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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Overview of Matthew

Lord willing, we have three weeks left in our study of the book of Judges.  It has been a long and convicting road, as we have seen in the example of Israel the propensity of the human heart to follow after false gods.  As Israel’s journey into apostasy has been portrayed, we have had numerous opportunities to examine our own hearts to see if there are signs of “Canaanization” there.  With each passing week, the message of the book becomes more clear: man is utterly depraved and needs a Savior.
Judges is certainly not the only Old Testament book that points forward to a future Savior.  There are pictures of human depravity and God’s provision for salvation in virtually every book.  The voice of the entire Old Testament announces man’s dire situation and the divine promise of rescue.
In our next expositional series, we will walk through the New Testament book of Matthew.  This first Gospel offers a fitting answer to the message of Judges: the promised Savior has come
To prepare for this series, I’m going to do a short series of blog posts, giving an overview of the book, its authorship, structure, and main themes.  It is always important when studying any book of the Bible to get a broad understanding of the overall message of the book before dialing in for closer study. These posts should give us a decent idea of where we are going, so that we can dive into verse-by-verse exposition on July 24.  (Let me remind you that I preached through the first 2 chapters of Matthew during the Christmas season of 2010.  If you missed those messages, you can find them here.  For that reason, we’ll be starting in ch3 on the 24th.) 
Who wrote Matthew?  Some of us are satisfied that it was Matthew since the book is called…Matthew!  However, it may surprise some to find out that none of the four canonical Gospels explicitly identify the author.  The superscriptions at the beginning of each book (“The Gospel According to Matthew,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” etc.) were not part of the original, inspired autographs.  They were added later, ascribing authorship to those men believed by the early church to have penned the Gospels.  But what assurance do we have that the superscription on the book of Matthew is correct?
First of all, there are no competing theories regarding the authorship of Matthew.  It has been historically accepted from the oldest available church writings that the author of the first Gospel was the Jewish tax collector and disciple of Christ, Matthew.  The earliest of these sources, Papias (A.D. 140) and Irenaeus (A.D. 175), had contact with the apostolic community and would have been familiar with its authorship.
Second, if the early church were going to falsely ascribe the book to someone for the purpose of establishing its credibility, it is unlikely that they would have chosen Matthew.  The non-Christian Jewish community to whom the book seems to have been written would have resisted a work written by a former tax collector.  Further, comparatively speaking, Matthew was one of the more obscure of the 12 disciples.  If Matthew wasn’t really the author, the church had little to gain from ascribing it to him.
Third, there are several features of the text that point to an author consistent with Matthew’s background.  The book was written in Greek, but is full of Hebraisms.  Essentially, that means that there are numerous Hebrew idioms and phrases transliterated into Greek.  This means that the author needed to have an excellent grasp of the Greek language, while also being well familiar with Jewish customs and scribal traditions.  Matthew fits that description as he was a Jewish tax collector for Rome, a vocation that would have demanded an advanced knowledge of Greek.
Matthew is also the only Gospel that records Jesus paying the temple tax.  As a tax collector, Matthew would be quite likely to include such a detail.  In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, the author writes, “Forgive us our debts…” as opposed to Luke’s “Forgive us our sins…” (Luke 11:4).  For all of these reasons, it is reasonable to conclude that Matthew was the author. 
There are numerous ways to view the structure of the book.  For example, some prefer to see the book as progressing through Christ’s ministry in specific geographic locations:
1:1-15:20        Work and Teaching in Galilee
15:21-18:35    Work outside Galilee
19:1-28:20       A Journey to and Passion in Jerusalem
This approach is fine, but I think there is another outline that is more helpful in understanding the flow of the book.  My preference is to recognize that Matthew is written as a series of alternating narratives (stories) and discourses (teaching): 

Ch 1-4 /Narrative/ Intro: main character introduced

Ch 5-7 /Discourse/ Jesus’ demands upon His people 

Ch 8-9 /Narrative/ Jesus’ deeds within and for Israel

Ch 10 /Discourse/ Ministry through others’ words and deeds

Ch 11-12 /Narrative/ Israel’s negative response

Ch 13 /Discourse/ Explanation of Israel’s negative response

Ch 14-17 /Narrative/ Founding of the Church

Ch 18 /Discourse/ Teaching for the Church

Ch 19-23 /Narrative/ Commencement of the Passion

Ch 24-25 /Discourse/ The future: judgment and salvation

Ch 26-28 /Narrative/ Conclusion: passion and resurrection

This outline seems to show more clearly how the book progresses, from a gospel that is focused on the people of Israel, to the Jews’ rejection of that gospel, to the creation of the Church through the proclamation of the gospel to all people, Jews and Gentiles.
Next time, we’ll begin looking at some of the main themes of the book.  If you can, I would encourage you to take some time to begin reading through this Gospel in anticipation of our study.  There is much glorious truth waiting for us there!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Display of Our Own Sin

Justin Taylor recounts part of his interview with John Piper in 2005 about the sovereignty of God and the problem of suffering and evil. The excerpt is excellent and I highly recommend it to you. You can read it here.

Although the post deals with suffering and evil two quotes are particularly piercing.

"When Jesus died on the cross, you can come at that in one of two ways. You can say that not only was there Adam and Eve’s sin, which was so evil it brought down the entire universe, but there have been in every one of us ten thousand of those sins."

"I think instead of calling God into question, we should see them [suffering and evil] as evidences in our lives of the outrage of our sin and the horrific evil and repugnance of sin to a holy God. And God is displaying to us the outrage of our sin in the only way that we can see it, because we don’t get upset about our sinning. We only get upset about the hurt. How many of you lose sleep—well, some of you are good saints and you do—over your own fallenness? Most of us get bent out of shape about things that hurt our bodies, but it’s our sins that are the ultimate outrage."

Emphasis mine.

Posted by Rick Jones

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sanctification Saturday (7/9) - Dealing with Depression

I have a relative (who shall remain nameless…) who at one time had the habit of ignoring the warning lights on the dashboard of his vehicle.  When the "check engine" light came on, he assumed the light was malfunctioning, not the corresponding system under the hood.  As you might imagine, eventually he found out that the warning light was working just fine.  The revelation came in the form of the distinct sound of a rod knocking in the motor.   
Of course, I’m not going to cast stones.  While I don’t assume that the warning lights on my car are malfunctioning or playing a practical joke on me, I do on occasion tell myself that given enough time, perhaps the problem will “work itself out.” 
“The car just needs rest.” 
“The light just came on.  I’ve got a while before I need to worry about it.” 
“Oh, that light came on before and went out by itself.  I’ll just watch it for a few days to see if it does that again.” 
“The brakes aren’t even grinding yet.  The light is overreacting.” 
The motive for this kind of rationalization should be obvious.  I don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of spending the time and money to have the car checked out and fixed.  The problem is that ignoring the lights indefinitely will lead to much more costly trouble than if I had simply heeded the warning in a timely manner.
Humans are hardwired with a number of “warning lights,” and it is common for people to think of these warning lights as problems in themselves rather than indicators of some deeper issue.  Anxiety is an example of a typical warning light.  It can manifest itself in simple doubtful thoughts or in severe panic attacks.  Many times people with anxiety think that anxiety itself is their problem, so they go to a medical doctor or a mental health professional to get a pill to fix that problem.     
I certainly agree that there are legitimate medical issues that require such drugs.  I’m not anti-drug.  What concerns me is the rush to assume that our issues are medical without considering the possibility that the difficulty we are experiencing might be a warning light alerting us to a deeper problem.  That assumption can lead to the unnecessary medicating of an issue that is not medical at all.
At our next Sanctification Saturday on July 9, we are going to open the Word and see what it has to teach us about another warning light, depression.  Most of us have experienced depression ourselves or have a close loved one who has.  Sometimes depression can be the result of something as simple as illness or poor eating and sleeping habits.  But God’s Word tells us that there can be other, deeper reasons that our souls are “cast down” with us.  If our depression is warning us that there is a deeper issue at work, ignoring it or needlessly medicating it is similar to trying to disconnect an illuminated “check engine” light in the dashboard of our car.  We may not see the light on anymore, but that doesn’t mean that the deeper problem has been fixed.  The root issue will only continue to deteriorate, leading to greater trouble later on.
Whatever that deeper issue is, there is hope and help in Christ.  Through our knowledge of Him, God has granted us everything necessary to be saved and sanctified.  If you are dealing with depression or have a loved one who is, please make every effort to be here on July 9, 8:30a-12p.  We will be discussing how to determine the root issue and what provisions God has made for dealing with those issues. 
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2Tim 3:16-17

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Example of Emergent Interpretation, Pt 3

(If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here. For the text of Matthew 5:38-42, click here.)

v41: “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

Remember that in Bell’s mind this means that when a Roman soldier forces you to carry his stuff for one mile, which Bell says was the legal limit, you should continue to carry it past the one mile marker and therefore put the soldier in a position of weakness. You will have forced him to treat you with respect because he needs you to give him back his belongings so that he won’t get in trouble with the government for having someone carry his stuff past the legal limit of one mile.

Two things deserve attention.  First, Bell has built his whole interpretation of this passage on the fact that the Romans were an extremely violent culture and that the Jews needed a way to resist in a non-violent manner.  But suddenly, when Bell gets to this verse, the Romans have become pacifists. These brutes, whom Bell portrays in his interpretation of v39 as having a penchant for beating Jews, have had a change of heart for no clear reason.  Does it make any logical sense that a Roman soldier wouldn't assault a Jew who refused to give him his rightful belongings?  Does it make any logical sense that a Roman would allow himself to be forced to say to a Jew, “Please, give me my stuff back”?  No, it does not.

Second, how would a third party standing near the one-mile marker know that it was the one-mile marker?  (For that matter, how would the Roman or the Jew know?  GPS?)  In other words, how would anyone know that this Jew had been carrying the Roman’s belongings for more than one mile?  If a witness had been on the same road and gone the same distance and therefore knew when the one-mile marker had been past, the witness would also see that the Jew refused to give the Roman his stuff and the violation was therefore not the Roman’s fault.  In fact, it would be far more likely that the Jew would be charged with theft, rather than the Roman being charged with forced labor.

So, we’ve seen with each of the three examples Jesus gives illustrating the principle in v39, “do not resist an evil person,” that the verses themselves do not allow Bell’s interpretation.  But what about the context?  I asked you last time to take a look at v42. Every study I checked shows v42 as a part of the passage we have been talking about.  A cursory reading of the text also makes it clear that vv38-42 are one passage.  What does v42 tell us?

"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Why would Bell leave this verse out of his message? I think the answer is obvious: it ruins his interpretation of the preceding verses. It simply does not fit the idea of asserting your rights against someone else. It runs opposite of Bell’s campaign to force the strong to treat the weak as equals.

Now let’s widen our context a little and look at the preceding sections. First, we have the opening section, the Beatitudes – “blessed are the meek…blessed are those who are persecuted…blessed are the peacemakers.”  That doesn’t sound anything like the spirit Bell proposes in his message, which says, “assert yourself and make people stop persecuting you.”  Next, we have a series of sections beginning in v21 in which Jesus gives an OT commandment and then proceeds to raise the bar or correct a wrong interpretation of the law, calling on the listener to pay closer attention to the heart issue involved in each commandment and not just the letter of the law.  For example, in vv21-22 we read, “You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

Does that sound like something that the people would be cheering about?  If you are angry with your brother, you deserve the same punishment as a murderer – does that make you feel good?  What we find in the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus saying a lot of difficult things.  If you lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.  If you marry an unlawfully divorced woman, you are an adulterer.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.  If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.  Love your enemies.  Do not love the things of this world.  Do not worry about any of your own needs.  Do not judge.  The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life.  Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

To these Rob Bell would add: “Assert yourself and force your enemy to treat you as an equal."  "Reclaim your own diginity."  "Assume a position of power."  "Take the initiative away from your enemy."  His interpretation, when viewed from the context of the entire Sermon, sticks out like a sore thumb.  It runs counter to everything else Jesus said.  It is not just off - it is the exact opposite of what the verses are teaching.  The Sermon has absolutely nothing to do with dignity, non-violent resistance, or asserting yourself.  It is about selflessness, humility, discipleship, and suffering.  But Bell is saying that in a Sermon full of sayings that would be very hard to hear, there are three verses which would really excite the listeners.  It doesn't make sense.

What about Jesus’ example?  Did He practice what Bell has proposed?  No.  Jesus consistently put others before Himself and the greatest picture of this is in the Passion.  Isaiah 53:7 reads, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”  Jesus was struck repeatedly, and yet He did not assert Himself and force His attackers to treat Him like an equal.  His clothes were taken away, leaving Him naked before the world, and yet somehow the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers were not shamed by it or forced to treat Him with respect.

Scripture never records Jesus living the interpretation that Bell gives.  It shows Him doing the opposite.  So, if Rob Bell is correct, Jesus is a hypocrite.

Now, how do we know what the right interpretation is?  As I alluded to above, in the surrounding context, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrases, “You have heard it said...” and “But I say to you...”  He uses these phrases to signal His main points.  In the case of our passage, He says, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, ‘Do not resist an evil person.’”  That is the main idea - do not resist an evil person.  Jesus then illustrates the point with the three examples in vv39-41.  There is no reason to try to find a meaning beneath the text of the three examples.  Jesus has already told us what He means by the examples - do not resist an evil person.  The best understanding of the examples is the straightforward meaning of the words.  If someone hits you on your right cheek (whether this is a metaphor for an insult or not), let him hit your left cheek also.  If someone sues you for your cloak, give him more than is required - give him your coat, too.  If someone forces you to go a mile with him, do more than is required - go with him two.  In other words, do not resist an evil person. Then in v42 he recaps the idea of not resisting an evil person.

Hopefully, as we have spent time looking at the Emergent Church, in this series and in our Sunday night teaching series, you have recognized what is at stake.  The passage that we have just looked at is from but one sermon.  The Emergents are churning out books, magazine articles, video series, podcasts, blogs, and tweets with blinding speed.  Whatever their intentions are, they are damaging the true body of Christ by attacking essential doctrines and proposing innovative interpretations of Scripture that abuse the original intent of the author.  All of this degrades Christ and erodes our sense of the authority of Scripture.  For this reason, we must be discerning about the things we hear, see, and read. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rob Bell Markets "Love Wins"

This Sunday evening we will conclude our four-part series on the Emergent Church. In this last session we will examine what the Bible teaches about hell and take a brief look at the book, Love Wins, that prompted the elders to teach this series.

To prepare us for Sunday night and because we will be constrained by time I wanted to share two interviews that Rob Bell gave as his book was released to the public.

Good Morning America


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Example of Emergent Interpretation, Pt 2

(If you did not read the first post in this series, you can find it here.)

There are two things that might make Rob Bell’s interpretation of Matthew 5:38-41 fascinating.  First, no one has ever heard it before.  That should always be a red flag.  What are the odds that in the 2000-year history of the church someone in modern day Michigan is the first person to have come up with the correct interpretation of this passage?  We shouldn’t write it off as impossible, but we also have to recognize that to espouse such an innovative interpretation is to say that Augustine got it wrong.  Athanasius got it wrong.  Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Schaeffer, Grudem, Sproul, MacArthur, Piper - all got it wrong!  But not Rob Bell.

Second, this interpretation is fascinating and attractive because it brings in a lot of extra-biblical information about 1st century Jewish culture.  What we have to keep in mind is that it doesn't matter if every history book in the world says the same thing, if a piece of historical information leads to an interpretation that simply is not allowed by the Biblical text, then the historical information is suspect, not the Holy Scriptures.  And that is precisely what we have in this case.  In order for Rob Bell's interpretation to be valid, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount must be either thrown out or rewritten. And actually, much of the rest of the NT becomes obsolete because what Bell has proposed here is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Scriptures

So, let’s look at the specifics.  We’ll start with the text itself, then look at the context.

Bell’s interpretation has problems from the very beginning – v38-39a: “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 an evil person.”  

Do not resist an evil person.  Do not resist an evil person.  Do not resist an evil person.  And yet, Bell’s interpretation could be summed up in the statement, “Here’s how to resist an evil person.”  He has made this passage mean precisely the opposite of what it says, which leads me to a rule of thumb that should be obvious: any time a teacher proposes an interpretation that flips the plain meaning of the text on its head, you are probably listening to erroneous teaching.

Things don’t get better for Bell as we move forward – v39b: “but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Remember Bell’s claim that because it would be improper to use the bathroom hand (left hand) to slap someone, this first slap must be a backhanded slap with the right hand.  He further claims that the victim’s turning the other cheek to the attacker would force the attacker to hit him with a closed right fist, and thereby treat the victim as an equal.

This logic has several holes.  First, the attacker could simply give an open-handed slap with the palm to the left cheek.  Second, since the Romans had such a disdain for the Jews, there is no reason to think that the Romans would have had any qualms about using their bathroom hands to slap the Jews.  Third, if the Romans were so prone to gratuitous violence, it is not likely that they would have allowed a lowly Jew to force them to treat the Jews like equals. Fourth, Bell proposes that these masters of brutality have only two ways to hurt people: a backhand and a punch.

What does the text say?  “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Couple that with the first half of the verse – “Do not resist an evil person” – and what do you have?  You have a verse that tells you not to resist an evil person - when he strikes your right cheek, let him slap the other also.  There are some passages in the Bible that are difficult to interpret, but this isn’t one of them. 

Verse 40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” Bell says that this verse is a command to get completely naked and thereby shame the oppressor into treating you like an equal.  He sites Gen9:20-25, where Noah’s son Ham sees him naked and is cursed.  Bell extrapolates from this that it was more shameful in the Jewish culture to see someone naked than to be seen naked.

There are a couple of problems with this.  First, the idea that nakedness was a shame to the viewer and not the naked person doesn't work with the whole counsel of Scripture. While it is true that it was definitely not a good thing to look at another person naked, there is even more biblical evidence that shame was more closely associated with one's own nakedness. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God because they were ashamed by their own nakedness. In Deut 28:48, as God is outlining the consequences of disobedience, one of the things listed is slavery to the enemy in hunger, thirst, and nakedness; that is, nakedness would be a curse for their own sinfulness.  Likewise, Isa 47:3 says 'your nakedness will be uncovered and your shame will be exposed.'  There are numerous similar examples.  To say that becoming nude in front of someone would put you in a position of power over them is just wrong.  To become naked was not a power play but a cause for shame.

Second, Bell assumes that what was true of Jewish culture was also true of the Romans.  But even a rudimentary knowledge of ancient Roman culture exposes this as ludicrous.  This was a culture known for their manifold public bath houses in which men soaked together both nude and partially nude while discussing business.  Also, the Romans, who perfected crucifixion, routinely crucified their victims completely nude on crosses positioned right along the major thoroughfares.  And don’t forget the ancient Roman art rife with images of the naked body.  These were people who had no problem whatsoever with nudity.  But Rob Bell contends that a Jew could so shame a Roman by disrobing in front of them that the Roman would be forced to treat them as an equal.  It just isn’t plausible. 

Again, what does the text say?  “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”  Now jump back to v39a:  “Do not resist an evil person.”  Put them together and what do you have?  Do not resist an evil person – if he wants to take your shirt, give him your coat also.  Very straightforward.

We’ll cover the rest of the passage next time.  Until then, keep looking at the passage. Check out v41 and search for why Bell’s interpretation won’t work.  Also, look at v42, which Bell omitted, and determine why it was far more convenient for him to ignore it than to include it in his message.

Look at the larger context, too – the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7.  Does Bell’s interpretation fit?  And does it match the example set for us by Jesus?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Example of Emergent Interpretation

In light of our topic last Sunday night on the Emergent view of the Bible, I thought it would be helpful to give you an example of the kinds of biblical interpretation you can find among Emergent leaders.  We’ll use a message that Rob Bell preached on Matthew 5:38-41 several years ago.  In this post, I’ll give Bell’s interpretation and then allow a few days for you to look at the passage yourself and try to determine where he is off.  Then in subsequent posts, we’ll walk through the section verse-by-verse showing why Bell is wrong and how we can know what the correct interpretation is.  This will not be a difficult exercise - the passage is so straightforward that finding the correct interpretation is as simple as just reading the verses.   

Matthew 5:38-42
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Okay, here is a close paraphrase of the Bell interpretation:

To understand what Jesus is really saying here, we need to know a little about the culture of that day. The Jews in the 1st century were a downtrodden people living in an extremely violent world, oppressed by the Roman Empire.  They were poor, overtaxed, and brutalized in every way.

So here comes Jesus with a message for these people – people who know that violence is wrong but who need some way to resist, reclaim their dignity, and assert their rights.

Let’s look at the first few lines: “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, do not resist an evil person.”  What Jesus is saying is that the eye for an eye thing is out.  You shouldn’t engage in violent resistance.  So if someone hits you, you shouldn’t hit them back.  
But Jesus offers another way to resist: “but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Now there are some things we need to know about the culture. Back then people used their two hands for very different things.  Your left hand was your bathroom hand and you didn’t use it for anything else.  So if you were going to hit someone, you would use your right hand.  Also, you would never use a closed fist to hit someone whom you thought was beneath you.  You would slap them.  It was a degrading gesture and the Jews were well accustomed to being slapped by the Romans.

So let’s think about this.  If I slap someone – again, only using my right hand – and then they turn the other cheek for me to strike them again, they have put me in a very awkward position.  Slapping them on the other cheek would be impossible to do.  I would be forced to use a closed fist.  So what has that person done? That person has said, “No. You will not treat me this way anymore.  You will treat me as your equal!”

Now the people listening to this would have been thinking, “This guy is a genius! This is awesome.” Jesus had just given them a way to reclaim their dignity, to assert themselves and stand up in a non-violent way.  This is Non-Violent Resistance 101.

Jesus then gives another example: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”  Now, back then people only wore two garments - an inner shirt and an outer coat.  To sue someone for their shirt was a pretty low blow.  You would be leaving them with only one garment.

Again, we need to know something about the culture at the time.  Back then, to see someone naked was shameful.  Remember when one of Noah’s sons saw him naked and then was cursed?  Yes, it was more shameful to look at someone naked than to be naked.  So, in this situation, if someone wants to take my shirt and I give them my coat also, I have just gotten naked in front of them and I have heaped shame on them.  Now, they are in a position of weakness.  Once again, non-violent resistance.  Don’t allow someone to take the upper hand and treat you poorly – you turn the tables on them, and force them to treat you well.

Can you imagine what the people in the crowd must have been thinking? “I love this guy.  This is great.”

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He gives another example: “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”  Now, back then the Roman soldiers were permitted by law to force a Jew to carry their stuff for them for up to one mile.  To have someone carry something more than a mile was a violation of the law.  So what Jesus is advocating is to take the soldier’s stuff and when the one mile mark comes, just keep going.  Now that soldier is in violation of the law and if his superiors see this, he’ll be in all kinds of trouble.  Who is in a position of power then?  Yes, the person carrying the stuff has put the soldier in a position of weakness, who is forced to say, “Hey, stop, stop, please give me my stuff.”  So the Jew will have asserted himself, turned the tables, reclaimed his dignity, and forced the Roman to treat him with respect.

The people hearing this would have been pumped. “This guy is a genius!”

What does this mean to us?  Whenever we are in a position where we are being victimized, rather than responding with violence on the one hand, and rather than just letting them walk all over us on the other hand, we should look for a third way.  Look for a way to respond that will say, “No, you will not treat me like this.  You will respect me and treat me like a human being.”

I want to assure you that I have not caricatured Bell’s message at all.  This is a true synopsis of what he proposes.

I really want to challenge you to take some time and work on this.  Look at the text.  See if it supports this interpretation.  As you do, here are some things to consider:

1. Does the plain reading of the text support this?  Does Bell’s interpretation require these words to mean something other than what they say?

2. Does the immediate context support this?  Look at the section before and after.  What is Jesus trying to get across?  I’ll point out that Bell did not include v42 in his message. Why not?

3. Does the larger context support this? If you have time, read the entire Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7. See if this interpretation is consistent with the other things Jesus is saying.

4. Are Jesus’ own actions consistent with this interpretation? Is Jesus practicing what He preaches? Look especially at the Passion.

5. Does the NT as a whole support this? Can you find any clear teaching anywhere in the NT consistent with what Bell has proposed?