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(Matthew 5:21-27 - Ignorance is not bliss, knowing Jesus is)


How are you on 18th century British poetry? 

By the looks on your faces (even in front of you computer), I'm going to assume that you are not reading it too often! Me neither. But that doesn’t mean, you are not familiar with one of the most famous lines of the poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” by Thomas Gray. In fact, you know one of his lines very well.  

It’s a poem about children at a boys school between the ages of 8 and 12. Some are playing and swimming in the river, others are working hard on their studies. Adult life is far off. The future which holds envy, despair, failed ambitions, death of loves ones, aging and poverty, is no where in sight. For today they are at school and they are young. They have no idea, they don’t care and he concludes his poem with the famous line about those children.

Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise. 

“Ignorance is bliss.” There are something’s we just don’t want to know or deal with. I picture this lesson of Jesus fell into such a category for many people of His day and ours. This lesson has a way of picking us up by the collar and smashing us right up against the Laws of Moses in a way that is very uncomfortable. It’s like Jesus is ringing the school bell and telling us that school is out, it’s time to “adult” now as Christians!  

Is ignorance bliss and is it folly to be wise? Let us ponder the words of Jesus and the lesson we learn from him.  

If you felt all high and mighty that you where not a murderer, think again Jesus says; anger in your heart is just as sinful as murder. If you are angry with someone you need to deal with that anger swiftly, or it will lead to dire consequences. If you take that anger to the judge on earth he won’t be happy to see you, nor in heaven will God be any more pleased.  

Jesus talks about adultery next. If you felt all good about being faithful to your spouse, Jesus points out that lust for someone else is just as bad as cheating on them. All the people that have had a marriage that hasn’t ended in divorce; are they the wonderful examples of how to live chaste lives? Not necessary. God doesn’t care that the “rug” is just swept on top where people can see, he also wants to know that there is no dirt in the rug or under the rug. In fact, Jesus makes a point that swiftly such lust should be dealt with. How swiftly? Well, eyes and hands could be removed if that were helpful. Certainly Jesus is not asking us to harm our bodies, but he is pressing hard how serious the sin is and how it is not to be ignored!  

Ignorance was bliss…but Jesus wasn’t done. He tells us that divorce is adultery if it isn’t done for the right reason. It doesn’t matter what you think, or what your religious teacher thinks – God has rules and he doesn’t bend them like man does.  

There is also Jesus’ teaching on language and swearing. Simply put, Jesus wants people to stop calling upon him or his Father unless they are doing something wholesome with the Lord’s name. Best to stay married if possible, best to keep your language simple with yes and no.  

We know that just as quickly as people followed Jesus because of his miracles, many tucked tail and went home because of his teachings also. This may be a good example of why. They wanted to be kids in their faith, they wanted to play and dream a bit longer; not face hard facts about sin and become more mature in their faith and lives.

Yet, there is always a time to grow up and it is good to do so. Ignorance can be detrimental if you chose it. Yes, we all start there, but ending there is a very bad idea.  

I suppose that is what prompts this part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. This lesson drives home two points he made in the former lesson we had last week. 

(1) When people said that Jesus came to abolish the Law of Moses, Jesus pushes back against that very hard to prove his point. If they thought Moses was tough of people, they have no idea Moses was just the elementary teacher and Jesus was the professor who gives out the homework. That seems to be very clear here in this lesson. Whoever came up with idea that Jesus was not reading Moses or that the Law was “trashed” by Jesus, they where very wrong and it’s still very much in place. That is one point.  

(2) The other point (not to his critics but to his followers) might be that Jesus is also taking this moment to elaborate on his teaching that we are to be the “light of the earth” and “salt of the earth”. What is a person of light to look like? They are not people who are just outwardly living a life society or the local rabbi praises. On the inside they are not angry, they are not lusting… They are living a life that God sees and it pleases him.

While none of us would likely fall in to the category of thinking Jesus rejected the Law of Moses and consider ourselves followers, the teachings here of Jesus are received by us as guidance. They are words that mature us in our faith and take away dangerous ignorance. They are words that bring us to a deeper appreciation and deeper want of Jesus to be our Savior. 

Let me express it this way.

Think of children again playing at school. Why do they play as they do? They are being watched. They are being protected. Someone else has taken care of the lawn. Someone else has put up the fence. Someone else paid for their books and their lunch. Someone else bought them cloths and will take out the grass stains. Someone else may even be picking them up after school and taking them home. They play and are ignorant of many of lives’ adult issues, because adults protect them from such problems. (If a childhood is “stolen” many times we are talking about such issues. A child has to grow up too fast).

One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that while he makes us mature in our faith; he also will also make us kids again. In fact, we shall forever be called children of God when we get to heaven. What does that mean? We’ll be safe in his care like kids on a playground.  

When Thomas Gray wrote his poem about the kids, there is no doubt in our mind what he wanted; he wanted to be a kid again. It was like he was promising not to squander all the joy he once had, ever again if he had the chance. When we read this text I see Jesus creating a desire in us to be God’s children. With all the sin in the world, we now know; how desperate a need we have of a Savior from it. The anger, the lust, the laundry list of sins that we are aware of, they make us yearn for not just a better life, not just to be a brighter light, but for the perfection of Jesus.  

We yearn for the forgiveness and protection of Jesus. That death on a cross, it takes away ignorance and gives us the hope of future bliss. We know of a future where growing old and mature, does not mean we’ll long for our youth, but we’ll long for the present and the future. And that is quite something. The poets in heaven will not write about how great it was many years ago, they’ll write how great they have become. It will be so different. It will be so amazing, it will be so wonderful.  

Ignorance is not bliss, but knowledge of Jesus as our Savior truly is. Amen.