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New Year keynote address

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment …. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery…. Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all…. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil…. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…. You therefore will be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5: 21-48

It is very interesting indeed to go back in time – to go back 2000 years so as to see what society’s problems were like then.

It’s even better if one is able to hear the exact words of Jesus about those problems. If – if Jesus is truly Son of Man and Son of God, then he would have identified the real problems which beset that long ago world.

Do you, like me, wonder if any of those problems might – just might – still be with us, here in Jersey this today?
‘Christ preached what he lived and lived what he preached.’ (Fernando Vangioni, Spanish Professor of Theology, died 2008)

Take a fresh look at the extracts in bold above from Jesus’ keynote address at the very beginning of his public life. What were the six problems he addressed? Six times he says “You have heard this in the past.” Six times he says, “But I say to you.”

This repetition drew attention to the fact that, there in Israel in AD 30, those who were teaching the people that they must obey certain ancient laws had actually got it wrong. They were wrong for one very good reason. They were restricting the ancient laws of God delivered to the nation by Moses by making those laws apply only to deeds and not internally. That made things very easy for them all. If I have not actually murdered anyone I had kept the commandment “You shall not kill.” And so on. My internal anger was nothing.

This was highly convenient in all six areas of life in Israel ad 30. It’s highly convenient today. Look at it this way.

I can be angry with anyone and none of that anger is wrong. I can look at all sorts of “attractive” pictures and at people themselves and still please God. I can divorce my wife and not be guilty of adultery. I can tell lies as long as I don’t do so under an oath towards God. I can retaliate – eye for eye - to my heart’s content and still be a good person. I can hate my enemies – because God says that it’s right that I should do just that.

Yes, this is all acceptable and righteous – everyone knows that – it’s been the case for ages. Yes?

But I say to you...” If you have these you are seriously and dangerously imperfect: anger inside; lust inside; divorced other than because of sexual immorality; saying one thing and doing differently; retaliating; loving only those who are nice.

The closing message of Jesus in this section of his keynote address. You therefore will be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What is not clear is how I will become perfect. It’s not clear because, reading all six items together makes me aware of the impossibility of reforming myself let alone others. And the standard is perfection – perfection.......
‘Without the miracles you would have in Jesus a teacher and an example; but with the miracles you have a Saviour from your sins.’ (J Gresham Machen, New Testament scholar, 1881-1937)
This is what happened after the keynote speech ended. When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And look at this, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Richard Syvret

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