Jesus was especially against hypocrisy. He hated outward righteousness blended with inward corruption. He was particularly offended by those who criticised others whilst doing even worse things themselves. The hyperbole of attempting to remove a speck from someone else’s eye, whilst having a ‘plank’ in your own, was a case in point. We often criticise in others the same fault that we know is in ourselves. But this actually blinds us to all objectivity. If, however, we first repent, then we do have the capacity to judge others.
Ask, seek, and knock. In the Greek New Testament, these verbs are in the ‘present continuous’, meaning “keep on asking”, “keep on seeking”, and “keep on knocking”! See Genesis 32:26 and James 4:2-3 for more on this. But we are only motivated to do this if we understand that our God is a loving heavenly Father who wants to give us good gifts – making it worthwhile asking.
The rest of the chapter is devoted to teaching us to be discriminating and to discern between good and bad, and genuine and false. In this sense, we are called to judge! The route to salvation is narrow, with a narrow gate – meaning that certain very specific criteria need to be achieved (i.e., faith in Jesus). Any other philosophy or faith is heading in the opposite direction and so the path is wide and easy – there are lots of different ways that you can be wrong!
Those who bring so-called words from the Lord must be judged by their own character and what they have ‘built’ in their lives. If that is substandard, then don’t listen to them!
Looking at your own life, realise that just saying the right things and even doing the right things is not enough; what counts is a relationship with Jesus, so that you know him and he knows you.
Two identical houses are built on two very different locations: one on a solid foundation, and the other on soft sand. The identical houses represent the hearing of the words of Jesus; the ground that they are built on represents the response to those words. There is a strong implication in this parable that your response – obedience or otherwise – is already in place before you have heard Christ’s commands. We need to read the Bible in readiness to obey, so that the received words of command can be actioned immediately. The ‘foundation’ in this story is therefore an attidue in our heart, as much as the resulting action.
GENESIS 17 and 18
Thirteen years later – God having waited until Abram and Sarai were humanly incapable of having children together – decides that the time is right for a miracle (he does that frequently, you know). He re-affirms his original covenant with Abram and expands it to include the actual land of Israel. Abram’s descendants were not only to number the stars in the sky, but to become a great nation in that land. This ‘national’ aspect of God’s promise was made into a conditional covenant (by contrast, the first one was unconditional) and involved Abrams’ descendants becoming circumcised and obeying God’s commands.
The ceremony involved a change of names – inserting part of the name of the Lord into each of their names (the ‘HA’ in English) and symbolising the Spirit of God living in each of them. Romans 8:10-11 refers to the Spirit giving life to mortal bodies! Circumcision itself, the cutting of the foreskin of the penis, represented the equivalent promise towards God of each generation of Israelite men: “If I fail to keep this covenant with the Lord, may my offspring and I be ‘cut off’ from the Lord’s people”. It was analogous to the promise the Lord made to Abram in Genesis 15.
Abraham (as we can now call him) cannot bring himself to believe God’s promise of a son literally and asks that Ishmael become a kind of figurative fulfilment. God says: ‘No, I meant it literally, Sarah really will get pregnant’. Sometimes our weak faith looks for a symbolic answer to prayer when actually God just wants to give us literally what he has promised us! And, in God’s perfect timing, it happens suddenly. And we look back later and wonder what all the fuss was about!
Chastened, Abraham obeys God (obedience is evidence of true faith) and makes sure that every single male in his household was circumcised in a single day. I imagine that that evening’s camel racing meeting was probably postponed!
For several thousand years the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have become a byword for sinful sexual behaviour. Looking back at Genesis ch. 13 we see that, although Lot was a righteous God-fearing man, he was not mature. He chose for his home the plain of the Jordan near the city of Sodom, because it looked so beautiful and fertile – despite knowing about the evil reputation of the men of Sodom and the surrounding four cities. Whether he was overconfident in his own goodness, or whether the temptation of abundant wealth and easy living was too compelling, is debatable. Putting yourself within an arrow-shot of temptation is never a good idea and is simply asking for trouble – which Lot received in spades! Unwisely, then, Lot elects to bring up his family in Sodom and soon becomes a respected citizen (which couldn’t have been too difficult!).
The position of these cities may have been just to the south of the current Dead Sea, and certainly the landscape has changed dramatically into some of the most barren, inhospitable, and rugged on Earth (I have seen it for myself). Clearly a cataclysm of massive proportions occurred when God judged Sodom, with earthquakes, tectonic plate shifts and volcanic explosions changing the entire geology of the land and, in the opinion of some, creating the Great Rift Valley and the Dead Sea itself.
The Lord and two angels dropped in on Abraham for a chat and some lunch – disguised as some of the regular guys who inhabited Canaan. Abraham knew who he was really talking to and made the Lord welcome, as friends do. God confirmed that within a year Sarah would have the promised son – despite hearing cynical laughter from Sarah. They then move on to discussion about what to do in judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose reputation for sexual perversion had reached heaven itself.
Abraham, realising that his nephew Lot and family were part of that impending punishment, and knowing how precise a judge the Lord was, started to bargain with him for a stay of execution, “if only a certain number of righteous people could be found there… 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10…” and they settled on ten. Strange, really, since a headcount of Lot’s family came to less than ten – or else God would have spared the entire city. (More on this tomorrow!)