February 27, Friday
Jesus took His disciples away from the city and began to explain to them how God’s kingdom differed from life as they’d known it.
- “God’s blessing is on all who recognize their poverty without Him. Heaven’s kingdom is prepared for people like that.
- All who have known deep sorrow will experience great comfort.
- In God’s plan the earth belongs not to the power-brokers but to the humble.
- All who long for God’s way of life will find full satisfaction in Him.
- Those who show mercy to others will themselves be shown mercy.
- Only those whose hearts are pure will see God.
- Those who are truly God’s children will work peace in the world.
“Along the way, as you live like this, you will suffer persecution, slander, and false accusations; but you can rejoice anyway because God is saving up a huge reward for you in His kingdom. Know that you’re in good company with the holy prophets of old who were similarly mistreated.
“On the other hand, what troubles and heartaches await you who revel in your prosperity! What desperate hunger lies in store for all who boast of their affluence! The ones who spend their days in frivolity and pleasure will discover what mourning and grief feel like, and all who are given places of honor by the crowds will find out how worthless that praise is. For generations, people like them cheered on the false teachers and prophets.
“While you are in the world you serve as salt, preserving and enhancing; unless you lose your ‘saltiness,’ in which case you’ve lost your value. While you are in the world you are like lights, doing good things that can be seen by others to help them recognize and honor your Father in heaven. Let your life be a beacon of light in the darkness.
“I am not bringing you a new teaching that does away with the Old Testament. No, I have come to demonstrate how all that it teaches can be lived to the full. Those who minimize the importance of God’s revealed will won’t amount to much in His kingdom, while those who live it and teach it will be great. My message is this: unless and until you are living better than the scribes and Pharisees you won’t even get into the kingdom of heaven. Surely a blind person can’t provide assistance to others who are blind; they’ll both fall into the ditch. Those who truly learn from their teachers eventually become like them.
“Let me explain what I mean. The letter of the Law, to which the scribes and Pharisees proudly adhere, says, ‘You must not murder.’ They are quick to bring murderers to justice. But I’m here to tell you that if you even get angry with your brother, call him a fool, or curse him in your heart, you are in danger of the fiery judgment of hell.
“Once you understand the tremendous value God places on human souls, you’ll make reconciliation and restitution a priority, even to the point of interrupting your worship. If, while you are worshiping, you remember that you have offended someone, drop what you’re doing and go make peace with them. Only then will your offering be pleasing to the Lord.
“Here’s another example: The commandment literally says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ I’m telling you that if you even look twice at a woman to satisfy your sexual appetite, you have broken this Law. Once you recognize the sacredness of human sexuality, you’ll see why it would be better to pluck out your eyes and go through life blind or handicapped than to be led astray by your senses and end up in hell.
“The scribes and Pharisees have declared: ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce;’ but I say that whoever divorces his wife (unless she has been unfaithful to her husband) is making her an adulteress because whoever marries a divorced woman is committing adultery.
“They have also made up elaborate rules about the right way to make promises or swear oaths. Supposedly, if you swear by Heaven or earth or Jerusalem your word is more binding. My word to you is that everyone should speak forthrightly, honestly, and plainly: ‘yes’ means yes, ‘no’ means no; and if you say you’ll do something, be sure you follow through. After all, what good is it to swear by something over which you have no control? Heaven, after all, is God’s throne, the earth His footstool and Jerusalem belongs to the great King. Why, you can’t even stop your hair from turning gray, so what good is it to ‘swear by your own head?’
“The Law, as understood by the scribes and Pharisees, exacts meticulous retribution — that is, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;’ but let me describe God’s heart in this matter: if someone hits you, don’t hit him back. If he wins a case against you and demands your shirt as payment, give him your jacket as well. And if anyone forces you to go a mile with him (as soldiers often did in those days requiring citizens to carry their packs), offer to go a second mile. In God’s Kingdom if someone has a need and asks for help, we don’t turn our backs on him.
“Your religious teachers take the command to ‘love your neighbor’ and add ‘hate your enemy.’ On the contrary, I encourage you to love your enemies and to pray for those who abuse you; do good things for those who hate you and even bless the ones who curse you. That will demonstrate that you are like your Heavenly Father who equally dispenses sunlight and rain upon those who are honest and good as well as the evildoers. Only loving those who are nice to you is no great accomplishment. Anyone can do that! Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you only greet the folks you like, you’re acting just like the pagans. No, your lives must reflect the heart of your Heavenly Father: perfectly loving.
“Earlier I explained that when you do good deeds it gives the world a chance to see what a life connected with God can look like. Having said that, you have to be careful that you don’t end up living for the attention and praise of the people around you. If you do that, you’ll miss out on getting the reward only God can give.
“Here are a few examples:
- Don’t broadcast when you help the poor. You’ve seen the type. They hire a trumpeter to march in front of them calling attention to their act of mercy. What a sham! Instead, if you do these acts in secret, your Father who sees everything will reward you in His time.
- Don’t make a show of praying to God. Again, the guys that stand and give long prayers in church may impress the people, but they don’t have God’s attention. He loves to meet with you in private and hear your heart, not a bunch of fancy words. After all, He knows what you need before you even ask Him.
He listens to simple prayers like this:
Our Heavenly Father,
may your Name be honored in my life,
may You govern our lives
and may Your heart’s desire be accomplished
here on earth the way it is in heaven.
We recognize you as our Source
and ask only for what we need for this day.
We know we need Your forgiveness
and we need You to help us
forgive others who wrong us.
Protect us from the Tempter
and when we are tempted
help us to never choose evil.
The kingdom, the power, and the glory
belong to You forever. Amen.
Only if you are willing to forgive those who have wronged you, will your Heavenly Father forgive you. If you refuse to forgive, the Father cannot extend forgiveness to you.
- Finally, if you decide to fast by denying yourself some food or pleasure in order to draw near to God, don’t let others know about it. Again, your Father who looks on the heart will reward you far better than the praise you might get from friends for being ‘so spiritual.’