Friday, January 31, 2014

BAD RELIGION (Matthew Chapter 23)

Remember that scene in the “The Wizard of Oz?” Dorothy and her friends overcame many obstacles in making their way to the Wizard—assuming that he could somehow help them. They entered his chamber and were confronted by an awesome and frightening display. His voice loudly bellowed out from a supersized face. Flashes of flame ushered forth around them. They shrank back in fear. But then Toto (the dog) started barking at something behind a curtain. So they pulled it back, only to find a small man pulling levers. The Wizard was not who he appeared to be—he was not a great and awesome wizard—he was a little man putting on a show.

The Lord Jesus pulled back the curtain and unveiled the truth regarding the Pharisees. No stronger words of condemnation would pass from His lips. Eight “woes” were declared unto them. The word was a warning of pending doom. The omniscient and righteous Lord saw through their religious veneer—they had been “weighed on the scales and found deficient” (Dan. 5:27). Their doom was assured (Matt. 23:33).

They were hypocrites. Seven times that word appears. The word was used in that day to describe an “actor, stage player, or pretender.” They were making a good show of religion, but it was all for show. They did not do as they taught (23:3-4). They were false shepherds who cared not for the sheep (23:4). Their deeds were done, not for God, but to be noticed by men (23:5). They loved places of honor and prestigious titles (23:23:6-10). They had no capacity to serve and reveled in pride (23:11-12). They were caretakers of the broad path that leads to destruction (23:13). They took advantage of widows, while pretending to care (23:14). They would travel far to make converts to their false religion (23:15). They were dishonest (23:16-22). They carefully observed countless traditions, but neglected “the weightier provisions of the law” (23:23-24). They observed various external “washings,” but their hearts were full of “robbery and self-indulgence” (23:25-26). They were “whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” (23:27-28). They feigned honor for the prophets of old, but would mistreat future ones (23:29-36). They epitomized a “righteousness which is in the Law” (Phil. 3:6). Others esteemed them. Measured by that standard, they might have gotten away with it. But the standard is not man (2 Cor. 10:12), but God (Heb. 4:13).

The contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees could not be greater. Jesus did as He taught. He did not do to please men, but His Father (John 4:34). He came not to lay burdens, but to give rest (Matt. 11:28). They were false shepherds; He is the Good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:1-11). They loved places of honor, He laid aside His divine privileges and became poor that we might be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). They had no capacity or desire to serve, He came to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). They were caretakers of the broad way, He is the narrow (Matt. 7:13-14). They took advantage of the unfortunate, He cared for sick, the blind, the demon-possessed, the widows, the children (Matt. 19:13-14; 21:14). They elevated their traditions, He perfectly fulfilled God’s law (Matt. 5:17-19). They were whitewashed tombs, “in Him was life” (John 1:4).

We do this text a disservice if we merely apply it to people long ago in a place far away. The mind of Jesus is revealed to us in His strong rebuke. What did Jesus think of the Pharisaic cult? We know from His words. What does Jesus think of religious hypocrisy? Can any “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23) substitute for that which God requires? The righteousness that is bound up in Christ is alone acceptable before God. No amount of religious activity can substitute for that. We are all full of dead men’s bones (Eph. 2:1), apart from God’s intervention. We are all whitewashed tombs, unless we have been called forth like Lazarus from our graves (John 11:43; Eph. 2:5). The sins of the Pharisees are common amongst men. Pride, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, taking advantage of others—these sins are not reserved for the cultists alone. Any religion that invests heavily in self-effort is inevitably hypocritical because heart-change is Christ’s doing, not ours. In Christ alone we receive forgiveness and transformation. Are you fully invested in Christ and His finished work on the cross? Are you born again? That’s the question. Having begun by faith in Him is your walk now characterized by “purity and simplicity of devotion” (2 Cor. 11:3) to Him? Anything less or else is bad religion.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

YOU'RE INVITED (Matthew Chapter 22)

In Jesus’ day a wedding was cause for great celebration accompanied by joyous festivities.  Relatives and friends would sometimes travel great distances to participate.  Neighbors would join in.  Many marriages were deliberately planned for the fall, after harvest, to ensure greater attendance.  The celebration would go on for days.  People would dance, sing, and play musical instruments.  Food and wine were served in abundance.  It was something you would want to go to.

In the third of the “Rejection” parables (Matthew 21:28-32; 33-44; 22:1-14) Jesus compared the Jews to those invited to a wedding feast.  The King, God Himself, was to give a wedding feast.  The feast was to honor the Son (Make note of this for it is essential to a correct understanding of the parable).  He sent out His slaves to call those who had been invited.  The slaves represent John the Baptist and the disciples.  They were commissioned to go to the Jews and publicly proclaim the gospel of the kingdom (Cf. Matthew 3:2; 10:5-7).  The invitation was made.  But the people were unwilling to come.  They refused to accept their Messiah (Cf. John 1:11).

Another invitation was made.  The dinner was prepared and everything was made ready.  This invitation took place post-resurrection.  Christ had died for sins and had risen from the dead.  Salvation from sin was freely offered and some believed.  But most did not.  New Testament “slaves” took the invitation (the gospel message) first to the Jews (Acts 13:46).  Their message was directed to God’s chosen people.  But in general they paid no attention.  Some busied themselves at “the farm” and the “business” (Matthew 22:5).  The rest seized the slaves and mistreated and killed them.  And so it happened in the early church.  The invitation went out, but the couriers were ill-received.  Starting with Stephen, many were martyred.  Saul himself was a party to the murderous response—‘til God saved him.

So the King was naturally enraged.  He sent armies and destroyed their city.  The parable/prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans attacked and ransacked Jerusalem.  Thousands upon thousands were killed.  Others were taken off into captivity.  The temple itself was destroyed and burned.

So the invitation was directed to others.  The King sent out slaves into the main highways and streets.  Both “evil and good” were invited.  Through the Jewish rejection the gospel message has been extended to others (Cf. Acts 13:46; Romans 11:11,25), indeed people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 4:9).  “And the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests” (Matthew 22:10).  But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed for the occasion (Matthew 22:12).  When asked how he had entered, the man was “speechless.”  In the presence of the king he had nothing to say.  The man was bound and cast into “the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).  The man was a mere professor and not a possessor, a tare amongst the wheat (Cf. Matthew 7:15-23; 13:24-30).  Lacking Christ’s righteousness any such man will be left “speechless” before God and dispatched to a godless eternity (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9).  “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

The Son of the King is worthy of all glory, honor and praise.  To refuse Him is to suffer grave consequence (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  It is not enough to mingle with other invitees.  We must worship in the right attire.  A fig leaf covering will be proven inadequate (Cf. Genesis 3:7).  No filthy garments of our own making will do (Cf. Zechariah 3:4; Philippians 3:9).  To be properly dressed one must be dressed by God (Genesis 3:21), with a robe of His making (Revelation 3:5; Philippians 3:9).  Such garments are adorned by grace through faith alone.  They are worn with pride in the One who has provided them (Cf. Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:14). 

You are invited to a huge celebration.  Others have rejected the invitation and are rejecting it still.  The party will be to celebrate and honor the Son.  He is altogether worthy of a quick and ready response.  Make sure you are properly attired!  Nothing less than being clothed with His righteousness will do.  “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, My beauty are, my glorious dress!”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BAD TENANTS (Matthew Chapter 21)

God’s kingdom was being held hostage by religious leaders, leader who had no heart for the King.  The Kingdom belonged to Him, but they didn’t see it that way.  They were religious.  They wore religious garb.  They spoke of religious matters, did religious things, and observed religious rules--but they were as whitewashed tombs. Their hearts were hard and their eyes and ears were closed to truth.  They ruled over the kingdom.  They deemed it theirs.  They held it under siege.  It had a form of godliness, but God was not in it (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  They used the kingdom for their own selfish purposes.  The King was not welcome there (Cf. John 1:11, 3:20; Revelation 3:20).

Israel was God’s vineyard, “for the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).  He planted the vineyard (Matthew 21:33).  He provided everything necessary for its success—He “put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower” (Matthew 21:33).  “He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines” (Isaiah 5:2).  Indeed, God’s vineyard, Israel, had the benefit of “the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4).  “What more was there to do for (His) vineyard, that (He) did not do for it” (Isaiah 5:4)?

It should have borne fruit, but it did not.  It should have rendered profit to its Owner, but instead, under wicked caretakers, it yielded only “wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:4).  Like the cursed fig tree, it bore no fruit (Matthew 21:19).  The fig tree is unique in that fruit comes first, then the leaves.  A fig tree with leaves but no fruit is a worthless tree.  Its flourishing fa├žade but an empty promise (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  Jesus cursed the tree (Matthew 21:19).

The vineyard was held hostage by the religious leaders.  The King, newly inaugurated, came to receive His kingdom.  He did not like what He found.  The center of His Kingdom, the temple, was to be called a “house of prayer” (Matthew 21:12-13), but instead it had become a place for commerce.  It was to be a place of worship, instead it was a “den of robbers” (Matthew 12:13).  For a fee, money could be changed.  For a fee, sacrifices could be bought.  There is much money to be made in religious profiteering.  Jesus had cleansed the temple at the start of His ministry and He cleansed it again (John 2:13-17).  Still, to this day, there are those who seek to profit from God (Cf. Acts 8:18-19).

Jesus told a parable to illustrate the problem.  The master planted a vineyard, and when “the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit”, but they “took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another” (Matthew 21:35).   He sent other servants, they “did the same to them” (Matthew 21:36).  Through the ages God had sent His prophets to warn His apostate people.  Still the continued in disobedience and idolatry and in all their wicked ways.  Rather than heed God’s warnings, they mistreated the messengers (Cf. Matthew 5:12; Acts 7:51-53).  God’s vineyard was under siege.  “Finally He sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (Matthew 21:37).  And they should have.  They had every reason to.  He had proven to them His worth.  His true identity had been clearly evidenced in “the wonderful things that he did” (Matthew 21:15).  But they refuted the evidence.  “Come,” they said, “let us kill him and have his inheritance” (Matthew 21:38).  “And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (Matthew 21:39). 

Jesus addressed the parable to the religious leaders (Matthew 21:23).  They understood what He was saying.  He was the cornerstone.  But they rejected Him.  Their doom was assured (Matthew 21:43-44).  But rather than heed His warning, “they were seeking to arrest Him” (Matthew 21:46).  They would soon do that and more.

Bad tenants are nothing new and they still exist.  Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20).  Don’t be deceived—the temple might be full of people, but why are they there?  The tree might be bushy with leaves, but is there any fruit?  The vineyard belongs to God, but who is running the show?  Good tenants worship and serve their Creator.  Bad tenants serve only themselves (Cf. Romans 3:25).  Our Creator has dealt with plenty of bad tenants.  We are all tenants before Him, Jesus alone can make us to be good ones.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WHICH WAY UP? (Matthew Chapter 20)

Jesus had just reaffirmed to his disciples His future destiny.  He was to be delivered up, condemned, abused, and crucified.  Three days later He would be raised up (Matthew 20:17-19).  It was “then (that) the mother of the sons of Zebedee” came to Him with her request: “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:20-21).

The question and Jesus’ response led to a discussion regarding Christ’s future suffering and the ability of the two sons to endure the same.  That discussion then caused the other ten disciples to become indignant with the two (Matthew 20:24).  This was not the only instance in which the disciples disagreed about such matters.  On a day to come, after Jesus had washed their feet and shared the last supper with them (partaking together of elements symbolic of His future sacrifice), “there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest (Cf. John 13:5-15; Luke 22:15-22).  While their leader was making His way down (to suffer on the cross), they were arguing as to who was to be on top!

The world has its own definition of greatness.  It highly esteems the rich and powerful.  Famous movie stars; great athletes; powerful politicians; multi-billionaires--they are deemed “great” by this world.  And the desire for greatness lies in heart of man.  The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are ever active and yearning for more.  It’s a “dog eat dog” world, and according to the world’s way of thinking, it is okay to do whatever it takes (“to eat whomever you have to eat”) in order to make one’s way to the top.  To be “king of the hill” is what matters.  The disciples had some of that in them.  Jesus speaks of dying on a cross.  The disciples argue over who is the greatest.  Jesus washes their feet.  They kick dirt at each other.

Jesus differentiated between the two different ways by which greatness is defined.  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).  The rulers of the Gentiles “lord” it over them.  The word translated “lord,” means “to bring under one's power, to subject one's self, to subdue, to master.”  That is the role that the world esteems.  To be a position to be able to tell others what to do; to boss them around; to be served—that is what most people yearn for.

“It is not so among you.”  God’s way is different than the man’s.  The world esteems the master.  God esteems the servant.  If you want to be great, as God defines great, then you must learn to serve.  Jesus exemplified servanthood.  He walked on an alternative and better path.  We have been called to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  At a later date, all of the disciples, except Judas, would undergo a Spirit-empowered transformation.  And, by the Spirit, they were then led to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  They became “great” not by aspiring to greatness, but by living a life of self-sacrifice.  They ultimately realized that which Jesus taught them—the way up is down.

C. J. Mahaney commented on this matter: “Jesus is referring to ‘the reversal of all human ideas of greatness and rank.’  A profound and historical reversal is taking place here—one that has to occur in each of our lives if we’re to have any possibility of becoming truly great in God’s eyes.  It means turning upside down our entrenched, worldly ideas on the definition of greatness.”  A humble attitude that is exemplified in a readiness to serve others is highly esteemed by God (Cf. Philippians 2:3-11).  The song says “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom learn to be the servant of all.”  A lot of voices out there say otherwise, so let’s be careful to not be dissuaded.  The way up is down.

Monday, January 27, 2014

POSSIBLE WITH GOD (Matthew Chapter 19)

He was young, wealthy, and powerful, but spiritually impoverished.  Aware of a deficiency he made his way to Jesus.  His question?  “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).  He desired “eternal life”—his youth, possessions, and power still left him hungering for something more. 
His question was problematic.  The man was on the wrong course.  No doings of man, no matter how impressive, can ever measure up to God’s holy standard.  God alone is good (Luke 18:19; Romans 3:12).  The best of man’s religious efforts fall short (Romans 3:23).
Jesus worked to reveal the man’s shortcomings by issuing a challenge.  “Keep the commandments,” He said (Matthew 19:17).  “Which ones?” asked the man.  Jesus recited for him the second half of the Decalogue—the social division of the Ten Commandments—and added the Leviticus 19:18 requirement to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19).
The young man responded by claiming that he had kept all these.  Did he really think so?  He must have.  But he was mistaken.  Jesus knew the truth and responded: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).  “Do you really love your neighbor as yourself?”  Are you willing to sacrifice all that you have for their sake?  Salvation by good works will demand this and more.  Jesus was not suggesting that salvation can be earned, he was revealing to the man the hopelessness of his condition.  The young man had much property—he was unwilling to give that up.  The demands of salvation by works were too great.  Man has neither the will or ability to do all that is required by the Law.
He did not do what Jesus demanded, but instead went away “grieving” (Matthew 19:22).  The course he had chosen came to a bad end.  It would have been better if he had come to Jesus in humility and in faith (in the one alone who is good)--as a child would have come (Cf. Matthew 19:13-15; 18:3-4; Mark 10:15).  But he came attesting to his good works, and they were inadequate.  It was a sad end of to the story, at least as far as the rich young ruler was concerned.  But Jesus used the occasion to teach His disciples some important things.  He said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.   Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).
The Jews of Jesus’ day perceived riches to be indicative of a man’s piety and God’s blessing upon him.  So the disciples were no doubt surprised by what they heard.  The reality is that the rich and poor alike must come to God as spiritual paupers.  But it is harder for the rich to do that, inasmuch as wealth deceives as to sense of need (Cf. Proverbs 30:7-9; 1 Timothy 6:17).
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!  How hard is it for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?  I’ve seen camels.  They are really large and have big humps.  The eye of a needle is incredibly small.  To get a camel through the eye of a needle is not just hard, it’s impossible.
Thank God that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Matthew 19:26).  The Spirit is able to make us aware of our need and true condition before Him (i.e. spiritual bankruptcy; John 16:8; Matthew 5:3).  It is only then that we realize that there is nothing that we can do—“not the labor of my hands can fulfill the law’s demands.”  Helpless and contrite we are directed to the one who became poor, that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).  True and lasting riches—bound up in Him alone-- are then bestowed on those who sincerely trust in Him (1 Timothy 6:17-19).  Thank God that He is able to do the impossible.  Salvation is a miracle of God’s grace for rich and poor alike—but especially for the rich.  “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Friday, January 24, 2014

A FISH STORY

My friend Bubs texted me yesterday: “You better go fishing. I had a dream last night that the Klatskanine was full of fish.” Not being sure how much stock to put in Bubba’s dream, I replied that I was thinking about it. I haven’t been fishing for a while—the rivers are low due to lack of rain and the steelhead return isn’t very good. Then I got up this morning. Did my devotions. Checked out facebook. On facebook by Uncle Frank had posted another picture of a guy with a fish. He’s been doing that a lot lately. I’m thinking that maybe he needs and wants to go fishing, On the other hand, perhaps it was meant to be an encouragement to me to go. 

While contemplating that, I got a text message from my Uncle Bob: “I oakusaba Katonda mulungi on your behalf.” I’m concerned for my Uncle Bob. He loves his Ugandan friends so much that now he is speaking and praying in Lugandan. I hope that he’s not preaching in Lugandan! At any rate--I asked him for the meaning of the words (cause I only recognized the word “Katonda”) and he said that it meant: “I prayed to the God who is good on your behalf.” But he’s not that good at Lugandan, so I think he might have prayed: “Lord help Jerry to catch a steelhead today.” 

Bolstered with the encouragement of Bubba’s dream, Frank’s pictures, and Bob’s prayer I headed off to go fishing. Got to the river. What a beautiful morning! How pleasant the sound of the water tumbling over the rocks. How beautiful the blue sky set against the trees and the river coursing through the middle of it all! Bubba dreamt that the river was full of fish. Time to check it out. First hole—water’s too low, no fish. Second hole—couple of casts with a spinner—nada. Third hole--what a beautiful fishing hole! My friend, John, turned a fish in this hole last week. Surely I’ll get one here. Nada. Fourth hole. No fish. 

What about Bubba’s dream, Frank’s pictures, and Bob’s prayer (even in a foreign language)? One more hole to try. Bad cast. Should have hit the current. Oh well, I’ll leave it there for a moment to see what happens. Something’s grabbing my bait—looks like it might be trout. No, it’s a steelhead! Set the hook. Fish on. It’s a bright fish. “Don’t lose it,” I said to myself. Banked it. Bonked it. Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Bubba, Frank, Bob. I know, it’s just a fish. But I’m thinking there’s more to the story. It was a collaborative effort.   

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN (Matthew Chapter 18)

The slaves were aghast at what they had witnessed. Their fellow slave had amassed a huge debt of 10,000 talents towards their master (Matthew 18:24). A debt so large that it would have taken 150,000 years of the wages of a laborer to pay off.  The master, wishing to settle accounts, brought the slave to himself and demanded payment. Since he had no means to repay, the master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and belongings so that payment could be made (18:25).

Helpless to rectify his situation the slave fell to the ground and begged that the master show patience towards him. In an incredible and unprecedented display of compassion the master forgave him the debt (18:27). The other slaves were astounded. What kind of master would show such compassion?

How did the slave respond?  He went and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a debt (18:28). The debt was small by comparison--a mere one hundred denarii.  An amount that could be earned in 100 days or so. The forgiven slave seized the man and began to choke him. He too begged for patience. But the forgiven slave showed no compassion and instead threw the slave into prison (18:30). The other slaves were “deeply grieved” and reported to the master what had happened (18:31).  Oh the incongruity of it all! An unpayable debt forgiven by a compassionate master. Forgiveness of the far smaller debt withheld by a fellow servant. And so it goes in this world.

The rabbis had taught that a repeated offense might be forgiven three times, but on the fourth there could be no forgiveness. Peter questioned Jesus regarding the extent to which forgiveness should be demonstrated, asking, “Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus’ response was not up to seven times, “but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus used this parable to illustrate the truth about forgiveness.

It is altogether human to seek revenge. The Devil cheers us on in our anger, bitterness, and vengeance. He would have us to believe that some sort of victory is won in retaliating. The flesh is eager to participate. A deadly and turbulent concoction is created when vengeful thoughts are enjoined to the dreaded injustice.  The wicked brew, having been simmered on the back burner of the mind, is then gladly guzzled down only to be vomited up, emitting a foul and noxious odor.  Revenge yields no heavenly triumph.  Temporary gratification is a high price to day in view of the emotional, physical, and spiritual damage done.

Forgiveness is a God thing. Were there no God there would be no such things as forgiveness. To forgive someone is to release them from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. It is to make a decision about an injustice suffered: to not think about it, to not bring it up, to not talk about it, and to not allow it to stand between us and the other person. That kind of response is not always easy. It is by God’s grace and by the Spirit alone that we can lovingly respond to others in this manner (Cf. Galatians 5:20 vs. 5:22; 1 Corinthians 13:5).

Seventy times seven. God has forgiven much. It is His nature to forgive (Cf. Psalm 103:8-11). My certificate of debt was of infinite measure (Colossians 2:14). He “cancelled it out” by nailing it to the cross. He who knew no sin was made to be sin that I might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It is reasonable to expect that those who have been much forgiven should readily forgive. That’s the point of the parable. Anything less is unreasonable and deeply distressing. Those who have been much forgiven, “as God in Christ has forgiven” (Ephesians 4:32b), should always be “forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32a). The fount of forgiveness is the cross.  When we forgive we bear witness to its power to save and transform!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A GLIMPSE OF HIS GLORY (Matthew Chapter 17)

Six days following Jesus’ revelation to His disciples of His pending death, He led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain where He was “transfigured” before them (Matthew 17:1).  Perhaps it was to reassure them—in light of the revelation of His pending suffering and death—as to His true identity and therefore encourage them in their faith.  Whatever the reason, it was a privileged viewing for only three disciples.

He was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:2).  The Greek word, metamorphoo, is related to our English metamorphis and means to “change into another form.”  The result of this was that “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matthew 17:3).  They were privileged to see what others were not—Christ transfigured before them. His face shone with a light unrivaled on planet earth.  His garments were made whiter than white, “as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3).

Moses and Elijah, representing both the Law and prophets, appeared and talked with Jesus (Matthew 17:3).  A bright cloud overshadowed them all.  A voice declared: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).  What are we to make of this occurrence?

The full manifestation of the “incarnate Deity” was “veiled in flesh.”  His preincarnate state was that of sharing in the glory of the Father “from before the world was” (John 17:5).  In His incarnation He took “the form of a bond-servant, and (was) made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).  He divulged Himself of His glorious array.  The King of Kings and Lord of Lords put aside His glorious robe and dressed down for the occasion (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9; Isaiah 53:2).

Christ’s incarnation is a matter of great mystery and wonder!  Martin Luther said that it represents a matter “which is beyond all human comprehension.”  To hear of suffering and death on one day, and to behold Jesus in glorious array on another was quite the dichotomy of experience for the disciples.  And the dichotomy remains difficult to comprehend.  “He left His Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace!  Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race; Amazing Love! How can it Be, That Thou,  My God, shouldst die for me!”

The experience stuck with Peter.  Years later he wrote about it: “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).  They were eyewitnesses of His majesty!  They saw Jesus in all of His glorious splendor on that day.  Peter never forgot that experience.  It was a foretaste of what we will all experience when “the day dawns and the morning star arises in (our hearts)” (2 Peter 1:19).

John experienced a similar encounter with Jesus on the island of Patmos.  He saw Jesus.  “His face was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16).  When he saw him, he “fell at His feet like a dead man” (Revelation 1:17; Cf. Matthew 17:6).

Only Peter, James, and John were privileged to behold Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration on that day.  But just as they beheld His glory, the believer in Christ is one who has been Spirit-led to gain a vision of the majesty of the Savior (2 Corinthians 4:6).  There will come a day  when every believer will “see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2), “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  “And we shall behold Him, We shall behold Him, Face to face in all of His glory!”  What a glorious day that will be! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CHRISTOLOGY 101/102 (Matthew Chapter 16)

It was an important question.  Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is” (Matthew 16:13)?  The disciple’s responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).  Such were the opinions of that day.

How would people answer that same question in our day: “Who do people say that Jesus is?”  Some would deny His existence, others would acknowledge Him to have been a good man, still others would parrot the false teachings of their various false religions.  Few would give a correct response.  In that day and this there were/are a myriad of ideas concerning the identity and nature of the person of Jesus.

Jesus had another question for His disciples: “But who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15)?  This question is more personal, not what do PEOPLE say, but what do YOU say?  It is more than an academic or theological matter.  The question’s has to do with a matter having relevance to a person’s eternal destiny (John 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9; 1 John 4:2). 

Peter was ready with an answer.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” he said (Matthew 16:16).  It was the right answer, and Jesus commended him for it.  But how did he know it?  It was not something that Peter figured out.  Neither was it something that someone else told him.  It was, instead, truth revealed to him from the Father: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17)?  The Father made the truth about Jesus known to Peter!  Indeed how blessed are those who have had the truth about Jesus Spirit-revealed to them!  They are privileged beyond measure and possess priceless treasure: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay…(2 Corinthians 4:6-7a).”

Peter was commended (called “blessed”) because he knew the right answer.  In Christology 101 (The Person of Christ) he got an “A+”.  But he didn’t fair so well in Christology 102 (The work of Christ).  Jesus began speaking to His disciples about His pending sufferings and sacrifice and resurrection (Matthew 16:21-23).  Though “He was stating the matter plainly,” Peter didn’t understand.  None of the disciples understood (Cf. Mark 9:31-32).  But Peter, was forthright in his lack of understanding: “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 26:22).  Jesus’ response was immediate and direct: “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).  In short order Peter had plummeted from the heights of the thrill of victory to the depths of the agony of defeat.  In one conversation He was both commended by Jesus and condemned as “Satan”!  What an incredible reversal of fortune!  Peter’s report card: “A+” in Christology 101; “F-“ in Christology 102.  Things would get even worse for him—the day would come when he would deny even knowing Jesus, even as Jesus was making His way to the cross.

There are some who know something of the facts of who Jesus is, but fail to comprehend the nature of His work.  Incumbent in His warning to His disciples was the truth that Jesus’ death was according to God’s plan (Matthew 16:21-23; Acts 2:23).  Some think of the cross as the tragic and premature end to a good man’s life.  That’s not what happened.  God sent His only begotten Son to die  (John 3:16).  Jesus purposed to die: “For the Son of Man came..to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  The cross was no accident.  And though it (the cross) be counted foolish by some, and a cause for stumbling to others—it is gloried in by those who have experienced its power (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; Galatians 6:14). 

Things changed for Peter after the resurrection.  By the Spirit he was given a new understanding of the truth he previously rebuked Jesus for.  With a changed perspective regarding the cross He faithfully bore witness to the power of the cross to save. Who is Jesus?  Why did He die on a cross?  Blessed are those who have been Spirit-led to gain understanding of these truths that they might trust in God’s provision!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM (Matthew Chapter 15)

It’s a good idea to wash your hands—before you eat, after you visit the restroom, before and after you make a visit to the hospital.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day practiced hand-washing also.  It was one of their most important religious practices.  They did it in a certain manner.  They would wash one hand with the other fist then raise the hand so that the water might run off just at the wrists.  An exact amount of water was specified.  They would do so before eating, and even between courses.  They washed their hands when coming home from the market and on numerous other occasions.  Very particular rules were also established regarding the washing of dishes and other eating utensils.  But their observance of these rules was not primarily about cleanliness.  As with their other traditions it was all about establishing a self-righteousness through religious rule-keeping.

The disciples failed to observe the practice (Matthew 15:2).  The Pharisees asked “Why?”  Jesus Himself neglected it (Luke 11:37).  A Pharisee was surprised (Luke 11:38).  Both occasions gave opportunity for Jesus to communicate an important truth: the heart of man is the heart of the problem (Cf. Matthew 15:18-20).

The heart of man is the heart of the problem.  Religious practice has no power to deal it.  The heart of man is wicked by nature and must be changed.  The cup is filled with sin, and must be emptied and refilled.  These are things that God alone can do.  There is a scene in Shakespeare’s MacBeth which illustrates the problem.  Lady Macbeth encouraged Lord Macbeth to slay the king.  But when he returned his hand was covered with blood.  So she said to him, “Go, wash thy hand,” a little clean water will clear us of this deed.”  So he went, but then looked at his hand and declared, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?  No; rather this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The heart of man is the heart of the problem.  The Great Physician is alone qualified to make a proper diagnosis.  Jeremiah 17:10, “I, the Lord, search the heart.”  The Spirit of God convicts of sin and reveals to man the gravity of the problem (John 16:8-9).  The condition is dire—rule keeping, self-improvement, or behavior modification deal only with the symptoms.  A total heart transformation is necessary.

At the moment of saving faith a person is forgiven and changed.  “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).  Having been identified with Christ—in His death, burial, and resurrection—the believer in Christ is inalterably changed (Romans 6:1-7).  He is made to be a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), empowered “to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

The transforming work of the Spirit of God is an inside-out process.  The work He intends is to transform us into the very image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  His desire is that we be Christ-like in every way—heart, head, hands.  He patiently reveals to us our sins that they might be put off (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 8:13).  His presence in our lives is revealed by those wonderful Christlike virtues: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Religious rule-keeping is no substitute for the inside-out transformation that Christ alone can achieve.  It’s a good idea to wash our hands—for many reasons.  But external cleansing is no substitute for heart change.

Monday, January 20, 2014

BETTER BREAD (Matthew Chapter 14)

Much of the news in our day is focused on issues related to health care and the economy.  People have questions related to the “Affordable Health Care Act” and how it is going to affect them.  The news is reporting how the number of people in poverty in our country has been steadily increasing.  Nevertheless most of us have plenty to eat and have access still to quality health care if we need it.  Even so, we occupy much of our time with concern over such matters.

It was different for the people of Jesus’ day.  There were no supermarkets from which they could go to purchase items for their next meal.  They spent much time caring for crops and animals which would provide food for their families.  There were no hospitals or knowledgeable physicians (at least not akin to the kind that exist in our day).  Many sicknesses and illnesses simply ran their course leading either to recovery or death. 

In many respects the people of Jesus’ day are like the people I’ve had opportunity to visit in the Masaka Region of Uganda.  They live off of what they grow or tend.  Access to quality medical care is not readily available.  Some pastors ask about such matters: “What are we to say to our people?  We have great needs—we are poor, uneducated, and without doctors and medicine.  We speak to our people about Jesus, but what about these other needs?”  Good question!

A great multitude followed Jesus and gathered to Him in a desolate place.  “He felt compassion for them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).  It got late.  Jesus took five loaves and two fishes from a lad and fed 5000 people.  He miraculously multiplied the loaves and the fishes such that every person was “satisfied” (Matthew 14:20).  There was even some left over. 

That miracle said something about Jesus.  It declared Him to be the Divine Son of God (John 20:30-31).  But the people didn’t see it.  They rejoiced in the healings and were glad for a free meal—but they failed to comprehend the true nature of the greater Miracle that stood in their midst.  They deemed Him to be “The Prophet” and wanted to take Him by force to make Him King (John 6:14-15). They sought after Him—they even crossed the sea to get to Him (John 6:24).  But Jesus knew of their deeper need and confronted their confused priorities: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs (lit. “attesting miracles”), but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.  Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal” (John 6:26-27).

Good news!  There is a “food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).  Jesus went on to explain, saying: “I am the bread of life”…”I am the living bread that came down out heaven”…My fresh is true food”…”he who eats this bread shall live forever” (John 6:48, 51, 55, 58).  He spoke of His pending sacrifice: “And the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51).  He offered eternal life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).

Bread is important.  Good health care is important too.  In Christian love we should do all we can to help those in need (1 John 3:16-17; James 2:14-16).  But there is a hunger that mere bread can’t satisfy and a need for a healing that no doctor on earth can provide.  You can’t find “the Bread of life” in the bread section at the supermarket, but He can be found by anyone anywhere.  There is a hunger which Jesus alone, “the Better Bread,” can satisfy.  He came to satisfy that very need (Cf. John 10:10-11)!

Friday, January 17, 2014

HAPPY EYES AND EARS (Matthew Chapter 13)

Matthew chapter 13 records several parables Jesus taught regarding the nature of the Kingdom.  The disciples asked him why he taught in parables and Jesus explained (Matthew 13:10-17).  He told them that those having ears to hear would understand, but those without wouldn’t.  This was to fulfill what was prophesied by Isaiah, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive” (Matthew 13:14; Isaiah 6:9).

“But blessed are your eyes,” he said to His disciples, “because they see, and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).  The term “blessed” can otherwise be translated as “happy.”  What makes for happy eyes and ears?  Eyes that see and ears that hear!

Most do not understand the things of God.  “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Most are blind to the truth: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  The context of our passage speaks to this.  The sower went out to sow, but more often than not the seed fell on unfruitful soil (Matthew 13:3-9; 19-23).  Jesus spoke in parables, but most did not understand.  And even the prophets and righteous men desired to see (ESV, “longed to see”), but were not privileged to.

Helen Keller was only two years old when an illness struck her blind and deaf.  Unable to communicate with the outside world her life was filled with a despair that one can only imagine.  Miss Anne Sullivan was brought to assist her and worked patiently to break through the darkness.  One day she and "Teacher"—as Helen always called her—went to the outdoor pump.  Miss Sullivan started to draw water and put Helen's hand under the spout. As the cool water gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other hand the word "w-a-t-e-r" first slowly, then rapidly.  Suddenly, the signals had meaning in Helen's mind. She knew that "water" meant the wonderful cool substance flowing over her hand. Quickly, she stopped and touched the earth and demanded its letter name and by nightfall she had learned 30 words.  Helen later wrote of the experiences of that day: “As we continued to the house every object which I touched quivered with life.  That was because I saw everything with a strange, new sight that had come to me.  It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib…and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”  Such is the spiritual experience of every newly born child of God!

The ability to comprehend truth is a privilege that has been granted to you by God.  Remember the day when the Spirit first brought opened your eyes to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:6)!  Words that had previously lacked meaning and import were made precious (1 Corinthians 2:12).  A longing for the truth was Spirit-borne into your heart (1 Peter 2:2)!  How glorious the day when your eyes and ears were made happy by God!  “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see!”

You have happy eyes and ears!  You’ve been privileged in a way that most on earth are not.  Others long for Bibles, you have many.  Others believers around the world meet in secret and risk persecution and arrest to meet together, you have the freedom to openly gather to fellowship and hear God’s word.  Don’t take for granted that which God has so graciously given.  Happy eyes are made happier still as they are fixed upon the Savior (Hebrews 12:2).  Happy ears rejoice to hear Him speak through His Word (John 10:27; Colossians 3:16).  He has many more things to show you and to tell you about (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Be glad for Spirit-borne keen sight and good hearing!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

MAD AT THE MIRACLE WORKER (Matthew Chapter 12)

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day lived according to an extensive set of rules. This was nowhere more evident than in their keeping of the Sabbath. In his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” Alfred Edersheim pointed out: “On no other subject is Rabbinic teaching more minute and more manifestly incongruous to its professed object.” There were laws that dealt with how far a person could travel, how much weight a person could lift, and what could and could not be done to deal with a medical need or injury. These smaller traditions worked to cloud the original intent of the setting aside of the Sabbath—weightier concerns of the Law were lost in the minutia of petty rules (Matthew 15:3, 6-9; 23:23-24). Jesus perfectly upheld the law (2 Corinthians 5:21), but refused to be bound by the man-made traditions of the Pharisees.

After one Sabbath-breaking controversy (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus entered “their” synagogue and caused another (Matthew 12:9). A man with a “withered hand” was there, along with the people, Jesus’ disciples, and the Pharisees. We are given no history and few details regarding the man, though Luke’s gospel records that it was the man’s right hand (Luke 6:6). It is possible that the Pharisees had deliberately brought the man—to see what Jesus would do. Alfred Edersheim comments regarding the scene: “We can now imagine the scene in the Synagogue. The place is crowded. Christ probably occupies a prominent position as leading the prayers or teaching: a position whence He can see, and be seen by all. Here, eagerly bending forward, are the dark faces of the Pharisees, expressive of curiosity, malice, cunning. They are looking round at a man whose right hand is withered, perhaps putting him forward, drawing attention to him, loudly whispering, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day?’ The Lord takes up the challenge.”

Jesus had the man come forward. He asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill (Mark 3:4)?” “But they kept silent.” “And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5), the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), healed the man on the Sabbath. “Then He said to the man ‘stretch out your hand!’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other” (Matthew 12:13). As with Jesus’ other miracles, this one revealed His Divine authority and identity (Cf. John 20:30-31). We are not told of the reaction of the people, though a future miracle caused the people to ask ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can He?’ (Matthew 12:23). The reaction of the Pharisees was both tragic and predictable: “But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).

They were, after all, nothing but white-washed tombs, filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27). A lively love for God that would have responded to the Spirit’s testimony was absent (Matthew 12:31-32). A genuine love for man that would have delighted in the restoration of this man’s health was missing. In its place was a violent disdain for the One who was working to reveal the true nature of their puffed-up religiosity (Matthew 12:34-35). Henceforth they would not rest until the Light was extinguished.

Religious rule-keeping is no substitute for right relationship with God. It is the nature of “self-made religions” to invent “commandments and teachings of men” (Colossians 2:22-23). But the inferiority of anyone’s self-righteousness is readily exposed in the presence of the Light. Henceforth there are but two choices, hate the light or come to it (John 3:20-21)--stand with Jesus or against Him (Matthew 12:30). The Sabbath-day healing of the man with the withered hand enraged the Pharisees, but I’m thinking that the man with the withered hand probably had a different opinion.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DOUBTS AND DISREGARD (Matthew Chapter 11)

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus once asked His disciples that question (Matthew 16:13).  They gave several answers reflective of the prevailing opinions of that day.  And so it is still—people respond in various ways to the truth about Jesus.  Matthew chapter 11 speaks to some of these various responses and opinions…

Belief but with doubts.  John the Baptist was sent by God as the forerunner of the Christ (John 1:6-7; Mark 1:1-3).  He preached in the wilderness calling people to repentance (Matthew 3:1-2).  He faithfully bore witness of Jesus identifying Him to be the Christ (John 1:19-28).  He was later imprisoned (Matthew 11:2).  From prison, having heard of “the deeds of the Christ,” he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11:2-3).  How are we to account for this change in John?  What caused him to doubt?  We should note that there is no record of Jesus rebuking or criticizing John.  In fact, Jesus would go on to both assure him and commend him to others (Matthew 11:7-15).  He doubted not as a skeptical unbeliever, but as one who believed but had questions.  No doubt John’s doubts were rooted in Jesus’ failure to measure up to his preconceived expectations.  John was in prison.  Jesus was not acting like a King--hence his doubt.  But John did the right thing.  He took his doubts directly to the One who alone could address them.

Criticism no matter what.  Jesus used the example of John the Baptist to address the problem of critical unbelief that was characteristic of the masses.  They were like “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ (Matthew 11:16-17).”  In those days the marketplace was a busy place filled with families and children.  Children would gather and play.  What would they play?  The main social events of that day were weddings and funerals.  And so the children would play games related to both.  But whether with the flute and a dance (as in a wedding) or a dirge (as in a funeral), there were some who would in either case refuse to join in.  John the Baptist came “neither eating nor drinking” and they said “He has a demon” (Matthew 11:18).”  Jesus came “eating and drinking” and they said, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ (Matthew 11:19).”  William Barclay commented on this kind of response: "The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticism. They'll criticize the same person and the same institution from quite opposite grounds and reasons. If people are determined to make no response, they will remain stubbornly and sullenly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made to them."

Apathetic disregard.  Jesus’ harshest criticism was reserved for the cities “where most of his mighty works had been done” (Matthew 11:20).  Despite the clear evidence of his miracles they “did not repent” (Matthew 11:20).  Hard-hearted in their unbelief they refused to concern themselves with either Jesus or their sin.  No amount of evidence, no matter how substantial, could work to pry open their sin-shut eyes and ears.  Their apathy would be their undoing as they would ultimately experience the severity of God’s judgment for their unbelief (Matthew 11:20-24).  Some will never be convinced “even if someone should rise from the dead” (Matthew 16:31).


Childlike faith.  The chapter ends with a reassuring truth and an invitation.  The reassuring truth is that God desires to reveal Himself to us.  It is the “gracious will” of the “Lord of heaven and earth” to make known His truth to those who are as “little children” before Him (Matthew 11:25-26)  This precious reality is reaffirmed in Jesus’ invitation to the weary and heavy laden to find rest for their souls in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).  Criticism and apathy are the norm in this sin-weary world, but Jesus promises relief to those who come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

THE MASTER'S PLAN (Matthew Chapter 10)

Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion for them, “because they were-as they still are--harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).  Recognizing the scarcity of hands for such a plentiful harvest, He asked His disciples to pray that the Lord of the Harvest might send laborers (Matthew 9:37-38).

The answer to these prayers were the disciples themselves.  Jesus called them (Matthew 10:1).  He sent them out with His instructions (Matthew 10:5; 11:1).  Much in this chapter has specific relevance to the Apostles—they were to proclaim a message of the kingdom (Matthew 10:7); they were to go only to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6); and they were to go doing good in miraculous ways (even raising the dead; Matthew 10:8).  Portions of the chapter look forward to a future time, but the passage still has relevance to us.

It is striking to note the means through which God chose to do the work He intended to do.  Jesus chose and called ordinary men to do the work of ministry (Matthew 10:2-4).  Jesus did not recruit and call men from the powerful, well-connected, or even well-educated.  He deliberately chose ordinary men—fishermen, a tax-collector, a zealot, and others.  These men were merely human and would demonstrate their limitations on countless occasions as disciples, but once Spirit-filled, after Christ’s resurrection, God would use them (all but Judas) and others like them to “(turn) the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  God’s plan remains the same.  He still chooses and privileges mere ordinary people like us to do the work of His ministry.  “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

The chapter is full of warnings regarding difficulties associated with ministry.  These same difficulties exist in this day and are experienced in varying degrees by Christ’s followers around the world.  He sent them out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).  He Himself, the Lamb of God, ministered amidst wolves.  These “wolves” relentlessly worked and conspired against Him, seeking His demise.  His followers should expect to experience the same kind of abuse (Matthew 10:24-25; Cf. Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 3:12).  So it is important that they be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

“Have no fear of them,” He said (Matthew 10:26).  Contend for the truth—“say it in the light…proclaim it on the housetops” (Matthew 10:26-27; Jude 3).  The truth will prevail (Matthew 10:26; Cf. 2 Timothy 2:9).  Have no fear—“even the hairs of your head are all numbered” by Him (Matthew 10:30).  The Master’s Plan?  Ordinary men facing extraordinary opposition made victorious through the Master and HIs power and love (Cf. Romans 8:31-39)!

And ‘tho this world with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not at him—His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him.

Monday, January 13, 2014

LAUGHING AT JESUS (Matthew Chapter 9)

His daughter had died, but he believed that Jesus could bring her back to life, so the synagogue official made his way to Jesus and asked for His help.  Jesus followed the man, and after stopping to heal a woman, made his way to his house.  There he found a crowd in noisy disorder and heard the flute players serenading her departure.  He bid the crowd to depart, they began “laughing at him” (Matthew 9:18-26).

Such responses were nothing new to Jesus.  His behavior was anything but typical and His activities were frequently met with skepticism or criticism.  Matthew chapter 9 includes other examples of this…

Some men brought a paralytic to Jesus to be healed.  Jesus said, “Take courage, My Son, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).  The response of the religious leaders?  They accused him of blasphemy (Matthew 9:3).

On another occasion He was reclining at a table in a house with His disciples and other guests, including many tax-gatherers and sinners.  The religious leaders took note and asked the disciples why (Matthew 9:10-13).

Even the disciples of John were puzzled by Him.  They fasted as did the Pharisees.  But they questioned why Jesus and His disciples did not fast (Matthew 9:14-17).

A dumb and demon-possessed man was brought to Jesus.  Jesus cast out the demon and made the man to speak.  The multitudes marveled, but the Pharisees attributed His work to the devil (Matthew 9:32-34).

He was questioned and criticized by both friends and foes and those who didn’t know any better. They questioned everything about Him--His motives, His ability, His ministry style, and His choice of friends.  They accused Him of blasphemy, but the man was both healed and forgiven.  They wondered about his questionable friends, but He had come to seek and save such people.  They were puzzled as to why His disciples didn’t fast--but why should they in the presence of the bridegroom?  They accused Him of healing by the power of the devil, but since when does the devil work against himself (Cf. Matthew 12:25-29).

They were laughing at Him, but no doubt stopped when the little girl arose (Matthew 9:24).  He was ridiculed and mocked even as hung on a cross for man’s sin.  To this day most doubt Him or while doubting accuse Him of all sorts of things.  The cynicism, questions, and accusations should have ceased when He rose from the dead.  That great triumph over sin and death proved His identity and worth.  But the laughing and criticism continues.  How patient and compassionate is Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  He was patient with the doubters and critics when He walked the earth, He is patient still “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  He is Lord of all—one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that truth (Philippians 2:10-11).  On that day all laughing at Jesus will cease.

Friday, January 10, 2014

LOST AND ALL ALONE (Matthew Chapter 8)

The leper (Matthew 8:1-4) likely didn’t know the crazy men (Matthew 8:28-34), but he’s been perpetually “bound-together” with them as bookends to a chapter which speaks to the miracle working power of the Lord Jesus.  In that sense and in another they shared much in common.

I’ve been lonely.  You’ve likely experienced loneliness too.  But it’s hard to imagine what must have been the lonely and hopeless experience of these three needy souls.  The kin of Adam all bear the tragic consequences of sin, these seemingly bore more than their fair share.

Disfigured by leprous sores and scars the diseased leper was deemed unclean.  Others were prohibited from any direct contact with him.  “Unclean, Unclean” he would warn lest any might come too close.  He had said it so often it had become his identity—how he thought of himself.  Forsaken by family and friends, he was a lonely man.  A discard of human society.  Parents warned their children to stay away from him.  How long had it been since he experienced the hug of his mother or embrace of his friend?  The affectionate or caring touch of another was but a distant memory.  He was a man without hope, utterly alone and rejected.  But then Jesus came.  By faith the leper made his way to Him.  Disregarding earthly protocol he bowed down to Jesus.  Confidently he proclaimed, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2).  And you know what Jesus did?  He did what no one else would dare do--what the leper had not experienced in months, maybe years.  “He stretched out His hand and touched him” (Matthew 8:3).  “Be cleansed” He said.  And the leper was cleansed.  One can only imagine the happy reunion that was the result when the leper was made whole and restored to his family and friends.

The demon possessed men lived in the tombs, far away from everyone else.  They were so violent that nobody else could pass by that way.  Their naked bodies bore the bruises and scars of self-afflicted wounds.  Though often bound with shackles and chains, with demonic power they would tear the chains from them and break the shackles into pieces.  The fearful neighbors could hear them crying out constantly “day and night,” their devil-inspired shrieks instilling fear in their hearts.  They were all alone.  Two men deemed too crazy and too dangerous to associate with.  Rejected and relegated to the place where dead men dwelt.  Lonely and helpless and hopeless men.  But then Jesus came.  The two men “met Him as they were coming out of the tombs” (Matthew 8:28).  The demons spoke.  “Begone” Jesus replied!  And with a word the men were delivered of their demons and made right of mind (Mark 5:15).  One can only imagine the happy reunion that was the result when the demon-possessed men were restored to their family and friends.

The Savior of all hung there on a cross.  The Only Begotten of God despised and rejected.  Conspired against and unfairly tried he was declared guilty and condemned to die.  His friends forsook Him.  His created mocked Him.  A cacophony of voices filled the air with insults and abuse.  Humanity declared Him unwelcome.  The loneliness of that experience is hard to fathom, but it was worse even than that.  The burden of the ugly sin of the lost and lonely sons of Adam was put upon Him.  He who had never sinned, was made to be sin.  And for a moment of time the eternal and perfect fellowship between the Father and the Son was severed.  The pain and agony and loneliness of that event transcends all human understanding.  He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”  But the grave could not hold Him, He rose from the dead triumphing over sin and death and the devil.

He was made to be sin that we might be made righteous in Him.  He was made to be lonely in sin that He might rescue the lonely from sin.  In Him there is hope for all of Adam’s kin.  He was not afraid to reach out and touch a leper.  He was powerful enough to subdue the demons.  He cares.  He is able.  He alone is able to rescue the lost and lonely.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

DO NOT JUDGE? (Matthew Chapter 7)

Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge lest you be judged.”

In this age of tolerance this oft-cited verse has gained much in popularity.  Many who know nothing else of Scripture, know this verse.  It is oftentimes misused to rationalize and excuse all sorts of beliefs and behaviors under the mistaken notion that to do otherwise would be to judge others.

It is helpful to consider the context of this passage.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) Jesus confronted many of the ills of the Pharisaic religious cult that governed that day.  The religion of that day was a religion of self-effort and self-exaltation.  The pursuit of self-righteousness came at the expense of others.  A perfect example of this is found in the parable Jesus once told: “And He also told this parable of certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer’ (Luke 18:9-11).”

The Pharisee pridefully viewed the tax-gatherer “with contempt.”  He exalted himself in his condemnation of others.  That’s exactly the kind of judging that Jesus condemned.  To judge others with a view to their condemnation is always wrong.  Jesus gives a warning to those who practice that kind of judgment: “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  It is never okay to indict, criticize, gossip about, or condemn someone in order to feel better about oneself or to justify one’s own wrong behavior.  To take note of someone’s ‘speck’ while ignoring one’s own ‘log’ is both sinful and hypocritical (Matthew 7:4-5).
Does that mean that we should never practice ‘judgment’?  That is what some are misinterpreting this verse to mean.  But amongst the varied definitions given for this word is this: Judgment = “The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning or comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed.”  That this kind of “judging” is vital and necessary is clear even in the following context of Matthew 7:1.  It is necessary to distinguish through comparison between the broad path that leads to destruction and the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).  Judgment is essential to discerning and avoiding false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23).  Jesus Himself will exercise judgment in condemning the false professors (Matthew 7:21-23).

The Corinthian church was rightly chastised by the Apostle Paul—he himself exercising judgment--inasmuch as they did “not judge” the man caught in gross immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; esp. 5:12).  ‘Judgment’ (i.e. discernment) is necessary if a person is to abide by the warning given in verse 11 to not associate with any “so-called brother if he should be an immoral person” (1 Corinthians 5:11).  Discernment is called for with regards to that which we believe: “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  Discernment is to be exercised with regards to behavior: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words (exercise discernment; i.e. judgment), for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:5-6).”
Judgment is exercised by a parent in disciplining a misbehaving child.  Why is this kind of judgment not sinful?  Because it is to be exercised in love for the child’s own good (Cf. Hebrews 12:10).  God does the same with His children (Hebrews 12:9-11).  Believers in Christ are exhorted to “admonish one another”—why does that not violate Jesus’ Matthew 7:1 command?  Because they are to admonish a brother “by the Spirit” (i.e. in love, with truth, and for the purpose of their edification; Cf. Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 3:16).

To share the gospel with an unbeliever or care enough to lovingly confront someone concerning some sinfully destructive behavior in their life, does not constitute judging them in the Matthew 7:1 sense.  It is only that when it is done apart from Spirit-imparted humility, gentleness, and love (Cf. Galatians 6:1).  The kind of judging that finds faults and criticizes merely for the sake of personal gain is always wrong and destructive.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WHAT ME WORRY? (Matthew Chapter 6)

Worry is defined as “a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.” It is a common and popular sin, despite the fact that is can lead to a wide array of spiritual, physical, and emotional difficulties. Worry reflects a lack of trust in God and His ability or desire to care for us—it therefore tends to undermine the intimacy of our fellowship and credibility of our witness. Jesus spoke to the problem in depth in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24-35).

There are at least 10 reasons given here to refrain from worry. Here they are:

1.       God commands us not to worry.  “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25a).
2.       There is more to life than the concerns we tend to worry about.  “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25b).
3.       God takes care of the birds—and you are of more value than they are.  ”Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth more than they” (Matthew 6:26)?
4.       Worry doesn’t accomplish anything.  “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span” (Matthew 6:27)?
5.       God beautifully arrays the lilies of the field—though they expend no effort.  “And why are you so anxious about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not cloth himself like one of these.  But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith” (Matthew 6:28-30)?
6.       To worry--being preoccupied with earthly concerns-is to live no different than the unsaved.  “Do not be anxious then, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’  For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek” (Matthew 6:31-32b).
7.       God knows all about your needs. “”For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32b).
8.       Instead of worrying about earthly concerns, be concerned about His kingdom and His righteousness.  “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
9.       Don’t borrow, by worrying, from tomorrow’s troubles. “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
10.   Instead of worrying—pray (Matthew 6:8-14; Philippians 4:6-7).

John Newton, “We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday's burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.”

The words below, from an old song, by B.J. Thomas, put things in right perspective:

He's got it all in control, He's got it all in control
He's put that reassurance, Way down in my soul
He's got it all in control

I've put my life in His hands, I've put my life in His hands
So every road I walk down, I'm sure is in His plan
'Cause I've put my life in His hands

He holds the stars in the sky, He holds the land back from the sea
If He can do all of that, Surely he can take care-of you and me