Jesus' view of God radically differs from the way religious people typically look at God. Jesus' viewed people differently because he viewed God differently. Jesus viewed proper treatment of people differently because he viewed God differently. Jesus viewed godly behavior differently because he viewed God differently.
What does that mean? The meaning is powerful and significant! It means those who are committed to being Jesus' disciple must allow Jesus complete opportunity to teach us how to look at God. If Jesus does not direct our view of God, we will not see people or treat people as God wants; nor will we correctly identify godly behavior.
One striking verification of this fact is declared by Jesus' longest recorded teaching: the sermon on the mount. Let's begin with a brief overview of Matthew 5, 6, 7. It starts with Jesus' description of the righteous person (the beatitudes, 5:3-12). Jesus' declaration of discipleship responsibilities followed (5:13-16). Then came his declaration that he was not being destructive, but was insisting his disciples' righteousness go beyond the Pharisees' concept of righteousness (5:17-20). Next followed a lengthy list of contrasts that distinguished Jesus' concepts of righteousness from Israel's current, traditionally accepted religious standards (5:21-48). Then came his emphasis on "motives matter in religious deeds" (6:1-15). This emphasis followed: "Godly existence is not based on material ambitions or anxiety" (6:16-34). He then declared, "People are not called to function as God's judges, but to base life on dependence on God" (7:1-12). Jesus closed the lesson with a series of admonitions: "Treat people like you wish to be treated. Though difficult, follow God's path. Make your behavior consistent with your true identity. Realize divine acceptance is based on more than words and religious deeds" (7:13-23). He closed by declaring, "My teachings benefit you if you change the way you live your life. More is involved than mere agreement" (7:24-27). His listeners were astounded.
If we are tempted to conclude the listeners' astonishment resulted only from his manner of presentation, we miss a significant truth. Yes, they were astounded because his presentation was different. However, they also were astounded because the content of his presentation radically differed from the content of typical rabbinical teachings.
The critical, key understanding is found in 5:20. If his listeners understood this point, they could see the contrast between his insights and the Pharisees' positions. Remember, the Pharisees were the "spiritual/religious elite" in that society at that time. Jesus' declarations in this lesson contrasted sharply with accepted positions of that day.
In some ways, times have not changed. If religious leaders of that day successfully declared Jesus attacked scripture (the law), people would classify Jesus' teachings either as insignificant or dangerous. We often adopt the same approach. If we successfully cause people to think a view that differs from ours is "an attack on scripture," they dismiss the view. In verses 17-19, Jesus plainly declared his statements could not be dismissed so easily. Yet, in verse 20, he was also clear. His disciples' understanding of righteousness must go beyond the Pharisees' understandings and standards.
If you wish to stress to yourself the importance of Jesus' declaration, ask yourself a simple question: why? Why would they change the basic concepts of murder, adultery, divorce, vows, and the treatment of those who abuse you or are your enemies? Why would they realize motives are a part of religious acts? Why would poor people renounce materialism and worry? Why would they understand that godliness was about depending on God, not about passing judgment? Why would they understand they had to accept higher and more demanding levels of personal responsibility? Why would they accept as fact that righteousness was more than agreement with him?
Why? This was Jesus' basic answer. His disciples realized God's concepts of righteousness went beyond common expectations and standards in that religious society.
When understood in the context of Israel's first century society and religious standards, Jesus' point disturbs us on the deepest level of spiritual existence. Their accepted religious leaders, known for their knowledge of scripture, who "set the standards" for the religious community, who Israel said, "They know what they are talking about"--these people missed the point! The problem was more serious than "doing incorrect or inappropriate things." The Pharisees' basic concept of righteousness was flawed and must be discarded! Their concepts of the godly behavior were actually ungodly behavior! They were experts in scripture, but they did not understand God. Thus the emphasis they saw in scripture opposed God's nature and the priorities that came from God's nature. Those potentially who were God's greatest allies became God's greatest enemies.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees' had an earned reputation for "having expert knowledge in order to pass judgment" rather than allowing knowledge to change their hearts and behavior. They seemed to conclude that knowledge of others' failures verified their godliness. Jesus said that was never the case in relationship with God. Quite simply, people learn to know, and they know to practice. The true benefit of godly knowledge is seen in heart and behavior.
If you struggle with that conclusion, consider Paul's quotation from Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24. Even today, many of the ungodly are not attracted to the hope found in Jesus Christ because of the behavior of some who declare themselves to be godly. Instead of being attracted to Christian hope, they are repulsed by the behavior of some who claim to be godly. When the ungodly cannot see Christian hope in the daily lives of people who supposedly belong to God, the ungodly take neither those people nor their God seriously.
A disciple realizes of himself [or herself] he [or she] cannot see God or understand His priorities, His purposes, His ways, or His influence on human life. He [or she] realizes that the essential link between him [or her] and God is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can help us see and understand God, His purposes and priorities, and His ways in a manner that allows God to influence properly our lives and our behavior.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 10
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