In the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals to us what life is like in His Kingdom, He contrasts the Old Testament Law with its true intent. And it does this by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old… but I say unto you.” Or, to put it another way, “You have an understanding about the Law and what it governs, but I want to show you the true intent of the Law and what it really means.”
The Law governed external actions. Or so it seemed to them and to us. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus shows us the true intent of the Law by contrasting it to the human understanding of it. In other words, only actions matter in the mind of men. But with God, everything comes from the heart.
“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Do you want to know more about having a heart that is pleasing to the Lord? Good. Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Matthew 5:21.
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Before we look at the book of Acts, let’s step back a bit and examine those chosen by the Lord to be His disciples. Let’s look closely at the cast of unlikely characters Jesus assembled to make up His church. Let’s see if we can determine what it was about them that He used to build His church (Matt. 16:18) and what it is about us that needs to change to be more like them.
First, unlike us today, Jesus did not spend His time building an army of half-hearted, mega-church followers whose spiritual lives were a mile wide and an inch deep. Jesus wasn’t interested in creating multi-campus institutions, church brands, best-selling books, popular podcasts, blogs, or prime-time television shows. He could care less about how many Twitter followers He had or His likes on Facebook.
Jesus focused His ministry on a handful of common men that He poured His life into, 24/7. And He entrusted these men to faithfully share His message after He was gone.
Least Likely to Succeed
None of those Jesus chose were rich nor educated. None of them were well-trained. Some were fishermen, some probably merchants. Others were common, day laborers. One was a tax collector. Another a closet revolutionary, a zealot. They were just ordinary, blue-collar people from rural Galilee and the surrounding areas. The only thing they had in common was that they had very little in themselves that would point to future success.
But Jesus called each of them unto Himself. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”1
Yet none of those chosen by Christ boasted of a strong, spiritual upbringing. None seemed to be overly religious or pious. Jesus didn’t draw people from the largest pulpits or the finest seminaries of His day. For some reason He wasn’t interested in the professional clergy. He didn’t choose those whose father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather were noted preachers, missionaries, or professors.
None of the disciples were entrepreneurs or visionaries. They were not great orators with charismatic personalities to whom we would be naturally drawn. There wasn’t one valedictorian in the bunch.
In addition, they weren’t necessarily a moral, upstanding lot who had a firm grip on their emotions. Some of them wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who were different than they were (Luke 9:54). Others wanted to be first, the greatest, even to the point of trying to secure that position for all eternity in heaven (Matt. 20:21). And they seemed to struggle with the pecking order in Christ’s kingdom, even to the point of arguing about it at the Last Supper (Luke 22:24).
They weren’t especially brave men. In the garden, each panicked and fled in fear for his own life (Matt. 26:56). No one, save Peter and John, followed Jesus to the end or was with Him at the cross. But even then, when confronted, Peter denied he even knew his Lord and fled into the darkness weeping (Mark 14:72).
And they weren’t really spiritual men either. They were not the kind of men we would have trusted with the message of salvation. None of them believed or understood His words properly. They were focused on the here-and-now, the horizontal, what they could see and touch and feel, and not on life in His kingdom. They were clueless about the Holy Spirit (as many are today) and still suffered from racial and religious prejudices (John 4:27). They were still looking for a Messiah of their own making (Acts 1:6). Even after the resurrection, when their fears should have subsided, they went back to their old life, like it had been nothing more than a three year mission trip or a business venture that failed (John 21). Jesus had to go and prevent Peter from sliding back into his old, comfortable life of being a fisher of fish— and not a “fisher of men” (Matt. 4:19).
They Had Been With Jesus
Those whom Jesus chose were just common folk like many of us. But there was a difference. One look at them and you would know “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). It was their connection to Jesus that changed everything.
Paul later said of the church:
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 – For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
That’s the good news. Jesus, both back then and also today, calls and empowers frail and broken people just like us. He chooses, for His own glory, what the world calls “the least likely to succeed.”
Does this sound like you?
Jesus doesn’t want us to do great things for Him in our own strength for our own glory. He wants us to let Him do it through us, by abiding and resting in Him (John 15:4). He wants to take our hurts and failures and turn them into something glorious, for His glory— as a trophy of His grace for all the world to see.
Don’t ever think God can only use those you deem better than you. Don’t be deceived into thinking what you’ve done or haven’t done, or what you don’t have or never will have, determines God’s plan for your life. If you will simply give what you have to Jesus, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, He promises to make all things new.
After all, just like the disciples, you also “have been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
For if He can use the likes of Peter, Thomas, Matthew, James and the rest of the disciples and use them to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), then He can also use each of us.
So be encouraged in Him today.
1 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1959). The Cost of Discipleship, New York, NY: Macmillan.