Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:16c “. . .and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
To honor God should be the great thing Christians aim at in everything we do, the center at which the lines of all our actions converge. We must not seek to retain honor to ourselves, as did the artist in W. M. Taylor’s home town. The painter’s favorite paintings were portraits of himself in different costumes.
We must ever be careful not to make ourselves the center of attention. Long long ago in a city far far away Ruth and I knew a lady who talked more about herself than about all other topics combined. Listening to her was like listening to the song of the cuckoo, which constantly repeats its own name. We would leave her presence in sheer shell-shock, hardly knowing what to make of such an egocentric person. What she did overtly with her lips many of us do covertly with our silence.
Who receives credit for the good works we do, ourselves or the Father? Our virtues are not lights of this world’s making, but spring from God. Thus it is only appropriate that He receive all the glory for them.
We should be horrified at the thought of stealing honor from God, even as Paul and Barnabas were when the people of Lystra tried to offer sacrifices to them as gods (AC 14:12). The two men wanted the focus to be on God, not themselves.
Our mandate is to duplicate an important trait of light, its ability to bring distant things near. Stars far away are brought into immediate contact with our eyes by their light. Believers are to live in such a way that God as revealed in Jesus is brought nigh to unbelievers. This is the goal of Christian conduct. Our works have a missionary function, to bring the lost face to face with the reality of a living God.
True godliness makes itself felt, it is a power in the world, and challenges the lost to ponder the possibility that holy God exists. Sadly, ungodliness also has an impact. George Hunter quotes Nietzche, “I shall not believe in the Redeemer of these Christians until they show me they are redeemed,” and Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The reason why anyone refuses his assent to your opinion. . .is in you. He refuses to accept you as a bringer of truth, because, though you think you have it, he feels that you have it not. You have not given him the authentic sign.”
Mrs. H. W. Smith tells of a woman who came to her for counsel. The lady had agonized in prayer for years for the salvation of her husband and son. She had recently been going through a time of severe anxiety, resulting in her being very depressed and very cross with everyone around her. The day before she came to Mrs. Smith for counsel, she had been especially depressed and spent the day crying. While in this woebegone state, her son straightforwardly told her, “Mother, you have been wanting father and me to be Christians for a good many years, and have wondered why we did not yield. I will tell you why. It is because you show us in your life such an unhappy picture of Christianity that it has never looked in the least attractive to us. In this trouble, for instance, just look how much better father and I bear it than you do, and we make no professions of having a Savior to help us. If your religion doesn’t amount to anything more than the thing you live out before us, you cannot wonder that we do not care to have that sort of religion” (Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary). Brothers and sisters, if we fail in deeds we fail indeed.
We must do our best to have nothing evil in us which would draw people’s eyes from Heaven’s true light and cause them to fix their attention upon our imperfections. Never cast a negative shadow upon God. Have the spirit of Michelangelo, who placed a candle in his pasteboard cap that his own shadow might not fall upon his work. Shine in such a way that our reflection never dims God’s reputation.
Matt. 5:17a “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:”
Jesus, being absolutely honest, wanted all to know exactly what He came to do. People had already recognized Him as a new brand of teacher (MK 1:27), entirely different from the religious leaders of His day (MK 1:22). Other teachers, to substantiate every claim they made, would quote a respected Rabbi or a well known religious writing, but Jesus spoke with an air of absolute independence, as if He were a self-contained authority, Judge and Jury totally in and of Himself.
In fact, He spoke with so much personal authority that people were evidently becoming apprehensive. His words had already been, to say the least, revolutionary. People needed to know, how radical was He? Did He think old ways needed to be obliterated? Was He saying dispense with the law and the prophets, a shorthand way of referring to their sacred books, what we now call the Old Testament?
The latter was no small issue to Jesus’ listeners. The Old Testament was Israel’s glory. All their history and all their dreams for the future were gathered in it. It had been their stay when nothing else upheld them. When the temple was destroyed, their country overrun, and their own bodies were sent into exiles, when all else fell into chaos, their writings had been the one thing which remained constant.
Realizing their devotion to Scripture, Jesus knew He had to let the people know exactly where He stood with regard to their beloved writings. Thus, He first of all sought to ease their fears by saying He had not come “to destroy” Holy Writ, to do away with it, to nullify it. He was not going to deny the Old Testament’s divine authority and thereby release people from the obligation to obey it.
He deemed the Old Testament sacred, inviolable, deserving of absolute obedience. At the same time, though–and this would be the shocker–He regarded His own teachings as equally binding. He held the Old Testament in reverence as being of divine origin. Hes deemed His own message just as divine. He claimed He came to “fulfill” the Old Testament. Everything their holy writings pointed to and talked about and prepared for found their fulfillment in Him, the promised Messiah.
In essence, Jesus was placing Himself on a level equal with God. The lowly carpenter of Nazareth was speaking with high audacity, yea, with holy brashness. Claiming to be an authority unto Himself, independent of any law, His style was absolutely kingly. His demeanor remains the same today. Two thousand years later, His bare command carries authority. He expected unhesitating submission from His original disciples, and expects no less today. None other is like Him. Religionists split hairs and quote philosophers by the hour, but when Jesus is quoted, one is brought instantly to a moment of crisis, of decision–to obey or to disobey.
The claims He made are far too serious and significant for shallow consideration. His assertions deserve serious and thoughtful evaluation, but unfortunately, the prechristians around us are generally shallow in their analysis and understanding of spiritual things. They are content to hide behind trite generalities–too many hypocrites in the church, church cares only about money, church is boring and irrelevant. Most prechristians have a casual interest in religion, but are not in the throes of exhaustingly researching the finer details of various religions to find one they want. We Christians must by the sheer depth of our character break through the lost person’s thin veneer, their trite rationalizations, and force the lost to ponder and consider, to seriously reckon with the possible reality of our awesome God.
To fulfill our mandate, our mission in this world, we must break through people’s shallowness, and significantly confront them with the claims of Jesus. If people choose to go to Hell, let us make sure it is because they themselves were confronted with the Gospel, but chose nevertheless to do so. May they never go there by our failure. We must confront the world with the claims of our Lord Jesus, for He made astounding claims which demand a verdict one way or another.