Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.
Ok, now, the subject of the kingdom is not something that we can successfully deal with in full. I tried to be impressionistic and make some main points. I hope that as you become alert to it, you will then as you read your scriptures you will see how it is everywhere. And you will pick up on the language that is used; for example, Jesus says to a certain lawyer in Mark 12:34, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” It’s interesting to know that people may be more or less close to it, and those kinds of points…Luke 11:20: “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then know that the kingdom of God has come upon you.” So think about those verses.
“People shall come from east to west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and you will be shut out.” Hmm, what does that mean? Sounds like hell. No. It may have something to do with it. That’s Matthew 8:11-12. “People shall come from the east to the west”—you know, that was like slapping them in the face. Those were non-Jews, and they’re going to sit down there with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and you’re going to be shut out. You’re a Jew, and you’re going to be shut out. What went wrong? [2:01]
So that helps you think about the kingdom of God now. Remember that the kingdom of God is from everlasting to everlasting. It does not begin. It does not end. Jesus did not start the kingdom of God. What Jesus did was make it available beyond human arrangements. He made it available. So, “Whosoever heareth shout the sound, sing the joyful tidings, all the world around…Whosever will may come.”
So you come, and like the prodigal son, the bath comes after the hug. That’s the kingdom. What is the kingdom of God? It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? That means it’s a kind of righteousness, a kind of peace, and a kind of joy that you cannot do without the presence of the Holy Spirit. You can’t do it. Nobody can. That’s why Jesus just says, “Look, everyone will know you’re my disciples because you love one another.” He didn’t say any other thing as the sign of the disciple except a kind of quality of love. When you understand that then you’re easy with old John’s statement in 1 John 4: “Love is of God. Whosoever loveth is born of God and knows God.” If you don’t love, you don’t know God.
Now of course that means also that because you love you keep his commandments, because that’s what love does. You don’t start with the commandments; you start with love. The commandments come out the end of the pipe. But it’s love, see. So there are some things you know in the Bible that I’m glad were not left for me to say, because they can sound pretty mean. Listen to this: “The one who says ‘I have come to know him’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Now I didn’t say that. I would not have the courage to say that. That’s why I read it to you. [4:56] That’s 1 John 2:4.
So, the kingdom stuff is the heart of everything. And we need to teach it, talk it, live it, let that be our message. That is the gospel. That’s the gospel: the kingdom is at hand. Where is it at hand? As far as I know, Jesus. Right? Now if you’ve got something that does it, well, that’s for you to worry about. Someone says can you be saved without knowledge of Jesus? Well, if you deserve it, you will be saved. Anyone who deserves it will be saved. Let’s give that one, ok? And then now the weight is who deserves it.
The Role Of The Law
So, as far as I know if someone asks me, I’ll say, “Well, what I would do if I wanted to enter the kingdom is I would start putting into practice the things that Jesus said.” And they’ll say, “Well, what do you mean by that? We should keep the law?” Well, actually if you try sincerely, you will be led into the kingdom. Just try the Ten Commandments for two days; you will be thrown upon the mercy of God. Because you’re surrounded in a world, and you’re probably full of habits that are contrary to them. But actually if you want to be a saint just pick the next thing you know to be right and do it, and go on from there. You’ll be a saint in no time. [6:48] Because you won’t be able to do it, except interactively with God.
See, the law is our teacher: our schoolmaster, actually. That language there is a little—it’s hard to put that into English, because it refers to the practice of families that had a person, usually a slave or a servant in their household, that would walk their children to their teacher. The teacher actually was the schoolmaster, but they had someone who walked them to them. That’s why we have the word pedagogue, you know—peda, your feet. A pedagogue takes you to Christ, and that’s…You know, a standard way of presenting the Sermon on the Mount, which I’m eventually going to talk about, is to say that it will beat you to pieces and make you give up your self-righteous projects, and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Well, that’s conceivable, but I think there’s a great deal more to it than that. But many people present Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as if he was meaner than Moses. He might have beat Moses, but Jesus would get you, because he’ll go right into your heart. He won’t just look at your behavior. It won’t be enough you didn’t kill someone; you have to not be angry with someone. Jesus really drives you to the cross in that way of thinking.
Well, I think that’s a sad misinterpretation of the role of the law. Now, it’s true that the law is primarily meant for people who don’t keep it, as Paul says in 1 Tim. That’s where it really takes hold, but of course it also teaches us how to be people who do keep it. [9:09] It doesn’t give us life; life is not in the law, but it can drive us to what does, and it should bring us through knowledge to Christ, and then he is the door. Right? The kingdom opens up. Now, when you teach this—I hope you will teach it—you will find that children, young people, understand it more quickly than anyone.
And you want to teach the kingdom to children, and you teach it in terms of their kingdom. You want to teach them about kingdom, they’ll pick up on it immediately, because they are so conscious about what they have say over. And you take a kid in middle school or high school, and say, “Well, do you have a locker? Do you have a backpack?” And if they do you say, “Well, I want to go see your locker. And then they open the locker and you start taking things out and putting them in your pocket, and ask them, “Now how do you feel about that?” I often do that in talks; I’ll step down and get someone’s bag and start going through it. You feel immediately the violation of your kingdom, because you have say over what’s in that bag. I don’t. That’s your queendom.
If you don’t have that, you can’t be a person. That’s why slavery—or even further, what we call brainwashing—is one of the greatest violations you can make of human personality, because what is true of a slave is they’re not even king over their own body. Brainwashing, you’re not even the king over your own thoughts. See, it is essential to the person that they have a kingdom. Now then, your next step can be how you’re doing with your kingdom. I like to use that to approach people, instead of, “If you died tonight, where would you go?” I say, “How are you doing in your kingdom? What’s going to happen to you if you don’t die tonight?” So those are ways of just getting at this very important material.
The Great Questions In The Sermon on the Mount
Now, Jesus is a great teacher, and he gave us a summary of many of his great teachings in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t a very big mount; those of you have been there, that what they call the Sermon on the Mount is hardly a mount at all. It’s more like a mound; the Sermon on the Mound would be better.
But now, going back to our big questions any great teacher must teach: the nature of reality, who is well off, blessedness, the good life, who is a really good person, and how to become a really good person. Every great teacher—why is that true? Because those are the questions every individual has to answer. You get out of bed in the morning and answer those questions. You go through your day answering those questions. If you don’t do it mentally, you do it by action. Your actions show what you’re assuming to be the answer to all of those questions.
Every great teacher has to answer them. So you look at the list—I listed Plato, Buddha and Freud—they answer those questions. Sometimes they don’t do them implicitly. Sometimes they are presented as great discoverers. [13:13] Plato was thought to have discovered the realm of absolute truth and reality, what he called the Forms. And then that’s the guide to who’s well off, that’s the guide to who’s a good person, that’s the guide to how you get to be a good person. Live with the Forms. And you’re told, “Well, you did that before you got here, and picked up this piece of dripping suffering thing called your body,” which was not good for Plato, and you wanted to get out and not come back; he was a reincarnationist. And in that other realm you knew the Forms, and if you can bring your memory of them up to snuff, you will have a good life, you will be a good person. So how do you get to be a good person? Well, Plato’s dialectic. The dialectic is the winch of the soul that raises it up and fixes it on what is good.
See, I’m just illustrating, ok? Now, no matter who the teacher is, they teach that. Freud discovered, supposedly, something called the subconscious or unconscious mind. It’s a reality. Who is well off? Someone who’s not driven nuts by their subconscious conflicts. And so you go and you answer—how do you become a really good person? Well, the talking cure, they call it. You come and lie on this couch for an hour every week and pay me $500. Used to be cheaper. And in time we will reweave your mind, and you will be blessed. And that’s oversimplifying it, but you see; that’s the way it all works.
The Nature Of Reality In the Sermon on the Mount
Now what I want you to understand is that Jesus does that same thing; that exact same thing. And we’ve talked about the nature of reality, the vision of reality, God and his kingdom. That’s it. Then you can recognize that in events, learn how to live in that, and who’s well off? Someone who’s living in the kingdom of God, living in God’s hands. So for this world, as bad as it is, it’s a perfectly safe place to be for anyone who is alive in the kingdom of God. And so Jesus stands and says, “Well, why are you worried? Why are you worried? Why are you worrying?” And you think of Alfred E. Neuman with the arrow through his head, and saying, “Who, me worry?” You think; that’s not Jesus.
So now, that’s the Sermon on the Mount. It fits into this, and that’s what I want you to understand. He is answering these questions, and before he gets to the Sermon, he’s already said what reality is, and now he’s going to tell you what it’s like to live in it. [16:40]
So, one of the things that it will help you to do is to remember that this really is a sermon. And the guy who gave it was really smart. And he really knew what he was doing. One of the things that happens when you become a scholar is you get views about the text of the Bible. And that view is pretty glum for the most part. And the last thing you get is it was composed by someone who is intelligent. You have what I call the bird nest theory of biblical text. You know, a bird makes a nest and gets a little string over here, maybe a feather here, and a leaf here, and a twig there, some straw, and that’s the way people think about the biblical text. Who did it? They don’t know, but that’s their theory.
And that’s the way most scholarship will read the Sermon on the Mount. And what they will do is pick over this part and that part and the other, and talk about where that came from, and so forth. But you need to think the thought that this is a sermon. You need to think how you could preach it as a sermon, and actually it wouldn’t be a bad thing to do that. It would be shocking to your congregation, but it might do you some real good. Just walk in one day and just preach the Sermon on the Mount. Say Amen, and walk out.
See, the impact of the whole is much greater than a little dribble here, and so on. Because it really is tied together. It’s a coherent presentation. It is mainly focused on questions two and three. And the beatitudes are number two, but they are presented as proclamations of number one. [19:01]
Who Is Blessed?
And now we have the question of how do we access reality; in order to do that you need to understand something that the world has got all wrong, and that is, where is blessedness? And the world today, of course, is laden with commercialism, and you might be watching the boob tube, and someone come on and say, “You would be blessed if you owned an Audi.” And so we have lots of messages from the world. Now, the world’s version of who’s blessed is given in Luke 6, along with the version of the kingdom. It always starts out the same. “Woe be to you who are rich.” Now, that’s not what you learned at school, is it? No, “Blessed are the rich.” Jesus says, “Woe be.”
“Woe be to you who laugh now.” Well, who’s blessed according to the world? Are you having a good time? Woe be to those that have good reputation, the world speaks well of you. See, that’s a list of things that the world normally says, “Yeah, you got those…man, you got money, you’re in good health, you’re having a good time, people think well of you…” And Jesus says, “not necessarily.” Not necessarily. See, he’s inverting the order of blessedness. And now, who is blessed in the kingdom of God? The people normally not thought to be blessed in the world. This is upside down, see?
Now, think of how many times Jesus used that language: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Well, the first in what? The first in the order of the world may well be the last in the order of the kingdom. The last in the order of the world may very well be the first in the order of the kingdom. The Beatitudes are a proclamation that when you enter the kingdom, suddenly people who were thought not to be blessed are blessed. And you have a little ambiguity between Luke and Matthew, and I think that’s designed to cover the ground, because Matthew gives the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Now you should read this like that: “Blessed are those who ain’t got nothing going for them spiritually, because they too may have the kingdom of God.” And having the kingdom of God is enough for them to be blessed. Luke strips it all down and says “poor,” but actually they are closely related, because the people who wind up blessed spiritually ways that humans would understand that are actually usually people who are not poor. Have you ever noticed? And you can find people who are devoted by profession to poverty, but they live in places like this. Right? Now, they’re not poor spiritually, and that’s why they get to live in places like this. To have nothing going for them spiritually. Who is the best illustration of that? The people Jesus picked as his apostles. [23:16]
So when you think, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” think about Peter out there in his boat. These guys smelling like fish, they’re the ones. They had nothing going for them. They were in an interesting age; they were past the age when people got picked as disciples of an outstanding rabbi. They were past that age. They had flunked their GREs, and they hadn’t made it. See, spiritual things in that beatitude refers to ability to know the scripture and have standing and reputation with people, and tell them what to do, and preach and talk and pray and administer the sacraments and all that sort of thing. That’s the spiritual goodies. And Jesus says, “Oh no no no. There are people who don’t have any of that, and they are blessed, because they have the kingdom.” You understand?
Now, talking to a group of people who are like that. When you read the Sermon, you want to look at the crowd. And the crowd was really quite a bunch. They had lunatics. Sick people. They had come from all over the countryside to Jesus, to receive his ministry. Put it in context: Jesus always teaches concretely and contextually. And what he’s doing with the Beatitudes is show and tell, because he could pick them out of the crowd, and there probably were not three people in that large crowd who thought they were spiritually well off. They were spiritually destitute. And Jesus is looking at them and saying, “Yours is the kingdom of God.”
Now, he’s not saying that everyone who’s poor in spirit is blessed. That’s where you have to understand how he teaches. You cannot understand what Jesus teaches unless you understand how he teaches. And he does not teach primarily by giving generalizations. We are afflicted with that idea, and we impose it upon other cultures that would never think the thought. We are afflicted with a certain idea of teaching: well, you start with the generalizations, you get those all right, and then you add the less specifics and you get down here. No, Jesus is actually deflating generalizations. And he does that by picking cases. And he gently puts the pin in the balloon and lets it go off.
What’s the generalization here? You got money; you got it made. You got money; you got it made. They used to run an ad in the LA Times: “Pursue happiness in a car that can catch it.” It was a Peugeot ad. Pursue happiness. What a ridiculous idea! Have you ever looked at Peugeot drivers? Do they look to you like they’re happy? No. But see, that’s manipulative. That’s how human beings work. And Jesus just very gently puts the pin in. But if you don’t understand that, you’ll go away saying, “Well, if I’m going to be blessed, I’d better be poor.” You understand what I’m saying?
See, because that’s what happened. And you find very distinguished, high-priced teachers saying that if you are rich you’re going to split hell wide open. I mean, a very famous man who I think since has learned better, I hope, Alasdair MacIntyre, just says that in his writings: You can’t be rich and go to heaven. Well, he’s actually being trapped in by a whole lot of stuff in the atmosphere, like it’s all about going to heaven anyway. And when we’re talking about the kingdom of heaven and what goes into it and how it works, we’re not talking about heaven after you die. It’s related, but when Jesus says, “Unless you repent and become like a little child you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 18, he’s not saying when you die you won’t go to heaven. There are other things at issue in life than going to heaven.
Another very important issue is would you like it if you got there? Everyone just automatically assumes if they can just get in the door, they can wipe the sweat off of their brow and say, “Whew! I made it” and don’t even have to look around and see what’s there. You might not like it! It’s very strange that people who think they can live their whole life here not liking God will like him when they get to heaven.
So there are a lot of issues here. And Jesus is talking about the kingdom, and the Beatitudes are opening doorways for people. Getting rid of the illusions of where genuine blessedness is. Where is it? Well, you can be poor and be blessed, right? Now, you know, anyone with half a brain would know that, because there are actually people who are poor, and are blessed. In fact probably most people who have lived on earth are in that position; if they’re blessed at all, if they’re happy, they’re poor. They don’t exclude one another. And you know, lots and lots of rich people are miserable. They’re not blessed.
So the beatitudes are addressing this second question, who is really well off. It’s not a complete list, of “woe bes” or “blesseds.” You know, a teacher—and Jesus certainly was the top of the line—the important thing for a teacher is to not cram all the answers into people’s heads, but to give them the idea and turn them loose. See, that’s the teacher. Give them the idea and turn them loose. So now, one of the best things we can do to begin enriching our life in the kingdom of God is to write a set of Beatitudes for today. And you can write the “woe be’s” too. Now remember, we’re not saying everyone who—blankety blank—is blessed. We’re saying among those who are—blankety blank—there are some blessed. Right? [31:10]
So we have a silly list, “Blessed are the thin,” “Blessed are the people who’ve got hair,” so forth; maybe the Peugeot drivers. That’s a silly list; that’s the world’s list. Who are you going to put on that list? Who are the people in your world, in your congregations, in your constituency, who are pursing what they understand to be wellbeing, and they are deluded? They’re deluded. Who are those people? Who are the people in your world that are regarded as not blessed by their world, but they are blessed in the kingdom of God? Now, I’m going to suggest that you really while you’re here take at least half an hour and go sit down in some comfortable corner and write a list of beatitudes and “woe be’s”. You need to write them both.
The Beatitudes And The Nature Of The Kingdom
So Jesus is turning people to the kingdom. What are the Beatitudes? Basically, the Beatitudes are a proclamation of the nature of the kingdom. They’re proclamations. And they don’t give you a generalization, and say, “Well, you know, you go into the kingdom of God, and you see some people around there; here’s someone who’s mourning”—now, you know, you have to put realism in mourning, it isn’t like a turtledove going “coo, coo, coo;” mourning is where you’re turned inside out with grief. Mourning is what you do when your hopes die, when you’ve said goodbye, as the hymn says, “to the dearest on earth to me.” And you know that Jesus cares. I know he cares. His heart is touched with my grief. “Though my days are weary, my long nights dreary, I know that Jesus cares.” See? Blessed. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Now when you look at the Beatitudes in Matthew you want to recognize that they open with for “theirs is the kingdom” and closes with “theirs is the kingdom.” That’s the bookend. And everything in between, “they are comforted,” you always read in the kingdom. “Blessed are they that are merciful, for they shall receive mercy” in the kingdom. So it’ll help you to understand these if you will put that in after each one. They’re bookended with that. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” in the kingdom. Great is their reward in the kingdom. And remember that’s not just heaven after you die; it’s that for sure, and that’s really good there, but it’s here too.
So Paul, in his list of his troubles, could say, “sorrowful, but always rejoicing.” See, for the child of the kingdom, sorrow and joy are not contradictory. They come together. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. [35:03] You want to keep that in mind when you think about God, and you dare to think the thought that maybe God is happy. And it’s good to think that thought, because it counteracts the thought that he’s really quite morose and angry all the time. That’s not him. The universe is on the side of joy, and that’s where we can be.
When we live in the kingdom of God, we’re living interactively with God’s action. Our rule is harmonized with his rule. We’re doing things together, and that’s how our lives become eternal, because, now then, I have taken my life into his kingdom and he is acting with me, and I with him, and that’s where Christ is in us, and we’re in Christ, and Christ is in the Father, and our life is hid with Christ in God, and so forth. And see, all that makes sense now, because actually you sometimes can’t look at a person and see whether or not the kingdom is acting with them. Nicodemus thought he could, but he didn’t. He just knew a general truth: nobody can do this sort of thing unless God is with him. He wasn’t able to see that. It’s not visible; it’s invisible, see.
So, the Beatitudes are answers to this question. They are not an exhaustive list, and I do encourage you to write a list of Beatitudes and woe be’s that are for today. And actually, they will include most of the ones that Jesus gave, but we need to get this in the category of real life, and understand what he’s doing so we can go proclaim good news to people who have been written off from the human point of view. Blessed are those with AIDS. Really? Think that one through. Think of being able to go to someone with AIDS and say that. Try it on. I mean, live through the moment with them, and think what would have to be in your mind when you did that, so that you wouldn’t be just going to them and saying, “now, now.” You actually have some truth to give them that makes them understand that the blessing of God is available to them. Can you do that? Blessed are those just foreclosed on. Blessed are the jobless. And so forth. So that’s how you can really get into this, is to do that. [38:13]
Who Is A Good Person?
Now, the second question, or the third question, up there: Jesus devotes a lot more time to this, but you don’t want to go to this, “who’s a really good person,” until you’ve been through “who’s blessed.” You can’t be a really good person if you don’t get it straight about reality and who’s well off. Cause if you don’t get that straight, temptation will always defeat you. Sin will grab you, and take you in. So, Jesus as a good speaker has order in his teaching.
Now what he had said really had people’s minds going. Because now after giving the Beatitudes, he says to these people out in front of him—looks kind of like the fringes of a Benny Hinn meeting or something like that—and he says to these people, “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.” Boy, they never expected anyone to say that to them. If he had stood up and said, “Now you’re the dregs of the earth” they would have said, “Amen.”
But he doesn’t say that. He says, “You’re the salt of the earth; you’re the light of the world. A city set on a hill can’t be hid. A man doesn’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel. He puts it up here.” Who’s he talking about? You’re a lamp, and God has lit you, and God is going to put you up here, that’s where you are, and you’re going to be the light of the world. Where you are, there’s not going to be any light if you’re not it. There won’t be any salt if you’re not it. You’ve got a little space of time and space here, and that’s where you are the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world, but you don’t get off the hook. You can’t pawn it off on him.
Because that’s really what Genesis 1:26 is about, when he talks about reigning and responsibility. And that’s our future, that’s our eternity. [40:53] We are now reigning with Christ where we are. We are fulfilling the call of dominion. We’re doing it in love, and that means we are creating goodness wherever we go in the power of God. That’s what we’re doing. We do it where we live and work, not just at church. You get to be the light of the world when you’re not in church, see.
And they say, “Oy vey! This guy is preaching revolution.” Right? That’s what he was saying! I mean, he’s going to get the rabble up here and they’re going to go live in those big houses and get all the money. That’s a standing problem in human government. British government in the 1800s were struggling with what we call the franchise, that is who gets to vote. And really, only the aristocracy got to vote, and then the people got to saying, “Why shouldn’t the collier and the wheelwright and all these other…why shouldn’t they vote?” “Because if you let them vote, there’s a lot of them—they will take our money.” And do you know, they actually recommended a system of plural voting to head that off—that people with a college education had three votes, the wheelwright had one. And of course the women didn’t have any. Right? Those are big issues in government. Revolution. See, the 1800s and the 1900s were periods of revolution, and the main battle we’re now fighting in this world is often put in terms of revolution. Sharia law, that’s revolution. Ok?
So how are we going to handle this? And they said, “Well, you know, this guy is preaching…” No, Jesus said, “No, no. Don’t think that I am come to destroy the law.” Now you know when you say that, you say it when they’re thinking it, right? You say that because that’s what they’re thinking. And now what’s going to happen? Well, he said, “I am come to see how the law is fulfilled.” And the law as fulfilled will take care of revolutions. Revolutions as human devices, commonly said, always eat their own children. Which they generally do, because they are restricted to force, not power. Not power.
Now Jesus comes with the kingdom, and he says, “I’m going to redefine goodness in human terms for you.” So verse 5:20 in Matthew is the key to everything that now follows. Because the people he was talking to always thought in terms of the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and now he’s saying, “If you do not go beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee, you will not enter the kingdom of the heavens.”
We have to understand that verse. Once again, not talking about going to heaven when you die. He’s talking about entering an interactive relationship with the kingdom of God here and now. And he’s saying if you try to do that at the level of action, you’ll never make it. God will not meet you. He will not act with you. The righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee was a righteousness of action. [45:27] It was a righteousness that said if I can just control my actions, I’m ok. The righteousness of the kingdom moves not to actions, but to the source of actions. When you get to talking to people about spiritual disciplines it’s so hard to get them to understand that they are not about behavior modification. Behavior modification will happen if they are pursued in subjection to the kingdom and with Jesus as the teacher. That will happen. But that’s not what it’s about. You have to go to the sources of action, and this afternoon we’re going to get into that in more detail. You have to go to the sources of action and change the source.
Attitudes Of The Heart
Now Jesus, when he moves into that, he takes the two primary sources of wrong behavior, takes them first. Anger and lust. Those are the two things. Now if you pull those out of human life, nearly everything that’s done wrong will disappear. So he says, “The old law said you shall not kill.” Ok? So if you don’t kill, then you say, “I’m ok; I didn’t kill anybody.” So the old law says that. “Now, what do I say? I say unto you…” Now what’s he going to talk about? He’s going to talk about the inner conditions of the heart.
“I say unto you…” Get the wording right. “Who is angry with his brother”—and if you like the easy version, you can add “without cause”—“Who is angry with their brother, with or without cause, shall be guilty before the courts, and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’…Raca, what’s that? Well, this is an Aramaic term, and some people speculate it comes from the sound you make when you clear your throat to spit. Raca. It’s a term of contempt. You good-for-nothing, you twit. You twerp. It’s a term of contempt. So, you’ll be before the Supreme Court, and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into gehenna. That’s the junkyard in Jerusalem, and there is apparently a cosmic one. Gehenna. Not Hades, gehenna. [49:04]
So what’s he doing? He’s moving into attitudes. And if you say, “You fool,” whoa—fool doesn’t mean what we think of today. A fool is a person who purposely engages in what is stupid or harmful behavior. Now, sometimes it’s used in that sense today, but normally we just think of a fool as someone who’s foolish. But it goes much deeper than that. What’s he teaching about? He’s teaching about how you think about people. Obviously it has a connection with love, but at this point it’s just negative. If you do these things, that reveals an attitude. Now if you don’t understand that, you’ll say what I did when my grandmother wouldn’t let me call my playmates a fool, and I said, “Well, I’ll just think it.” See? Phariseeism is built into the human frame. But of course, it wasn’t talking about the action. It was talking about the attitude. Right?
Now, he moves over to the positive side, and he says, “Therefore”—verse 23—“you’re presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your brother there and go your way. First be reconciled to your brothers and then come and present your offering.” This was, again, a very shocking thing because the rule was you could not interrupt a procedure in the Temple like that, except for some ritual cause, like you found out something was wrong with the offering, or something of that sort. So if the ritual didn’t go right, you could interrupt it. Not for a moral reason.
See, the failure that the prophets always grasped in Israel was you had people performing the rituals with rotten hearts. And that’s one of the functions of the prophetic as opposed to the priestly work, though actually one could be both a priest and a prophet, the way that works. But Jesus is saying here, “Just call it off.” Just call it off. Go make things right with your brother, then come back and do what you were doing. See, this is someone who is so sensitive to their brothers, that’s so far from not killing them, not calling them fools, not saying Raca; so far from that, that they can’t wait to make things right and to secure that relationship.
And so Jesus deepens it as he goes along, and now we’ve got suing someone, going to court. “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge and the judge to the officer and you be thrown into prison and you won’t get out of there until you have paid the last farthing.” Two systems: kingdom, human. The kingdom’s system, you have a cause between you and another person, and you try to work it out. You try to work it out. Maybe you compromise some, maybe not. It doesn’t say, “Don’t go to law.” That’s important to say, because I’ve seen so many people hung up on that. I knew a businessman once whose policy was that he would not do business with Christians because he could not sue them. It doesn’t say don’t sue people, it tells you how to do it. It’s how you do it.
But people want to turn this into a legalism, and so they come up with dumb things like that. You’ve been in court, you watch people suing one another—it’s like having a couple of rottweilers tied to different walls. Jesus is saying, “Don’t do that. Love the people that you’re going to sue.” It doesn’t say give in on everything. Doesn’t say, “Whatever you say is right.” No, no, it doesn’t say that. See, that’s—again, that’s trying to reduce his teachings to legalisms. It’s the heart of love that he’s talking about. That’s what he’s getting at. And he’s saying, “Now, if you don’t do that, you’re going to get into some system, and have you ever seen people caught in that other system? I’ve seen people’s lives totally ruined by a court case. So don’t go there. If you can avoid it, stay out of it. Don’t make a legalism of it—ok, again, that’s not the point. You’ll miss it.
I must move on quickly to the next teaching, which is about lusting, because here again people just find some silly legalism and try to make that deal with it. What it’s talking about is learning to love and respect people. To love them and respect them. [55:03] The old law said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Well, “I didn’t have sex with that woman.” Right? “Did I have sex with her? Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘is.’” Don’t we have these wonderful illustrations of how this all works? I can’t go on long with that, there’s too much to illustrate it. But it’s a person on the other hand who says, “Well, I didn’t do the deed,” and Jesus says, “Well, is that the end of the story? How about this: do you use another person to excite your lust, and do you enjoy cultivating it, and have you in your heart consented to the deed, though you’re not going to do it?” A woman is not to be used in that way. A man is not to be used in that way.
Well, what is the answer? Well, you actually love them. You learn to love them too much to do that. See, you’re dealing with pornography. You can’t get to it until you work with the mind. What’s wrong is in the mind, is how they think about people, that leads them to that—and it’s how they think about themselves. Right? Because it isn’t just the other person, it’s me. Who am I to sit there and cultivate my lust by looking at a person? What does that say about me? See, that’s the deeper question. Am I so needy that I have to do that? Is that where I get my satisfaction? Or is there something better? Is loving people better than lusting people? For me, as well as for them? See?
Now if you don’t understand this, you’ll get some silly legalism, like has been done over and over again in the history of the church. One way to not look at a person lusting is not look at them at all. How would you do that? Put yourself in a position where you never see them. [57:33] Now, in this context, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, who believe that you sin with your members, and so he’s telling them how to do it. Punch your eyes out. Cut your members off. You will roll into heaven a mutilated stump, because you don’t have members with which to sin. You believe Jesus is teaching that? I hope not. He knew very well it didn’t matter what you cut off, you still had the problem.
So he deepens the teaching and goes into the heart. All the issues of lusting, and they’re not all about sex—this is deeply a teaching about desire. We talked about epithume earlier, and boy, is this a big deal, because it’s desires which rule the world and people learn to run with the desires, and then all the troubles come out of that. That’s the teaching.
Now he goes on. “Oh, I divorced her. Did I do what was—yes, I gave her a pink slip. So I’m righteous. If I didn’t give her a pink slip, I’m not righteous. But I gave her a pink slip, so I’m righteous.” Now, in that world, it wasn’t biblical at all, but a woman who was divorced, her life was ruined. Just that simple. I mean, there might be an exception here and there, but the alternatives were dreadful. Her life was ruined. And in that world, polygamy was still permitted. Jesus says, “You can’t do right, you can’t be right, just by giving a pink slip.” Oh, well you kept your vow—you swore to the Lord that if he would do such and such, you would do such and such.
Now, the old law says, if you do that, keep your vow. Jesus said, “Don’t do vows. Don’t swear.” Why? What does swearing do? Swearing is a way of trying to impress people with irrelevant things to get them to do and believe what you want them to do and believe. Why does one say, “By God”? Well, probably just habit, because you know, this just gets into thoughtless stuff. But that institution is designed to lift what I say up to the level where God— “I swear by God this is so. This car will run for another thousand, hundred thousand miles without any serious repairs. By God.” Well how did God get in here, you know?
So he says, “Don’t swear by God. Don’t swear by Jerusalem. Don’t swear by the altar. Don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make one hair white or black.” This was before Revlon and stuff. Why? Because more than just saying “It’s this way” or “It’s not this way” comes from evil. What’s the evil? It’s the desire to manipulate. The desire to manipulate. That’s where all the songs and dances come from. You see them in religious programs, as well as in advertising constantly.
We had this guy in this part of the world named Cal Worthington, and he sells cars. And he does all sorts of funny things. Riding a hippopotamus and calling it “my dog Spot.” Right? See, now what’s that about? That’s to get you to think he’s an idiot and that you can take advantage of him if you buy a car, or that he’s not bright enough to take advantage of you. Look, he’s calling a hippopotamus his dog Spot! Right? We have another merchandiser there in Southern California, Crazy Gideon. That’s the name of his business. Why call him crazy? That’s what Jesus is talking about, is doing all sorts of stuff that are irrelevant—now you know, Cal Worthington could sit you down and say, “Now, here’s how much I spent on this car. Here’s what it’s worth on the market. Here’s what I’m selling it to you for.” He could do that, couldn’t he? But if he did he wouldn’t make as much money as telling you that his dog Spot des such and such. See, that’s song and dance, and Jesus is saying, “Don’t go there.” [1:02:48]
Now, if you’re angry or lust-ridden, you’re going to need a few swearings to carry you through your day. And if you’re angry, then your lust is going to be much more harmful. And you look at the suffering that goes on in the sexual area, and you see that much of it is due to anger or contempt. See, that’s why Jesus starts there, then he moves on.
Now, if you’re not driven by anger, contempt, lusting and so on, it’s going to make all the difference in the world in your family relationships and how you deal with one another. People who do marriage counseling will tell you that the most deadly thing in any relationship is contempt. It’s the greatest predictor of divorce in the relationship. But of course it always goes with anger, and I haven’t had time to talk about the relationship between anger and contempt, but that’s a big one.
So what Jesus is talking to us here, just to wind this part up, is he’s saying, you know, if you want to be a really good person, you need to be filled with agape love. Agape love takes care of it all. Who is a really good person? Someone who’s filled with agape love. A really good person keeps the law, as Paul explains in Romans 13, and it’s said over and over, “He that loveth fulfills the law.” But he does much more than fulfill the law, you see. Fulfilling the law isn’t loving; loving leads to fulfilling the law. And it does that because one has stepped into union with Christ and his kingdom in such a way that it comes down to the point of, “Am I going to hate this person and be angry with them because they’ve crossed my will? No, I don’t need to do that. I’ve got a better way. My will is surrendered to God. I am in the care of God.” All anger comes from the will being crossed. Very simple. The surrender of the will to God solves the problem of anger. Now you can still stand up for what is right, you just don’t have to be angry to do it. And you can actually do it much better if you’re not angry, much more effectively.
So, I’m sorry, I don’t have time to go into that; there’s a lot to be said. But the basic idea is simply this: the Sermon on the Mount proclaims the kingdom of God, the reality of the kingdom of God, points out who is blessed and who is not in terms of that, and then says, now, when you step into the righteousness of the kingdom, then fulfilling the things that are right in behavior naturally come out of that. Now we have to add that the fourth question, how do you do it, is discipleship, and we’ve got to talk about that later. Ok? Thank you. [1:06:15]
Dallas, can you say something about the relationship of kingdom theology, discipleship and the theology of non-violence and alternative polis that has been prevalent in churches that have moved past a programmatic phase, and how that works and how it ends up in legalism.
[1:06:45] Hmm. That’s a big one. Well, nonviolence is a real good idea. That’s a real good idea. And because violence usually refers to force, and that goes all the way to killing people. So nonviolence is a real good idea. The only thing you have to be worried about there is to what extent you are sacrificing love to nonviolence. And if you’re in a position where that is apt to happen, then I would encourage a little violence. If you do violence, always do it not trusting the violence, but trusting God. And God is in favor of people not being hurt, but it depends on who’s going to get hurt if you don’t engage in some activity that might stop them.
Just to illustrate it, I used to have a dear friend who was insistent that if a man came down the street with a rifle shooting people, he couldn’t do anything but kneel and pray. Now, he thought that was being obedient to Christ. But you see, he was not thinking about the people who were being shot. And so, if you’re going to deal with that situation, you have to think about everyone involved in the situation, and your responsibilities toward them. Now, if you’re going to stop the man with the rifle by doing something violent, you still have to decide what you’re going to do. Right? What are the options? Who are you trusting when you do it? You still have to decide those questions. And, you know, the difference between mace and Tasers and deer rifles—that’s significant. So once you say, well, sometimes violence is required for love, you still have to decide what the violence is, and you still have to decide whether or not in order to do what needs to be done, you have to be angry and hateful. Right?
Now war is so awful that it is usually correctly assumed if you’re going to do what you have to do in war, you’d better hate them. And so that’s how, you know, all the propaganda that comes up in war. So there are many, many details here, but love is what rules in this issue. And if you have identified righteousness just with nonviolence, then you have to think about love, to what extent violence may be called for by love. Most wars are unjustifiable; I’ll give you that at the outset. Most things that are done in warfare are done wrongly or should not be done. Ben-Gurion in the first war of Israel with its neighbors told his soldiers, “Try not to shoot people. Try to take out armaments.” That’s a good piece of advice, right? Now, it’s almost inapplicable now because of how it’s done. But still, that’s a good idea. Don’t hate your enemy; love your enemy.
Same thing in business or church; how can you love someone and fire them? Well, people generally don’t know how to do that, and so if they fire someone they cut themselves off and have nothing to do with them and just let it go. But if you’re going to fire someone, there should be a loving reason why you do it. You should be able to state that to them; they may not be able to accept it or understand it, but you should be able to state that to them, and you should be able to sustain appropriate relationships with them after you do it.
Now, just saying that, you can understand that’s not the way it’s done. Right? But that’s because it’s not done by people of love standing in the kingdom of God. So you even can say this, that if you’re going to fire someone, it must be because it would be unloving not to do it. Now, unloving to whom? To everyone affected by it. Right? If I don’t fire someone, that affects everyone else in the operation. Should I get mad at them and fire them? No. Should I despise them, have contempt from them, get away from them? See, all those things are what is normally done. Absolutely not; if you fire someone you want to do it with a full comprehension of what the effects of that kind of rejection is on people, and you need to go into it the same way where if you’re going to fight in a war where you have to kill someone, you have to do that in the same way. Ok? Now, that’s not an adequate answer, but that’s a start.
Speaking of oaths, or manipulative speech, and carrying that to the example of Peugeot, for instance, it almost makes it impossible to work for someone who doesn’t follow kingdom practices, particularly in America where most of our business is marketing to other people, and marketing in ways that for the most parts are deceitful because we’re selling something that the product isn’t delivering. So, could you speak to that a little bit more? How do we conduct ourselves with employers who, in that sense, wouldn’t let you conduct yourself in that manner?
[1:13:38] Well, just as a start, you say, I am a disciple of Jesus, and as a disciple of Jesus, I’m learning how to live my life the way Jesus would live my life if he were me. So, Jesus is me, he’s in this situation. And so I would spend a good deal of time talking with him about it, and seeking instructions, and asking him to act with me when I act, and of course in full recognition that very often in a career or in a business or something of that sort you can pay a heavy price for doing what you believe to be right. That’s why people say things like, “Business is business.” Right? What are they getting ready to do when they say that? They’re getting ready to do something they know is wrong. It may be more or less bad; they may even be mistaken about whether or not it’s wrong, but that’s what they’re getting ready to do.
And the answer to that for the Christian is “Business is never just business.” Business is life. Why is there something called business? Is that God’s idea? See, we have to think that through. We’re apt to think, “Well, business is man’s idea.” No, it’s God’s idea. What is business? Business is God’s idea of how people who live together can serve one another. That’s God’s idea. That’s what business is. Now, when businesses are talking about themselves, that’s what they say. They never say, “We’re in this to make money.” They say things like, “We care. We care.” And you know what, that’s what they’re supposed to do! Of course they have to make money; no question about that. But that’s not what they’re for.
No career is for the advancement of the individual in any respect. But see, our folks in business and other careers so often just see themselves alone in the world trying to make their kingdom work. It’s like we used to say back in the hills of Missouri when the food ran out before winter did for our hogs, and we would say “Root, hog, or die.” Turn ‘em loose. Open the gate, let ‘em go on the open range. That’s how many people look at their life. They’re on their own, and it’s just root, hog, or die. And then you may be working for someone who has that outlook. But I don’t think there’s really anything to say but stand by your convictions lovingly with sympathy for their position, stay in communication with them, be prayerful, thoughtful, watch for your opportunities to speak.
And if it comes right down to it that you have an outlook that is not going to be acceptable, just accept that. And at that point you say, “My paymaster is not you. It’s Christ.” Remember what Paul says in Col. 4, “I serve the Lord Christ.” I work at USC; they pay me, but I don’t work for them. I work for Christ. And I think that’s the attitude we have to take. And we expect Christ to stand with us. If we want something, we ask for it. See, a lot of times you find people in a bind, they don’t ask for help.
Dallas, just to continue that a little bit. As a businessman, I would say that kingdom living is the best way to run my business. Absolutely, no doubt about it. It’s the best for my bottom line. Oh yes, there’s no doubt about it. I would say that early and often. I do say it.
[1:18:09] But you have to be careful and not read that as a guarantee that all your projects are going to succeed. See, that’s where the prosperity gospel goes wrong, is it tells you how to say your words. And if you hold your mouth right, everything will come up roses. And that’s not a part of the deal. And you have to sometimes look at the bottom line, not year by year, but five years by five years. And so there you’re really dealing with a lot of tendencies in the field that wants a quicker result.
Jesus also teaches that, that not only is it good for the spiritual life, but it’s also good for the vessel.
Boy, you’re gonna get me going on something here! The spiritual life is the real life. It is not something separate. That is the spiritual life; it’s your real life. It’s not a little addendum over here where you sort of go over here and take care of business with God and then go over and take care of business without God. No, that’s the constant teaching of the scripture from Old Testament to New. So, I mean, we have to talk about this particular point when I talk about discipleship, but the place of our service is in the world. The ministry of the saints is in the world. The church is designed to help saints minister in the world. That’s where the ministry is. So your business is holy unto the Lord, and every business is, but many people don’t know it. So we really need to say that.
One of the enduring problems for people who get serious about discipleship is they keep thinking it’s something that has to do with religion. It has to do with life; discipleship is a life thing. The kingdom of God is a life thing. It’s not religious. Now, hopefully religion would have some help for that, but the way it’s set up you see ministers constantly slipping into this idea of “What service can you do for the Lord?” Well, it’s something around the church. And discipleship is for the world. So as a minister, I can only help people if I can help them serve the Lord in their work, in their home, wherever they are. That’s my job as a minister.
Eph. 4 is very clear about that. There are people who have special gifts, and their job is to prepare people for the ministry of the saints. Ministry is what belongs to the saints, not to the preachers. Well they can do that too, I hope they do. But the point is, we’re preparing people to live in the world. Now if you haven’t heard that before, I want you to take a little gander at Eph. 4 and look how that’s set up. It’s all about life. And see, we’re trained to think of discipleship that leaves out our work, which means that most of our time is spent outside of discipleship.
And of course the Protestant reformation had this right. Luther—the priesthood of the believer is not a statement that believers can do what the priests do. You know, pray, and do all that stuff. It is a teaching that the believer is a priest in everything they do. And Luther’s favorite illustrations were always with the plowboy and the milkmaid. No doubt, a sexist distinction. So, thank you for saying that. We’ve got to come back and spend time on that.
Miraculously, you’ve left time to send us off with a 17-second blessing. A 17-second blessing! I don’t know how you did it! Lord, bless the thoughts and words that we have engaged in together this morning, and cause the good ones to do us good and the bad ones to be forgotten. Now bless our food and our fellowship together. In the name and honor of Jesus, the Cosmocrator. Whoopee!