Rest and the Other R-word
When we arrive at the Sermon on the Mount we are only a few chapters into the New Testament. Leading up to the sermon we have reached all the way back to Abraham. We have seen the lineage of Jesus, read about His birth, watched how God protected Him as a child, seen how John the Baptist prepared the way, seen His baptism, observed His temptation, learned that He preached the Kingdom and healed the sick, read how He called His first disciples, and found out that a large crowd followed Him up a mountain to hear this sermon. So, we have covered a lot, but we still do not know what He will teach us. The position of the sermon gives it a pride of place and some monumental significance. By the time Jesus finally opens His mouth to preach in the fifth chapter of Matthew we are racked with anticipation at what He might say.
He launches His sermon with the greatest introduction ever given, the Beatitudes. In so doing He turns our worldview upside down. He shows us that things like spiritual poverty, meekness, mercy and peacemaking are the attributes of the truly blessed. He tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Then He makes the transition from His inspiring introduction to His first instructions by clarifying that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-19), and followed that with an announcement that He was about to teach us how to have righteousness that would surpass that of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20).
So. By the time we finally get to Matt. 5:21 our anticipation at what Jesus might teach us in terms of specific instructions should feel as though it is about to burst. My point in all of this is that we need to wrap our minds around the prodigious nature of this first commandment. It is truly massive. The eternal Word is about to give us His first command. What does He say? In short, “You have heard, ‘Do not murder,’ but I tell you that if a brother or sister has a complaint against you your first priority is to go and be reconciled” (Matt. 5:21-26).
I know that reconciliation is important and all, but I have to admit that this is not where I would have started. Why did Jesus start there? Well, evidently it is where we need to start. When Jesus starts with the issue of murder He is taking us back to the law that He has already said that He came to fulfill. But He is also taking us back further than that. He is taking us back to the first human fallout after the Garden of Eden. The disobedience of Adam and Eve ushered sin into creation, but the murder of Abel by Cain was the first creation of sin. Jesus is saying that He is here to do more than fulfill the righteousness required by the law, He is here to restore relationships within creation.
The relational emphasis that Jesus brings to us can be seen in the structure of the law in its original form. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) begin with three commandments that deal with our relationship with God. They end with six commandments that deal with our relationships with others. Thus, Jesus sums up the law with the idea of loving God and loving your neighbor (see Mt. 22:36 ff and Luke 10:27 ff). We can gauge how seriously we take our relationship with God by gauging how seriously we take the one another’s.
Interestingly, this leaves the fourth commandment in an important and distinctive position, like a hinge or post on which the other two categories of commandments swing. The fourth commandment instructs us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (Ex. 20:8). The Sabbath represents not only rest, but also completion, and it forms the intersection between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others.
All of us want rest. But do we want relationship? Your rest will never become true Shabbat (sabbath) as long as you are harboring anger towards others in your heart. It is true that reconciliation is a two-way street. You cannot make the other person reconcile with you. But if you have sought and/or offered forgiveness you can still have shalom (peace). Rest and relationship go together like Shabbat and shalom. It is hard to have one without the other. So, as my Jewish friends say: