Establishing a New Precedent

June 9, 2020

12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Written by Andy Engberg from the Brentwood Campus

The law and the prophets were well established within the Jewish community long before Jesus was born. Many who witnessed the Sermon on the Mount would have grown up within the established Jewish religious community. Like any good speaker, Jesus spoke in terms His audience would understand.

In Matthew 7:12 He drew on the teaching of Hillel the Elder, who is quoted as saying, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” Jesus, as He commonly did, turned it on its head by expressing the same idea in positive terms. Instead of saying, “Don’t do to others,” He said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.” Instead of being a critic, Jesus acted as an encourager. He took a religious idea and stated it in relational terms.

The broader context of the verse is expressed within the context of how we pray. When we pray, we should expect instruction rather than criticism. God gave the Israelites the law and the prophets to instruct, not to condemn. Their sinfulness in response to the law and the prophets is what brought on condemnation. When I read the Sermon on the Mount, there are admittedly some hard lessons. Anyone who reads these passages without the proper context may completely misunderstand what Jesus was saying.

Judging from Matthew 7:28-29, the people in attendance got it. “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 8:1 continues, “When he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him.” It’s clear that Jesus was not like any other teacher they had ever known. Jesus was establishing a new precedent, and the people wanted to be a part of what He was doing.

I am writing this under quarantine for a sickness I do not have. We are all experiencing something that we have never experienced before. Yet the Church has a rich heritage of dealing with disease and death. When the Roman Empire twice suffered plagues, society was collectively demoralized, but the Christian church thrived. There were many pagan religions at the time, but none of them offered any form of hope in midst of widespread epidemics. Christians became caretakers for their fellow citizens, even those who followed pagan religions. Their acts of kindness, charity, and ultimately obedience led to wide-scale conversions to Christianity. Coupled with the fact that the mortality rate was much lower among followers of Jesus, the percentage of Christians that comprised the overall population was much higher after the plagues, and thus the Church was considerably strengthened.

My intention here is not to coerce anyone into taking unnecessarily heroic measures. The message is simple: love your neighbor! Even when they do not love you back, love your neighbor! Even when they believe differently than you, love your neighbor! We can love our neighbors by praying for them or by helping them out when they don’t have enough money for diapers or groceries. People are having to live without some of the comforts and in some cases the necessities they are accustomed to. Many of them are anxious or depressed.

Jesus came to hit the reset button on much of what had been established in the Old Testament Judaic way of thinking, and I think we are seeing the same thing happening in our world today. Christ ministered to people in ways that brought judgement and condemnation from the religious establishment, yet He never lost sight of what He was being called to do. “For He did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). In Matthew 9:37, Jesus tells us, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.” In this season, who are you sharing the love of Jesus with?

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Love your neighbor! Even when you don’t agree, love your neighbor! We were all created in God’s image, and because of this truth we all have value in His eyes. God did not call you to love only your friends and family. He has set the bar much higher.
  2. Pray for those who don’t know Jesus. We are in this battle together, and what’s worse than death itself is for someone to die without knowing Jesus. Stop raging against the darkness, and turn up the light.
  3. In this season, there are many who are sick, dying or grieving over loved ones. Countless others are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, and everything they worked for is vanishing before their eyes. The world is crying out for a savior. If you are reading this, you probably know who He is. Jesus is not only the light at the end of the tunnel, He is the light in the tunnel. It is time to start having gospel conversations.

Subscribe to the Daily Devotional