Chapters 5, 6 and 7 comprise the Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ manifesto, the summary program of His teaching. But what we read in the beatitudes is hard for us to accept as practical or relevant to us. Jesus calls for meekness, mercy, forgiveness, purity, self-control and patience in suffering. The world despises such characteristics as weak and insipid. The world favors pride, arrogance, ease, aggressiveness, enmity, excess and sensuality. The world can do without the Sermon on the Mount for it seems irrelevant and impractical.
Yet scholars and idealists down through the centuries have realized that if we all followed the program that Jesus proclaims and lived according to His principles, this world would be heaven on earth. The fact that Jesus teaches it tells us that this is attainable, but our experience tells us otherwise. Rev. John R. W. Stott said this: “. . .the standards of the sermon are neither readily attainable by every man, nor totally unattainable by any man. To put them beyond anybody’s reach is to ignore the purpose of Christ’s sermon; to put them within everybody’s is to ignore the reality of man’s sin. They are attainable all right, but only by those who have experienced the new birth. . . For the righteousness He described is an inner righteousness.” *
Thus not everyone can follow Jesus teachings, no matter how noble and idealistic they try to be. And those that can follow them can do so only by placing their faith in Christ trusting that He will, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, enable them to do so. No one is good enough to follow God perfectly apart from His help. Then too they will fail but will persevere by confessing their sin and being blessed by God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.
* John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: the Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downer’s Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press, 1978, p. 29).
Jesus was led by the Spirit to do battle with Satan in the desert. Satan misquoted the Scripture in his efforts to tempt the Lord. Jesus used the Word to refute him. The use of verses from the book Deuteronomy (6:13, 16; 8:3) indicated that the temptations that Jesus faced resembled those faced by Israel in the desert during the Exodus. Israel complained about food, but Jesus refused to perform a miracle just to satisfy his hunger. Israel asked for a sign that God was with her, but Jesus trusted God and needed no sign. Israel fell by worshipping false gods, but Jesus refused to worship Satan. Jesus overcame, while Israel fell.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Now here in this passage there is no indication that Satan tempted Him with all the desires he uses to trip us up. Jesus here was not tempted by feelings of sexual lust, violence, anger, or hypocrisy, but by the same general types or categories of temptations that appeal to all humans. He was tempted by an appeal to fleshly desire (hunger), to doubt and distrust the Father by asking for a sign, and in the final temptation, to act in His own interests and outside of God’s will. He was tempted to receive power and authority without paying the price of the cross.
In the same way, we, when tempted are enticed to act in opposition to God’s will, to achieve ease, power and pleasure in ways that promote our own agenda and will and exalt our pride. We disobey God because we think we know better or we assume that what we want is always in accord with His will. We think if God wants us to be happy, He will let us do whatever we want. The way to overcome Him is by crying out to the Lord and claiming the authority of the Scripture. We Christians are in the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan has no hold over us.
The simplicity of John’s clothes and his humble ascetic lifestyle indicate that he had turned his back on the world and its enticements and was prepared for the Messiah. His mission: to preach the comforting news of the Messiah’s appearance. He was to prepare Israel, indeed all people, to receive Him. So this then was the time to repent of sin, to forsake living for self and turn one’s heart to God to serve Him alone. With one’s focus on the Lord, each person would live according to God’s will, and so be able to recognize the Messiah when He appeared. Only those who were focused on the Lord would be able to hear His voice, and so believe in Him and follow.
John also spoke boldly to the Jewish religious leaders. Neither their positions of power and leadership nor their heritage as Jews would be enough to make them right with God. They needed, just like others, to repent, and to produce fruits of righteousness to demonstrate their commitment and faith. If they made merely a show of righteousness without a change of heart, they would be lost for mere good works without faith in God are dead.
Baptism served as the sign of a person’s dedication to God, commitment to righteousness, and new life. That is why Jesus came to be baptized: to mark the start of His ministry. The time of repentance and God’s forgiveness was at hand. In addition, when he was baptized, He was identifying with all humanity, showing us that He is one of us, even though He had no sin to repent of.
Among those who acknowledged the birth of the Messiah was a group of wise men, perhaps philosophers or astrologers from a land somewhere to the East of Jerusalem possibly Persia. From their astronomical observations of the star and their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Numbers 24:17) they discerned that a great Jewish king had been born. They traveled a great distance, a journey that took months. They did not arrive until several months after Jesus had been born. By that time he was in a house. When they found Him they were overcome with ecstatic joy and worshiped him. These men had godly faith even though they were Gentiles, and not of the Chosen people.
The news the Magi brought to Jerusalem troubled Herod, the half-Jewish, half Idumean King of the Jews. The Jewish chief priests, scribes and teachers at his court were the leaders of the Chosen people. They possessed the words of God and claimed to understand and interpret them. Yet they were ignorant of the signs and prophecies the Scriptures contained. They had no idea about the birth of the Messiah. They were deeply disturbed at the suggestion that he had been born. They did not believe. If they had believed what the Magi said, they would have accompanied them and worshiped with them. Instead Herod, afraid of the slightest threat to His power, sought to do away with this “pretender” through savage cruelty. He did not know God at all for then he would have realized the futility of his efforts to subvert His plan.
At Christmastime many people read this account of Jesus’ birth. The words of these verses are proclaimed even in the media, paraphrased perhaps, but still many will hear the message of salvation. Sadly, many will not grasp its great importance or dismiss it as a myth of fairy tale. Many will misinterpret it as did Herod and his court. They will not understand that Christmas is not about children, Santa Claus, gifts, family or food or even spectacular displays of singing and music. The birth of Christ is about the horrors of sin and our inability to save ourselves from its power. And it is about God’s mercy in atoning for that sin Himself.
Song of Solomon 8
The bride here is portrayed as an elegant simple and pure hearted woman. Her love for her husband the King is great and strong, stronger than death, an image which describes that great strength. Death is the main aspect of life that no human being can overcome. Yet there are many who would find fault with her. Many who would think he motives for her expression of love are false or selfish. Perhaps they think she desires only the material things the King can give her or the power and respect she enjoys as his queen. So she dreams of being merely his sister so she could express her love without being questioned or criticized. But he has totally committed himself to her as husband and she as his wife. She will just have to endure the persecution as part of her loving commitment.
The woman here is an image of the church which John describes as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). Christ loves the church as a husband loves his wife. He has expressed this love by sacrificing His life for her (Ephesians 5:25). Indeed love is stronger than death because love is mark of our relationship with Christ that lasts for eternity.
Many people come to Christ in search of many different things: healing, consolation, meaning, purpose, success and fame. Yet as Christ said, many are called, few are chosen (Matthew 22:14). Of all those who come to Christ for whatever reason, those who are blessed are those who find His love and mercy for these provide us with all we need. We surrender to Him and He binds us to Him with an unbreakable pledge of assurance.
Song of Solomon 7
Here we find the most graphic of the sexual images contained in Song of Solomon. The King describes the physical anatomy of his beloved attributes which, judging from his superlative language, he finds alluring, striking and desirable. The bride responds with her own desire to add fruitfulness to their union. Mandrakes were an herb that was considered to enhance fertility. Her desire is to exalt her husband not by merely giving him physical pleasure, but to provide him with children. Children carried on the name and heritage of their parents and so were considered by the ancient Israelites to be a blessing from God.
In our contemporary culture procreation is not the primary focus of sexual relations. The dominant worldview, if one were to judge by the media, is that sexual relations are not the exclusive right of a husband and wife. Sex is for all and it is primarily for pleasure and entertainment, not for giving someone else pleasure, however, but for receiving it from others often at their expense. Sexual partners are merely objects to be used. Sex is a means of self-fulfillment or of gaining the respect or loyalty of others. Children are often considered as a means of self-fulfillment or otherwise as an unfortunate liability to be avoided or discarded.
In the Biblical worldview, however, though sexual relations are pleasurable they have designed by God so we humans can share the deepest intimacy in the marriage relationship. Two become one, In addition sexual relations are designed to produce children. And children are a blessing from God not to be ignored or thrown (or spoiled and pampered) away but to be raised by godly parents to love and serve the Lord and so give Him glory and honor.
Song of Solomon 6
The first line is a question from the onlookers about the King spoken to his beloved. She tells them more about where he is to be found. She maintains that though they are apart, they are still one. From this short exchange we see that many will question us about our Lord Jesus and our relationship to Him. Since He is invisible, they would want to know where or if He can be found. The fact that we cannot see Him physically does not take away from the fact that He is with us always.
Meanwhile the King extols the virtuous beauty of the bride with statements that present images that sound quite strange to us. Few of these would be used by men in modern western cultures to describe their loved ones as they are images derived from a rural farming community. In essence the King finds his beloved vibrant, healthy and full of life. And since this is King Solomon speaking, he finds this bride to be the purest and best of all his wives and concubines. Again this image portrays how the Lord feels about we who are His beloved. While He does not love any individual believer more than any other, He finds each to be lovely and pure, beyond compare. The reason is that we have been made pure and holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. As long as we are in Christ we are His beloved and He is ours.