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Sep 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 17, 2017 – Matthew 5:10-12

The Ultimate Disciple

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

Intro: You deserve to know that I feel incompetent to teach this passage

It is not because there is no information for research
– from the earliest period of recorded history,
• human ingenuity has invented ways for us to torment each other
◦ and to guarantee that a person died in misery and terror
• we might assume the world has become more civilized, so there’s less persecution today
◦ but more Christians were persecuted and martyred in 20th century Russia and China
◦ than in any other century
– so my difficulty in taking on these words of Jesus is not for lack of examples,
• but because it is so foreign to me personally–i.e., to my experience

That’s the first reason I would like to skip these verses – there are 2 more:
2. The nature of the horrible and degrading tortures to which Christians have been subjected
• the acts of brutality and barbarity are too disturbing to mention
• in Hebrews 11, the writer provides examples of how faith worked in the lives of saints
◦ in verse 32, he says he would run out of time to list all the heroic victories of faith
◦ but then the tone changes mid-sentence in verse 35

others were tortured … experienced mockings and scourgings … chains and imprisonment … they were stoned … sawn in two … put to death with the sword … afflicted, ill-treated … wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground (Heb. 11:35-39)

3. That Jesus would include persecution in his list of beatitudes
• aren’t beatitudes supposed to be bright, cheery and inspiring platitudes?
◦ the previous beatitudes may be challenging, but they’re palatable
• I cannot think of a worse advertisement for Christianity than, Blessed are those who have been persecuted

How I intend to handle this: First, to enter slowly

The safest way to approach scripture is through Bible study
– coming at it with our rational minds is less risky than reading with an open heart
– what do we learn by simply digging into the text?

First, we notice that Jesus says same thing twice with small variations

Verse 10, Blessed are those ———————— Verse 11, Blessed are you
Verse 10, who have been ————————— Verse 11, when
Verse 10, persecuted ——————————— Verse 11, insulted, persecuted, slandered
Verse 10, for the sake of righteousness —— Verse 11, because of Me

Secondly, we have to ask, Are there two beatitudes here or only one?
– if the criterion is the word Blessed, then there are two
• the second one is a reiteration of the first

Third, Bible scholars indentified an “ancient literary custom” in this arrangement
– by placing an item last on a list and then elaborating on it, gives it pride of place
• also, it was a practice of rabbinic tradition and the Hebrew Scriptures
◦ to add force to a word or phrase by repeating it exactly
◦ e.g., Awake, awake (see Isa. 51:9, 17; 52:1, 11; etc.)

Fourth, two key terms recur here

read more…

Sep 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 10, 2017 – Matthew 5:9

Islands of Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God Matthew 5:9

Intro: Early on in church history, an issue emerged that troubled theologians

There seemed to be two ways Christians were dedicat themselves to God
1. The contemplative life: for example, the theologian or monk
2. The active life: the missions, evangelism, ministry, hospitality, etc.
• almost every discussion was illustrated by two sisters:
◦ Martha (active) and Mary (contemplative) (Lk. 10:38-42)
• St. Augustine addressed this concern in the 4th century
(and Thomas Aquinas was still working on it in the 13th century)
◦ to this day, some people assume they refer to two different lifestyles
◦ but usually these people do not know much about contemplative spirituality
– there is only one way of being in God and it is both contemplative and active

St. Augustine observed, “Two virtues are set before the human soul, the one active, the other contemplative; the former shows the path, the latter shows the goal . . . .”

And through Isaiah, God said,
In returning and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength (Isa. 30:15)
. . . those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary
(Isa. 40:31)

• we silently wait on God and are refreshed in peace
• then, moving from there into the world, we promote peace
◦ if we listen to the Spirit and our bodies, we’ll know
◦ when it is time to return to God’s presence
◦ and when to return to our work in the world

The first book I wrote was on the Holy Spirit

It went for several hundred pages and was never published
– one editor did show interest, I was on to my next great book (that was also never published)
• something the editor said unlocked something in my mind
◦ in fact, it became a defining moment for me and for my ministry
◦ regarding the manuscript, she said, “I see this as a bridge-builder”
• I had not thought of it in those specific terms
◦ but it was exactly what I was attempting to do
◦ I wanted to provide a middle ground for Evangelicals and Charismatics
– this reminded me of something that happened a few years earlier
• during a week-long summer camp, we were randomly placed in small groups
◦ on the third day, the topic of speaking in tongues somehow came up
◦ the impression I got from the group was they found it disturbing and weird
• after some discussion, I volunteered, “I speak in tongues”
◦ previously, I had mostly contributed reflections on the Scriptures

After my admission, one a girl immediately responded, “I would have never guessed that you spoke in tongues. You had said anything about it until now, did not try to sell us on it or talk us into it. That’s how it ought to be! If it is important to people, they should keep it to themselves unless they are asked or the subject comes up naturally. Now that I know you speak in tongues, I feel like I can think about it more positively.”

◦ without trying, I had built a bridge
(not a very important one, perhaps, but a bridge nonetheless)

read more…

Sep 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 3, 2017 – Matthew 5:8

A Healthy Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8

Intro: This verse stands out from the previous beatitudes

It serves the same purpose–i.e., to reveal the blessed state of Jesus’ follower
(Jesus himself is the one who makes each condition such that it is blessed)
– my goal is to find in the beatitudes a path in Christian spirituality
• to that end, this is the most explicit beatitude so far
for they shall see God
– to see God has always been aspiration of every godly person
• this is the spiritual longing expressed in several of the Psalms

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I may seek:
That I might dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in his temple (Ps. 27:4)

seek the LORD is a familiar Old Testament phrase
◦ more specifically we find seek His face

Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad.
Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually (Ps. 105:3-4)

◦ we learn from this beatitude how to seek the face of God

Blessed are the pure in heart

To hear what Jesus is saying, we have to get behind these words
– in ancient times it was commonly believed that the world inhabited by spirits
• so every tree had its spirit, as did every river, the sky, the weather, etc.
• how people treated living things and natural forces was important
◦ the spirit of a thing could act for or against a person or community
◦ rules and rituals were created so as not to offend spirits or to appease them
– a related idea: certain objects contained an uncanny power
• that power could be released through contact with the object
• it would then attach itself to the person

Negative power: taboo, curse, bad juju
◦ in the language of the Old Testament: defiled, unclean, unholy
◦ the law provided rules to help people avoid contamination
◦ if contaminated, purification rituals were available to remove it
(Israel’s “purity code” primarily found in Leviticus)
◦ the mixing of certain items caused impurity (e.g., Lev. 19:19)
◦ something showing up where it did not belong (e.g., blood outside the body)
◦ contact with birth, death, blood, and having sexual
Positive power: holiness, blessings, purification
◦ this was released through contact with God or anything belonging to him
◦ the sanctuary, the altar, even touching a sacrifice
◦ cleansing through water or by fire

The Pharisees were radically devoted to the purity code

The Pharisees and scribes . . . had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) (Mk. 7:2-4)

– both Jesus and Paul minimized the purity code

read more…

Aug 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 27, 2017 – Matthew 5:7

Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

Intro: There are two big words in the New Testament that are often confused

Grace and mercy

God is the source of both and both do for us something we cannot do for ourselves. Explaining the difference between them, Dad would say, “Grace is getting what you do not deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve.”

Grace is a gift, something unearned
– our access to God through Jesus is through grace (Ro. 5:1-2)
• and we are saved by grace (Ep. 2:8-9)
• grace also supplies us with what we need to live for God
Mercy is a pardon, an instance of salvation
• punishment is suspended, the guilty party is forgiven
• through the generosity of another person, someone is rescued
◦ from an illness, or disability, from suffering or an immediate need

Blessed are the merciful
– unlike the other beatitudes, which could be considered negative conditions,
• this one is taught and highly esteemed throughout the Scriptures
• hosever, that does not mean it is easily put into practice
– like the previous beatitudes:
• the person who has entered the kingdom of heaven demonstrates mercy
• mercy is both an internal trait and an external lifestyle

After “righteousness” we might have expected something else

A religious mind could think,

“Yes, Justice! And it’s about time. For the oppressive tycoons who hoard their wealth and the slackers who think the world owes them a living. Time for godless empires to topple, for gangsters, liars and cheaters to get what they deserve. It’s time for sinners to feel the searing pain of God’s righteous wrath.”

– but Jesus says, “No, that is not what I mean. If you condemn the world, how can you save it?”

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [condemn] the world, but that the world might be saved through him (Jn. 3:17; cf. Ro. 8:34)

• judgment can be merciless and is always destructive
◦ it destroyed the entire world by a flood in the days of Noah
◦ it destroyed several desert cities by fire and brimstone in the days of Lot

We might be tempted to think that mercy undermines justice
(it does not)
– mercy is not blind, or stupid, or uncaring
• mercy protects a child from harm by putting knives and matches out of reach
• it can also be mercy that holds people accountable for their actions
◦ a woman with the sentence of death hanging over her head was brought to Jesus
◦ his response to her was merciful, but it also held her accountable for her actions

I do not condemn you, either, he said, Go. From now on sin no more. (Jn. 8:11)

– sometimes the merciful action is also righteous one
• God does not consider justice to be opposed by mercy
• he knows how the two can work together

read more…

Aug 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 20, 2017 – Matthew 5:6

Troubled Souls In A Troubled World

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6

Intro: This sermon is very different from Jesus’ parables

Here he does not rely on analogies to get his point across
– he uses straight talk and real life examples
• prior to the sermon, Jesus had:
◦ announced that the kingdom of heaven was arriving
◦ demonstrated its supernatural presence (healing and excorcisms)
– now, in the sermon, he reveals how a person is shaped by kingdom of heaven
• in it we learn the practice that is essential to Christian spirituality
• the Beatitudes are a picture of the ideal citizen of the kingdom of heaven
◦ they are heavy with mystery
◦ this is, in part, because they are so contradictory to the values of society

The fundamental truth we must understand about righteousness

Righteousness is relational 
– the Greek word referred to a person’s obligations to God and others
• specific expectations were attached to every relationship
◦ there were “right” things to do in any given relationship

Paul gives us a flavor of this when he tells the Romans, Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor (Ro. 13:7). There is some sort of obligation inherent in every human interaction. Paul goes on to say, Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves the other has fulfilled the law (Ro. 13:7-8). Here is the ultimate righteous standard, to bring love into every interaction allowing it to guide our speech and actions. Love is the obligation that never goes away.

• in the Hebrew Scriptures, righteousness is often paired with justice
◦ the role that righteousness plays between two people is the role justice plays in society
• righteousness and justice are not only God’s will
◦ but he delights in seeing them practiced universally (Jer. 9:24)
– it would be difficult for us to feel the shock Jesus audience felt when he said,

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (v. 20)

• the scribes devoted their lives to copying, studying and interpreting the torah (law)
◦ the Pharisees devoted their lives to following the law and oral tradition
• Jesus is not saying his followers had to be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees
◦ it was not a matter of quantity, but the nature of their righteousness
◦ their problem was that righteousness is relational, but they made it moral and legal

In the first six verses of chapter (and all of chapter 23), Jesus provided clear examples of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. For example:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Mt. 23:27-28)

◦ a moral righteousness keeps me concerned with myself and my actions
◦ a relational righteousness turns my attention to others and how I treat them

The kingdom of heaven is all about righteousness (cf. Mt. 6:33)
– Matthew’s entire gospel is a development of these combined themes
• the climax is near the end of the book, when Jesus describes the day of judgment

Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:37-38)

– if I were to identify the focal point of my life, it would be–me
• what problem is upsetting me? How can I solve it?
◦ but it is possible to shift my focal point
◦ what problems do others have? How can I be a part of the solution to their struggles?

read more…

Aug 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 13, 2017 – Matthew 5:5

Why Choose to Be Meek?

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Intro: I’ve told you this story before, but it applies so well I must tell it again

We were in Caesarea Maritime the first day of our Israel tour. The guide had delivered his spiel, we had our Bible study and were heading back to the bus. A young man came up behind myself and the two people walking with me. He was really upset and said, “Would you look at this!” With thumb and index finger he was holding his shirt gingerly away from his skin. His shoulder had been targeted, which by the look of what he left behind, must have been a very large seagull.
Just then another tour guide was passing us and in her strong Hebrew accent said, “It’s a blessing.” The young man looked up with a doubtful expression and said, “It’s a blessing?!” Without turning back to look at us, the guide said over her shoulder, “It’s a blessing cows don’t fly.”

Two different Hebrew and Greek words are translated into English by the one word, blessing
– one word refers to  God-given blessings
• promote a person’s welfare — shalom
• in ancient Israel, blessings included health, a large family, crops and livestock, and a long life
◦ every good thing that made for a rich and full life
– the other word refers to a state of thriving
• this was the condition of a person who had received blessings
◦ who fit the description of a rich and full life

  1. berakah (Heb. Ps. 84:5) eulogetos (Grk. Ep. 1:3): God’s gracious gifts
  2. esher (Heb. cf. Ps. 84:6) makarios (Grk. Mt. 5:5): to thrive, flourish
    – the gifts (berakah) produce the condition (esher)

• what this means is that the Beatitudes are not “if-then” statements
(that is, “If you do this, then God will bless you”)
◦ when people find themselves in the Beatitudes, they are thriving

The Beatitudes have a definite form or pattern
– we see it first in the Hebrew Scriptures; for example:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in his law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1)

• here “Blessed” (esher) describes a state
• this person is flourishing “like a tree / Planted by the rivers of water” (Ps. 1:3)
– the Beatitudes  are statements of fact, but also insights and invitations

Jonathon Pennington, “Jesus is offering and inviting his hearers into the way of being in the world that will result in their true and full flourishing now and in the age to come.

Now we notice something strange about Jesus’ beatitudes

They present a shocking contradiction to our common sense view of life
– and not just our way of life, but the teaching found in The Proverbs as well
• poverty, grief, hunger and thirst do not look like a blessed state
◦ this is not a picture of prosperity, prestige or prominence
• instead, this looks like a description of losers, the down and out, the pathetic
– the word translated “gentle” also means mild or humble
• it was used in reference to an animal that had been tamed
◦ the wild stallion, now saddled and subject to the will of its rider
• in Greek translation of the Old Testament, it was used of a person who did not own property and so became a servant
◦ humility in the Roman world, a virtue, but within limits
◦ any loss of honor was detrimental to a person’s social standing

We do not associate a mild temperament and humility with success
– a “gentle” football team would not win many games

read more…

Aug 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 6, 2017 – Matthew 5:4

God of Our Broken Hearts

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Intro: Where do you begin with a statement like this?

Perhaps first with the by acknowledgement, Jesus does not avoid painful subjects
– he does not side-step misery, white-wash grief with lame cliches
• some Bible teachers twist logic to argue that bad is good, bitter is sweet
◦ but grief that sucks the air out of your lungs is not “good” (cf. Mk. 14:34)
• no sane person would ask for this – and Jesus is a sane person (cf. Mk. 14:36)
◦ he had his share of wounds – he felt the sting of betrayal, rejection, and hostility
◦ he knows the difference between laughter and tears
– poverty, grief, persecution – these are all unavoidable side-effects of life

Grief is usually related to a loss – of property (e.g., theft or fire), a job, a break-up, death
– neuroscience research tells us that our brains were designed for relationship

Sue Johnson explains, “. . . losing that connection profoundly hurts. We know that the pain of rejection registers in the same part of the brain and is coded in the same way as physical pain.”

• if you love, you will at some time mourn
– if you don’t want that pain, you have very few choices

  1. Refuse to love
    – never open yourself to another person, never care for anyone, never get close to anyone–not even a pet
  2. Let yourself love, but then numb the pain when it comes
    – legal or illegal substance abuse
    – will-power, force yourself to live in denial of the pain
    • for example, some families are never allowed to talk about a dead relative
    • in some cases, all evidence of that person’s existence is immediately removed from the home

Jesus does not allow us to avoid painful subjects

Here he reminds us of the most painful moment of our lives
– when our hearts were torn out of our chests
• these are exactly the moments when some people lose God
• they cannot fight the waves and hold on to faith at same time
◦ I see myself sitting there on the mount, wondering,

“Did he take a break from healing the sick, the sufferers, the paralytics, the lepers to climb this mountain, sit down and open his mouth to teach us these hard lessons? Why does he bring up the very miseries we are trying to escape? We came to him because we heard that he can do something about the terrible things that have broken our bodies and our hearts.” I won’t say it out loud, but to myself I am saying, “I wish he would close his mouth again and get back to healing the sick.”

– but I think these thoughts because of ignorance of the fact:
• there is as much healing in his words as his touch
◦ later on in his story, it is a centurion who will first get this

“Just say the word,” he tells Jesus, “and my servant will be healed” (Mt. 8:8)

◦ broken-heartedness is the most common, most universal form of suffering
• we may never know why,
◦ but there’s something healing just hearing Jesus say, Blessed are those who mourn
◦ so maybe I should not up and leave too soon; maybe I should hear him out

I’ve learned a few things through mourning

There is a depth of soul that we discover only through grief
– I would not have known my feelings went so far down if grief had not taken me there

There are lessons that sorrow alone can teach us

There is a quality of empathy we would not otherwise acquire

read more…

Aug 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 18, 2017 – Esther chapters 6-10

Forgive me, but for awhile I was unable to get around to posting my sermon notes. (Parenting grandchildren can be a all-consuming adventure.) So here are the remainder of my notes on Esther all bunched together and without all the editing I usually do to make them readable. I hope you can make sense of them, but even more, that God enables you to find something helpful, encouraging, inspiring, or at least useful in them.  — chuck

Esther 6

Intro: Let’s begin like a TV series, “In previous episodes . . . .”

Esther is the hero, though so far she’s taken only one heroic step
– her cousin controlled her decisions growing up
• still counselor, but in a turn-around, she gave commands and he obeyed
– Haman is the villain – he’s also the king’s favorite official
• if Mordecai would not bow because he was a Jew,
◦ then all Jews were Haman’s enemies
• so Haman devised a scheme to annihilate the Jews in Persia
◦ Esther has begun to work on undoing his evil scheme

But now a new complication has come up
– Haman will go to the king the next morning
• he will seek permission to hang Mordecai on a gallows he built
• what can be done about this?
◦ no one outside of Haman’s small circle even knows about this
◦ and Mordecai only has until the morning to act
– regarding saving the Jews, Esther was off to good start
• but she has not yet presented her case to the king

V. 1, “During the night” – A great opening line!

The tension increases as time is running out
– people sleep at night; no action occurs; we do not expect any action
– a king’s troubled sleep is a consistent theme in exile stories
• Pharaoh’s disturbed sleep– door for Joseph to be promoted
• Nebuchadnezzar’s . . . – for Daniel (& later, Darius)

Vv. 2-5, Rather than fight insomnia, King Xerxes did homework
Ordered accountant awakened & brought to review records
– perhaps to make him drowsy or catch up on backlog
• going through ch. 2 I pointed out foreshadow (2:23)
• gallows for would-be assassins & record book for Mordecai
◦ this time, gallows for Mord., whose name came up in …
– “It was found written” – statement seems anemic, harmless
• an incidental, unrelated to the plot
◦ when event occurred, storyteller didn’t make big deal of it
• Mordecai’s name pops up again (2 X, topic of discussion)
◦ Xerxes realizes that this is still an open file
◦ it’s possible he felt this was reason he could not sleep

“What honor or dignity . . .?” – one word answer, “Nothing”
– whether it’s intentionally, king’s attendants seem to take sides
• every word for Esther & Mord is positive – for Haman, neg.
– needing help of a creative mind, Xerxes asks, “Who . . .?”
• Haman wanted an early start; finish business before feast
◦ perhaps wanted to catch king as soon as he woke
• he had just arrived and was waiting in outer court

Vv. 6-9, The final set-up before the total reversal

There was no formal greeting – Xerxes went straight to business
– the issue was so much in forefront of his mind,
• that he blurts out question w/out explanation or details
• Haman, for his part, had no context for the question
◦ he has to guess who king desired to honor
◦ he could not imagine anyone other than himself – 5:11
– Haman has reached his summit – ultimate honor w/in reach
• “royal robe . . . crown” – no one would dare to do this
◦ clothing fit only for a king (“royal” same wd kingdom)
◦ there could not be a greater honor
• Mordecai had saved king’s life, awarded king’s honor
◦ that kind of honor in his culture did not go away
◦ it was a form of social capital

Vv. 10-11, Haman’s sudden fall into the abyss

From this point, Haman’s “bad luck” snowballs
– he is commanded to act “quickly”
• 12, “hurried” home & 14, interrupted & “hastily brought”
– “Mordecai the Jew” – shock must have hit him hard
• he had designed the honor that his enemy would receive
◦ he’d come to request Mordecai’s execution,
◦ now he must be one to proclaim Mordecai’s honor
• “do not fall short in anything” – gives added emphasis

The last time we read anything about Mordecai’s clothing,
– he was wearing sackcloth and ashes
• in the reversal that is underway:
◦ Haman, who was lifted up is brought low
◦ & Mordecai who was taken down is lifted up
• king was apparently unaware of the friction between them
◦ but the people at the king’s gate would be amazed
◦ they had been the ones to inform Haman (3:3-4)

V. 12, Mordecai & Haman return to their respective places

Neither one of them is driving the story
– they’re being carried along – waiting to see what unfolds
• Haman’s “head covered” indicated agonizing grief
◦ also a foreshadow of what is coming in next chapter
◦ it becomes a symbol of his demise
• his “mourning” is contrasted to his earlier expectation:
◦ to “go joyfully” to the feast, having killed Mord (5:14)
– all these things point to the ironic reversal at heart of story

Vv. 13-14, Haman seeks consolation from Zeresh & Co.

This begins like his previous consultation with wife & wise men
– he gives them a full account of what happened
• and again, Mordecai is at the center of his unhappiness
• then they give him their thoughts and insights
◦ only here, not advice, but only a dire prediction
– “If Mordecai is of . . .” Why “if” – they knew (5:13)
• it wasn’t in question, but way we construct logical formula
◦ If-Then: If all humans are mammals & Fred is human, then
• two times they use word “fall”
◦ if you stumbled here, then you’re going all way down
◦ why? sooner or later Xerxes will learn it’s the Jews that Haman convinced him to annhilate

Haman did not have even a few seconds to absorb this
– “While they were still talking” king’s servants arrived
• and “hastily brought Haman to feast”
• another foreshadow of what’s coming in next chapter

Conc: This chapter is where the tables are turned

And these important shifts occur before Esther has intervened
– she is about to expose Haman
• but that will not be phase one
• the groundwork had already been laid, then she built on it
– a lot of activity has been going on
• wasn’t Esther, Mordecai or Haman who had done it
• they were not even aware of it
◦ & even if they had they idea, they couldn’t manage to do

The miracle of providence is that it operates backstage
– God is offstage through the whole story
• but from behind the scenes, he controls the outcome
– we have this long-range view of providence
• when we reach heaven, everything will be made right
• it’s not as easy to see, if that is so,
◦ then everything is all right now,
◦ because it’s being used to fulfill God’s objective

God is doing something right now that you don’t know about
– but it will work in your favor – & no one can shut door on it
• the spiritual journey progresses by trusting that

All things work together for good and
If God is for us, who can be against us?

– I’m going to borrow something from Jim
• Julian of Norwich, Christian mystic – NDE, 16 revelations
• she came to see how all that stood between her & Jesus
◦ was her sin – the thing that stands in everyone’s way
◦ God could have prevented sin – this disturbed her so much she couldn’t let go

Then Jesus gave her all she needed when he told her, “Sin is inevitable, yet all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Esther 7 

Intro: If this scene were set in the Old West,

The town sheriff & gunslinger would be standing in street
– we have come to climax of conflict – the showdown
– Esther versus Haman, and only one will come out alive

Everything in first two versus is familiar

The story opened with a feast – and one after another, chapter by chapter
– wine has flowed like a steady stream through story
• also familiar to us, the king’s questions sound like a standard form
• petition and request – fill in the blanks

Vv. 3-4, Esther finally reveals what she wants

She began same as before, but this time she spilled her guts
– she used the “standard form,” presented petition and request
• if king assumed she wanted lavish gift (or remodel kitchen)
◦ he was in for a surprise, and for Haman,
◦ another shock in a day of unpleasant surprises
• “my life” and “my people”
◦ until now, no one had known she was Jewish
◦ even still, king doesn’t seem to make connection at first
– I think, a pause before she continued – stunned silence as the two men were at a loss for words
• she explained, “we have been sold” we’d say “sold out”
◦ destroyed, killed . . . – quotes the very words of edict
• “if we had only been sold as slaves . . .”
◦ the next sentence has given translators a lot of difficulty
1.) “Would’ve kept silent if didn’t mean great loss for you”
2.) “Would have not annoyed you with anything so trivial”

Vv. 5-6, King wants to know immediately source of threat

He asks two questions: Who? and Where?
– Esther answers the Who question,
• only  she gives more than the culprit’s name
◦ to truly know who he is, you have to know his character
◦ the foe and enemy of the Jews, “this wicked Haman!”
• with the answer to Who, no need to divulge Where
– hearing this, Haman is understandably terrified
• “before” – face, presence, in company of king and queen

V. 7, Now storyteller focuses all attn on two characters

“The king arose” – this is a first!
– so far, he had been sitting through whole story
• in fact, this is a big deal
◦ he retreated to palace garden to cool his head & think
– again anger and wine are linked
• wine usually associated with joy & festivity, out of question
• storyteller did not want us to overlook this
◦ wine is mentioned too many times to be insignificant

Haman also made his move, but not with king
– he could see king had already determined his fate
• only possible hope was that Esther could soften him

Vv. 8-10, A dark comedy of errors

In ancient mid-east hey did not sit on chairs to eat their meals
– reclined on cushions – or for the wealthy, bed-like couches
• Haman most likely fell at Esther’s feet
◦ but that meant he encroached on her personal space
• desperation compelled him to commit this capital offense
◦ he’s literally “falling” – as his wife predicted
– Haman’s bad luck, precisely at that moment, king returned
• Xerxes either assumed the worst or attributed the worst
◦ “Will he even assault…?” violate her

Two flashbacks:
– “As the word went out…”
• 6:14, “While they were still talking”
• wheels turning so fast, no one has time to finish a sentence
– “they covered Haman’s face”
• 6:12, he had covered his head himself to hide his shame
• my guess, remove the condemned man from king’s sight

We have seen that Esther was provided with “helpers”
– it’s possible that king’s servants felt an affinity with the Jews
• Harbonah conveniently volunteered this information
◦ provided details and a reminder
◦ gallows were intended for Mordecai, who saved the king
• “Hang him on it”
◦ irony, when Haman hits bottom, raised higher than ever
– “the king’s anger subsided” – as in 2:1
• anger has fueled the plot
◦ both when it flared up and when it subsided
• anger has been a kind of energy running through story
◦ energy for motivation, planning and implementing

Conc: There are two insights we can take home, I think helpful

The first has practical value and second is of more spiritual value

Esther had risked her life to rescue her people
– reading between the lines,
• she had surrendered her life to the will of God
– when I do this – choose God’s will & accept it as my own,
• when I get up each morning,
◦ I find that he has already been at work
◦ what I step into is like a “kit” & all I do is put it together
– if I have time, know-how & tools, I’m a do-it-yourself guy
• but never when it comes to God’s work
• I am dependent on him for everything
◦ so I want to surrender to him everything

The second insight I found here was from unexpected action
– it comes from king’s instinct to take troubled soul into garden
• retreat to a place of natural beauty
◦ to settle into solitude and silence
◦ allow the oxygenated air to clear & refresh mind & heart
• that’s where Jesus went when his soul was deeply grieved
– when we retreat to garden,
• it’s a symbolic return to our first home
◦ return to a time when all God made was still good
◦ free of stress, pain, sorrow, & evil – & God was near
• the garden was not destroyed, buried or lost
◦ it was transplanted
◦ it’s now what E. Herman called, secret garden of the soul

Our original calling was to “cultivate and keep” the garden
– same job description today – in our soul & souls of others
• it is always there when we are under stress
• or if we just want to take a walk with God in the cool of day
– I read this week, our most transforming conversations
combine affective and reflective elements
• affective refers to our emotions and mood states
◦ emotion: what dominates our thoughts & energizes action
◦ and it is not just psychological – releases chemicals into
• reflective refers to the thoughts we have re: our emotions
◦ sometimes we have to wait for emotions to subside
◦ that’s when the garden is useful

As contemplative Christians, we become more reflective in general
– doesn’t mean more analytical;
• e.g, asking why & looking for answers
– rather, curious – What is this _____ experience? Moment?
• what does it awaken with in me? How is God using it?
• explore whatever is present, look for deeper meanings
David’s thirst “in a dry and weary land where no water is”
– return to the garden, where there’s always water
• and where you’ll always find God’s love – in everything


Esther 8 

Intro: Last week, Jim & I were in another conversation where

Two or three of us mentioned our disenchantment with Ap Paul
– and Jim expressed his deep appreciation for Paul’s writings
• the reasons he gave made good sense – his perspective
◦ offers a refreshing & enlightening way to read Paul
– we do not have to like everything we find in the Bible
• but before we get hyper-critical or reject it,
◦ let’s make sure we understand what we’ve read
• we will encounter some hard things in last three chapters
◦ & for which many modern scholars condemn Esther
◦ let’s try to understand these chapters

A lot of changes were made quickly

The same day Haman was hanged, king gave Esther his house
– perhaps to repay her for the distress he had caused her
– she took this opportunity to reveal her relation to Mordecai
• by now the king was very familiar with the name
◦ he gave him signature ring that he had taken from Haman
◦ authority went from one hand to other, from predator…
• Esther’s purpose was to have him manage Haman’s house

Vv. 3-6, Esther had to finish what she started

Getting rid of Haman was not her objective
– the villain was dead, but threat to Jews was still unresolved
• “fell at feet … wept … implored” – emotional display to:
◦ demonstrate her desperation & intensity of her concern
◦ and evoke the king’s sympathy
• by extending his scepter, he granted her permission to speak
– this is her longest introduction yet – four “if’s”
• if all four conditions are met, she expects affirmative answer

“Let it be written” – i.e., write a new law into play
– technically, no one, not even king could “revoke” previous …
• this has been clear from start (1:19), & reiterated in v. 8
• somehow, legal force of Haman’s letters had to be undone
– she ended speech as she began, with strong emotional appeal
• he explanation is poetic – parallelism
• poetry adds emotional energy

Vv. 7-8, The king addresses both Esther & Mordecai

He reminded them of what he had already done
– he eliminated perpetrator & seized his estate
• depriving Haman’s family from resources to launch attack
– in verse 8, “you” is plural and emphatic, “you write …”
• my guess – he didn’t want to try to solve this puzzle
•authorized them to use his name and ring
◦ assured them the law would be enforced
◦ but also established their limits

Vv. 9-14, It’s important that we set this beside 3:12-14

The story retraces the steps of Haman
– uses language taken from Haman’s announcement
• only this time, it specifies translating into language of Jews
• why is this significant?
– it looks like Mordecai & Esther were legitimizing genocide
• but that was not their objective
◦ they copied Haman’s declaration in order to reverse it
• the targets of this edict were not universal, but specific
◦ Jews could defend themselves from anyone who attacked

How can we be certain Jews didn’t slaughter women & children?
– like Haman’s declaration, this also has a clause: “to plunder”
• but next we will see a phrase repeatedly
“But they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (9:10, 15, 16)
• not stated, but implied
◦ family members were spared who inherited possessions
The same method of delivery was also used
– except: “royal steeds sired by royal stud”
• these were chariot horses – bred to be the best & fastest
– royal resources are placed in service of the Jews
• greater authority than had been in hands of their enemies
• this is seen especially in way Mordecai was treated

Vv. 15-17, Mordecai’s new status and privilege

It was not simply a new wardrobe or fact that he wore a crown
– but there is a flash back to chapter 1 & opulence of palace
• there we saw tapestries of white & violet linen,
◦ fine purple linen and golden wine cups
• Mordecai is wearing those symbols of majesty & wealth
– news radiates out from palace in concentric circles
• and as the news spreads, the response is celebration:
◦ the city of Susa – “shouted & rejoiced”
and for Jews: “light and gladness and joy and honor”
◦ then “in each & every province and in each & every city”
◦ finally “wherever” the king’s decree was read
“gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast & a holiday”
• finally, something almost impossible to believe
◦ especially because we just don’t see it in OT
“many among the peoples of the land became Jews”
◦ “peoples …” ordinary men & women

Several of Israel’s prophet anticipated this
– but it’s rare
• usually, Israel was an island of true faith in a sea of pagans
• Gentile conversion ran contrary to established belief
◦ that their covenant with Yahweh was unique, and
◦ they were a special race that belonged to him exclusively
– now we need to pause and take a breath before last words:
“for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them”

Conc: One clause of the decree, in v. 13, “avenge themselves”

This one word opens a door fo potential evil
– I can see why it was inserted into the edict
• this is what anyone would do when assaulted or attacked
• it’s almost as if this was meant to legalize self-defense
◦ almost
– but avenge can easily turn into revenge
• it can be intensified by emotion & it can become personal
◦ then their actions would be as evil as Haman’s
◦ the same brutality, only with the roles switched
• was this the intent? Is this what it means?
◦ I want to think through this carefully
◦ to go slow and be cautious

The law God gave Israel contains a statute: Lex talionis; Le. 24:19
If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth
• the vendetta or law of retaliation is as old as civilization
◦ the problem, however, is with our human nature
• we determine what justice looks like from our frame of ref
– the statute was meant to set a limit on retaliation
• to permit vindication but prohibit vengeance
◦ God takes punishment out of our hands
• same as when he says, “Vengeance is Mine” (De. 32:25)
◦ Paul’s commentary on this, in Rom. 12:17-19:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . . Never take your own revenge . . .
◦ and Jesus in Mt. 5:38-42

A disturbing trend: fear Islam and hate Muslims — implying we should prepare for war
“As a Christian nation, it has been, and will be necessary again, to take up arms against the armies of Islam.” Islam “is a religion which must be stopped if the world is to know peace.”
– Dali Lama & Desmond Tutu
let’s make love our practice – perform one loving act every day
we belong to God and he watches out for us

God can turn our worst day into a holiday
bring sun instead of rain
joy instead of sorrow
peace instead of war
blessings instead of disaster
even those tears we spilled in the morning can be turned to laughter by noon

Esther 9 

Intro: The timing of coming to this chapter today could not be more perfect

This past Tuesday, “we the people” celebrated the Fourth of July
– our holiday that doesn’t have a name like “Memorial Day” or “Veterans Day”
(“Independence Day” hasn’t really caught on)
• just the date – the day we officially declared our independence
– events in today’s episode, build to a national day of celebration

Verse 1 introduces what will follow with a brief synopsis

A theme running through recent events is brought to surface
– the turn-around – “it was turned to the contrary”
– all of the pieces of the story come together
• the tension that has been building is resolved
• the Jews in Persia are no longer in danger

Vv. 2-10, [summarize] The key victories

Remember, a royal proclamation that
– gave Jews right to assembly, and to defend themselves
• they also had in their favor, Mordecai’s growing authority
◦ “the dread of the Jews had fallen on them”
◦ in v. 3 becomes more specifically, “dread of Mordecai”

Who did the Jews attack and kill? There are three identifiers:
those who sought their harm, all their enemies, and those who hated them
• if I am trying to live in peace, I avoid making enemies,
◦ and if I have enemies, it is because someone else made me their enemy
– it’s difficult for us to stand in their sandals –appreciate context
• think of Nuremberg Trials after WWII
◦ in pursuit of justice, Allied nations tried Nazi war criminals
• recent years, UN sanctioned interventions around world
◦ dictators brought to trial for crimes against humanity

The blessing of revolution: oppressed people win their freedom
– the tragedy of revolution: our human nature
• revolutionaries commit same atrocities on oppressors
◦ resentment erodes empathy
• “revenge is sweet,” but also tends to be merciless
– some readers have projected that into Esther
• but looks to me like storyteller tries to avoid, implication
◦ “men,” sons of Haman, and “did not lay hands . . .”
• he insists on making that point
◦ would be going too far to say it was “surgical strike”
◦ but it wasn’t a bloody free-for-all

Vv. 11-15, King Xerxes last on-stage appearance in story

He received report of those killed in capital city
– brought the report to Esther and asked if she desired more
• she was ready with a request: grant one more day
◦ but only in the city of Susa
– apparently she felt the threat was not fully contained
• she may have known of antisemitic cells that still existed
◦ also possible Jews in capital city felt inhibited
• public hanging of sons of Haman’s corpses
◦ would not make them any “deader”
◦ but it would send a message

Vv. 16-19, The day after, the Jews celebrated

“Made it a day of feasting and rejoicing”
– in v. 17, refers to Jews in the outlying provinces
• v. 18, the Jews in Susa
• explanation of how it landed on two days
◦ because of extra day granted to Jews living in capital
– “feasting” – we have seen this is one of the key words
• the story opened with a feast
◦ and it has moved from one feast to another
◦ only exception was Esther’s fasting
• but what would have been extinction and mourning
◦ became salvation and partying

Vv. 20-32, The beginning of a tradition

The festivals were written into a law for the Jews
– the only Jewish festival without roots in the torah
• and still celebrated in Israel and Jewish communities
– we have seen, casting lots is form a divination
• decisions were made according to results
• in Persia, not referred to as “lot” but “pur” (im is plural)

That they must continue observance is strongly emphasized
– they would not fail to celebrate, were to be remembered
these days were … not to fail or the memory [of them] fade
• a chiasm in vv. 29-31:
“Queen Esther…with Mordecai the Jew” – then:
“Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther”
• her name, book marks to the tradition, emphasizes her
◦ even more so in the last verse of the chapter
◦ which makes for a troubling omission in epilogue
– an interesting phrase in v. 30
• letters they sent contained “words of peace and truth”
◦ a rare combination in Hebrew Scriptures
◦ much more common: mercy and truth
• “truth” is true to another person or what’s right
◦ God’s faithfulness – so here:
◦ their continued peace depends on continued faithfulness

Conc: I’ve said before, in these stories of exile

We see life go the way things ought to be
– the plans of the wicked are foiled, miracles occur
• the people of God are protected and blessed
– they are stories that end “happy ever after”
But that is not how my life has gone the last couple of weeks
– or–ever! – how about you?

– our world rolls along in a discernable cause & effect pattern
• we can fast, but no voice answers from the sky
◦ we can feast ourselves into intoxication & no fire falls
• courage & cunning count for a lot in our successes
◦ the effect of faith & hope are harder to see
◦ we can feel pretty much abandoned in natural world

Friday, a friend asked why Jesus said, “My God, My God …”?
– in terms of OT, he died the worst possible death
• the good death was, “old and full of days”
◦ execution was a bad death
◦ but to be hanged on tree was a curse
◦ Jesus did not escape the gallows built for him
• NT faith is many times more demanding
◦ their commemoration was feast of wine & pastries
◦ ours is a meal of bread & wine; broken body & wine …
– God is always present, whether mentioned or not

Vasco, “God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, but that’s its characteristic. There is a feeling [here] that events are happening with a purpose that only God can [manage] . . . even the insomnia of the king. Therefore those who are seeking His will can always count on Him even when deliverance seems impossible and in spite of all the [schemes] of their enemies….”

• we are accepted, even in our broken & fragmented lives
• our weaknesses & pains are not deterrents to God

For the spiritual journey: we can find purpose in our disciplines
– ideally, find passion for them & find peace in them
• but I believe we are to find pleasure as well (Ps. 16:11)
• otherwise, we’re not in it with all heart, mind and soul
– who stays at hobby that does not give some pleasure?
• for some, reading is a chore
◦ but change your reading material and you can change your experience
• affectionate touch can never become a chore
◦ and spiritual disciplines are always affectionate touch
Enjoy daily pleasures (beauty, etc.), but make sure you find joy


Esther 10 

Intro: These verses are not part of the story

The story ended in verse 32 of chapter 9
– so chapter 10 is like an appendix or bibliography
• for anyone who wanted more information
• tells them where they can find it
– its purpose: to emphasize the imperial greatness of Mordecai
• first we’re given an idea of Xerxes’ power
◦ then told of Mordecai’s promotion
• second to the king fits the pattern I’ve tried to point out
◦ Joseph (Gen. 41:40-43) and Daniel (Dan. 6:1-3)
◦ Mordecai: a model for Jewish believers in exile

But this appendix is a huge disappointment – I’ll try to explain
– we’ve been in Persia the last nine weeks
• followed the progress of young Jewish woman
• she rose from obscurity in ethnic minority to queen
– meanwhile this weekend
• a young Persian woman died here in California
◦ she had risen to the top of her profession
• Maryam Mirzakhani was a professor of theoretical mathematics at Stanford University
◦ first Iranian woman: National Academy of Sciences
first woman to win Fields Medal (equivalent Nobel Prize in math)
◦ she received full credit for her accomplishments

This is the reason for the disappointment I feel over the way Esther ends
– she is at the heart of the story,
• one in which a major turn-around took place
◦ but the major reversal required several other reversals
• a significant challenge loomed large at beginning
◦ dominant status of males & subordinate status of females
◦ by end of story, Esther had subverted hierarchy
– but now, as the credits roll, she is not even mentioned
• Mordecai is the one honored for speaking out
• in regard to status of women, nothing had changed
◦ or had it?
◦ had there been a significant yet subtle change?

Before answering that question . . .

Let’s take one last look at the unique feature of book of Esther
– that here is a biblical book that says nothing about God
• that is bothersome
◦ not just because it makes us wonder if it belongs in Bible
◦ or what is its spiritual message
• but because even the most spiritual men and women,
◦ worry about the absence of God
◦ & the fact that his absence is more easily felt than presence
Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him . . . . (Job 23:8)
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me? (Ps. 13:1)
How long, O LORD?
Will You hide Yourself forever? (Ps. 89:46)
– Helmut Thielicke spoke of “dangerous pauses”
• between the time we lay our prayer before God & answer
• and the longer God stalls,
◦ the more room there is for doubts to creep in
Thielicke, “The silence of God is the greatest test of our faith. We all know this.”

The Book of Esther is not about God’s absence
– perhaps his hiddenness
• God is present, but unrecognized
• we can compare this with Esther herself
◦ not mentioned in credits of book, has her name for title
– it is a sad truth, God does not always get credit he deserves
• not all the praise or the thanksgiving
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
. . .
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name (Ps. 96:6-8)

There are times when absence of God is a good for us

A man wrote Abbot John Chapman
– complained of feeling he was being pushed along,
• but didn’t know where – it “is very trying after a while”
Chapman, “Only because you expected something else!”
• God’s silence drives us crazy, only because we expected …
– God’s absence is good when the god we assumed
• would perform in a certain way, respond predictably,
◦ the god we could summon & control is not the true God
• it’s a good thing when the absent god is not the true God
◦ and now we have to sit in silence & wait for true God

When God seems absent, be with what is present
– the here and the now of our immediate experience
• be mindful of sound, because God is never totally silent
• be mindful of breath, because each one comes from him

Years ago, F. Schaeffer published He Is There and . . .

Sounds promising, doesn’t it
– that we can have reassurance of God’s nearness & voice
• his chapter titles reveal how he addressed his topic
◦ with philosophical and theological “proofs”
◦ “The Metaphysical Necessity”
◦ “The Moral Necessity”
◦ “The Epistemological Necessity: The Problem”
◦ “The Epistemological Necessity: The Answer”
– this rational response to spiritual experience leaves me cold
• it is not what you want to tell someone lost in grief or pain
• I can find more warmth in this story
◦ even if it does not mention God

The Book of Esther is a thought-bomb

What I mean, is that it enters the imagination as a seed
– it is true that Esther was an anomaly
• that she broke the conventional rules regarding women
• that she exercised authority reserved only for men
◦ and in doing so, she brought a feminine quality to it
– Esther was not the first woman to cross this line
• another premier example is Deborah – Judges 4:8-9
• again, she didn’t bring immediate change to culture
◦ but planted a seed

Every significant change begins with the imagination
– someone thinks, “It could be different” and begin dreaming
• many influential Jewish women come to mind
• Golda Meir, Janet Yellen, chair woman of US Fed Reserve
◦ COO of Facebook, CEO of Youtube
◦ and two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court
– what can we imagine?

Conc: A few weeks ago we were talking about Jesus Movement

In 1972 Mike Yaconelli wrote “Obituary for the Jesus M.”
– premature by most counts – however:
• Jack Sparks (& other high-profile Evangelicals) – Orthodox
• Shiloh commune disintegrated from internal corruption
• music and messages became commodities – “industries”
– can we imagine a new openness to God, something fresh?
• not so rationalized, commercialized, politicized?
• I ask myself,
“Can I be someone who seeks good of my people?”

If we ask, “Where did Christian saint’s in past go for renewal?”
or “How have average Christians refreshed their souls? their faith? their passion?”
– the answer is, they turned to monasteries and spiritual directors
• they went to men and women who had devoted their lives to God
• they returned to the spiritual disciplines that had been the foundation of apostles and prophets
◦ every generation of Christians who hunger and thirst for God has found its lighthouses
◦ people for whom the old practices continue to gush forth in new life

I’ve run into lots of “former” what-have-yous
Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Charismatics,
Protestants and Catholics, Pentecostals and Eastern Orthodox
they are burned out, have been kicked out, or otherwise disenchanted
some of these men and women have found their way
to the same road on which we are making our spiritual journey
So I cannot help but wonder:
Can you and I be examples for them?
Can we become lighthouses for the current generations?
Can we work for welfare of all?
Can we help them dream a new and vibrant life in Jesus Christ?

Aug 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 30, 2017 – Matthew 5:3

A Whisper of Things Unseen

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Intro: We spent a lot of time last week on “poor in spirit”

We need to spend some time on the promise, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
– what did Jesus mean by “kingdom of heaven”?
• this is important, because it constituted his primary focus (cf. Mt. 4:17, 23)

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17)
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Mt. 4:24 and cf. Mt. 9:35)

– he was telling people to prepare themselves
repent: we hear this repeatedly in the Old Testament – “turn” or “return”
◦ I think the best way for us to understand it today is re-wire your brain
◦ for example, the title to Daniel Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life
at hand: the Greek word means to come near, to approach
◦ but look how Jesus uses it when in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs . . . (Mt. 26:46-47)

◦ “at hand” in that context meant, already nearby and even now arriving

So what did “the kingdom of heaven” mean to Jesus?
(I will give you my view, so take it with a grain of salt)

First, behind the kingdom was Israel’s hope for a national restoration
– the promise of God from the time of Moses:

. . . and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully (Deut. 28:13)

• the closest Israel ever came were monarchies of David and Solomon
◦ at that time Israsel was a world empire, a kingdom to be reckoned with
• but when they turned their backs on God, he turned away from them
– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets foresaw a new Golden Era
• the world would finally see in Israel a model of God’s rule
◦ the world as God intended it to be
• key features: perfect justice and perfect righteousness 
◦ according to Isaiah, it would look something like this:

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion [will feed] together;
And a little boy will lead them.
And the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:6-9)

Secondly, the basic meaning of the biblical words translated kingdom is rule
– to belong to a kingdom was to live under the authority of  the king
• so the kingdom of heaven is everything that is God’s government
◦ perhaps the easiest way to grasp its meaning is found in the following lines:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10)

◦ God’s kingdom is wherever his will is done

William Barclay said, “If we take the two petitions of the Lord’s prayer and set them together:
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,
we get the definition: The Kingdom of God is a society where God’s will is perfectly done in earth as it is in heaven.”

• God’s will is for perfect peace–shalom in every person, society and the world

Third, kingdom referred to a realm
– the realm was whatever lay under a king’s authority
• the geographical space and its population
– I choose to broaden the meaning of realm to dimension
• the kingdom of heaven is a dimension of intersection
◦ between earth and heaven, time and eternity, humankind and God
• a dimension in which God’s power is present and directly effects the world

When people heard Jesus say “the kingdom of heaven,”
– they probably did not have all of these concepts in mind
• nevertheless, these concepts were all pieces of the puzzle

read more…

Jul 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 23, 2017 – Matthew 5:1-3

Sinners In the Hands of A Loving Savior

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:1-3

Intro: In American history, a few sermons have become legandary

Early on, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners In the Hands of An Angry God” (1741)
– in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”
– more recently, Anthony Campolo, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s A Comin’”

For spiritual depth and beauty, none come close to Jesus’ “Sermon On the Mount”
– but is it really a sermon?
• if we back up a few steps, we come to Jesus’
◦ birth, baptism, temptations and the beginning of his ministry
• he then invited four men away from fishing to a new vocation
◦ these recruits needed training – a re-education
– his teaching here is more revelation than “sermon”
• and it was meant to transform his followers
• for them to deliver the message, they had to become the message

Jesus introduces his message with a list of Beatitudes

Some people see a linear progression in these blessings
– a ladder or learning the alphabet so you will be able to read
• this is how I used to understand the Beatitudes
◦ but this model implies you master the first rung, then next, etc.
• this does not appear to be the case in lived-experience
◦ I find myself returning to first, then maybe the fourth, and so on
– Jesus is assisting the person whose soul is reaching out for God
• he is helping them find their way to God’s kingdom
◦ so he reveals what defines a citizen of the kingdom of heaven
• the qualities (attributes? virtues?) all go and work together
◦ the healthy soul is an integrated soul

Matthew provides the setting for Jesus’ teaching

Crowds have gathered from near and far (Mt. 4:25)
– it seems that the sight of them triggered something in Jesus
• he left them, walked away, and hiked up a mountain
• he had not invited them to follow, but he welcomed them
– the Bible treats mountains, hills, even mounds in special way
• these elevated spaces made a strong impression on Hebrew consciousness
◦ they were perceived as haunts for demons or gods–scary or sacred, but not neutral
◦ later, three disciples had a sacred mountain experience (not symbolic, but literal; Mt. 17:1-8)
◦ perhaps here, it was Jesus’ symbolic ascent to sacred space

read more…