Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Challenge of His Sayings

“Thus it was that ‘by the word of the Lord’ all things were created. He spoke the word only, and it was so: the word spoken, itself produced the thing.

“Thus it was in creation. And thus it was in redemption: he healed the sick, he cast out devils, he stilled the tempest, he cleansed the lepers, he raised the dead, he forgave sins, all by his word. In this, also, ‘he spake, and it was.’

“And so he is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Always he is the Creator. And always he does all things by his word only. And always he can do all things by his word; because it is the very characteristic of the word of God, that it is possessed of the divine power by which itself accomplishes the thing which is spoken.

“This is why it is that faith is the knowing that in the word of God there is this power, the expecting the word itself to do the thing spoken, and the depending upon that word itself to do that which the word speaks” (A. T. Jones, Lessons on Faith, p 18; p. 10, newer edition).

The “sayings” of Jesus are the word of God also, with just the same inherent power to create what those sayings say, as when He said, “Let there be Light”—even though Jesus would use metaphors and euphemisms common to the era. For example, “If your right hand causes you to sin [offends you, KJV], cut it off” (Matt. 5:30), and “I ... will hold your right hand” (Isa. 41:13).

The right hand, being the power hand for most people, is the hand of action; and in this metaphor, is used in this way. For example, Psalms 118:16, “The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” (Except for sneaky Ehud in Judges 3, the left hand was used for holding things.) So the metaphor of Matthew 5 actually is referring to actions. In today’s vernacular it might read like this: “If your actions are offensive or incorrect, stop doing them, and, if necessary, sell the television or stay away from that side of town—whatever it takes.” Moreover, by telling us this, Jesus has given us the victory by providing the power to overcome. The question is: will you believe His all-powerful word? Jesus promises to “hold your right hand”—to control your actions—if you will believe Him, thus letting Him have your thoughts and affections.

Take for example “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). The reference to the dead would seem to indicate that the father is still alive because the living can’t (or don’t) bury the living any more than the dead can bury the dead (at least so we hope!). Jesus is capable of a little wry humor, too, for He is facetiously highlighting the man’s faulty logic: “If you want to go bury your living father, then the dead can indeed bury themselves. Let them do it and save yourself the trouble. Come with me.”

Another saying dealing with the same subject of cutting off your right hand has to do with the eunuchs of Matthew 19. Jesus has just told us that the only moral ground for divorce is marital infidelity. At the same time, however, He is allowing for the condition stated in Proverbs (by the way, what is said here about women is also true for men):

“The contentions of a wife are a continual dripping. ... [It is] better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman. ... It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman [with a brawling woman and in a wide house, KJV]” (Prov. 19:13; 21:19; 25:24).

By so saying, He is allowing for the possibility that spouses may find it necessary, for physical or mental safety reasons, to live separately, and that neither remarry while the other is alive and not remarried. Divorces made on earth may in some cases be only a “legal separation” to God. This is voluntary celibacy : “There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake” (Matt. 19:12). Remember, Jesus’ word has the power inherent within it to create the thing that it says.

The phrase “seventy times seven” was a common euphemism, but even if not, it is packed full of meaning here. Look at Daniel 9:24: “Seventy weeks [seventy times seven days] are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” When Jesus is saying to forgive “seventy times seven,” He is referring to His taking up His cross and giving up the hope of His own eternal life that we might have forgiveness of sins and the eradication thereof. Jesus was pointing His disciples to the cross. Are we willing to give up the hope of even our own eternal life for the eradication of sin, the vindication of God’s name, and the coming of Christ to receive His inheritance? That is the question. For if we are, what does that mean in our relationships?

I do not believe that Jesus ever used this phrase: “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom” (Mark 6:23). We know Herod used it and also Ahasuerus in Esther’s day. It means you can have anything you want within reasonable limits. However, God never says this, for no limits are built in. This is what God says in Luke 12:32: “Do not fear, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The WHOLE kingdom—with alacrity, “pressed down and running over”!

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ... to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 2:4-6; 3:19; emphasis supplied)

Craig Barnes