An Eye for an Eye?

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Reading the Word

Matthew 5:38–42 (ESV)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Most of us have probably heard the phrase “an eye for an eye” before. Many of us may not have been aware that the phrase comes from the Bible. It is found in multiple places in the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). This may seem odd since we would not expect the Bible to promote revenge. So we need to ask, “Why is it in the Bible?”

An eye for an eye is not a statement that promotes revenge. It is a statement about equal justice. It was a statement that sought to make sure some people did not get away with crimes while others were too severely punished. “An eye for an eye” is simply a way of saying that a punishment must fit the crime. We do not sentence a person to life in prison for going five miles per hour over the speed limit. We do not fine someone fifty dollars for homicide. The just thing to do is to make the punishment equal to the crime as best as that is possible.

In Jesus’ day, the people had perverted the original intent of this instruction and had used it to justify revenge. In our passage for today, Jesus makes a statement that is a bit surprising to those who would seek such revenge on an enemy. Jesus tells us that instead of revenge, we should not retaliate. It is important to note that Jesus is addressing individual retaliation, not the role of government and authorities who are given authority by God to enact justice in a society. Nor is Jesus denying a right to self-defense to those who face severe harm. At issue is revenge and retaliation by an individual against another individual that only serves to escalate the situation to something worse. Resisting or fleeing is often necessary to prevent more serious abuse. And love for others sometimes necessitates that we have to take further action to prevent someone from harming others. May we always seek to show love to others.

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Keep Your Word

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Reading the Word

Matthew 5:33–37 (ESV)

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this passage Jesus brought up the issue of oaths. In the Old Testament, a person was permitted to take a vow as long as it was done in truthfulness and not falsely. The purpose of vows then were much the same as they are now: to guarantee that a person would follow through with an obligation. This is at the heart of the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain found in Exodus 20:7.

In Jesus’ time on earth, it was common for people to take vows with no intention of keeping them. This was pointed out by Jesus in a confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22. So, in our passage today Jesus stresses that truthfulness is the thing God desires. We should keep our word and vows should not be necessary.

In our world today, we live daily with our guard up against scams and those who would like to take advantage of us. In many of the schemes, the other person makes promises that they have no intention of actually fulfilling, even though they have made promises to do so. We also see those who enter into contracts with others and then try to break those contract through loopholes and technicalities.

As Christians, we should be known for our honesty and truthfulness. When we say we will do something, we should do it. When we obligate ourselves in some way, we should fulfill our obligations. Our “yes” should mean “yes” and our “no” should mean “no.” Let us always look to do what is right in the eyes of our Lord.

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A Matter of the Heart

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Reading the Word

Matthew 5:27–32 (ESV)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Jesus pointed back to the Ten Commandments in yesterday’s reading, he does again when he speaks of adultery. He quotes from Exodus 20:14. However, he does not simply repeat what the people had been told through their traditions and other teachers. He tells them that not only is the actual act of adultery a violation of the law, but so is lust. Sin originates in our hearts. It is not only something we do outside of ourselves. Jesus goes on to say that we should treat sin very seriously. He uses the extreme examples of removing our eyes and cutting off our hands to keep from sinning. While Jesus was using hyperbole to make his case, it is clear how Jesus thought of sin.

In verses 31-32, we read about the issue of divorce. In these verses, Jesus addresses the “easy divorce” culture of the time. It was common for men to divorce their wives for any reason they wanted, even if it was trivial. Jesus swings the pendulum the other way and tells them that marriage is supposed to be lasting. It was designed to be life-long. Divorce should be rare and only in extreme circumstances.

In these verses, Jesus teaches us that sin is ultimately a matter of the heart. We do not please God simply by going through all of the external motions of religion. That is what the Pharisees did and Jesus told his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” God desires true righteousness and holiness from his people. He desires pure hearts.

If we are honest, we know that we do not measure up to the standard that Christ lays out in his sermon. However, he told us that he came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled it on our behalf. When we admit our need of a Savior and turn to Jesus, we receive his righteousness and he takes our sin upon himself. That is why he went to the cross. He went to pay for the sins of the world.

Praise the Lord for our righteous Savior whose righteousness belongs to those who trust in him. Now, as we walk in the forgiveness of Christ, let us set our hearts on holiness and righteousness as we show our love for him.

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Anger and Reconciliation

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Reading the Word

Matthew 5:21–26 (ESV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus comments that the people have heard that they should not murder. Of course, this is explicitly stated in the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20:13 in what is often referred to as the Ten Commandments. However, Jesus does not stop at the physical act of murder. He tells the people that anger, insults, and degrading speech are all violations of the will of God and brings one under judgment. Jesus gives three different pictures of judgment when he says the person would be liable to judgment, liable to the council, and liable to the hell of fire. It is not likely that these represent ascending degrees of judgment, but rather more vivid descriptions.

Jesus tells the people that if they are offering their gift on the altar and remember that a brother has an issue, they should immediately go to their brother and seek reconciliation. By brother, Jesus is not speaking of a biological family member, but one who is related through the family of faith. This is how Jesus uses the term throughout the Gospels. Notice that Jesus tells the people that it is more important to take care of their relationships than to fulfill religious ritual. He urges the people to seek reconciliation before they would reach judgment.

Our attitudes towards others matter, especially our attitudes towards other Christians. We are called to be a part of the family of God, the church. Unfortunately, there are often broken relationships in the church that are not addressed. Neither the offender nor the one offended seeks to bring reconciliation to the relationship. As a result, negative thoughts and opinions form and often these result in speaking poorly about fellow believers. While this is going on, we go through all of the religious routines and think that we are pleasing God. This is not true! Jesus tells us to seek reconciliation with our brother (or sister) in Christ and to seek it now. Whether you are the one who caused the offense or are the one who has been offended, both share in the responsibility to seek reconciliation. Who do you need to reach out to today?

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Jesus Fulfills the Law and Prophets

Matthew 517 [widescreen]

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are currently reading through the life of Christ in 2019. May God bless you as you study his word.

Reading the Word

Matthew 5:17–20 (ESV)

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being Salt and Light

Matthew 513 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 5:13–16 (ESV)

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus uses two images in these verses to give us a picture of the role of his people in the world. He begins by saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt was used for a variety of things in the ancient world. a few primary uses were as a preservative, as a way to purify food, and as a seasoning. It would be hard to say which of these benefits of salt that Jesus is referring to, but maybe that is the point. Salt has a beneficial influence on the world. Yet, if salt loses its saltiness, it is no longer of any benefit. It is time to throw it away.

The second image that Jesus gives us is concerning light. He says, “You are the light of the world.” Of course, light illuminates dark places and allows all to see. A city on a hill would be east to see at night because of its lights. And who lights a lamp to cover it? That would be counter productive. A lamp is placed up high so it can give off as much light as possible.

Followers of Jesus are to be like salt in the world. We should have a beneficial influence for good. And we should be like light. We should illuminate this dark world with the truth of God’s word so that the world may see and turn to Jesus. Let us then live in such a way that people will see our lives and be pointed to our God, so that they will give glory to him.

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Blessed?

Matthew 53 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 5:3–12 (ESV)

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Parallel Text: Luke 6:20-26

Understanding and Applying the Word

These verses are known as The Beatitudes because each of the verses begin with the word “blessed.” The Greek word means “happy”, but we must not assume that Jesus is speaking of emotional happiness. The type of blessedness Jesus describes is one that results from being in a right relationship with God and his kingdom.

Bruce Barton, in his commentary on Matthew, suggests that Jesus’ message in The Beatitudes may become clearer if we consider their opposites. He writes:

• Wretched are the spiritually self-sufficient, for theirs is the kingdom of hell.
• Wretched are those who deny the tragedy of their sinfulness, for they will be troubled.
• Wretched are the self-centered, for they will be empty.
• Wretched are those who ceaselessly justify themselves, for their efforts will be in vain.
• Wretched are the merciless, for no mercy will be shown to them.
• Wretched are those with impure hearts, for they will not see God.
• Wretched are those who reject peace, for they will earn the title “sons of Satan.”
• Wretched are the uncommitted for convenience’s sake, for their destination is hell.

Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew

Are we among the blessed who belong to the kingdom? We do not get there on our own or by caring only about ourselves. The kingdom belongs to the poor, the mourners, the meek, those who desire righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who desire peace, and those who are persecuted for doing what is right in the eyes of God. May God let those words describe us.

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Jesus and His Kingdom

The Sermon of the Beatitudes

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 4:23–5:2 (ESV)

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Parallel Text: Luke 6:17-19

Understanding and Applying the Word

This passage marks the beginning of what is often referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus’ fame had spread, he had been preaching, performing miracles, and calling disciples to himself. Now, in a long sermon, Jesus the Messiah tells the people what will define his kingdom. The people had been waiting all of these years for the Messiah to come. They were about to find out that the kingdom that Jesus was establishing was far different than what they were expecting.

Many people want Jesus if they can have him on their own terms. However, that is not how we enter the kingdom of God. We must come humbly, acknowledging our sins and need of forgiveness. We must cast ourselves at the Savior’s feet and trust in him to save us, as only he can. And we must turn our lives over to him. He is Lord and he intends to completely change our lives from the inside out. The kingdom is one of holiness and righteousness and love for God and our neighbor. Come hear the words of the Lord!

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Choosing Twelve

Ordaining of the Twelve Apostles

Ordaining of the Twelve Apostles (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Mark 3:13–19 (ESV)

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Parallel Text: Luke 6:12-16

Understanding and Applying the Word

So far, throughout Jesus’ ministry in Israel, he has been rejected by the Jewish leadership. Now Jesus chooses twelve men that will go out to the people and proclaim the message of the kingdom to the people. The number twelve represents the number of tribes in Israel. The apostles are chosen as replacements by Jesus for the failed religious leaders that were already in place. Jesus’ rejection of the established Jewish leadership is a major theme in the Gospel accounts.

Jesus did not reject Israel. To the contrary, he staked his claim on Israel by selecting and empowering twelve apostles to go throughout the nation and preach his word. Jesus will later send the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles showing that he also came for non-Jews. Jesus may have been rejected by many, but his arms are open to all who will turn to him, no matter place of origin. And his authority is not subject to the leadership of this world, no matter how great the resistance.

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In the Face of Opposition

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:15–21 (ESV)

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Parallel Text: Mark 3:7-12

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Jesus has been moving around, teaching, and performing miracles before the people, two things have happened. First, He has become more and more popular. And second, he has met greater and greater resistance from the Jewish religious establishment. We saw in yesterday’s reading that the Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus (Matthew 12:14).

In today’s passage, we are told that Jesus was aware of the desire to kill him, so he left there and went somewhere else. Matthew tells us that this fulfilled the words of Isaiah, who prophesied that the servant of the Lord would have a ministry among the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). Mark’s account of these things tells us that Jesus’ crowds were not only coming from Israel, but the land beyond the Jordan, which was predominantly Gentile.

There is much we can learn from Jesus in these verses. The one thing I want us think about is how Jesus handled the opposition because we all have and will face opposition to the gospel message and to living according to God’s word. We are told that Jesus proclaimed the word, but he did not get involved in quarrels and loud arguments. He remained gentle while still speaking the truth. Matthew, quoting Isaiah, said, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”

Jesus preached the word and refused to engage in fruitless arguments with those who did not accept him. Let us be known for our gentleness as we proclaim the word of God in a world that is often at odds with our message. May we guard our tongues, our attitudes, and our social media interactions for the glory of the Lord.

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