Be Reconciled; Make Friends

Matthew 5:21-24
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the commands of the law and shows how they provide a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, gloriously human (43).

Jesus offers two remarkably specific and practical commands. Be reconciled; make friends. How simple that is—and yet how hugely different and costly (44).

All this is, of course, impossible. That is, it’s impossible until you look at Jesus. . . . Jesus himself refused to go the way of anger. Instead, he took the anger of his enemies within Israel, and of Israel’s enemies, the Romans, on to himself, and died under its load. From that point on, reconciliation is not simply an ideal we must strive for. It is an achievement, an accomplishment, which we in turn must now embody (45).

“I have come . . . to fulfill.”

Matthew 5:13-17
“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. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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. 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.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
This passage shows how Jesus himself . . . was, in fact, the reality towards which Israel’s whole life and tradition had pointed. . . . He had come to fulfill the law and the prophets. . . . Jesus wasn’t intending to abandon the law and the prophets. Israel’s’ whole story, commands, promises and all, was going to come true in him (39-41).

This was truly revolutionary, and at the same time deeply in tune with the ancient stories and promise of the Bible. And the remarkable thing is that Jesus brought it all into reality in his own person. He was the salt of the earth. He was the light of the world: set up on a hill-top, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship his father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfillment of the law and the prophets (41).

The Poor Kingdom

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
The life of heaven—the life of the realm where God is already king—is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these “beatitudes” in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up (38).
A. Orendorff
What would it look like to live as though being “poor in spirit” really were the way of blessing and inheritance? What would it mean to live “right way up” in an “upside down” world? Reflecting briefly, I suppose this would mean at least two things. First, it would mean living honestly. Living honestly means more than just telling the truth about who I am (what we normally call “confession”—owing my sin and presenting myself as I am); it also means ordering my life beneath the reality that in and of myself I am both untrustworthy and untrusting, unlovely and unloving, unfaithful and disbelieving. I am poor and to live as though I were rich is a lie.

Second, it would mean valuing “poverty,” valuing what can (for all intents and purposes) offer me nothing that this world considers valuable. The litmus-test for Matthew 5:3 is: In what ways am I giving my time, money and relational energy to people and projects that cannot add any profit to my life?

Healing and the Kingdom

Matthew 4:23
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.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
But Jesus was never simply a healer pure and simple, vital though that was as part of his work. For him, the healings were sings of the new thing that God was doing through him. God’s kingdom—God’s sovereign, saving rule—as at last being unleashed upon Israel and the world through him (33-4).
N. T. Wright, Simply Christian
[Jesus’] healing was a dramatic sign of the message itself. God, the world’s creator, was at work through him, to do what he had promised, to open blind eyes and deaf ears, to rescue people, to turn everything right side up (101-2).
A. Orendorff
Jesus’ healings, coupled with the proclamation that God’s kingdom had arrived, are not ends in and of themselves. Rather, they are sign-posts, powerful symbols that display what life under God’s coming reign will look like. “In my kingdom,” Jesus is in effect saying, “there is no disease, no affliction, no oppression, no death.” Everything that once marked the world as it lay under the power of sin is now being undone. Everything that once made sense is now being overthrown. Everything that once operated on the principle of death and decay is now being. Here, in this kingdom, everything (and everyone) is made new.

A Light Has Dawned

Matthew 4:16-17
“. . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is arriving.”
A. Orendorff

Darkness. A dawning light. The command to “repent.” And the proclamation of a kingdom. Immediately on the heels of his baptism and wilderness temptations, Jesus heads north the region known pejoratively as “Galilee of the nations.” He does so, Matthew tells us, so that the words of Isaiah 9 might be fulfilled:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined (Is. 9:2).
That same prophecy goes on in the very next verses to speak of Israel’s redemption from the hands of Babylon, the end of her impending exile and with it the ultimate cessation of enmity and war:
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire (9:3-5).
The reason, Isaiah says, lies in the birth of a child:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (9:6-7).
Jesus’ announcement that the “kingdom of heaven is arriving,” means the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy for it is through Jesus’ own arrival and kingdom-bringing work that, as John says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). “I am the light of the world,” Jesus declared, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

While Matthew surely had something along these lines in mind, perhaps more to the point are the words of Jesus just one chapter later in Matthew 5: “You [this time speaking to his disciples] are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

Much can and is said about the growing darkness of our world, yet for all our cultural lamenting what must remain central is that we, Jesus’ followers, are to be the light the breaks in upon those “dwelling in darkness.” We, as the church, Jesus' kingdom-bringing bearers, are to dawn upon the parts of our world covered in the “shadow of death.”

The darkness of the world is due not to the presence of night but to an absence of the sun. “You are the light of the world.”

Worship and Serve Him

Matthew 4:9-10
And he [the devil] said to him [Jesus], “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me [lit., ‘if falling down, you worship’].” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
A. Orendorff

In response to the tempters final advance, rather than citing one particular OT text, Jesus instead draws upon a pair of words that are coupled at least three times in the Pentateuch. Exodus 20:5, 23:24 and Deuteronomy 5:9 all begin with the same command: “You shall not bow down to them nor served them” (referring in each case to the so-called “gods” Israel would soon encounter in Canaan).
Exodus 20:5, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God . . .”
Exodus 23:24, “. . . you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them . . .”
Deuteronomy 5:9, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God . . .”
In this Matthew provides a model for his readers in the areas of both temptation and defense. As Tom Wright explains,
The temptations we all face, day by day and at critical moments of decision and vocation in our lives, may by very different from those of Jesus, but that have exactly the same effect. They are not simply trying to entice us in to omitting this or that sin. They are trying to distract us, to turn us aside form the path of servanthood to which our baptism has commissioned us (26).
They are trying, in other words, to turn us away from an authentic and truly human existence. To be human (in the truest sense of the word) means living in grateful dependence and joyful submission to the God who speaks in and through the words of Scripture. This means ordering our lives in keeping with those words—whether, as Matthew makes clear, this ordering will mean famine or feast.

Moreover, that very same word is the primary means of our defense, the primary means of deconstructing and resisting the temptations of Satan, the flesh and the world. “Store scripture in your heart, and know how to use it. Keep your eyes on God, and trust him for everything. Remember your calling, to bring God’s light to the world. And say a firm ‘no’ to the voices that lure you back into the darkness” (ibid).

“My Son . . . and My People”

Matthew 3:13-15
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
V. 15, “This is how it’s got to be right now,” said Jesus, “This is the right way for us to complete God’s whole saving plan.”

Jesus’ reply tells us something vital about the whole gospel story that is going to unfold before our surprised gaze. Yes, he is coming to fulfill God’s plan, the promises which God made ages ago and has never forgotten. Yes, these are promises which will blow God’s wind, God’s spirit, through the world, which will bring the fire of God’s just judgment on evil wherever it occurs, and which will rescue God’s penitent people once and for all from every kind of exile to which they have been driven. But if he, Jesus, is to do all this, this is how he must do it: by humbly identifying himself with God’s people, by taking their place, sharing their penitence, living their life and ultimately dying their death (21-2).

What’s a king to do?

Matthew 2:1-3
. . . in the days of Herod the king wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him . . .
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
What [Matthew] tells us is political dynamite. Jesus, Matthew is saying, is the true king of the Jews, and old Herod is the false one, a usurper, an impostor. . . . The arrival of the “Magi” . . . introduces us to something which Matthew wants us to be clear about from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people. At the heart of many prophecies about the coming king, the Messiah, there were predictions that his rule would bring God’s justice and peace to the whole world (e.g. Psalm 72; Isaiah 11.1-10) (11).
A. Orendorff
The kingship of Jesus, particularly as Matthew presents it at the opening of his story, offers us with a picture of power that is radically different from how power is normally understood in the world. Matthew, as opposed to Luke, does not tell us the story of the shepherds’ midnight trek. Rather he tells us the story of the Magi, “wise men” from the east, who sought by divination the illegitimate son of a Jewish teenager. It is hard to imagine a more shocking and unexpected portrayal of [Jewish] power than Gentile magicians (astrologers) “worshiping” (vv. 2 and 11) and coronating a peasant born in squalor. The juxtaposition of king Herod “troubled” in Jerusalem while surrounded by all the trapping of ease and comfort with king Jesus “worshiped” in Bethlehem surrounded by the all trappings of despair and want is meant to turn the scene sideways. What is power? Who has power? What does it mean to be a “king,” to be a “ruler,” to be a “shepherd” (v. 6)? Matthew’s announcement is clear: Herod’s days are numbered; the kingdom of Jesus has arrived . . . but it’s not coming the way we thought.

“and you shall call his name . . .”

Matthew 1:20-23
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
The two names together [Jesus, or in Hebrew Joshua from v. 20, and Immanuel from v. 23] express the meaning of the story [Matthew is about to tell, i.e., the gospel]. God is present, with his people; he doesn’t “intervene” from a distance, but is always active, sometimes in most unexpected ways. And God’s actions are aimed at rescuing people from a helpless plight, demanding that he take the initiative and do things people had regarded as (so to speak) inconceivable. . . . This is the God, and this is the Jesus, who comes to us still today when human possibilities have run out, offering new and startling ways forward, in fulfillment of his promises by his powerful love and grace (8).

A “Political” Genealogy

Matthew 1:12-16
And after the exile to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Messiah.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
For most of the time after the Babylonian exile, Israel had not had a functioning monarchy. The kings and queens they had had in the last 200 years before the birth of Jesus were not from David’s family. Herod the Great . . . had no royal blood, and was not even fully Jewish, but was simply an opportunist military commander whom the Romans made into a king to further their own Middle Eastern agendas. But there were some who know that they were descended from the line of true and ancient kings. Even to tell that story, to list those names was therefore making a political statement. You wouldn’t want Herod’s spies to overhear you boasting that you were part of the true royal family (3).