Matthew 10:26, 28, 31
So have no fear of them . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. . . . Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
A. Orendorff
Fear, as one source says, “is an evil, corroding thread; the fabric of our lives is shout through with it.” Yet for all of its negative features, fear is not in and of itself an inherently evil thing. Many of our fears—at a practical level—are in fact healthy, natural responses to a world that is full of danger and deception. Without the tool of fear, we would lose one of the most vital resources for curbing and restraining destructive and negative patterns of behavior. As an instrument of “common grace,” fear is invaluable.

Still, this is not altogether what Jesus has in mind in Matthew 10:26-31. Rather than encouraging us to simply eliminate our fears; Jesus first challenges them, then redirects their source. “What” (or perhaps better, “Who”) we fear is a much more important and practical question then whether we fear in the first place. After all, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Interestingly, Jesus does not seek to quell our fears by merely assuring us that God is big and loving (although this is part of what he says). His first tact is rather to press upon us the awful power of God. “Why fear people,” Jesus asks, “when all they can do is hurt you physically? You would be wiser to fear God instead, because He alone has the ability to not only destroy you physically, but spiritually as well.”


Matthew 10:24-25
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul—the price of demons—how much more will they do so to those of his household.”
A. Orendorff
From whom should we expect the kind of persecution Jesus predicts in Matthew 10:16-25?

Most often, we assume the bulk of the church’s opposition will originate from what Scripture calls the “world,” from those outside the hallowed ways of God’s believing people. However, in answering that question, we must pay attention to two facts. First, we must remember who it is that Jesus is sending his disciples out to: namely, to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). The first “missionary” journey to which Jesus deploys his disciples was not focused on outsiders, but insiders. These were God’s people, people who (at least at a surface level) believed the right doctrines and supported God’s cause. Nonetheless, Jesus insists, these sheep are “lost.”

Second, in the v. 21, Jesus elaborates upon this point, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” Not only will opposition come from within the “believing” community (i.e., the nation), it will also arise from within our families. This is an unsettling thought to say the least.

In both instances, the thrust is the same: opposition will come from within—from within the nation, from within the community, from within the church and from within our families.

Authority and the Disciples

Matthew 10:1-8
And Jesus called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. . . . “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”
A. Orendorff
Much has already been said of Jesus’ “authority” in Matthew 5-9. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) ends climactically, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). In the accounts that follow, Matthew again and again portrays Jesus as a Sovereign King whose irrepressible authority is exercised miraculously over disease, demons, the natural world and even sin itself.

What’s so startling about the opening lines of Matthew 10, therefore, is that Jesus boldly invests his disciples (also referred to as “apostles” in v. 2, literally the “sent out ones”) with the very same authority he himself possesses. Just as Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (9:35), so too he tells his followers, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and proclaim, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (10:6-8). The parallel is obvious and astounding.

As was mentioned yesterday, these two acts—proclaiming and healing—are inseparable. Both are advance markers of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. We, as his followers, are called to the same work today. To proclaim and to heal. To heal and to proclaim. To act as kingdom-agents. To go out, sent by the Sovereign Christ, with authority “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” May we not shrink from this work.

Like sheep without a shepherd . . .

Matthew 9:35-38
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
A. Orendorff
Proclaiming and healing. Healing and proclaiming. Often in ministry, the two are treated separately and relegated to different spheres of the church’s work. In Jesus, they are indivisible. Moreover, both, we are told, flow from the compassionate heart of a Shepherd who saw the “crowds”—that raw, unkempt mob of humanity who would soon cry out, “Crucify, crucify”—as “sheep without a shepherd: harassed and helpless.”

It is much easier to treat people with justice than to treat them with compassion. Justice means you get what you deserve. Justice is easy, clean, manageable and safe. It insulates us from the harrowing possibility that someone might get one over on us, might take advantage of us, might trick us or possibly even hurt us. Yet that’s what it means to shepherd, and that (thank God) is what Jesus not only calls us as his followers to do, but what he himself did on our behalf.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

Cleanliness and Christ

Matthew 9:20-25
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be rescued.”

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[T]wo of the things that were near the top of the [Jew’s cleanliness] list, thing to avoid if you wanted to stay “pure” in that sense, were dead bodies on the one hand, and women with internal bleeding (including menstrual period) on the other. And in this double story Jesus is touched by a hemorrhaging woman, and then he himself touches a corpse.

No Jew would have missed the point . . . In the ordinary course of events, Jesus would have become doubly “unclean,” . . . But at this point we realize that something is different. [Their] “uncleanness” doesn’t infect him. Something in him infects [them]. . . . What Jesus was doing was the beginning of his whole work of rescuing the world, saving the world, from everything that polluted, defaced and destroyed it. And those who would benefit would be those who would believe (104-6).
A. Orendorff
Sin defiles. Whether we are the perpetrators or those perpetrated against, sin stains. It makes us dirty, unclean, impure, filthy. In the presence of a holy God, we may easily multiply Isaiah’s woeful confession, “I am a person of unclean lips, eyes, ears, hands, motives, thoughts and heart.” Yet our uncleanness does not stop the advancing Christ. Jesus enters the fray of our defilement and, as Wright so wonderful puts it, “[Our] ‘uncleanness’ doesn’t infect him. Something in him infects [us].”

“Lord Jesus, I believe you are able, make me clean.”

The Sick, the Unrighteous and the Sinners

Matthew 9:9 & 12-13
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. . . . Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[Here] we find Matthew, the tax-collector, telling the story of his own calling in the middle of a long list (two chapters in all) of healing miracles. Why would he do that?
In Matthew’s world it was assumed that tax-collectors could be lumped together with “sinners,” as in verses 10-11. This was because, first, they collaborated with the hated authorities, and, second, because they made extra money for themselves by collecting too much. . . . [W]hat would it be like having a young prophet with a spring in his step and God’s kingdom in his heart coming past one day and simply asking you to follow him? Yes: it would feel exactly like a healing miracle. Actually verse 9 hints at something even more: it would be like a resurrection. “He arose,” says the passage literally, using a regular “resurrection” word, “and followed him” (102).
A. Orendorff
Matthew 9:12-13 (along with its parallel passages from Mark 2:17 and Luke 5:31-32) has always been, for me, a powerful text on both the nature and the objects of Jesus’ call. Many times I have prayed (with desperation and joy), “Lord, it is not the well who you have called, but the sick, the unrighteous and the sinners. I am sick. I am unrighteous. I am a sinner. These are conditions I can meet. So to you I come.” What is so powerful about these verses is that they swing wide the narrow door and essentially say, “The more you understand how terrible you are, the more ready to follow Jesus you become.” This is, of course, completely backwards from the way I expect God’s call to operate. What I expect is that my fitness, my abilities, my morality, my uprightness, my fill-in-the-blank will be what ready me to approach Christ. But no, what Jesus says is it precisely our need—our desperate, guilty, culpable need—that readies us to draw near him. I am all at once floored, humbled and exhilarated to be called by a God like this.

Authority, Forgiveness and Offense

Matthew 9:6-8
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
“Authority” has had a bad press, in much of the world, for a hundred years and more now. . . . What “authority” really means in all these cases, of course, is “people who have the power to do what they want.” This usually means “people who have an army to back them.” Authority means power, which means force, which means violence. No wonder we’re suspicious of the very word “authority” itself.

Yet here it is again in the gospel story: Jesus has authority. You can’t miss it. Authority in his teaching. Authority over diseases at a distance. Authority over the storm, over the demons. Now, authority to do what normally only God does: to put away sin, to change a person’s life from the inside out, to free them from whatever was gripping them so tightly that they couldn’t move. . . . He uses the authority which God has invested in him, authority to forgive sins and so to bring new life (96-97).

“Get up!” he says, and the man got up, “arose.” When sin is dealt with, resurrection (at whatever level) can’t be far behind (98).
A. Orendorff
Here is an authority unlike any we have seen before. An authority that displays its power not simply by aiding the powerless and oppressed, but by ultimately becoming powerless and oppressed itself. Here is an authority used not to punish sin and exact justice but to forgive sin and yet honor justice. Here is an unruly authority that refuses, at great peril to itself, to stay in line and play by the rules of polite, civilized, religious society. Yet what a wondrous authority it is—“Your sins are forgiven.” What a staggering, humbling, life-giving authority—“Arise and go home.” Here is Jesus—Daniel’s towering “Son of Man”—at his most offensive—“only God can forgive sins”—and yet simultaneously at his most gracious—“they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

Authority and Trust

Matthew 8:28-32
And when he came to the other side . . . two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
The point of the story, then, is that the Jesus who has authority to teach people, as he was doing in the Sermon on the Mount, also has authority over disease both close at hand and at a distance; over the lives of people who want to follow him; and over the winds and waves on the lake, and over the shadowy forces of evil. . . . He is somebody with authority over everything the physical world on the one hand, and the non-physical world on the other, can throw at us. This is a Jesus we can trust with every aspect of our lives (93-94).
A. Orendorff
Trust is a powerful word. Almost as powerful as the word authority. Moreover, when the two are combined, as they so often are in our daily lives, they take on (it seems) a life all of their own. For example, we “trust” in the “authority” of our government whenever we trade goods for currency. We “trust” in the “authority” of the justice system whenever we submit ourselves to the laws it prescribes. We “trust” in the “authority” of banks (although perhaps less now than in previous years) whenever we turn our money over.

Yet when it comes to trusting people with authority, a turn occurs within us that takes us down a number of dark roads: cynicism creeps in, fear takes hold, pride begins to grip us, self-pity sets in, distrust overshadows. It is true that we trust the government, but who we don’t trust is politicians. We trust the justice system, but don’t trust lawyers. We trust banks, but we don’t trust their CEO’s. The question becomes, whose authority can we trust?

The answer Matthew provides, vividly throughout chapter eight, is plainly and simply, “Jesus; Jesus is who we can trust.” His is an authority over disease, distance, nature and even un-nature. Yet it is also an authority that he wields for our good, not because we’re good but precisely because we’re not. His is an authority that trumps all other authority, and (more importantly) an authority in which we can trust.

Storms and the Sovereign Christ

Matthew 8:23-27
And when Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you little-faith lot?” Then he rose and told the winds and the sea to behave, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[T]he proper reaction to Jesus is “faith.” Again, this isn’t a general religious response to the world around; a “religious response” to a great storm at sea might be awe and terror, or frightened prayer to the sea-god. No: this “faith” is quite simply a trust that Jesus is the sovereign one who has authority over the elements (90-91).

First, how do we regard Jesus? It’s all very well to say in church, or in private devotion, that he’s the Son of God, the Lord, the Messiah, or whatever. Do we actually treat him as if he’s got authority over every aspect of our lives and our world?
A. Orendorff
I imagine that in response to Wright’s question, judging by the level of anxiety and stress that is evident in most people’s lives (including my own), we would have to say, “No.” We may confess wonderful, pious things about Jesus in our churches and in our prayers, but by default we simply do not believe that he really has “authority over every aspect of our lives and our world.” The wonderful thing about this story is that as we mediate upon it we notice at least two power lessons.

First, the storms in our lives are meant to lead us to despair of ourselves. Terror is a natural reaction to a world out of our control, as long as our eyes our fixed on us. “Save us, Lord,” the disciples cry, “we are perishing.” In other words, “We’re finished. We can’t get out of this ourselves. We can’t hack it. We can’t make it on our own.” The point of life’s overwhelming moments are just that, to overwhelm us and thereby drive us more desperately to Christ.

Second, Jesus not only tells the winds and the sea to behave, he brings with his sovereign authority a “great calm.” This gift is more than just a cessation of worry or the absence of stress, it is, as Wright might say, Jesus “putting the world to rights.” It is new creation in the here and now: real rest in anticipation of the ultimate rest when Jesus returns.

Seeing this Jesus ought not to lead us away from storms but rather to pray more earnestly within the midst of our storms for Jesus to show himself sovereign and give us this “great calm.”

Authority, Healing and Suffering

Matthew 8:14-17
And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[I]n this sequence we start to see . . . a more rounded view of this authority. Jesus doesn’t have, as it were, absolute power for its own sake. He has authority in order to be the healer. And he is the healer by taking the sickness and pain of all the world on to himself. In verse 17 Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53.4, a passage more often associated in Christian thinking with the meaning of Jesus’ death, bearing our griefs and sorrows on the cross; but for Matthew there is no sharp line between the healing Jesus offered during his life and the healing for sin and death which he offered through his own suffering. The one leads naturally to the other.

. . . authority through healing, healing through suffering. Authority and suffering are strangely concentrated in this one man, who nobody at this stage quite understood, but who everyone found compelling (86-88).
A. Orendorff
Without the cross, Matthew 8:17 is simply incomprehensible. How, we ought to ask, is Jesus’ healings and exorcisms evidence that he “took” our illnesses and “bore” our diseases? Certainly there is power in this story, but substitution . . . where is there substitution?

It is interesting, as Wright points out, to note that for Matthew, no sharp distinction between Jesus as a physical healer and Jesus as a spiritual healer exists. The two flow into one another. They blur and blend so intimately that neither can stand apart from the other. What we see here isn’t Jesus just flexing his “god-muscles” (so to speak); rather, we are given a foretaste, an anticipation, of what Jesus will do for all of us upon the cross. Taking up our illnesses; bearing our diseases . . . absorbing our sin. “Authority through healing, healing through suffering.”

Faith and Authority

Matthew 8:8-12
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
“Faith” is defined here, it seems, not as a general religious attitude to life, but as something much more specific: recognizing that Jesus posses authority (84).

The challenge for today’s Christian is to ask: what does it mean to recognize, and submit to, the authority of Jesus himself? . . . There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that “faith” is a general awareness of a supernatural dimension, or a general trust in the goodness of some distant divinity, so that some might arrive at this through Jesus and others by some quite different route. “Faith,” in Christian terms, means believing precisely that the living God has entrust his authority to Jesus himself, who is now exercising it for the salvation of the world (see 28.19) (85).
A. Orendorff
If faith is the recognition that “Jesus posses authority”—that, as Wright says, “the living God has entrust his authority to Jesus himself, who is now exercising it for the salvation of the world”—then this ought to not only transform our understanding of “spirituality”—i.e., the action and out-living of our faith—but it ought also to transform our understanding of authority.

First, a note on faith. Too often we associate faith with an emotional or mystical experience of the divine. Here, however, we see that while it is surely not less than that, it is indeed much more. Faith is submission to the authority of King Jesus, a believing, trusting submission that sees Christ as not only able to rule, but willing to save us through the exercise of that rule. The authority of Jesus, in which our faith ultimately rests, is an authority displayed supremely upon the cross, in his dying for his enemies and praying on their behalf, “Father, forgive them, they just don’t get it.”

Second, on authority. The vision of a crucified king ought to simultaneously transform our understanding of authority as well. Even here, Jesus’ authority is displayed not in might or ridicule, which is how we often see and display authority, but in touching the unclean and healing his enemy’s servant. So too, our use of whatever authority God has entrusted to us cannot be anything less. It cannot be an authority that lords itself over others. Rather, it must be a servant authority that sets itself to using whatever power it has to bring about God's kingdom through willing and redemptive suffering.

“Doing” or “Not Doing”

Matthew 7:24-29
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” . . . And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
Doing what Jesus says, or not doing it: this makes the difference between a house that stays standing in a storm and a house that alls with a great crash. . . . Are we “doing” Jesus words, or only reading them, hearing them, and thinking how fine they are? (80-81).
A. Orendorff
There’s just no getting around it: obedience matters. “Doing” or “not doing” are what distinguish the wise from the foolish, the stable from the soon to tumble. Much like the law contained within the Mosaic Covenant—to which Matthew likens his gospel by dividing it into five separate parts marked by one variation or another on the phrase “when Jesus finished these sayings” (Matt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1)—obedience is not what gets us into God’s family, though it is what marks us as members. What gets us in is God’s redemptive work in Christ, applied by grace and appropriated by faith. Likewise, our obedience flows from that same Spiritual source. Another (more grammatical) way to put this is: Our moral imperatives are empowered by God’s redemptive indicatives. And yet, no matter how much we rightly stress the indicatives—what God has done for us—we dare not turn away from the imperatives—what we must do in response. Obedience, as Jesus plainly illustrates, makes all the difference in the world.

The Danger of Mighty Works

Matthew 7:21-23
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
The choice is spelled out at last, and there’s no avoiding it, no softening the hard line. Choices matter; actions and motives matter. Learning to follow Jesus and to know God as father matters. Eternal issues are at stake. . . . And as soon as you hear a little voice saying “maybe Jesus didn’t mean it – surely he can’t have been that strict – maybe it’ll all come right in the end no matter what we do,” you need the next warning.

Some it seems will have done remarkable things “in Jesus’ same” but without knowing him personally. Mighty deeds are not a final indication of whether someone really belongs to Jesus or not. . . . What counts will be knowing Jesus – or rather, being known by him (76-78).
A. Orendorff
To the list of “mighty works” in v. 22, those of us in Christian ministry would be wise to add (with sobriety and perhaps a shudder), “Did we not preach powerful sermons in your name, did we not sing beautiful songs in your name, did we not teach educational Sunday School’s in your name, did we not build great worship halls in your name, did we not organize meaningful retreats in your name, did we not work many long hours in your name?”

We are tempted (perennially tempted actually) to justify ourselves by our works—whether by what we do and who we are—and if, when we read the closing verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, all we hear is one more exhortation to, “Do more. Try harder. Be better,” then we have not heard Jesus at all. What matters, Jesus says, is knowing Him, or rather, as Wright and countless others have pointed out, being known by him. This does not release us from the demands of Jesus. Obedience matters as well, not, however, in order to gain God’s merited favor or to receive his earned blessing but because, in Christ, we have already gained God’s unmerited favor and received his free, gracious blessing.

These verses ought to make us shiver, but in doing so we dare not turn to more and greater “mighty works.” Instead, with humility and trust we must return again to this Jesus, who is Himself the narrow gate and straight way.

Vulnerable Verbs

Matthew 7:7-11
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
Maybe our refusal to [ask, seek and knock] actually makes God sad or puzzled: why aren’t his children telling him how it is for them, what they’d like him to do for them? . . . [F]or most of us, the problem is not that we are too eager to ask for the wrong things. The problem is that we are not nearly eager enough to ask for the right things (72).

We may well say that we’ve tried it and it didn’t work. Well, prayer remains a mystery. Sometimes when God seems to answer “no” we find it puzzling. . . . Some of the wisest thinkers of today’s church have cautiously concluded that, as God’s kingdom comes, it isn’t God’s will to bring it all at once. We couldn’t bear it if he did. God is working like an artist with difficult material; and prayer is the way some of that material co-operates with the artist instead of resisting him (73).
A. Orendorff
Taking prayer seriously is scary work. Asking, seeking and knocking are all unavoidably vulnerable verbs. They exposed us, first to the desperateness of our need and then to the free and incoercible grace of God. All real prayer begins with the bald admission of our own personal powerlessness as well as our culpable inability to “manage” life alone. Helplessness is never a comfortable feeling. Yet is here, at the moment of our deepest vulnerability and need, that God shows himself as “Father,” ready with “good gifts” to answer our asking, disclose to our seeking and open to our knocking.

Judgment, Confession and Playing God

Matthew 7:1-2 & 5
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[Jesus’ warning against judgment] doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have high standards of behavior for ourselves and our world, but that the temptation to look down on each other for moral failure is itself a temptation to play God. . . . [H]e is warning that the very people who seem most eager to tell others what to do (or more likely what not to do) are the people who should take a long look in the mirror before they begin (70).
A. Orendorff
A wise person once wrote, “Relief never comes by confessing the sins of other people. Everybody has to confess their own.” As much as we may like to confess by way of proxy (or better yet, to force a confession by way of well-meaning coercion), the truth remains the same: everyone must confess their own. It does us no good to confess the sins of others, whether to ourselves, to them, to other people or to God. Nor can we force confession (even, as we say to ourselves, if it’s “for their own good”). Our lot is to examine ourselves, to “get the log out of our own eye,” and only after wards to gently lead other to see and own the speck that belong to them. How much easier it would be to just play God.

Worry and Jesus

Matthew 6:25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . So don’t worry away with your, “What’ll we eat?” or “What’ll we drink” or “What’ll we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow can worry about itself. One day’s trouble at a time is quite enough (ESV & Tom Wright paraphrase).
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[Jesus’] teaching grew out of his own experience. When he told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume he led them by example. He wasn’t always looking ahead anxiously, making the present moment count only because of what might comes next. No: he seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now. If that’s not a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is (66).
A. Orendorff
Often I approach the words of Scripture as though they were disembodied etchings carved immediately by God’s finger onto tablets of celestial stone. I so easily forget the humanity that also stands behind them. What therefore strikes me about Jesus’ teaching on anxiety is not so much the profound or commanding nature of his words, but the life that was no doubt reflective of them. To live “totally in the present” is indeed a skill both hard-won and easily-lost. Yet in Jesus we are shown a man who had every reason to worry—who lived every breath beneath the impending reality of the cross—and yet tells his followers, just the same, to consider the lilies and examine the birds. I supposing knowing that you’re going to be rejected is a strong incentive to live for today instead of tomorrow. The challenge, then, is of course to go and do likewise. To live, as it were, anticipating the cross, freed from anxiety and wholly given over to God’s kingdom and perfect righteousness.

Fighting Treasure with Treasure

Matthew 6:19-21 & 24
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
This passage is all about learning to love and serve God for himself, and in secret, rather than simply having an eye on the main chance, either to show off by being so religious or to store up wealth (62).

“Heaven” here is where God is right now, and where, if you learn to love and serve God right now, you will have treasure in the present, not just in the future. . . . How can we do this? . . . Learn to live in the presence of the loving father. Learn to do everything for him and him alone. Get your priorities right (63).
A. Orendorff
If “celebrity” is the religion of choice in America, then its pantheon is food, sex and money. There are, after all, few “gods” that hold the universal sway of wealth. “Mammon,” as it is sometime rendered, grips our hearts and captures our imaginations with an almost irresistible power and vigor. Of course, the tricky thing about money is you don’t have to have it to be owned by it. Being broke doesn’t insulate us from idolatry. So what does? A better treasure, Jesus says, a heavenly treasure, one that can’t be lost or depreciate or fade away or be stolen. In other words, you can’t fight earthly treasure with pious self-denial. The only way to fight treasure is with treasure. We must, as the Psalmist says, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). We need a visceral weapon against a visceral enemy. What we need is to see, to know, to experience on the heart the superior treasure of “knowing Christ Jesus” before we can count the rest of this life as loss, rubbish, nothingness and dung (Phil. 3:7-8).

Letting God be God

Matthew 6:9-10
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
[T]his God is not a man-made idol. He is the living God, who dwells in “heaven,” and longs to see his sovereign and saving rule come to birth on “earth.” This is, in fact, a prayer for the kingdom of God to become fully present: not for God’s people to be snatched away from earth to heaven, but for the glory and beauty of heaven to be turned into [an] earthly reality as well. When that is done, God’s name—his character, his reputation, his very presence—will be held in high honour everywhere. The first half of the prayer is thus all about God. Prayer that doesn’t start there is always in danger of concentrating on ourselves, and very soon it stops being prayer altogether and collapses into the random thoughts, fears and longings of our own minds (59).
A. Orendorff
Prayer is not about getting God to give us life on our terms, nor is it merely about living life on life’s terms. Rather, prayer is about the reckless and self-abandoning work of living life on God’s terms. Prayer, as Eugene Peterson points out, is dangerous work. Prayer goes about the humbling task of asking God to be God, of allowing His name to be honored, of letting His will be done, of seeing His kingdom come. What we often forget is that all of these pious requests carry with them the unavoidable consequences that if God is God, then you and I don’t get to be, that if God’s name is honored, then ours might be neglected, that if God’s will is done, then ours might be overlooked, that if God’s kingdom comes, then ours might just sit on the shelf.

This, Jesus says, is prayer. This is real prayer: making God—his name, will and kingdom—the center of our thoughts and lives. And though this is difficult and counter-intuitive work, it is the only real work worth doing. For it is only as we experience the holiness of God’s name, that we are relinquished from the endless task of making a name for ourselves. It is only as we submit to God’s sovereign will that are we released from the bondage of our relentless will. It is only as God’s kingdom comes, that our own private monarchies are overthrown and liberated. It is only when God is God, that we can finally rest as his children.

Motives and the Heart

Matthew 6:1
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
A. Orendorff
Motives matter. As Tom Wright points out, “What matters [when it comes to “practicing your righteousness”] is learning to do [it] simply to and for God himself. All the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, is centred on God himself, who easily gets squeezed out of religion if we’re not careful” (55). Who we aim to please, in other words, is a far more fundamental question than what we actually do. The second—what we do—will inevitably flow out the first—who we aim to please. If my aim—i.e., the motive of my heart—is to please my wife, to, as Jesus says, “practice my righteousness” before her that I might be seen and appreciated, then one of two things will inevitably happen. One, I will either fail to please her, stumble in my righteous practice, and be crushed by defeat or, two, I will slowly but surely begin to accommodate what I do and who I am to fit her expectations and desires, thereby pushing God, as Wright says, more and more to the periphery.

While pleasing one’s wife (as well as the other people in a person’s life) is a good thing, when it becomes an ultimate thing it warps and perverts our motives such that we stop worshipping God and begin to worship an idol. God must be God in order for our motives and therefore our hearts to be pleasing in his sight. And (most wonderfully) it is there that the greatest reward lies.

Justice and Good News (not Good Advice)

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-48
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil [‘don’t use violence to resist evil’]. . . .You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing restorative justice. The old justice in the Bible was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself. . . . Better [still] to have no vengeance at all, but rather a creative way forward, reflecting the astonishingly patient love of God himself, who wants Israel to shine his light into the world so that all people will see that he is the one true God, and that his deepest nature is overflowing with love. No other god encourages people to behave in a way like this (51).

Whatever situation you’re in, you need to think it through for yourself. What would it mean to reflect God’s generous love despite the pressure and provocation, despite your own anger and frustration?

Impossible? Well, yes, at one level. But again Jesus’ teaching isn’t just good advice, it’s good news. Jesus did it all himself and opened up the new way of being human so that all who follow him can discover it. . . . The Sermon on the Mount isn’t about us. . . . It’s about Jesus himself. This was the blueprint for his own life. . . . The Sermon on the Mount isn’t just about how to behave. It’s about discovering the living God in the loving, and dying, Jesus, and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it so badly (52-3).

Tear . . . Cut . . . Throw

Matthew 5:27-30
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Vol. 1)
Deal ruthlessly with lust. . . . Don’t suppose that Jesus means you must never feel the impulse of lust when you look at someone attractive. That would be impossible, and is not in any case what the words mean. What he commands us to avoid is the gaze, and the lustful imagination, that follows the initial impulse. . . . Choosing not to be swept along by inappropriate sexual passion may well feel on occasion like cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye, and our world has frequently tried to tell us that doing this is very bad for us. . . . Jesus [however] is not just giving moral commands. He is unveiling a whole new way of being human (48-9).
A. Orendorff
Authentic Christian discipleship—following after and being like Jesus—is always set in the context of the cross. When Jesus (and Paul and John and Peter and the author of Hebrews) talk about how we to reclaim our humanity, when Scripture describe the process of being “made new,” it is always set in the most self-denying and self-destroying terms. Resisting the pull of death, resisting the siren of temptation, is hard, brutal, uncomfortable work. And that (as Jesus makes plain) is how it’s suppose to be. The way we know we're resisting temptation and following hard after God is that it hurts. It feels like “cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye.” Yet it is in that death to self that our life to God takes place. Pain is where we met and are met by God.