The question for us is do we have a clear connection to allow us to hear from God? And, if so, does it make a difference in our lives? Today, we are going to take a broad overview of the meaning behind Jesus’ words sprinkled throughout the rest of Matthew 5. Six times in these last 28 verses Jesus says, or implies, the following statement: “You have heard it was said...but I say to you.” Over the next several weeks, we will break down each of these statements in turn, but for today, we need to understand two ideas. First, when God speaks, obedience is expected. Second, Jesus is revealing Himself as God (along with God’s authority) to the people – even if they do not recognize it.
So, to understand these ideas, let us first look back at a few instances where God’s words showed His authority.
When God Speaks, Nothing Listens and Obeys
My words here are intentional, but the meaning may not be what you are thinking. I do not mean that there is not one thing that obeys God; rather, I mean that when there was nothing, God commanded something and it happened. The term used for this concept is ex nihilo – out of nothing. When God said, let there be light, the first light began. When God said, let there be land, and animals, birds, etc., they began. Before God spoke, there was nothing. Then there was something. So, in that sense, even the idea of nothingness listens to, and obeys, God.
When God Speaks, Nature Listens and Obeys
Consider the majesty of God that even nature obeys Him. People may speak of Mother Nature, but the reality is that the mother is only able to do what the Father allows. I cannot begin to understand, let alone explain, why God allows so many terrible storms. Consider all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. that we see on the news each year. That is Mother Nature screaming out – but she screams because of our sin. God originally made the earth peaceful, but after the original sin, nature fell as well.
But when God speaks, nature responds. Consider Mark 4.39. In the midst of a raging storm which threatened to sink the boat, Jesus simply said, “Peace, be still.” The Bible says that immediately there was a great calm. The disciples reaction was to ask, who can command the winds and water and have them obey (Luke 8.25).
Later, Jesus walks on the water and permits Peter to do so as well (Matt 14.25, 29). We have no record of Jesus saying anything to the water, yet it recognized His authority and He simply walked on it like you and I walk across the ground.
The Bible is filled with other statements about God’s control of nature. He controls the lightning, the thunder, and He once stopped the sun in its place during a battle. You and I have to succumb to the laws of nature, but not God. Those laws are for us. God doesn’t break the laws of nature, He suspends them because He made them and when He does so, it is for His glory. Remember, Jesus said, that even the rocks are capable of crying out to share the glory of God, if we do not do so.
Before I get to point three, let me clarify the background for this passage. We must remember that the Pharisees put rules in place to help people keep the law. Their intentions were good. Let me present a completely hypothetical example. Suppose the Pharisees had been with the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. When God said not to eat from the Tree, the Pharisees likely would have put up a fence ten feet from the tree to make it a real challenge to get to it.
The problem for the Pharisees was that they began to emphasize keeping man’s law to the exclusion of God’s intent for the true Law. The Pharisees were so focused on the actions of the law, that they forget the heart of the matter. So when Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God, a part of the first teachings was to give commentary on what God meant, not the traditions that had been passed down. These traditions were not just from the Pharisees, but as Jesus said, they had been passed down from “those of old” (Matt. 5.21). This oral tradition was finally written down some 200 years after Jesus death and is known as the Mishnah.
So, Jesus is not just restating several of the commandments God gave. Instead, He is taking the people back to the actual commandment and what God intended for it rather than the way the matter has been interpreted for centuries (perhaps as many as 1400 years at that point). Jesus’ words that “you have heard it was said...but I say to you” is taking the people back to the time when God first spoke to the Israelites from the mountain when He gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). And just as God expected the ancient Israelites to keep His laws, Jesus expects those living with a kingdom mindset – on earth as it is in heaven – to keep this understanding of the law. Also, as I have mentioned several times before, these were not just a set of laws to be imposed on a people like Rome imposed its will. Rather, Jesus has already established the relationship God desired to have with His people (the Beatitudes, verses 3-12), and stated that living as such required a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees and scribes (verses 17-20).
So, with that background, we are ready for the last major point.
When Man Speaks, Listen. When God Speaks, Obey
This past week has been filled with people providing their “expert” analysis on the two biggest events of the week – the State of the Union address and the upcoming Super Bowl. The challenge with politics today is that most people are not willing to listen to the thoughts of those who might be in opposition. Without being challenged in our thinking, we cannot grow. Sport fans, on the other hand, are equally as passionate, but the true fan wants to hear about the other team to better understand their strengths and weaknesses to consider how his/her favorite team might do against the opponent.
Jesus does not say do not listen to others, but He does demand that people listen to Him. We can learn a great deal from others if we take the time to discern what is being said. But we must always make our final reference the Word of God. Mankind has learned to justify any action and to blame others when caught (both of those traits started in the Garden), but we have forgotten that God’s Word will direct us if we will just listen and obey.
When we listen to other people, we can learn about life from the perspective of experience and dreams. But when we listen to God, we can learn about ourselves and the way He designed our life to be. So, we listen to others and gain insight. But when we listen to God, we must respond. Otherwise, the way we were are meant to be will never become reality.
This is not an option for those who claim to love Jesus. In John 14.15, Jesus declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This statement is made on the last night Jesus spends with His disciples, and it is why He took time to explain the commandments to His disciples and all who would listen even from the very beginning of His public ministry (like His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount).
So, do you love Jesus? Are you obedient to His commands? Maybe you don’t hear from Him anymore. Well, if that’s the case, let me propose a couple of thoughts.
If you can’t hear God, maybe it is because you are not listening. Or maybe it is because you have not obeyed. Perhaps you have been so busy listening to man that you haven’t taken the time to be obedient to God. Certainly, it is more difficult to live by God’s standards, but truly what is the cost? We must remember the blessings promised in the Beatitudes for those who seek righteousness and to live according to a higher calling. All mankind does is berate us for falling short (that is especially what the Pharisees did). So, if you are not hearing from God, slow down, take time to listen. And, if need be, repent for not being obedient in the past.
How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this idea?
Before anything existed, there was nothingness, yet that nothingness recognized the glory of the Lord. Nature recognizes the glory of the Lord and responds accordingly. If we recognize the glory of the Lord, we must do the same.
God is asking us the same question the Verizon commercial asked for years: Can you hear me now? If we cannot hear Him, maybe it is time for us to check our signal and switch networks from listening to man in order to listen to God. Remember, when God spoke, nothingness responded. When God speaks, nature responds. The question is, when God speaks, do you respond? If you are a follower of Christ, then God has called you to action in the past. Perhaps you have ignored that call so many times that He has stopped asking. But that doesn’t mean He is done with you. It just means He is waiting for you to make a step in His direction. James 4.8 promises that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – OBSERVE
God has an assignment for you. It might be great or it might be small, but He has an assignment. We must learn to hear when God speaks. We must learn to discern His voice from all the voices that clutter up our days. And when we know He is calling us to action, we must take action.
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?
Listen for Jesus to speak to you. Then respond to what He says.
Let me leave you with two quotes to inspire you.
“If we are not doing the things God wants us to do, then we do not have the faith God wants us to have.”
– Andy Braams
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Make your life count because you listened to the words of God!