:17-20).The thing is, Matthew 5:17-20 is too important to skip over, but too different to the salt and light section to combine into one sermon of less than 17 minutes. Someone I respect a lot suggests that the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and the salt and light exhortation (Matthew 5:13-16) act as the Gospel introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). From there, Matthew 5:17-20 introduces a new topic: Jesus’ relationship to God’s law and his authority to proclaim God’s will for us. This in turn acts as an introduction to the 6 so-called ‘antithesis’ found in Matthew 5:21-48 on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, ‘an eye for an eye’ and love for enemies. Ok! So if that’s all a bit intense the thing to know from today’s sermon text is that Jesus shows us the depth of God’s love in his radical restatement of God’s commands in Matthew 5:21-48. Moreover, only he can keep it, which he will do for us as part of the salvation he gains for us. He also points to faith in him being what allows us to enter the kingdom of heaven, rather than the requirement to be even more righteous than the extremely righteous pharisees and teachers of the law (who did not believe in him). Faith, not works. Interesting how faith produces works though…
This week we move onto the next section of the sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). He tells us ‘Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). Some parts of scripture can be ‘hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:16). This is not one of them! Three things about letting your light shine: 1) When you don’t, repent and seek God’s forgiveness and know you have received. 2) When you do, know indeed that you give glory to God. 3) If you do either (1) or (2), know that God blesses you (Matthew 5:3)… but reflect on what a thing it is not to grieve God, give glory to him and be blessed out of that!
Rich pickings: The readings this week are, as ever, beautiful and profound. I commend all of them to you for your quiet devotion time. I suggest especially that the Isaiah 58:1-12 reading would richly fill you with God’s spirit of encouragement and restoration. It has been a difficult summer with, among other things, heat, bushfire, coronavirus and awful tragedies in the news. All this on top of your own personal difficulties you’ve had to address or maybe are running from! So allow God to speak a new word and restore. For this is the promise of what Christ has done, in which we have a generous share (Matthew 5:3): ‘Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in’ (Isaiah 58:12)
The theme of our readings this week, the fourth Sunday of Epiphany where we continue to focus on key events in Jesus’ early ministry and the way that through them he shines a new light on the world, could be summarised as showing how God’s kingdom comes in the complete opposite of the circumstances we would expect. The sermon today will ‘unpack’ the first Beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). It’s a summary of salvation. Its a reminder God’s kingdom is already amongst us. It’s a statement about the needy state of all of humankind. And a brilliant way of interpreting the rest of the Sermon on the Mount with its many commandments (this is not yet a commandment). If you get the bulletin in advance, have a think about how this beatitude related to the Epistle today: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. Difficult to think you wouldn’t find that profitable!
In today’s Gospel we go back to the prologue or the Gospel of John one last time before moving on from the Christmas season to Epiphany starting Monday 6 January. The verse in focus for this last sermon of the Christmas season will be this little summary of what at God’s heart was different about Jesus to compared with all his prior direct revelation ‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17).
Jesus’s life was threatened on more than one occasion. In today’s sermon text of Matthew 2:13-23 we’ll look at the first time it was threatened whereby a jealous King Herod gave the horrendous order to kill all the babies in and around Bethlehem that were two years or under. What do you think the shepherds of the fields of Bethlehem who heard the angelic chorus proclaiming peace thought of this? Maybe a little confused. No doubt they were in grief if it were their own children slaughtered – we don’t know if they had children and they were among the slaughtered innocent, but they may have. One thing is for certain: Jesus’ entry into the world certainly unsettled things. Yet in the wicked cruelty of Herod are we not reminded why we need Christ? And in God’s protection of Jesus, that God is indeed sovereign and will not have his plan thwarted?