MONDAY, 8/29
Read Exodus 19:1-8.
It’s been three months since God miraculously delivered the Israelites from the grip of the Egyptians.  God leads them to camp at the foot of Mt Sinai.  God intends to make Himself known to them there.  While the people had seen God’s power, they did not have a deep knowledge of His heart and character.  That would begin to change on this mountain.
On Mt Sinai, God will initiate a covenant with His people.  A covenant signified the establishment of a relationship.  A covenant would name the terms of the relationship, what it looked like to be in relationship together.  In this way, it was the foundation of relationship itself. 
We tend to associate the idea of covenant with marriage, which is fitting.  At a wedding ceremony, there is a point where the bride and groom stand before each other and pledge to have and hold, love and keep to each other in sickness and health, whether rich or poor.  Those are terms they agree upon for the relationship that is being established before God and family.  If they are able to live out these vows, they will be set up to enjoy being in relationship with each other.  While life will indeed be filled with blessings and challenges, this commitment to the other through it all will provide some much-needed stability. 
This is a great way to expand our understanding of the covenant God establishes with His people.  God is committing to be the God of His people.  He is asking the people to be committed to Him as their God.  The people would listen to and serve God, and He would bless them beyond measure. 
In Exodus 20, God gives the people the Law, which is the terms of the relationship, the vows if you will.  We’ll go into more detail on these tomorrow, but the Law named what it looked like for them to be in relationship with God.  Verse 8 shows us that the people welcomed this special relationship with God.  They seemed eager in the beginning to follow the Lord. 
If you’ve read beyond Exodus 19, you will know the relationship hits the rocks more than once.  In fact, God isn’t finished giving them the first commands of the Law before the people have fashioned their own god to worship.  This pattern would continue throughout their relationship with God.  If you read the rest of the Old Testament, you get the impression that the disposition of the human heart is to gravitate away from God’s vision for our lives.  If we’re honest with ourselves, that was likely part of our story at one time too.  That is the human condition.  Sometimes we outright reject God in a bid to be lord over our own lives.  Other times, we’re caught in an inward battle for kingship over our hearts.  We need someone to step into the human condition, to heal our wounded and conflicted souls. 
We will see this week that the One who came to heal and reconcile is Jesus.  He came with terms of a new covenant relationship with God.  This new covenant isn’t based on our faithfulness to God, but it recognizes His faithfulness to us in spite of us.  Our relationship is based on the sacrifice of Jesus for us and His capacity to save everyone who comes to Him in faith. 
Praying Together:
“Jesus, we are so grateful for the power of Your covenant love.  Even in our brokenness when we couldn’t keep our covenant, You chose to honor Your commitment.  Your goodness was on full display when You laid Your life down for us.  We turn to You and choose to follow in Your ways.    Amen.”
Read Exodus 20:1-21.
I have a confession.  Every time I read the Ten Commandments, I can’t help but think of Charlton Heston and Mel Brooks.  I wouldn’t take Mel Brooks’ portrayal of Moses to heart by any stretch of the imagination, but the image sticks for better or worse. 
The Ten Commandments are the first of the Law that is given to God’s people.  It will not be the last.  In fact, God will continue to reveal the Law as He walks with His people.  The pattern throughout Exodus and Numbers is that God gives the people laws.  They break them, and God gives them more commands.  They go on to break those, and one and on it goes. 
The Ten Commandments are the beginning of the Law, and for good reason.  When you look at them as a whole, we see that the first four commandments show us how we can love God, which Jesus will say is the greatest commandment.  We love God by having no other gods in our lives, by having no other things we love more than God, respecting God’s name and keeping the Sabbath holy.  By following these four commands, God’s people would show the world that they did indeed love and serve God. 
The remaining six commandments show us how we love our neighbors, which Jesus says is the second greatest commandment.  We are loving towards our neighbors when we don’t kill them.  I hope that earned a laugh, but it’s true, murder isn’t very loving.  We love our neighbors when we respect our parents, when we honor their humanity, when we do not take from them, when we are honest in our dealings with them and when we do not want for what they have.  Looking at these commands, we see that they provide a foundation for fruitful relationships with our neighbors. 
Looking at the Ten Commandments in this way helps us to see the intent behind the entire Law itself.  As Christians, we tend to find the Law cumbersome and confusing, but the intent is to establish what healthy, life-giving relationships look like both with God and with each other.  The Law was to help shape the hearts and ultimately culture of God’s community. 
I’ve encountered the argument from Christians that the Law is irrelevant because it was written to a people from a very different time.  I would caution against that idea given in Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus is clear that He didn’t come to undermine the Law and that it will continue to be significant even through His ministry.  It is Jesus who gives us Christians a proper perspective to view the Law today.  Jesus said, “All the Law and the prophets hang on these commands”, meaning the two greatest commandments to love God and love our neighbors.  What Jesus is saying there is that every Law ultimately boils down to the spirit of loving God and/or your neighbor.  While I’m not all that worried about my oxen goring my neighbor’s son, the spirit behind the command to make restitution to your neighbor is that you love them and do not want them to be harmed.  The spirit of that Law still continues today, even if the conditions around it are very different than our experience today. 
What we will see in the next two weeks is that Jesus will go on to show us the heart of the Law and what it means to fulfill its demands.  Truth be told, Jesus’ interpretation in Matthew 5 is much more daunting.  It isn’t all that difficult to not murder someone.  Refusing to curse another person is a whole new category that strikes at each of our hearts.  Jesus does this ultimately to show us how much we need Him, not just more or better laws. 
Our takeaway today is the perspective of the Law’s call to love God and our neighbors.  Perhaps, we can look at our lives today and consider the message our words or deeds proclaim to the world around us.
Praying Together:
“God, You have always had it in mind to lead us to life.  You gave the Law to Your people to show us how we can know You and serve You.  You showed us how we can love each other through it.  We are the ones who get in the way of living out these wonderful commands.  Free my heart to love more fully.  Amen.” 
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9.
Even if this is your first-time reading Deuteronomy 6, verse five likely sounded somewhat familiar.  This was Jesus’ answer to the question of which is the greatest commandment.  He chose to look at this passage for a number of reasons.     
This passage is the very core of life for the Jewish people.  In fact, every practicing Jew will recite Deuteronomy 6:4-5 every morning when they rise.  This is called the Shema, and it captures both who God is and who they are called to be as one who belongs to Him.  In Jesus drawing upon this as the greatest commandment, Jesus was calling the people to go back to the heart of their faith.  That loving God with all of our lives was essential to our relationship with Him. 
Jesus was also pointing to how He was the embodiment of a complete love for God.  While we may love God through rituals and acts of devotion and service through the Law, Jesus showed the greatest example of love for God by going to the cross.  While the Law demanded that we offer sacrifices in the way of goods and animals, Jesus gave His own life as a sacrifice.  Rather than an animal dying in our place, Jesus took our place.  He did this because He loves us and because He would bring much glory to His Father through it.  In fact, in John’s gospel, this is the primary reason why Jesus went to the cross.  It was His love for His Father that compelled Him to go to the cross.
Now, we tend to gravitate to the idea of it being Jesus’ love for us that drove Him to the cross.  We like to think of it that way.  Jesus does indeed love us, I won’t diminish that but it is more than just about you and me.  Jesus fulfilled the two greatest commandments of fully loving God and others.  The cross is the exclamation point of this.  Having loved His Father more than His own life and wanting to see us reconciled, He paid the price.  He endured the pain, the shame and the rejection that God would be lifted up and we would have an avenue back into God’s family.  What led Jesus to the cross?  It was His perfect love for God and for us.  It wasn’t one or the other.  Jesus reveals where the Law was pointing us all along, to a life of perfect love for God and neighbor that He would live for us.   
This is precisely the vision for our lives.  We want this new life we have received in Christ to be one of love for God and others.  John Wesley emphasized that the call of the Christian is to grow into Christian perfection, which he defined as a perfect love of God and neighbor.  The law sheds some light on what that looks like.  Jesus gives us the most complete picture of what that looks like, and the Holy Spirit guides us into such a life as we grow in grace.  The good news about this vision for our lives is that while Israel showed us that it was impossible for us to do on our own, we don’t have to do it on our own.  We have God’s help.  God is patient and He is willing to supply us with the grace we need to grow towards likeness to Jesus. 
Praying Together:
“Holy Spirit, I celebrate the amazing vision for my life of loving God and others.  This is the way of Jesus and it will lead to a full life.  I know that I cannot grow towards this on my own.  I need the teachings and example of Jesus.  I need Your power and grace to be at work in me.  Help me to have a heart that yearns to grow in love and mercy.  I want my life to bring You glory in all I do.  Amen.” 
Read Matthew 5:17.22
Can you imagine the look on their faces when the religious leaders heard Him speak for the first time? How must they have felt about a man who taught the scriptures with such charisma and authority? Crowds formed around him when he spoke.  His teaching and healing were on everyone’s mind. You could hear the whole community talking about Him. “Their” people were more interested in following Jesus than to listen to them. Clearly, Jesus’ presence posed a threat to anyone that relied on their knowledge of scripture to lead the people, including the scribes, the rabbis, the synagogue leaders, the Pharisees and those that upheld the traditions of the elders.
So, when Jesus began to teach on the mountainside, He reassures the crowd that He had no intention of getting rid of the Law or the Prophets.  He came to “fulfill” them. His authority was defined by the word “fulfill”. The book of Matthew uses the word fulfill 16 times to describe how Jesus brought scripture to life…literally.  Barbara Brown Taylor said that, for those who followed him, “Jesus did not recite the Torah; he was the Torah. In his words and in his deeds, he was the living justice, mercy, and faith of God. Jesus did not interpret the Torah; he fulfilled the Torah in the flesh, and he promised those who followed him they could fulfill it too.”         
By his example, he told his followers that there will be times when the fulfillment of the Torah would go further than what was written. Taylor warns that there would be moments that obedience to God would look like disobedience to the elders. I wonder how often we find ourselves stuck between what our culture expects us to do and what the Bible tells us to do. How often does this happen to you?  What do you do to stay obedient to God in these circumstances?
Praying together:
“Dearest Lord Jesus, sometimes I get stuck between what I should do and what I want to do. I trust that you will guide me through the biggest challenges and will use my experience for the greater good of your kingdom. Show me how to sit quietly in prayer as I discern the right way to go.  Teach me patience so that I can learn to hear your voice over my own. Show me Your Courage, Lord, so that I can face my challenges head on.   Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:18
Jesus inspired awe when he preached. He was familiar enough to be heard but different enough to encourage change.  This is what I mean by that.  It was clear that He knew the Old Testament well.  He knew what it was like to live in their context. And yet, His sermons took his audience a step above what they knew about scripture.  And for the first time in their lives, they witnessed someone that looked like them and sounded like them say that there is a better response to living than just to stay living in sin. The people trusted Jesus enough to seriously consider the impact forgiveness would have on their lives. Jesus showed them the way to know and understand the mercy and grace of God through Him. Jesus gave them hope again!
Jesus, also, shined a new light on which traditions are of God and which ones were put in place by those in leadership. There were some that dismissed any change to tradition. Others wanted to believe it and at the same time feared what leaving tradition might do to their way of life.
Jesus was their first introduction to Hope, Peace and the Good News.  Regardless of how excited they may be, they were concerned about the far-reaching consequences of the changes Jesus mentioned.  This verse continues to encourage trust with his audience by saying that, not a word, not even a letter or one stroke of the pen will be changed in the law until the heaven and earth disappear.
Praying together:
“Merciful Lord, I hesitate when it comes to change.  Sometimes I’d rather stay with what I know than risk losing what I have.  I am learning to trust You.  Lead me where you want me to go. Draw me into patience so my heart has time to open and my mind rests long enough to see the picture of the world that You want me to see. Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:19
Identity is the way people are recognized by others and by themselves.  For us to have a “true identity”, what we say about ourselves and what others say about us should match. In verse 19, our identity as a Christian is clearly defined by the commandments we follow and the message we teach others about the importance of following each commandment.  Ideally, we would all keep every commandment all the time, encouraging others to do the same. We show others just how important our religious beliefs are to us as Christians by how we act towards others.
When someone sets aside even one commandment, by example, others are encouraged to follow suit and set aside that same commandment.  By our actions, we have decreased the importance of that commandment, even deprioritized that commandment in the eyes of others in our faith community.  Others in the local community may also note the difference between what we call ourselves and how we act.  Inconsistencies between the label of Christian and the behavior of this individual can confirm someone else’s suspicions about what they can expect from all Christians. These inconsistent Christians will be called “least in the Kingdom of Heaven” according to Jesus.
Though most of us might not put any other god before our Creator God, some of us might find a reason to be jealous of what we think our neighbors have. This verse reminds us of our responsibility as Christians to act and speak consistently with our faith and the consequences if we are not. I wonder how often we should check for inconsistencies.  What is our faith community’s responsibility to keep us consistent?
Praying together:
“Almighty God, may all who call themselves Christian be deemed worthy of the name!  Hold me to my responsibility to follow every commandment under all circumstances. You have paid the ultimate price for me: the death of your son for the forgiveness of my sins. May my life be the perfect example of Your Promises kept. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:20
The last several verses (v.17-20) laid out an understanding of the nature of sin.  We first learn that Jesus proclaims that heaven’s standard of righteousness is out of our reach. Then we learn that Jesus did not come into the world to abolish the law, but to accomplish the purpose for which the law was given. Jesus was the human fulfillment of the law.
One of the most significant parts of Jesus’ teaching is that we cannot earn salvation.  Nothing we can do or say would ever be good enough to come close to earn it.  In order to earn the kingdom of heaven, we must be even more righteous than the scribes, the religious leaders, and the Pharisees. These groups represent the culture’s standard of “good behavior”, where a person’s actions were used to categorize their righteousness.
As disciples, we were called to follow the commandments without fail and, by example, teach others to do the same.  The scribes, religious leaders and Pharisees focused most on how things looked from the outside, while the disciples were called to a higher internalized standard for action.  For disciples, intentions matter.  Disciples must live into the scriptures as interpreted by Jesus.
If given the power to measure true discipleship, what kinds of questions would you ask people to determine whether or not someone is a true disciple?
Praying together:
“God of mercy, keep my eyes on You. You expect more from me because I chose to be Your disciple.  Guide me through your scriptures again and again, so that I can keep my eyes focused on you.  Though context matters, protect me and my family from any long-term influences of culture. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.”