Fall 2021 Bible Reading Plan, Week 3 - Good News & Hope for the Condition & Priorities of our Hearts
Good News and Hope for The Condition and Priorities of our Hearts
A periodic review of Matthew 5-7 and Romans 12-13 is good for the soul!
In Romans 12, Paul echoes Jesus’ teachings and exhortations on Christian life and character from Matthew 5-7. And in Romans 13, he reinforces Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:13-17, of God’s sovereign and preeminent rule over and in, human government.
Overarching is Jesus’ command in Mark 12 to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:28-30), and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
Keeping our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus, (Hebrews 12:2) His heart, His priorities will keep us anchored to Him, His mission, and His will as we navigate through today’s current turbulent setting of national and worldwide social, medical, and political chaos and turmoil.
We are also reminded of Paul's words in Romans 12:2, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’
In Matthew 5-7, Jesus teaches what has been called the greatest sermon ever preached. It is called the Sermon on the Mount. In these 3 chapters Jesus addresses the hallmarks of Christian character and virtue; Kingdom living and priorities. Verse upon verse, He lays out what it means to be His follower, His disciple; the blessings of doing so, and the heartache of disobedience.
But by the very depth of His teaching, He also shows us the utter impossibility and futility of following Him in our own strength.
Among His many heart penetrating teachings in these 3 chapters, Jesus teaches us that prayer is holy worship as much and even more than unselfish petition. He commands us to love not only our neighbors but our enemies as well, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive as we have been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, to understand the nature of and the depth of anger and lust in our hearts, to not be judgmental and proud towards others and to build a life on the strong unfailing foundation of hearing and obeying His words. He says that His followers are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says, ‘You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
As inspiring as these teachings are, they are also daunting! Who can keep these requirements, attain these highest moral life qualities? Who can really live this life that Jesus asks of us, yet not asks, but commands?
In Matthew 6:19-34, as Jesus teaches about the proper view and use of money, the battle of opposing forces vying for mastery over our hearts and our anxiety over daily provision and worldly possessions, in verse 33, He makes this amazing promise that gives us great hope and insight into the answer: ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’
In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus answers a question about paying taxes to Caesar, a question designed to trap and trick him. Jesus confounds the questioners and answers by comparing and contrasting total allegiance to God with qualified allegiance to God-ordained government. (See also Romans 13)
In Mark 12: 28-34, a sincere scribe asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. He answers the scribe directly from Deuteronomy 6:4 and then after the man affirms Jesus’ answer, Jesus tells the scribe he is ‘not far’ from the Kingdom of God.
In both of these accounts, Jesus is pointing us to His Father and His rule over His creation and to His desire for us and His command to us to love Him wholeheartedly and serve Him with all that we are; to be single-minded in our devotion to Him, above all other issues in life that compete for our affections and energies.
But like the scribe, do we find ourselves feeling we are ‘close but not in’ His Kingdom? Our hearts condemn us every time we sin and fall short. What will secure us? What will assure us when we doubt, when we fail?
In Romans 8:1-6, Paul writes: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
In 1 John 5:10-13, John writes: Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
And in Galatians 2:20, Paul writes: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
And in John 15:1-17, Jesus assures us that we will bear good fruit as we abide in Him:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
And the promise of God’s cleansing and forgiveness in 1 John 1:5-10: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Our hope, our strength is not in our ability to follow and love Him! But it is in our Wonderful Saviour; His Life, Death, and Resurrection... His Righteousness, His Gospel, His message of forgiveness and redemption, of cleansing and sustaining indwelling power through His Spirit to enable us to accomplish all He commands us to do and to be for Him!
Mark 12:29-31 - Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Read Matthew 5-7 and Romans 12-13 and write down what the Spirit speaks to you concerning your life and His work in your heart.
- Meditate on Jesus’ command in Mark 12:29, to love Him with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself in the light of these two passages.
- In John 15:1-7, what does Jesus mean when He commands us to abide in Him and His Word? What does the vine/branch analogy speak to you? Do you see yourself in that type of life-sustaining relationship with the Lord and His Word?
- Are you more aware and relying on Jesus’ enabling power in your life than on your own strength? How can we measure this dynamic? What conditions of our hearts are good barometers (pressure reading instruments) for us to monitor? What scriptures come to mind?
- Do the passages in Mark 12:13-17 and Romans 13 help you with your view of government and God’s sovereign work and rule through government? Do you have a better understanding of Jesus’ command to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to render unto God all that is God’s?
This can be a difficult area to understand and work through in our hearts and together as a church, especially when we can have major issues with our various governments and serious disagreements with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors over deeply held preferences and convictions.
Once again Matthew 6:33 to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness...is very helpful in this area.
- Contrast the scribe in Mark 12:34 who was ‘not far from (close to) the Kingdom, but not in’ with these verses in Hebrews that speak to us as Christians about ‘drawing near to God and His throne’. What makes the difference or what is the distinction that enables us to ‘draw near’ as a member of God’s redeemed family?
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
...(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
- How do you handle discouragement, trials and suffering in terms of loving the Lord with your whole heart? Do you find your love for God growing or waning during these periods of struggle and testing? What can we learn about the condition of our hearts during our responses or reactions at these times?
- What encouragement from God’s word and from your own relationship with Him can you offer to someone who is in the middle of a very trying time in their life and may be questioning His love for them and their love for God?
- What other things/areas/people in your life are you tempted to love more than God? Make a list of the ones He brings to mind, the ones you struggle with... and ask the Lord to help you put them in the right perspective in your life. You may be dealing with idolatry, where you are worshipping one of these deep in your heart instead of the Lord.