12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles
Before the momentous decision of choosing his 12 apostles Jesus spends the night in prayer. Why did he need to pray? Weren’t he and the Father one? Wasn’t power coming
from him? Didn’t he have authority? The answer seems to be related to his incarnation. “As a man he needed to pray. Jesus was fully human, with a body and a sensible soul. His divine nature did not somehow take the place of his soul (in a kind of modern day Apollinarianism), giving him immediate access to his divine attributes like omniscience and omnipotence. Had this been true, it’s hard to see how Jesus could’ve increased in wisdom as he grew older (Luke 2:52), claimed ignorance of the day of his return (Mark 13:32), or learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8). It’s also hard to see why he would’ve needed to “offer up supplications with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7). ” [Mark Jones “The Prayers of Jesus: Listening and Learning from our Saviour”]
Jesus prayed and obeyed and worked miracles through the power of the Spirit. We share this Spirit and so we can pray as Jesus prayed. If he needed to pray how much more do we?
So why is it so hard to pray? Maybe it is a lot to do with the fact that we are in a spiritual war [Eph 6:12]. Prayer is the communication between the front line troops and HQ, but the enemy will do all he can to disrupt that communication line.
There is lots written about prayer being a relationship, and about praise and adoration and thanksgiving all being part of prayer. All that is true, and a balanced prayer life will include all of those elements, but in its essence the word “pray” means to ask. We can see that meaning in legal circles where a “prayer” is a specific request for judgment, without any religious connotations. Asking is not selfish and wrong, rather it is a sign of faith [Matthew 7:7]. It’s an acknowledgement that God is sovereign and we aren’t.
So pray that God will help you to pray. If it is the Lord’s will that we be a praying people, then that is one prayer he’s bound to answer.
Lord God, who has given us the gift of prayer, please help me to be a praying disciple. Amen
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
23 ‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
This passage, the beatitudes, is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Like the 1 Corinthians 13 passage about love, it’s approved of by believers and unbelievers alike because it seems to have universal application. Yet, read in their biblical context, they are very confronting words.
The word “blessed” is more nuanced than the translation “happy”. A “blessed” person is one who has God’s approval and is favoured by God.
Luke differs from Matthew’s version in that he has 4 blessings and 4 woes representing the positive and negative outcomes of the various characteristics of a true disciple, whereas Matthew has 8 blessings and no woes. It seems that both authors took aspects of Jesus’ teaching that fitted their purpose in writing.
The beatitudes echo the words of the Magnificat back in chapter 1, “ He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” [Luke 1:52-53], and also the words of God in Isaiah 61:1-3.
The people described here, the poor and the hungry and those who mourn and are persecuted, refer to those who rely upon God, hunger after God, who mourn over sin, both theirs and others, and who are hated for their devotion to God. Is this just spiritualising something that should be taken literally? Does God not have a special place in his heart for the monetarily poor, and those who are bereaved? He does call us to help the economically poor and needy [Jeremiah 22:16] but it’s hard to see how those who are economically poor, just taking one of the beatitudes, are approved by God because of their poverty, and those who are economically rich are cursed. The whole tenor of the scriptures is that those who love and put their faith in God are the blessed. Those who are economically poor may be more open to recognising their spiritual poverty – Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven [Matthew 19:16-24]; Jesus’ words here may echo that thinking.
The tenor of the beatitudes is that of a great reversal. The person who arrogantly thinks he or she has it all and is not concerned with God and the life to come, is to be pitied. Woe to such a person. The person who humbly recognises their need for God’s rescue is the blessed person. That blessing will not be fully realised until the kingdom comes but we can experience the joy of that blessedness now, just as the person who has booked a holiday can rejoice in looking forward to what is coming.
God of grace, fill my heart and mind with the reality of your blessings. Amen
27 ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’
Loving others is not a characteristic specific to believers. Love is pretty well universal – that’s the point Jesus makes in v 32. Loving those who love us is relatively easy. David Bowie sang, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”[Nature Boy written by Eden Ahbez and first recorded by Nat King Cole] That is what makes life good, the reciprocity of love. What is so remarkable about Jesus’ expectation for his followers is that we are to love even when it’s not reciprocated. We are to love those who don’t return our love. We are to love the unlovely. We are to love those who hate and mistreat us. Love like that stands out, especially when it is displayed by a whole community. It is an unnatural love, miraculous in fact.
Imagine the impact of a community that loves like that! It would indeed be a light on the hill.
We read passages like this and immediately we start to think “Yes, but ………. surely there are exceptions to this. What if …….”. I can remember lending my lawnmower to some neighbours and then seeing their teenage kids throwing the grass catcher at each other. Surely it’s OK not to lend it to them again.
There may be exceptions to Jesus’ words. Jesus probably wouldn’t want you to hand over the deeds to your home to a stranger who asked for them. You could claim that wouldn’t be loving for many reasons. The issue seems to be one of our default position. What is my default position to that person who cuts in on me on the road? What is my default position to that person at work who stabs me in the back? What is my default position to the person who insults me or trolls me or gossips about me? Is my first response to reach out in love? We are prone to think something like “Give me a good reason why I should turn the other cheek in this situation?” whereas our default position should be, “Tell me why I shouldn’t.”
After all, God does good to his enemies – “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” [Rom 5:8]
Lord God, whose character is love, strengthen me my by your Spirit to love well. Amen
37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’
39 He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
41 ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,” when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’
This passage is often used to stop Christians from ever being critical of immoral or unethical behaviour. If that were the case it would contradict what is said elsewhere in the Bible [James 5:19-20], and would certainly run across Jesus’ demand that we repent and believe the Gospel. [Mark 1:15]
Jesus here is condemning what we would call judgmentalism – looking down on others and writing them off because of their wrongful behaviour, much like the pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. That’s borne out by what follows; “Do not condemn”. “Take the plank out of your own eye before addressing the splinter in your brother’s eye.” Notice that he doesn’t condemn addressing the splinter, rather he condemns the judgmentalism that writes other people off by those who themselves are in need of mercy. That, he says, is hypocrisy. The only way that we can address the sins and failings of others is as one sinner in need of God’s mercy to another sinner in need of God’s mercy. Helping someone to see their sin and confess it is an act of great mercy, if it is done in a loving spirit. [Prov 27:6; Matthew 18:15-16]
Furthermore, for a church leader to discipline a fellow disciple is not being judgmental but loving – loving to the person (who knows, perhaps they will repent; Jer 26:3) and loving to the flock. We see this in Paul who passed judgement on another believer engaged in sexual immorality [1 Cor 5:3] and false teaching [1 Tim 6:3-5]. He explicitly says that we are to judge those within the church [1 Cor 5:12-13]. He tells church leaders to expel the false teachers from among them.
If church leaders cannot discipline with tears in their eyes, they are not worthy of the role of leader. If a Christian, addressing the sin or wrongs of another disciple, cannot do it with a deep realisation of their own need for forgiveness and grace, they should not do it.
Father, help me to accept the loving discipline of those who lead me in the faith, and teach me not to think I’m better than anyone else. Thank you for your love and grace towards me, a sinner. Amen
43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
46 ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.’
This passage has a close connection with yesterday’s passage where Jesus ties our judgment from God with how we treat others, and God’s forgiveness of us with how we forgive others. He is not saying that God will forgive us only if we forgive others, but that if we truly have the Holy Spirit within us then we will be living out his character in our own lives. We will be compassionate and forgiving because the fig doesn’t fall far from the tree. If we are children of God, forgiven by Jesus’ death for us and living in the Spirit, we will bear our father’s likeness. If there is no grace in us towards others it shows there is something seriously wrong with our hearts – they haven’t been changed as they should have been and it calls our new birth into question.
So what fruit are you producing? Can others see your grace?
Jesus says “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.” There is the clue. Are we letting the Spirit of God store up good things in our hearts? [Col 3:1-3, 12-14]
If we are not producing good fruit – love for enemies, grace, forgiveness, humility – it doesn’t mean we are a lost cause. This very passage might be the means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to repentance and change. In fact, if Jesus’ words pierce our hearts it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work bringing about change in us. Now would be the time to repent and ask God to help you to change.
It is not enough to say that we are believers. ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?’ [v 46] We can judge whether or not Jesus is lord of our lives by asking whether or not we are willing to obey him. And notice that obedience to Jesus is the way to life. It gives strength to stand firm in times of trouble. It is pointless trying the strengthen the foundations when the waters are already rising. It’s building on obedience to Jesus when the sun is shining and all is going well that gives us the strength to stand firm in the day of trouble.
What are you doing to build a store of good things in your heart?
Are you preparing for life’s troubles by forming a habit of living God’s way and filling your heart with things that are good and pure and holy?
Almighty God, help me to allow your Spirit to have his way in my life and not to fight him. Amen