Following His Footsteps: “Numbing Ungodliness” – Matthew 23

pygmy rattlerA number of years ago a friend of mine clipped an article and sent it to me. I kept it because it really spoke to me, and maybe it will to you as well…Sam loved to fish so much he often skipped school to go down to the pond and dangle a hook. One morning the sheriff was out looking for a missing vehicle and observed the youth fishing, but the boy didn’t look right. He had been fishing for some time, and when the sheriff came upon him he was sweating profusely and his words were slurred. You see, he showed up at the pond without bait, and dug near a stump to get his worms. They were big and juicy. He put one on the hook and noticed a slight sting on his hand, but tossed in his line. Eight fish later, he thought he found the “mother lode” with his new bait. Unfortunately, he didn’t know they were actually baby pygmy rattlers, and with each one placed on the hook, more venom was entering his system. The first one numbed him, the next few added to the killer dose. Sam never made it to the hospital, but died in the back of a sheriff’s cruiser, with eight fish in his cooler. He died of the venom that he could not detect because he had slowly been numbed.

Have you ever stopped to consider that you could be becoming numb to God while thinking you are serving Him well? You and I can be slowly dying – losing our spiritual vitality – while filling the cooler with more spiritual fish. Today I don’t want to speak primarily of those who don’t know God – but of those of us who DO, but may be in the process of becoming hardened in the heart – even as we are ministering for God. One of the great dangers of serving for a long time is learning to do the work with a heart that is not full of the Savior at all. If you have been walking with Jesus and serving Jesus for years, you may be suffering from numbness and a venom that hardens our heart over time may be creeping in.

Key Principle: Mature believers are pipelines. We must deliberately allow the flow of our relationship with God to pass through our lives and into other lives – bringing them joy and attachment to Him!

If you have known the Lord for a long time, you have no doubt passed through “numbed times”. Sometimes people act like God moved into a dark shadow, but God’s Word is clear – He doesn’t do that. If He seems distant, most often the problem is with US. These are often times when we aren’t growing, and we aren’t surrendered, but we are probably still serving God in a ministry area – because we don’t say anything about it. This can be a terrible problem – because others expect that you are on the inside what you seem to be on the outside – and that may not be the case at all. When we are numb, we can be easily open to rationalizing our sin and moving toward one of the common error “extremes” of our day to explain it away. I often see two such extremes. The first is that of LICENSE, the second is that of COLDNESS.

In LICENSE, we see an extreme form of GRACE – one that costs me nothing to follow Christ, and affords me every opportunity to be self-indulgent while hiding behind theological smugness and Christian platitudes. This is mere selfishness in religious clothing, and is a temptation whenever we weary of the simple surrender required to properly serve the Lord Who saved us. It invites me to redraw the lines that define servant-hood, and serve myself instead of my rightful Master.

In COLDNESS, I allow a simple juxtaposition of serving the MASTER with serving the CAUSES of the Master. It is a subtle change at first, but the small “course correction” ends in vastly different destination over the long haul. When I allow my heart to follow the STANDARDS and not the SAVIOR my first steps seem pure. Slowly, it is the attitude of my heart that shows something is wrong. By the time others can observe it, it is far too late to slow the damage to myself and others. This second trouble was addressed by Jesus in Matthew 23, after Jesus encountered the hardened men and their attitudes in the Jerusalem Temple.

I think we all have to admit it – with long term religious life comes the temptation to follow the “comfort food” of legalistic rigidity rather than the more tender and nuanced response of following closely to the Savior – holding His hand and living to please Him – choice by choice.

Someone shared with me a few years ago these good words from Richard J. Foster: “…Rigidity is the most certain sign that the disciplines have spoiled. The disciplined person is the person who can live appropriately in life.”

In essence, this was the problem with the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They lost track of the PERSON of God whom they served and replaced Him with the CAUSES of God they served… and that made all the difference. Jesus warned the exchange can be observed within by examining four attitudes or hungers that are WARNING SIGNS OF NUMBNESS.

Four attitudes that Numb Spiritual Vitality (23:2-7):

1. Authoritarianism: “Do as I say not as I do”: A Pharisee may even be a person with accomplishment and authority, but they often leave a bad personal example (Matthew 23:2-3).

Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

The attitude of authoritarianism opposes the attitude of equipping. The former is interested in maintaining a distinction, while the latter is interested in reproduction by example. When I remove myself from the standards that I teach, I am suffering the first strike of the snake. Authoritarian belief is setting myself ABOVE the Master’s call because of the past choices to follow, or because I feel I have followed long enough to distinguish myself. In the end, it lacks hunger to please the Master, and replaces it with an unreal and awkward view of self. My journey ceases to “live and breathe to please Him”, but changes to becoming recognized as an authority for what I have already done in that journey – while (at the same time) being divorced from expectations by which I once lived. People don’t just follow words, they follow example. A life un-surrendered will promote a pattern of following the CAUSE with great vigor. In servant-hood I must relinquish my right to be ABOVE the standard, and joy in following the Master both in word and deed.

When I am unwilling to be deeply examined by the Savior, to be inspected by the standard that I preach – I am not walking with Him but rather FOR Him – and that isn’t what I was called to do.

2. Exclusivity: Do as I say but do it yourself!: A Pharisee may set high standards, but they show little desire to help others in their call and journey (23:4).

Matthew 23:4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

The attitude of exclusivity empowers the one laying the burden on the other by showing the attainments of self-strength evident in the Pharisee. It is like the accomplished weight lifter placing a laden barbell on the rack of the novice to make the point that his accomplishments should be revered. The STANDARDS have become more important than the follower – the CAUSE more important than the DEVELOPMENT of the next generation of those who will serve. The path of following Christ becomes the focus, as opposed to the point of following Him – to be WITH HIM in the walk.

When I am unwilling to be HELPFUL to those who hunger to walk with my Savior, I am preaching a BINDING rather than pulling others to WALK beside Jesus with me. My tenderness must be developed BOTH to the Savior’s voice and to the voice of the weak one who will need my help to join us on the walk.

I have sought to understand why many I know who have followed Christ have become so unhelpful in the journey. I stumbled, by God’s grace, on a story that helped me:

There once was an ant that felt imposed upon, overburdened, and overworked. You see, he was instructed to carry a piece of straw across an expanse of concrete. The straw was so long and heavy that he staggered beneath its weight and felt he would not survive. Finally, as the stress of his burden began to overwhelm him and he began to wonder if life itself was worth it, the ant was brought to a halt by a large crack in his path. There was no way of getting across that deep divide, and it was evident that to go around it would be his final undoing. He stood there discouraged. Then suddenly a thought struck him. Carefully laying the straw across the crack in the concrete, he walked over it and safely reached the other side. His heavy load had become a helpful bridge. The burden was also a blessing. [Illustrations for Biblical Preaching compiled by Michael P. Green]

I think when one is trying to struggle with the load of following; it is hard to be sensitized to the needs of others around them. Could it be that surrender is SO HARD in my flesh that many a leader of our faith is still learning to carry their straw, and hasn’t learned to see how the burden was intended to be a blessing. It is worth considering carefully as I continually look at the state of my own spiritual sensitivity, and the encroaching numbness that easily sets in.

3. Affirmation Hunger: Watch me as I do what I do: A Pharisee may have an excellent reputation for “being on the red carpet”, but they seek recognition (23:5).

Matthew 23:5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.

One of the hungers that can easily grow within (that I must constantly monitor) is that of the desire to be recognized and affirmed. It doesn’t go away, and even after long dormancy can come roaring to the surface like a submarine that has been in the deep.

When we receive a reward in this life, we rob the reward we will receive from the Savior later. Jesus said it in an earlier sermon: Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

When we get the reward now, we lose the hunger to keep following for the reward later. We can easily stop following the call of our Master to walk daily with Him, and easily fall into the immediate rewards of the affirmation of men. They may not be as GOOD as hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant!”.. but they are easier to attain. Our sight is too low when our heart is tuned to the affirmation of other servants and followers. We must constantly recognize the voice of the Savior and retune our heart to hunger for His approval alone.

4. Entitlement: Give me what I think I deserve (Don’t you know who I am): They may be seen at the most important events, but they want the perks of power (23:6,7).

Matthew 23:6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

The word “respectful” in the greetings tips off the attitude of entitlement – I CAN COME TO THE PLACE WHERE I believe I DESERVE a certain response from people when they see me. This is hunger for affirmation allowed to flourish within while others feed it from without – the “prima donna factory” of faith.

When I become authoritarian and slip from under the standards of my own preaching, when I become insensitive to modeling truth and just start preaching it, when I hunger to be recognized, and when I think I am not getting my share of the pie… There is but ONE solution: Change my HUNGER… Jesus wanted His followers to seek to EXALT HIM, not to be EXALTED (23:8-12).

Real servants keep their eye on their Master’s desires, even seeking to anticipate his next want, but learn to grow even more numb to their own yearnings. He said:

Matthew 23: 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Dave Navarro wrote an article entitled: “The Five People Who Secretly Control Your Life.” In it, he says, we may not realize is how many people influence our life, feeding us ideas and in many cases secretly controlling our life by influencing how we make our most important, life-guiding choices. They are “secret” by virtue of the fact that we usually don’t know they are so influential. Who are they? They are our heroes, our nemesis, our parents, our spouse, and our image of who we should be. When we refine our understanding of servanthood, we will recognize that Jesus’ desires should be the one that defines all the others.

Eight attitudes to Guard Against (23:13-32):

The numbness symptoms identified, Jesus quickly drew a line around some attitudes that lay beneath a troubled heart…

1. Legalism: Jesus wants people to have a relationship with God. By trying to control people for power’s sake – you push them from a walk with God. (23:13).

Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

The essence of legalism is trusting in the religious activity rather than trusting in God. It is putting our confidence in a practice rather than in a Person. And without fail this will lead us to love the practice more than the Person. Jack Deer, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, p. 151

2. Religious Manipulation: Jesus wants servants who have broken hearts for broken people. By using your religious words you take advantage of the poor and unsuspecting (23:14).

Matthew 23:14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]

Two monks went on a pilgrimage and came to the ford of a river. There they saw a girl dressed in all her finery, obviously not knowing what to do since the river was high and she didn’t want to spoil her clothes. Without much discussion, one of the monks took her on his back, carried her across, and put her down on dry ground on the other side. The monks then continued on their way. But the other monk started complaining, “Surely it isn’t right to touch a woman. It’s against the commandment to have close contact with women. How could you go against your rules as a monk?” The monk who carried the girl walked along silently, but finally he remarked, “I set her down by the river and hour ago. Why are you still carrying her?” Today in the Word, December 19, 1994

3. Self-focus: Jesus wants mentors and disciple makers that tie people to a living relationship. By drawing others to yourself you put them in relationship to rules – not God (23:15).

Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

“What must I forsake?” a young man asked. “Colored clothes for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against him who created us, to attempt to improve on his work.” Quaint, isn’t it—this example of extra-biblical scruples? And perhaps amusing. The list has constantly shifted over the 1,800 years since this one was actually recorded. Living Proof by Jim Peterson, NavPress, 1989, pp. 106

4. Lawlessness: Jesus wants leaders to follow after His consistent principles. In preaching legalism with intricate loopholes, you make up your own rules – and they aren’t even logical! (23:16-22).

Matthew 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 “Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 “And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 “And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

A pastor found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s Day. After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right! Today in the Word, MBI, December, 1989, p. 12.

5. Poor Prioritization: Jesus wants leaders that know His priorities. You don’t know how to put first things first. (23:23-24).

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

During the early days of the Salvation Army, William Booth and his associates were bitterly attacked in the press by religious leaders and government leaders alike. Whenever his son, Bramwell, showed Booth a newspaper attack, the General would reply, “Bramwell, fifty years hence it will matter very little indeed how these people treated us; it will matter a great deal how we dealt with the work of God.” The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 185

6. Externalization: Jesus wants his people to know the difference between compliance and obedience. You think that by changing behaviors you have reached hearts (23:25-26).

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Peter T. Forsythe was right when he said: “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master”.

7. Hypocrisy: Jesus wants life to flow from Him through us to the world. You live in an external show with no living relationship and obedience within (23:27-28).

Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Consider the healthy view…Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia. The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms. He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.” Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 243.

8. Religious arrogance: Jesus wants people who humbly admit their flaws and reflect on their blessings. You believe you are better than those who came before you, and you will not repeat their mistakes (23:29-32).

Matthew 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

William Carey is considered the father of modern missions. The man who spent his early years as a cobbler became one of the greatest linguists the church has ever known. It’s reported that Carey translated parts of the Bible into as many as 24 Indian languages. When he first went to India, some regarded him with dislike and contempt. At a dinner party a distinguished guest, hoping to humiliate Carey, said in a loud voice, “I suppose, Mr. Carey, you once worked as a shoemaker.” Carey responded humbly, “No, your lordship, not as a shoemaker, only a cobbler.” Carey didn’t claim to make shoes, only to mend them. Today in the Word, September 21, 1995, p. 28.

Mature believers are pipelines. We must deliberately allow the flow of our relationship with God to pass through our lives and into another’s life – bringing them joy and attachment to Him!

Beloved, it is easy to get numb, and takes effort to remain a flowing source of God’s work. The best way to keep the flow steady is to consciously allow life to flow in, and share it with JOY – not DUTY.

Following His Footsteps: “Reverence Reversed” – Matthew 21

disrespect smHave you ever OBSERVED a truly DISRESPECTFUL CHILD? Have you ever stood in a supermarket and watched a parent being TOLD by a child how things were going to be? If you have, you may identify with this story of “reverence reversed”… I recently clipped an article about a rapper some of you may know named Kanye West. He is (at the time of this writing) a 37 year old recording artist and entrepreneur, and has more recently forayed into becoming a fashion designer. Beginning his professional life as a producer and working on projects with rapper Jay-Z, he has worked with a number of famed acts, including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. West grew up in middle-class Chicago and reportedly began rapping in the third grade, eventually moving into the city’s hip hop scene in his late teens. He released his debut album in 2004 and continued to vary styles a bit through his sixth album, “Yeezus” in 2013, selling more than 21 million albums and 66 million digital downloads, and winning a total of 21 Grammy Awards.

Since I don’t listen to rap music (is anyone surprised?), the article about West caught my attention because of its title: “Reverence Reversed” –the place from which I took the title of this lesson. The author was unknown to me, and the publication “Pulse” was not one I frequent, but I found the article riveting. The writer (Ryan Arrendell) claimed that he could spot a change in West’s “faith expressions” that led him to conclude he went from “reverencing Jesus” to “mocking Jesus” in a matter of a few years in the industry.

In an early album West sang: “Jesus Walks” where he “talks candidly about his struggle of trying to get the song to appeal to music executives before he was signed to a major label. [with] the lines: “So here go my single, dog, radio needs this. They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus. That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes. But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?” He traced releases from West in 2007, 2010 and 2014 – and showed a trend in his lyrics – each song moved closer to exalting West and moving away from revering Jesus. In the latest album, “Yeezus” openly pokes fun at the Savior on a number of tracks of the album.

The most interesting part of the writer’s conclusion for me was this: the more Kanye West moved from reverence and respect of Jesus, the more HE focused on HIMSELF. That is a worthy observation – but it is not unique to West – we all face that. Here is the truth:

Key Principle: People who don’t revere the Savior cannot even long maintain a respect for Him – for His claims are too striking to ignore.

God didn’t abandon our society, but we have worked hard to demean Him, and remove any impact His Word may have on our culture as it moves forward. It is not an accident – it is an agenda – and every believer is feeling the squeeze. We are worship and reverence removed from modern American culture. Many believers are surprised that Jesus is now the stuff of continual comic amusement on the web, and seldom the object of even a basic modicum of respect as an historically important figure – let alone claims of divinity.

In the sixties, “church going” was seen as a good practice by the general populace. TV shows reflected it as a training ground for healthy attitudes, proper respect and decency – now it is frequently referenced in public communication as the spawning ground which produces “bigots” and “ignorance”. In the seventies and eighties, having a “born again” experience was great on the politician’s resume – but now that it no longer serves to attract a broader electorate – such references are all but gone. So afraid that those who disagree will pounce, any belief that doesn’t model the current trend is kept to one’s self and considered “private”. In the nineties, a “Biblical view” in cultural issues was re-branded a “traditional view” – but that didn’t give it any acceptance, and it has largely become seen as a “bigoted and backward” view. If you look carefully at the media – Jesus has been on a popularity slide for decades in America.

By now, we should have come to understand that Jesus’ claims are so direct, so clear – that it is ludicrous to attempt to accommodate Him in a pagan system. Jesus won’t be boxed in to a feckless, dashboard “bobble-headed” Savior. He demands far too much. People who want to run their own lives may want a Savior to rescue them, but they don’t want a Lord to direct them – and Jesus’ message demands surrender to Him. It seems many Americans are boldly outgrowing their “felt need” for God – and they are admitting to the desire to be their own directors. Sadly, even many who have “claimed an experience with Christ” are following suit. The Word offers them salvation, but no behavior boundary or life direction.

What people do NOT seem to recognize, at least yet, is that when reverence of Christ is sown in our culture, respect for others is harvested. When people understood there is a God in Heaven Who sent His Son for them – there was a healthy respect for a good God above. Conversely, (at least historically speaking) as reverence for the Savior is thought more and more to be worthless – respect for authority, property and even life diminishes rapidly in our western society.

I want to show you that this isn’t a new problem – man has disrespected God since the mutiny in the Garden of Eden. Jesus faced it head on in His own people – and oddly, He made clear His response was not to attempt to soften His message to gain popularity. A Sovereign Lord with ultimate power doesn’t wait to get elected by His Creation. Yet, in some minds there is a notion we can get “respect” back for Jesus. We can demand it in the public square. We can claim it is uncivil to mock our faith and our Savior. Here is the truth: people who don’t revere Jesus don’t care what we think about Him. They never did. Let me show you how it played out when He was standing in front of them.

The stories found in Matthew 21 begin with the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I mention that fact, because the fanfare of that day – people shouting, palms flying and Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey – is the backdrop of several teachings that are essential to understand if we want to recognize Who the Gospel writer claimed Jesus is, and why Jesus came. The narrative moves swiftly, with Jesus coming into the city, and our eyes are pulled toward a number of people who were engaged in the spectacle of that moment:

• First, (predictably) His coming stirred up the crowd: Matthew 21:10 “When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

• Next He abruptly drew the attention of the religious leadership: Matthew 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”

• In short order, He attracted the needy: Matthew 21:14 And [the] blind and [the] lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.

• Fourth, He drew annoyed questions from the Sanhedrin: Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these [children] are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?”

The record is crisp and pointed – not long and detailed. Matthew 21:17 shared that He responded quickly and left promptly. Matthew records: “And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” By the time Jesus walked back over the Mount of Olives to Bethany, He left Jerusalem in a stir. Consider what that night was like for:

• The crowds that came from Galilee. They had seen the Master feed thousands, answer criticisms concerning Sabbath, and stand up to demons and angry religious leaders. “He is just what the Temple leadership needs!” They thought.

• For the priests and Levitical servants, the mess in the Temple left by Jesus’ tantrum at the money changer’s station was cleaned up, but they were (no doubt) frustrated that one man was able to disrupt the flow of their work after the Temple was so carefully cleaned and prepared.

• For a blind man, who perhaps was sitting on a hillside watching his first sunset with tears in his eyes! For a lame man who may well have been dancing in his home with his wife and children, healed of his malady earlier in the day!

• For some Sanhedrin members who were seething. Jesus disrespected them and His unwelcome smirk played over and over in their angry hearts…“Who did He think He was, anyway?” They probably thought.

The story of the return of Jesus to the Temple for the next day’s celebrations was marked by a brief pause on the Mount of Olives. Jesus saw a fig tree that gave Him an opportunity to teach a lesson – and Jesus never missed such an opportunity! He knew they needed to be prepared to understand His actions as the day unfolded. Jesus was going to walk into the Temple and would come directly under the line of fire of some angry men with power behind them. He was going to answer with the toughest words of any exchange in the Gospels to the Temple leaders. The disciples weren’t ready to observe that conflict – so Jesus stopped by a tree and got them ready. Matthew reminds:

Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be [any] fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. 20 Seeing [this], the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither [all] at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Jesus saw a fig tree that was either picked clean by midwives, who used the un-ripened green fruit in their craft, or it was a sick tree (the ficus buds leaves and fruit at the same time at that elevation in Jerusalem). Jeremiah 24 used the imagery of rotten figs for the wayward King Zedekiah of Judah. This tree didn’t have BAD figs – it had NO figs. What could it mean? Jesus was about to enter a Temple that had all of the leaves of religion but none of the fruits of faith. He knew that even His disciples lacked in the “faith” department. They didn’t see things through God’s Word, and God’s way of explaining life. The world was so strong to them, and the flesh so real – it was hard for them to see the spiritual world. They lacked the angelic expose that Ezekiel had (Ezekiel 8-11) to peer into the world through God’s eyes – but they had God’s Son standing before them. He cursed the tree, and some were shocked that it withered. He explained that if they would see things through what He calls true – they would become truly powerful and effective. They were impressed by the Temple, by the rulers of it, and by the pomp of the setting. What they didn’t see was that it was largely fruitless and would wither in a generation.

Jesus kept walking, and returned to the Temple. The leaders demanded an explanation of His authority to act as One in charge when THEY were in charge of the Temple (21:23-27).

Matthew 21:23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 “The baptism of John was from what [source], from heaven or from men?” And they [began] reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Ironically, Jesus exposed that their “authority” was more about maintaining popularity than leading anyone. They challenged His authority – so He tested theirs. They were perplexed about how to take a stand – because they didn’t want to lost popularity. Jesus told them he would answer them if they could not take a public stand on John the Baptizer as a true prophet. Why ask for truth one will not take a public stand on truth?

With that exchange in mind, watch as He offered two linked illustrations, and as they began to seek a way to get back at Him in response (Mt. 21:46)…

A Parable of Disrespect

The first parable (Mt. 21:28-32) was of two sons, one that rebelled and repented, another that gave lip service and yet quietly rebelled.

Matthew 21:28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I [will], sir; but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing [this], did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

Notice that Jesus equated the first son with harlots that heard John and then repented (having begun in rebellion). He equated the second son with THEM – the Temple leaders who, after hearing about repentance, they quietly did NOTHING! (21:28-32). The illustration was not directed against the whole nation of Jews (because the prostitutes and tax collectors were also part of the nation), but rather against those hard-hearted leaders that refused to take a stand on John and his call to repent in preparation for the King’s arrival. THEY were the cause of the problem. They still couldn’t decide and take a stand even after the death of John, Jesus’ cousin. Soon they would try to maneuver between the will of the crowds and their inner desire to silence Jesus Himself!

A Second (Even More Blunt) Shot

Following up with a second parable (Mt. 21:33-46) Jesus told of a vintner that built a vineyard and left it with a tenant farmer. Here, the Savior pulled from the “play book” of Isaiah 5 – where God complained about leaving His “well-designed vineyard” in the hands of Judah’s corrupt leaders…Jesus said:

Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34 “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

By now, you recognize the story that Jesus was sharing. You are able to see God’s claim that He built His people like a vineyard (Isaiah 5) and left them in the hands of leaders who killed His special servants, the prophets, as He sent them to warn them. Now the Son was sent…Jesus continued:

Matthew 21:38 “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the [proper] seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER [stone]; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? 43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

When the time came to collect the fruit, the tenants killed every servant the owner sent, and eventually even the son of the vintner! This prophecy concerning His own death was remarkable! At the same time, the text need not reflect the idea that Jesus was taking the opportunity of God working with the Jewish people and handing it to the church (as has often been charged by commentators). Indeed the second illustration, like the first, says that Jesus offered the leaders the opportunity to repent, but they passed. The failure of the Sanhedrin would remove God’s offer from them – but not from Israel. Paul knew it had not yet been re-offered and in that day Israel would be redeemed (Romans 11:26).

As a result of this leadership’s hard-hearted rejection, the opportunity would be left to another group of leaders, another time in the nation of Israel, and this group of men would not experience the blessing of those later Jewish leaders who WOULD accept Jesus. It is clear in the text that the Pharisees thought Jesus spoke of THEM (21:45), not the Jewish nation. The term “ethnos” is translated elsewhere “a people” and does not always signify a “nation” as such. In this context, it is most likely the LEADERSHIP representing the people.

Clearly they were not going to get the blessing of the Kingdom, yet the disciples that stood by still thought it was coming to Israel as promised. Later in the same Gospel, Jesus promised a day would come when they would believe (Mt. 23:39). The disciples questioned Jesus about it (23 and 24), and He made clear that it was for a future generation of Jews – not their current leaders (Mt. 24:34). To these Jewish disciples, the words were a bittersweet mix, they were saved and heaven bound, yet their nation would continue to await the blessing that could have been immediate with leaders that would stand with Jesus. Literally, the rejection of the leadership to stand with Jesus pitted the believers against these leaders, creating a terrible tension (Mt. 21:44).

The fact is that disrespect, irreverent rebellion – these are the attitudes that bring death… and we are seeing MORE AND MORE encouragement in our society to oppose reverence, and disregard respect. Al Mohler wrote an article about “Parents obey your children” in 2009, that reflected a reversal of authority. In the article, he refers to a literary critic:

Parents, who have been drinking deeply from the wells of contemporary secular parenting advice, have largely become passive facilitators in the lives of their children. As Zalewski argues, today’s young parents “learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticize, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, ‘model’ angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag.” In other words, “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect.” Modern “experts” like Alfie Kohn now go so far as to argue that rewarding children for good behavior is virtually as injurious to the child as punishing children for negative behavior. Arguing against what he calls “conditional parenting,” Kohn … asserted: Conditional parenting isn’t limited to old-school authoritarians. Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.” Today’s parents, advised by the likes of Alfie Kohn, are themselves the children and grandchildren of a generation raised by parents who abandoned traditional parenting for the advice of Dr. Benjamin Spock. The war against parental authority gained momentum throughout the 20th century. Now, today’s children are often virtually undisciplined — their parents having abandoned the central role of disciplinarian due to distraction, ideological intimidation, cultural pressure, or sheer confusion. Parents, Obey Your Children? Albert Mohler Wednesday • October 14, 2009

Let me be clear: disrespect kills a society! When children do not understand authority, they don’t understand reverence of the Holy One. They vote on God, and mute any word that doesn’t square with what they THINK He should want from them! Jesus stood before such a generation – and so do we.

A Third (The Most Blunt Edition) Parable

He offered a third parable (mashal) specifically to the chief priests and Pharisees that were rejecting His kingdom (Mt. 22:1-14) – and this is even clearer.

Matthew 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. 4 “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are [all] butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ 5 “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find [there], invite to the wedding feast.’ 10 “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.”

He openly exclaimed in the parable, “My Kingdom was being actively rejected by these leaders!” Note that one man came in without proper dress for the occasion (a symbol of contempt for the host in that day) and the king singled him out (22:11-12). The king commanded that he be bound and cast out of the feast hungry for the insulting behavior (22:13). Jesus then closed the illustration with a popular ancient proverb, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What was He saying? He was making the point to those who were rejecting Him that there was NO WAY for them to attain the blessing of fellowship with His Father except by honoring Him with proper respect. They were like the man without the wedding garb – they wanted “in” without respecting Jesus, and that simply couldn’t happen.

The proverbial statement is used three times in the Apocryphal book (an apocalyptic book) of 4 Esdras (also called Latin Ezra), and is used in a very wide context. In this case, the Gospel writer chose the words “called” (Greek: klay-tos, probably best translated “invited” in this passage) in place of the Hebrew or Aramaic term Jesus originally employed (it is hard to believe two Jews in the Temple would be speaking Koine Greek to each other!). For the word “chosen” the writer, under Divine direction of the Spirit chose the term “eklayktos” (akin to the word later used to denote “church” in the New Testament). This word simply means selected, but in this context probably is best translated in its general sense, “having been found of a quality that was desired.” In other words, Jesus is saying:

“Many have been invited, but only a few of those who have been invited have met the criteria of proper respect for the King to be fully accepted.”

Here is the truth: People who don’t revere the Savior cannot even long maintain a respect for Him – for His claims are too striking to ignore.

We must recognize WHO Jesus is or face the consequences. By not revering Him, we cut the limb behind us upon which our lives are perched. Disrespect kills the body, but not recognizing Jesus offers eternal death!

I cannot help but think of the HMS Bounty when I think of disrespect, death and mutiny…

The Bounty set sail from Spithead in Portsmouth, England on 23 December 1787 on a mission to gather breadfruit trees from Polynesia and transport them to the British West Indies. After ten months and 27 thousand miles of sailing, the Bounty arrived in Mataivai Bay, Tahiti (where it remained until 4 April 1789. During their long stay in Tahiti, many of the men became involved with local women and some married. When it was time to leave this island paradise, they had a difficult time parting and the men quickly mutinied their captain and stranded him at sea. Captain Bligh and eighteen loyal crew members were set adrift in a longboat and eventually arrived in Indonesia after an incredible open boat voyage of several thousand miles. The mutineers returned to Tahiti for their women, and after months at sea to hide, they chose Pitcairn Island. In short order, the community fell into turmoil. Fueled by homemade alcohol, disputes over women eventually resulted in the violent deaths of all but two of the men – Adams and Young. Six years later Young died of asthma; Adams was left with eleven women and 23 children. Finally, Adams turned to the Bounty Bible, which led him to repentance and a new outlook on life. Using the Bible, he educated the children, built a school and organized the community into a Christian way of life. Later Lex wrote, “I had been working like a mole for years, and suddenly it was as if the doors were flung wide open, and I saw the light, and I met God in Jesus Christ. And the burden of my sin rolled away, and I found new life in Christ.” In 1808 Pitcairn was re-discovered by the American ship Topaz. …Surprised by their find and impressed by the character of the residents, they chose to leave this community, founded by mutineers, alone and allow Adams to remain with his people. Adams died on 6 March 1829 at age 63. – Adapted from http://www.onlinepitcairn.com/history.htm).

The Modern Family: “Christmas with people we know”!

Ornaments 4Have you ever looked at a family Christmas tree? I mean, have you ever REALLY looked at it? Some of the mangiest looking ornaments are the most prized on the tree – a faded bulb that says “Our first Christmas together – 1982” has long since lost its luster, but not its meaning. It isn’t just the beauty of the ornament – it is the MEMORY it represents. In some ways, Christmas ornaments are like little photo albums of our Christmas past.

I want you to look back with me to a very old Christmas family album – ornaments that extend all the way back to the first Christmas. This was the album of Jesus’ family – now two thousand years old. When you look at it…don’t be surprised at the people in the album – they look just like the people in yours. People in that old story were just like people you will be sitting across from at Christmas dinner this year. In fact, God’s story of the first Christmas is the same as the story of every subsequent Christmas – albums filed with broken people in some state of repair – all focused on the one Person Who transforms our life… Jesus – the Son of God Who was sent to save us.

The story of Jesus’ birth is told in the Bible in two of the four Gospel accounts: Matthew and Luke.

Matthew began with a long list of names – a genealogy – showing that God had long promised the Messiah to come to Bethlehem of Judea, a small town that couldn’t give up their focus on their favorite son – King David from one thousand years before! If you came from one you know that small towns change slowly and have long memories…

After the genealogy in Matthew’s account, the story moved right away to Joseph – the step-father of Jesus.

Joseph

This first picture in the ancient album was that of an obedient but disappointed friend – someone who was doing right but watching life repay him with undeserved trouble. He wanted to follow God, but God kept changing the directions on the path. Matthew reminds us of his troubles:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.

No matter how you look at the story, I think it is safe to say that Joseph was committed to God but still confused by life’s turns. He is the friend you know who has followed God, but came home stunned from the news of his last doctor’s visit. Joseph made a promise to Mary and she appeared to have broken it, though she didn’t (1:18). He was thrust into God’s plan in an awkward way – or at least that is how it looked to him.

Here is the truth: Even when you follow God – things don’t always work out the way you planned.

Joe’s Christmas experience was one of learning about God’s direction. He learned that God can move in our life in a way that makes no sense at the time – this is part of His Divine Prerogative. God is entitled as my Creator and my Master to redirect my life. After all, isn’t the Bible filled with stories that make this truth obvious? This is our God:

• He pushed Noah into building a boat on a flat plain far from water.
• He revealed an “impossible to believe” family expansion for an aged Abraham and Sarah?
• He enlisted Moses as a national leader from a burning bush in a barren desert.
• He trained a little boy named David for “giant slaying” while he was on a lonely hill protecting a flock of sheep.

In the Christmas story, God redirected Joe in a series of dreams – revealing that Joe was called to follow Him, not to figure Him out. The fact is Joe was going to be HURT in order for God’s will to be done.

Why can’t we clearly see that? Why are we so certain that God will only work in my life when I am happy with that work?

In fact, the Bible teaches that God can deliberately bring me into a path that includes pain to serve His purpose. He doesn’t do it cruelly, He does it lovingly… but He still does it. Yet, in the grip of pain, He offers me a place to cry when I cannot stand alone. God hears our cries as He quietly reminds us that He is in control of all things.

You see, God is telling His story. He wanted to tell it through Joseph’s life, but that included wounding him, bringing him through a misunderstanding – and then giving him a key role in the story. No man or woman of God should think God will do otherwise. If we would be used of Him mightily, we must place ourselves in His hand willingly – and be slow to react to the pains of His direction. When we do, here is our consolation…God doesn’t leave struggling believers in the dark forever.

Joe got new direction from God to clear up his confusion. We must understand that as we follow God – Sight will come. God will speak again. The Word teaches that God speaks to the listening ear. The fact is that our problem is not so much ignorance – as it is WILL to obey. The issue is always the same – will I trust His direction? He awaits those who let Him work through them. The story made clear that while Joe was worried about his integrity – but God was busy saving the world! (1:21b).

Mercifully, God was careful to include Joe in the story for listening to God’s direction. Matthew reminds: Matthew 1:24 says “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

God desired and got obedience from Joe – not understanding or a full grasp of where God’s path was leading him. But Joe got a privilege beyond compare. He held in his arms the child-Savior, and was the first to pronounce His name and official purpose: “He is Yeshua – He is the Savior of man.”

Now imagine holding in your hands the Creator of the Universe in the tender package of a tiny baby. Feel the thrill, and grab the weight of the responsibility of being his “fill in” dad. Do you think he will say in Heaven, “It was worth it! I obeyed the Lord and it was truly worth it!” I bet when we gather in the great throne room of Heaven, and the King of Kings steps forward to the thunderous sound of the song, “Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb!” Joe will be upfront with the “proud pappa” smile. You will recognize him… He will have the tears running down his face and a deep thankfulness in his heart for the whole experience.

He will be grateful to have been included in the plan… and so will you.

Uncle Zacharias and Aunt Elizabeth

The Gospel of Luke focused on other characters in the family – all who were a part of the ancient Christmas family album. In Luke 1, the story began with an aunt and uncle of Jesus – a man named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth – both Levites who walked through life secretly disappointed by their faith, and shamed by the fact that God didn’t really see, to listen to their prayers…Luke recorded it this way:

Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

Ironically, Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh remembers.” The sting of praying for a child for a lifetime, and watching your wife disappointed month after month was the story of this quiet and discouraged Levite.

The text is clear: His wife felt SHAME in Luke 1:25.

In the pictures Zacharias may looked stunned by God… because he learned that God always remembers. Every prayer that went seemingly unanswered, God remembered. Every moment when they felt like the heavens were strangely silent, God remembered. That’s the testimony of Uncle Zach and Aunt Liz today: Don’t give up on your prayer—God has not forgotten you. God’s power isn’t sadistically dangled in front of you – He loves you.

Luke made the careful note that Uncle Zach and Auntie Liz had hearts that were clean before God. It wasn’t just religion with them, it was faith – and everything else that happened in the story hinged on the truth of their yielded heart.

Truthfully though, the couple’s hope for God’s answer had mostly slipped away because it appeared that things could never change (1:7b). They were past the time that it would be normally possible to have children. They had to “settle” for second best, and muddle through.

Zach kept working (1:8), but in time he lost the wonder that God could really do anything (1:18). Still, God strangely considered Zacharias a useful tool in the priesthood.

You see, for Jews of long ago, the absence of children was seen as a reproach—evidence of God’s judgment on a person’s sin. How hard it must have been for Zechariah, a spiritual leader in Israel, and Elizabeth, to keep on obeying God, keep on remaining consistent in their faith, and still bear the sentence of a life that appeared unacceptable!

When you are doing all that God has asked you to do, and He still doesn’t respond to your prayers, that’s hard. But they pressed on.

The day came that God chose Zacharias by the casting of lots to burn incense in the temple – to represent the prayers of the people before His throne. Scholars generally estimate about 103,000 members of priestly families in the C1 CE in the land. About 7,200 were eligible for service in the functioning priestly role. These were divided into 24 courses called “mishmarot”. Each mishmar had about 300 servers for their week at the Temple. They served in rotation and all 7,200 at National feasts declared by God in Dt. 16. Of the 300 of the week, 50 served per day with all 300 serving on Shabbat. Only one of the 50 would be selected to mix and offer the prayer incense inside the Holiest Place. As a priest, you may only get one chance to do this in your life.

The lot fell by Divine appointment. Though Zechariah didn’t know it, but God had been planning this day from the very beginning. Zechariah and his family were going to be a part of God’s plan to offer salvation to the world. What seemed like unexplainable silence was really God’s work of preparing Zechariah and Elizabeth for this incredible day.

The point is, when God seems to remain silent, when your prayers seem to go unanswered, it’s not because God is asleep on the job. Before God works on your problems, He wants to work on you. When God says NO, it is because He is working a plan, and your request is pulling against that plan. Don’t worry. God knows what you need, and He is watching the whole scene. Not a tear falls that He might miss.

As Zacharias was performing his duty, an angel appeared beside the altar, while other priests waited in the courtyard outside the temple praying and awaiting the rise of the incense.

Can you imagine what they were praying for? Some, like old Simeon, awaited the Messiah. Some were praying for another prophet for direction was lacking and God seemed so quiet that the silence was unsettling.

That day, God was answering as He spoke through Gabriel. He connected Zach and Liz’s prayers to a larger plan in a supernatural way. All the time of waiting now began to make sense. Zach wanted a son – but God wanted a prophet – and the people had to be ready.

Remember, if God speaks to us only when we demand answers, then the focus is all on US. But life is not about us. We serve Him.

Zach learned that although doubt causes us to focus on what WE can’t do, faith calls us to remember what God can do.

Mary

Focus for the last few moments on a mother and a baby in the back of a cave with a house built in front of it. Mary’s lessons were deep, and took a lifetime to grasp. She learned to listen to the cry of the Savior – and jump to response. She learned to ponder God’s direction when others forget yesterday quickly…She learned that God forgets no one. There are no God-forsaken people. The lowest of the low are part of His plan – and she sung about it.

Look at her tenderness – a young woman interrupted by God learning deep things with unexperienced eyes.

Her focus was probably immediate that first night – get the baby out! By the way, this wasn’t a silent baby – no matter what the songs say. He had God-sized lungs that needed to practice crying before He could bellow out preaching!

Make no mistake about it… This was an invasion of God… and Mary got a front row seat. This was God’s love expressed in a warm bundle, snuggled against her heart.

Jeannette George tells a story about an experience she had on a short flight from Tucson to Phoenix. Across the aisle from her sat a young woman and her baby, both dressed in white pinafores. The baby had a little pink bow where there would eventually be hair. The mother was smiling, as the baby kept saying “Dada, Dada,” every time someone walked down the aisle. The mother said Daddy was waiting for them after they had been gone for a few days. She was so adorable – quiet – that all passengers enjoyed watching her. Unfortunately, there was a lot of turbulence, making the flight extremely rough, which of course was hard on the baby. But the mother had some fruit and a little Thermos with orange juice in it. Every time the baby cried the mother fed her a little bit more orange juice and a little more fruit. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, the turbulence seemed to spread from the air around the plane right down to that baby’s gastro-intestinal system, and pretty much all of the fruit that had gone down came up. However, the process of coming up was considerably messier than the process of going down had been. It also seemed to have increased in volume tremendously between the going down and the coming up, so that not only were the baby and the mother pretty much covered in it, but so were most of the passengers within a significant radius of the baby, [including Jeanette George, who was telling the story.] Fortunately for the mortified mother, all of the passengers were gracious and tried to help her and tell her it was OK. After all what could she do about it?? The baby was crying, and she looked awful. Even though they didn’t cry, her fellow passengers looked – and smelled – pretty awful, too. The mother was so sorry about it. As soon as they landed, the baby was fine and returned to calling: “Dada, Dada.” The rest of the passengers didn’t recover quite so quickly, being covered as they were in pre-digested fruit. Ms. George said, “I had on a suit, and I was trying to decide whether to burn it or just cut off the sleeve. It was really bad.” Waiting for the plane was a young man who had to be “Dada.” He was wearing white slacks, a white shirt, and he carried white flowers. Now what do you think that clean Daddy all dressed in white did when he saw his baby who had that sticky, smelly stuff all over her clothes and her face and her hair? He ran to the young mother, who handed the baby over pretty quickly so she could go get cleaned up. That Daddy picked up that baby, and he hugged her and he kissed her and he stroked her hair. As he held her close, he said, “Daddy’s baby’s come home. Daddy’s baby’s come home.” All the way to the luggage claim area, he never stopped kissing that baby and welcoming her back home. Ms. George thought, Where did I ever get the idea that my Father God is less loving than a young daddy in white slacks and white shirt with white flowers in his hand? [Jeannette Clift George, “Belonging and Becoming,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 93. Taken from sermoncentral.com]. Remember, God isn’t afraid of human dirt – Jesus made that clear.

Don’t be surprised at the Christmas family photo album of Jesus – it looks just like yours. People in the story are just your family and friends. God’s story is told through broken people who are being changed by Jesus.

Consider this: The same baby that was introduced by the Father into a dirty stable was introduced into dirty hearts that opened their door to Him. Just as He willingly entered a sin-sick world, so He eagerly enters a sin-sick heart – if we ask Him. That is the Christmas story. God invades the dirty and the broken – and changes them. He transforms them to be His children. They find peace by finding Him.

Merry Christmas!

Following His Footsteps: “Tenderized” – Matthew 19

Frank PurdueThere are probably only a few of us that remember this face very well. By the mid-1950’s this American business mogul was watching his market share grow in what has been called “the US chicken craze”, as people were incorporating the wondrous bird in recipes of each of the three meals of their day (as well as late night snacks!). Chicken patties were selling at some breakfast outlets, while everything from fried chicken to chicken soup was flying off the shelves of American markets for the second half of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century kept pace with the steady growth of the food market as well. Frank Perdue’s iconic face with its “ironic beak” became famous with his simple phrase: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken!” Maybe it did, I cannot say. One thing I can say is that Frank knew how to sell chicken. Obviously, he also knew something about marketing in general. He knew that people wanted tender chicken on their table.

I thought it was interesting that he used the word “tender” in that way… that is, until I began to notice that the word is most often used in the English language to denote food of some kind. One of the lesser uses of the term “tender is for an innocent or even naïve person, sometimes poetically referred to as a “tender heart”. I wonder why we associate a tender heart with someone who is young and perhaps inexperienced in life. Truthfully, I think many of us with some mileage on our lives know the answer… as time passes, it is easy to let the problems of your life grow thick callouses on our heart. It is a protection from feeling more pain too easily. Without that protection, it is natural to allow emotional wounds to become memory scars, and as time passes, we can easily let those welts turn to hard places that cover our once “open” heart.

Anyone who has been on the planet for a while knows that life can hurt. People who you trust can let you down. Dreams you pursue may dry up in front of you. Your health can slip away while you are paying attention to other responsibilities. In fact, in the normal process of passing through a year, you may lose a friend or beloved family member to death. A good friend may move to a place inaccessible. Your place of employment may close its doors… none of these things would be “abnormal” – but all of them would hurt deeply. The fact is that life in a fallen world is painful. At the same time, the good news is that the God we serve is well aware of all of the pain – and His Son felt it in His earth ministry. We have been following that time, tracing His steps…

As we traced His sandal prints through the popular ministry around the Sea of Galilee and its environs, we have noted Jesus’ ability to teach crowds and handle conflicts with religious leaders with significant patience and clarity, but in this study the tone will change. The time in the last six months of His ministry (in what is called the Perean Ministry) reflects an even more intense sound, as Jesus knew the time for departure was drawing near. During those months both His skill and His caring heart became more evident as He prepared the disciples for the time after He was gone, and He modeled for them how to handle people when they were in a ministry apart from His physical presence.

Key Principle: Jesus had four powerful ways of communicating a caring heart to His followers as He taught them.

• He knew that with physical pain and sickness it would be hard to focus on ministering in His name – so He healed and comforted people.

• He knew some were offering noise and confusion to God’s revealed truths – so He confronted false teachers.

• He knew that followers could easily become insensitive to other weaker followers – so He corrected them.

• He knew that surrender was what God desired – so He clarified what it meant.

I want to look carefully at each of the four ways Jesus showed His tenderness and caring heart, so that modern disciples can consider how that example will change our way of presenting the Savior in our time. Let’s examine them each, one at a time…

First, Jesus showed a caring heart by touching those in pain and healing them.

Matthew 19:1 When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2 and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.

Jesus wasn’t impractical. He knew starving people, people racked with pain and people distracted by loss wouldn’t be able to think about God until their immediate need was met – at least for the moment. He was surrounded by very large crowds, and with them came people with all kinds of pain and needs. Jesus saw them. Jesus healed them. The physical needs were not a DISTRACTION from His ministry, because they were a part of helping people see Him, and know He had the power to transform their lives. When one was healed, the whole crowd gained confidence in the word of the Teacher.

Because we don’t all have a constant empowering to heal doesn’t mean we can learn nothing from the model Jesus left us. A balanced ministry, based on observing carefully Jesus’ model before us, reminds us first that we need to see hurting people. In addition to seeing hurting people, we need to make the effort to touch their lives, and that process cannot be seen as a mere distraction from our teaching and discipleship ministry. It can become a distraction, if we don’t also teach and train – but we must see it with balance. Needy people need Jesus, and they need to see His love from His church.

As we think of Jesus’ healing ministry, we need to recall that people profoundly see the power of the Risen Savior in His church when the church does what is unnatural – and cares for those left behind in the community by a harsh world and its broken emotions. The healing ministry is still very much alive today. Hurting people are not a “drag” on the ministry – they are a reminder of the broken condition we all share. We must touch lives, and we must seek to bring God’s healing to people.

Second, Jesus showed a caring heart by dealt directly with those who were skewing truth while claiming His Word as their basis for doing so.

Matthew 19:3-6 was essentially the record of an argument between Jesus and the Pharisees. Such a passage may not seem, on first glance, an act of love and caring to some of you, so I need to draw it out and explain. If you saw me punching a man in the park down the street from my house, you would probably stop and wonder what happened to me. If you got out of your car and rushed over as I jumped on top of the man and held him down, I am sure you would be asking a question like: “Doc, are you alright?” If I told you that the man attempted to harm the tiny and defenseless children that were playing on that little playground beside the ball field, you would likely step in and help me defend them. At first glance, it looked like I was doing harm. With more investigation, you would stand shoulder to shoulder with me to defend the little ones, and wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. You wouldn’t be embarrassed about my display of violence, you would join it as an overt protection of our community’s children.

In the same way, when you first read the words of Jesus, you can think: “Gee, that doesn’t sound kind!” That means it is time to look closer at the situation. Remember, Jesus could see the enemy of our souls at work behind the physical struggles. His power and insight prompted Him to help people, because He knew what they did not know. He knew the methods of His enemy – and we are sometimes slow to see the devil’s hand behind personality and emotional conflict… because we have become too much children of this world. In Matthew’s account, there were three ways the enemy was attacking, and they were through the voice of religious men – as has often been the case in the history of mankind. How was the enemy attacking?

One method was by his distraction of Jesus’ followers by presenting opposing theologies in an open attempt to equalize false ideas with the truth (19:3-6). Take a look at the example given in the text:

Matthew 19:3 [Some] Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful [for a man] to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created [them] from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

A tiny bit of historical background is in order here, so that we can approach the question the way Jesus and His first followers would have heard it. There is a context to things we say…

If the day after 9/11 someone asked you in a phone survey about whether you supported airport security profiling, do you think they would have had to explain to you why it may be even considered by a people that love our freedoms as we do? The context of the time would change the way you heard the question. The same is true about the history behind the question posed by the Pharisees…

A generation before Jesus, two popular rabbis – Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai and their respective schools separated over what constituted an appropriate “cause of uncleanness” mentioned in Deuteronomy 24, that made a divorce legitimate. The more liberal school included such heinous acts as “if she burns your dinner” – showing a less than lofty place for marriage in their teaching.

The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into the theological debate in order to break the rising popularity of Jesus among the crowds. Jesus answered with a direct quote that would have likely caused some to stop following Him, because it didn’t open the door to what some of the people wanted to hear. This was the reason for the test – get people to shy away from the growing movement. We need to be aware that one of the ways the enemy divides believers in a work place is to get them to battle theological points in front of lost people – in order to make the Gospel look confusing.

Another method the enemy uses to distract disciples of Jesus has always been to “adjust” the Biblical story in order to attempt to change people’s memory of the record of God’s intent (19:7-9). This is a more blatant attack on God than the theological one; for that can result from mere lapses in philosophical reasoning. This is the enemy CHANGING GOD’S WORD by making slight adjustments to the record – in an effort to make a BIG CHANGE in what we believe is right or wrong. Look closesly…

Matthew 19:7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND [her] AWAY?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.

Notice several things about the exchange:

The Pharisee used the word “commanded” when Jesus used the word “permitted”. Moses didn’t COMMAND anyone to get a divorce, and neither did God. Yet, the change of that word gives an entirely different look at the Word of God concerning marriage.

You will also notice the Pharisees used the terms “send her away” when the Savior used the word “divorce”. Jesus made clear what they were really talking about. I never cease to be amazed at how people talk about things like “an affair” when what God calls it is “adultery”. We have a habit of making really BAD things sound like ACCEPTABLE things.

One more thing we should notice: The Pharisees assumed the whole case rested on Moses and the Word that was recorded by him; Jesus assumed the important thing was what God put together at the beginning. Moses recorded – but God wrote the Word. They projected the idea that the words of Moses came from the brilliant mind of Moses – but that isn’t true. I am not suggesting Moses wasn’t smart, I am making plain that his writings weren’t his own. The Spirit of God is the author of Scripture, regardless of who the writer was. The standard didn’t begin with Moses – it always began with God. The way God created things is the way He wanted them.

Another important method was to trap believers in one side of a political debate (19:9). Matthew recorded: Matthew 19:9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

How is this a political topic? It may help if we set the whole test in context. Herod Antipas the Galilean and Perean King had just stolen his half-brother’s wife and forced a divorce to take her for himself. John the Baptizer spoke out against the divorce and illegal marriage, and John was beheaded. This test, I believe, was to trap Jesus in a similar offense. Jesus didn’t back down. He answered their test with a straightforward claim that those who do EXACTLY what Herod did are WRONG.

Behind theological debate, the second most important way the enemy divides God’s people is in political debate – it is part of the reason he works that angle so much! Jesus took a firm stand based solely on God’s revealed Word. He confronted as a function of caring and loving those who were weak and impressionable.

Confrontation of those who are attempting to confuse believers is not unloving – it is a defense for those who will be led astray. It is a function of love – but must be offered in a loving way. Belligerence isn’t Christian – and it is a constant danger to try to defend while not sounding defensive, to guard without sounding possessive and controlling.

Third, Jesus showed a caring heart by adding sensitivity to His followers concerning commitment to God (19:10). Jesus didn’t only teach crowds and let the disciples watch; He leaned in to the disciples and helped them gain important abilities – and in the area of sensitivity, Jesus also challenged them. One way to help His disciples learn to be sensitive to other followers (a vital skill when they took over leadership later) was to remind them that not everyone has the same immediate ability to do hard things (19:10-12). Matthew recorded:

Matthew 19:10 The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men [can] accept this statement, but [only] those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are [also] eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept [this], let him accept [it].”

Without getting deeply tied up in the eunuch issue, just look at the essence of the disciple’s objection. They said: “Master this is hard! Shouldn’t we just tell people not to get married?” Jesus reminded them that there are a variety of people in the Kingdom, and they get to their station in a variety of ways. The end of His statement is this: “You men will need to be patient with the differences in people, because not everyone can endure the same path. That helped them to grasp what some believers don’t seem to ever really understand: Not everyone can do what they can do – so they need to be loving and allow others to learn to follow Christ as God enables them. That isn’t a call to allow people to rest in laziness, but it is a reminder not to put our lives on others. No everyone will do what you would have done – they haven’t lived your life.

Another way to help disciples to be sensitive was to remind them Jesus felt blessing those weakest among them was more important than “displays of dignity” (19:13-14). Children weren’t going to be much help to the ministry of Jesus in the coming months ahead – the Passion week was coming quickly upon Him. Yet, the Master didn’t want to have the children kept away out of some sense of “honor” to Him. Follow what the text revealed:

Matthew 19:13 Then [some] children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

Jesus was prepared to heal, pray and touch sick children. Many rabbis did not spend time with children, and the disciples were attempting to honor Jesus by keeping them away. Jesus didn’t want personal prestige more than he wanted to touch the hurting – and that was a perfect model for what the men needed to see. Jesus wanted relationship. He loves to be in lives – as messy as they are. God never intended to be caged in a Cathedral, that isn’t the kind of God He is! He told Israel to talk about Him traveling along the roadways, share about Him as they reclined in their houses and tents, and remember Him as they entered the doorway of their home. He is the “Ever-present God” of all of our lives – and He wants to come with us on the daily journey.

Fourth, Jesus showed a caring heart by making clear the truth about commitment to God.

One way He made clear the truth was by stripping away excuses and complications, and making surrender crystal clear (19:16-22).

Matthew 19:16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is [only] One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 [Then] he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR false WITNESS; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “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.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

When you read the account of the rich man who questioned the Master, it is easy to miss the strikingly different approach the man had to following God than the one Jesus presented.

First, notice the man thought eternal life was based solely on what he could DO – actions to please God. This is at the heart of any religious thinker. Jesus countered with attaining eternal life through what the man surrendered to God’s use – things given to him by God and then yielded back to God. The surrender showed the values system of the man – God’s will above his want. Religious people give up things, one by one, in order to placate God and eventually get an earned reward. Heaven is the earned salary due to the good man in religious terms – but that isn’t what Jesus taught. Jesus told the rich man that eternal life was attained by following God’s Word, but fundamentally this was not just about the man’s actions. Jesus explained it was chiefly about choosing to surrender the things God placed in the life of the man to steward. He needed to recognize his life was not his own, and his things were to be surrendered back to the God Who gave them to him in the first place.

Jesus’ key issue wasn’t how good the man was, but how yielded the man was – that was at the heart of the issue. The fact that the man “went away sadly” helps us grasp something critical – gaining eternal life required surrender, and that was a deliberate act of the man’s will. More than anything we DO for God, the Master said what we yield to God is what makes us part of His Kingdom. I don’t just ask for forgiveness of sins and add Jesus to my insurance policy for the afterlife, I engage Jesus now, and I give Him my life – that was Christ’s command to the rich man.

Second, notice the man spoke of the Kingdom of God as a list of obligations and restrictions. Jesus didn’t see it that way. A few chapters before, Matthew recorded Jesus saying: Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid [again]; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Jesus’ view of following God wasn’t a heavy set of obligations, but rather an opening to the door of truth! God’s Kingdom wasn’t a “restrictive environment” filled with temptations to be avoided and bitter obligations to be dragged through. The longer I live in an environment where people are convinced that “freedom” is only and always about “being one hundred percent happy one hundred percent of the time”, the more I recognize why people struggle with a godly view of the good life. Let me explain:

Marriage is designed to make us truly fulfilled on a level no other relationship can offer. It is an opportunity, for those who are led by God into it, to open your life to another person in a very unique, personal and intimate way. In a healthy marriage, our husband or wife has access to our deepest feelings and thoughts. Does it take work? Yes! Is it always easy? No! Are you guaranteed that you will feel warmth and happiness, and nothing but, all the days of your marriage? Absolutely not! Yet our marriages are something to treasure, and if they are good ones, they will provide memories of love, laughter and living life that are rich beyond compare.

What was marriage created to symbolize? In the case of Israel, Hosea prophesied the relationship to be a picture of the Father’s love for Israel. In Ephesians, Paul told the first century believers that it was also a picture of Christ and His church. In other words, regardless of which redemption economy you are a part of, marriage was a picture of the union of people and God. The intimate connection of God and man is seen in the delights of a good marriage. It is valued, treasured, desired and cherished.

Jesus saw a walk with His Father in those terms – not in cold, obligatory religious terms. The rich man walked away because he wanted to invest something in this life and get a reward in the next. Jesus wanted him to see that the next was the only one that really mattered in the end. He wanted the man to recognize that God wasn’t asking him to surrender so that he would become less, but so that he could become immeasurably more when God used his life.

Another way Jesus made truth clear was by reminding the disciples that commitment wasn’t only based on men’s abilities (19:23-26). Matthew recorded:

Matthew 19:23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “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.” 25 When the disciples heard [this], they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at [them] Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The disciples grew up in a world where power had money and money had power. The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” was immensely clear in the first century Roman world. The challenge Jesus made to them was that giving up more is often more difficult than giving up less – since we have a sense of self-determination when we have more assets. With more money in the bank, we feel more options are available. Poor people don’t feel the options are available to them, and they set the bar on their expectations much lower. A recent study on “happiness” shared on NPR revealed that most Americans start life with a high “happiness quotient”, only to suffer a “dip” in their middle age period, and then it rises later in life. Most Africans start with a much lower threshold of happiness, and it remains at a lower threshold throughout their life. They have less, and so they expect less. The disciples were confounded – but Jesus reminded them that even our own surrender is made possible by God’s strength. God is at work in my life to direct my will, and to assist me to accomplish the things that honor Him. He won’t FORCE me, but He does actively and powerfully HELP me.

A third way Jesus made the truth clear was by consoling those who felt the sting of sacrifice in their surrender (19:27-30).

Matthew 19:27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 “But many [who are] first will be last; and [the] last, first.

It is true that some believers have truly given all they had, and it pains me to think of how badly they were treated. Martyrdom is not a word from the historical past. In the Near East, it is increasingly a word used in sermons among believers in Jesus. They don’t mean “people who blow themselves up”, but rather people who, for the cause of Christ, are violently and brutally handled by a world not worthy of them. Some really give up much. Just remember, we never give up more than God sees.

Step out onto the back porch of your life, and look at what comes next for a moment. As a believer, my Savior is preparing for my life after life. It is hard to understand, but it is powerfully encouraging.

Dr. Larry Petton told this story at a church meeting a few years ago: “Years ago I heard the compelling story of a young pastor whose son was very sick and not expected to live long. Night after night the pastor and his wife would put their boy to bed and say a prayer hoping for a miracle. One evening, the boy looked at his father and said, “Daddy, what does it feel like to die?” The father struggled to speak a word. He said a quick prayer for courage, put his hand on the face of his child and said, “Son, it’s something like this. Night after night you go to sleep on the couch watching your favorite TV shows. You don’t know it, but I find you asleep and come and take you in my arms and place you in the room I built for you with my own hands.” The young pastor could barely finish. “And, son, one of these days……..you are going to fall asleep here, but don’t be afraid. Jesus is going to come and pick you up and take you to a special room He has built just for you.” Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place FOR YOU.” (John 14:1-6). That man tearfully shared truth – and faced both the pain and joy of it!”

How thankful we are that our Savior had four powerful ways of communicating a caring heart to His followers as He taught them.

• Healing and comforting people.
• Protecting the weak by confronting false teachers.
• Teaching sensitivity by correcting followers.
• Recalling that surrender was essential by clarifying its importance.

Stop now and reflect on how well we are duplicating the model. Do we make comforting people a priority of our work? Do we clearly articulate truth so that weak ones will not be entangled by those who teach falsely? Do we value one another enough to get involved in one another’s lives? Do we take every blessing and consume it on ourselves? We honor Jesus best who imitate the Savior most.

Following His Footsteps: “Unattended Hurt” – Matthew 18:15-35

broken toeI am pretty stubborn about some medical things in my life, I admit that. At the same time, I have a dear friend that is far more stubborn than I have ever been – they just won’t take care of needed medical issues when they arise! Let me explain: A few weeks ago my friend banged their little toe into a piece of furniture and broke the toe. Looking at the direction of the toe, there was little doubt that it was broken. I urged my friend to get to a doctor, but that wasn’t what they chose to do. They didn’t want to spend the money, so instead they “toughed it out” with the pain. Now, weeks have passed, and the pain hasn’t gone away, and the toe hasn’t properly healed… and they are still resisting making an appointment to get it looked at. I don’t know if they are embarrassed for waiting so long, or if they believe that it will somehow right itself over time without help, even though that strategy isn’t paying off right now. What is clear is that the toe is broken, and no amount of ignoring the pain will rightly address the cause and bring it to a close. Some things won’t heal unless they are cared for by people who know what should happen next. Time heals wounds that are addressed properly – not pain that is ignored and buried. Pain comes as a byproduct of a broken toe – and an unaddressed toe can become even more painful over time.

That isn’t the only place where burying pain is a bad idea. The same problem carries over into the kind of pain we get from the buried feelings between people that often can lead to broken relationships – and frequently is an even deeper pain than something like a toe. What do we do to maintain relationships – especially when they have been wounded by the sin of one of the parties? Jesus supplied the answers to this prickly problem. As we continue following His ministry to the Disciples, now mostly focused on their development, let’s examine another important instruction of our Savior, and see if we can pick out a principle that becomes clearer the longer you examine the text. The truth is…

Key Principle: Without attending to forgiveness, wounds increase and relationships grow weaker. Only facing the pain causes real change.

Someone has quipped that “Relationships are like gardens – they need constant tending for rich beauty to reveal itself.” It isn’t hard to see in our day that when people don’t properly invest in a relationship with each other, it is easy for their relationship to fall apart. It happens in condo associations, churches and even marriages. Starved relationships become “flimsy” and need constant patches even to appear continuously connected– but beneath they are shallow and largely un-joined. In our study, Jesus addressed relationships primarily among His followers – but any relationship can benefit from heeding the truths He uttered. Many churches and fellowship circles should heed these truths to move to a place of healthy relationship, and heal the breaches caused by our own hard hearts.

Here is the question: “What are the common problems that plague relationships between followers of Jesus like weeds plague a garden?” Jesus addressed six complications we must face to remain on track with one another and walk together as His people.

First, there is the temptation of Avoidance:

Sometimes we let offenses fester in relationships, and that kills trust and love. Jesus warned:

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

Often we find that the struggles of life are hard enough without bringing more conflict into our lives by pointing out harm people did to us. People do wrong, and we just get to the point that it just doesn’t seem worth it to confront them – so we let it alone. Maybe we are afraid of their reaction if we point it out – so we try to avoid the conflict. The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t resolve our hurt, and it usually fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship. At the very least, we stop opening ourself to the other person in the same way – at least until trust begins to be restored – if it ever is.

I clipped this story some time ago, but I think it aptly illustrates what can happen when simple conflicts are left unattended because we avoid “making a thing” out of what seems too small to bring up…The article is dated August, 1999 from Landover, Maryland:

“One hundred years of Christian fellowship, unity, and community outreach ended last Tuesday in an act of congregational discord. The Holy Creek Baptist Church was split into multiple factions. The source of dissension was a piano bench which still sits behind the 1923 Steinway piano to the left of the pulpit. Members and friends at Holy Creek Baptist say that the old bench was always a source of hostility (people should have seen this coming). At present, Holy Creek Congregation will be having four services each Sunday. There has been an agreement mediated by an outside pastor so that each faction will have its own separate service with its own separate pastor. Since the head pastor is not speaking to the associate pastors, each will have their own service, which will be attended by the “factioned” members. The services are far enough apart that neither group will come into contact with the other. An outside party will be moving the piano bench to different locations and appropriate positions, between services, so as to please all sides, and avoid any further conflict that could result in violence.” (From sermoncentral.com).

Unfortunately, there are many such stories from Christian communities! Pastor Dan Erickson published an article and noted that:

In the 1890s there was a small Baptist church in Mayfield County, Kentucky. The church had just two deacons, and those two men seemed to be constantly arguing and bickering with each other. On a particular Sunday, one deacon put up a small wooden peg in the back wall so the pastor could hang up his hat. When the other deacon discovered the peg, he was outraged. “How dare someone put a peg in the wall without first consulting me!” The people in the church took sides and the congregation eventually split. Over a hundred years later, residents of Mayfield County still refer to the two churches as Peg Baptist and Anti-Peg Baptist.

Let’s be honest, in many cases believers have become notorious for their silly divisions. There is an apocryphal story that I think sums up many believers and their constant conflicts:

A man fell overboard a vessel in the high seas and eventually found himself stranded on little island. Alone for years he was finally discovered and rescued. Before leaving the island, he showed his rescuers around the place. He boasted beside his hut: “This is the home I built with my own two hands.” Beside it was another well maintained building where he exclaimed: “This is the church I built with my own two hands.” One of the rescuers inquired of the other structure a short distance away, and asked: “What’s that building over there?” The man replied “That’s where I used to go to church until I got mad and left!”

Jesus didn’t intend for His people to let sin and relationship problems go unaddressed. There are five important words that are instructive in Jesus words in Matthew 18:15. Look at the sentence again:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

1. This is for a brother – not how you handle things in the world.
2. This is when sin occurs – not simply someone exercising a preference different than yours.
3. This is dealt with in person (“go and show”)- not something offered in an anonymous note.
4. This is handled privately – not something that others divide over.
5. This is offered with the hopeful goal of winning back your brother – not something designed to get them to move on.

The command of Jesus to His followers was simple: Don’t make up conflict, but don’t avoid it when it comes. Deal with one another. If someone hurts you – talk to them, not about them. If someone is involved in sin and you see it – pull them aside and deal with them quietly and privately – don’t offer it as a “public prayer request” so others can “take sides” with you. If the people of God will tend to the relationships of brothers, there will be greater health and strength in the body of Christ and less distraction to the cause of Christ in the world.

Second, there is a struggle to hear what others are saying because of Ego Deafness:

Jesus anticipated that some won’t listen – because we are stubborn and often ego driven. Sometimes we let our ego block our ears and we resist the truth even when we are obviously caught doing wrong. It is as though when someone confronts us, we search their words but cannot point to anything they did or said that was wrong, yet we dig our heels in and refuse their words. Inside we may even believe we are wrong – but we won’t admit it to them! Jesus instructed:

Matthew 18:16 “But if he does not listen [to you], take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

Jesus wanted others involved if the hearer was resistant. That is a protection to all parties, and can be helpful if the recipient of the rebuke does not truly understand – but that is usually not the problem. Ego deafness is often caused by scarring that has covered over our ability to hear criticism well, and a protectiveness that causes us to push off responsibilities and blame others. People who are “corrective tone deaf” are often people who associate even the most constructive comment with a negative and piercing tone of screeching volume. Because there are so many of us who are prepared to “write off” criticism, Jesus gave an instruction about what our friends should do when we are wrong, but we won’t listen. If we hear critique concerning our sin from one person, we may react inside like: “This guy is crazy!” If we hear from many others, we are slowly forced to conclude that the problem really may be US. Jesus’ instruction in the case of the ego deaf was:

• Approach him privately, but if rejected approach him with another person or two.
• Make sure all are listening carefully to his response – it will be essential to know if there was real resistance to the idea that they were wrong.

The legal standard of two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6 – what was required in a murder charge) was applied by Jesus to disputes between believers. God intended the words of believers to bring help and life – even when the feedback is to point out sin in our lives. We need each other, and we need to listen to one another. A good word on this was provided by the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together”:

God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying their truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother, his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”

Third, we struggle with the problem of Misplaced Compassion:

Sometimes we license behaviors by allowing them to continue to “keep peace” and “save others the embarrassment” or “deliver them from consequences” but that isn’t love – it is often abandonment of principle for the sake of appeasement.

Matthew 18:17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Some words need to be carefully studied here, because Jesus obviously didn’t tell the early believer to “take them to the church” if there was no such thing yet. The term “ekklesia” was literally the term “called out ones” – taken from Greeks who were called apart to Pnyx hill to vote. They were taken out of the community at large – and later that word was chosen in Greek to describe the early believers as they formed the church. In the words of Jesus, these were likely a group of wise men who represented the whole of the synagogue – like elders of the faith community. They rendered judgment and enforced the carrying out of penalty.

As a society we can easily make mistakes out of misguided compassion. Most government programs began with a view toward helping genuinely needy people.

The single mother struggled, so the government put together a relief package. Not everyone had the same number of children, so the relief needed to be indexed to the number of them. The net result, though entirely unintended, was to pay people more for having more children out of wedlock. The outcome was that people were aided who lived without a value system that included essential moral components, and they found this as a means of support. They had babies to increase revenue, and refused marriage because it would cost them too much.

No one wanted to pay people to have children out of wedlock, but that is what we do to the tune of millions of dollars today. What should have happened? Let me suggest three important guidelines that could have helped (and still can):

• First, keep funding and aid at the local level, where people can evaluate the lifestyle and keep that attached to funding.

• Second, make sure that life skills are included in any funding program that will truly give aid.

• Third, attach responsibilities to rewards. Make sure people recognize that money from another’s pocket is not their right – but a “helping hand” to get them through and on their feet. Standing will be there responsibility.

Taking shots at society is all well and good, because we don’t have to do anything about all that but nod our head or disagree – but in the end the government takes the money from our check and we have little to say about it directly – and increasingly little from a representative standpoint. Let’s get a bit closer to home, then.

As believers, we can and should have hearts that are sensitive to needs in our society. The problem is, if we don’t see the need completely within the context of the parameters of God’s Word, we can make the problem worse with an improper response. We can even contribute to other problems that we don’t see by our response. Misplaced compassion can often be the culprit when believers “love brothers” past the Scriptural mandates to live as believers. After all, we are all sinners, aren’t we? While that is true and we don’t ultimately judge another’s eternal destiny, the Bible is filled with standards we are called to hold one another accountable to in the body.

In the Corinthian letters, where Paul was primarily addressing rampant sin and a lax church leadership, Paul made it clear that behaviors that did not please God were cause for church discipline. Tolerance of sin for the purpose of keeping peace leads to a dropping of God’s standard altogether in favor of the happiness of men. Paul commanded ostracism and discipline out of tough love.

Fourth, there is the problem of hesitation because of Uncertain Authority:

Sometimes we don’t correct behavior because we fail to recognize the truth that God empowered in His Word and through His people, and we don’t speak with one voice clearly.

Matthew 18:18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

In the case of the Apostles in this context, Jesus told them something very powerful that was uniquely true of them- they were going to bind and loose with heaven’s authority if they did it together. The key to verses eighteen through twenty are clear – they were empowered when they came together and stood together on issues that needed to be made clear.

Though we are not Apostles in the first century sense of the term, we need to recognize that God did, in fact, give our generation the responsibility to proclaim with clarity the truth of His empowered Words. We must be clear: God’s Word changes people. We don’t have power, and the combination of the words isn’t a spooky incantation – but the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform people – on that the Bible is crystal clear. Because that is true, we can speak with love, but we must also speak with certainty when God has spoken.

• We are not uncertain about how someone comes into a right relationship with God.

• We are not uncertain about God’s priority of life and the sacredness of human life.

• We are not uncertain about the key role the family plays in God’s work, and what God says IS a real family.

• We are not uncertain about God’s Word concerning racial prejudice and hatred.

• We are not uncertain about respect for authority and God’s clear admonition to see those in authority as an extension of His arm.

We cannot remain silent out of a warped sense of tolerance, nor should we act like the Bible is not clear because some people have stubbornly refused to read the whole narrative in its intended context.

Fifth, there is the problem of Wounded Spirits:

When we get hurt by people who do wrong to us, we don’t want to forgive them – either we desire revenge or at least we don’t want them to use our softness to hurt us again. We become quick to push people out – and are not characterized as a people of forgiveness. We start a countdown on wrongs with an end toward limiting our own pain.

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus told Peter he needed to stop counting, or he would never really understand the nature of forgiveness. We have been given only two choices: first, we can confront in short accounts those who hurt us and try to “win a brother”. Second, we can decide to simply and completely forgive another person, recognizing they may not have understood the breach, and also taking into account that they may do the same thing again, because we did not seek to correct the behavior. The option that far too many of us take is the one that is NOT given to us – to keep the hurt and not confront the problem.

Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote,

“In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned. “Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”

What a picture of forgiveness without boundaries!

Sixth, there is a problem of Forgetfulness:

Finally, Jesus offered the key to forgiving one who hurt you; that is recognizing how much you have been forgiven for your own mutiny against God.

Matthew 18:23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle [them], one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But since he did not have [the means] to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 “So the slave fell [to the ground] and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and [began] to choke [him], saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 “So his fellow slave fell [to the ground] and [began] to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

There is little need to comment on Jesus’ story – we all get it. If we are going to forgive others, it will be because we see ourselves as undeserving of God’s forgiveness and mercy. With the sharpness of truth within, we will look tenderly without. Jesus taught us:

• We can avoid needed confrontation out of fear of a bad response.
• We can deny wrongdoing because of wounds to our ego.
• We can bury wrongs to try to keep a veneer of peace.
• We can hesitate to address wrongs because we are unsure of our authority to do so.
• We can resist forgiving others to protect ourselves from further hurt.
• We can forget how much we have violated God, and how much our forgiveness cost our Savior.

All of these are avoiding the problems that cause relationships to fall apart.

Without attending to forgiveness, wounds increase and relationships grow weaker. Only facing the pain causes real change.

I was moved when I read this short story, and I hope it will help cement the truth in your heart. The story was called “FORGIVING WHEN YOU CAN’T” by Jeannette Williams. She wrote:

Her car had killed my husband, a school crossing guard. She had struck Tom down while he was on duty, helping the children. The investigating officer and witnesses had told me it was a “no fault” accident. I didn’t want to believe them. In the sad, lonely weeks after the funeral, my thoughts turned again and again to this woman–blaming her, accusing her, resenting her. One afternoon my preacher, Garth Steele, stopped by, “I’ve seen her,” he said. “She wasn’t speeding. She wasn’t careless. She was blinded by the low, glaring sun. It honestly wasn’t an irresponsible accident.” “That’s what everyone says,” I replied. “I know I should feel sorry for her–that God wants me to–but I can’t.” He patted my arm kindly. “When you can accept what’s happened, perhaps you can forgive. Please, Jeannette, ask God to help you.” My angry feelings were still there a few weeks later when Brother Steele came back “I want you to go see her,” he said. “See her?” My voice was shrill. “Why? I’m the one who’s alone–she has a husband! I’m the injured party.” I was hurting so much inside. “Is it wrong that I’m angry?” I finally asked. “No, it’s human. With God’s help, you’ll work your way through this. You must pray about it.” He took my hands. “She’s a teacher. She loves children, the way Tom did.” She loves children. The words echoed in my head long after he’d left. I tried to imagine the woman in her classroom–guiding, encouraging, concerned for her students. I sank into Tom’s chair and bowed my head: “Father, I can’t go on like this. I know You want me to forgive her. Help me have the heart to do it.” The next day, God did. I was putting away some sympathy notes from Tom’s schoolchildren, and as I reread the caring messages, Tom’s favorite bible verse slipped into my mind: (Eph 4:32 NIV) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. My preacher had asked me to pray, and I had. Now, I found, I was ready to try the thing that God seemed to be asking me: Be Kind. Brother Steele phoned ahead, and the following morning I walked up the brick path to the woman’s house. She had a frail look and her face was drawn. We sat down stiffly. At first it was difficult for both of us to talk, and then she began to tell me how her heart went out to me, and how miserable she was. She was afraid to drive a car now, she couldn’t work, and she couldn’t eat. Could it be, I wondered, that she was suffering even more than I? And then I heard my own voice blurt out: “I know you didn’t mean to hit my husband.” Her lips trembled. “If only I hadn’t left home that day!” Without thinking about it, I put my arms around her. “I forgive you,” I said. “Now you must forgive yourself.” And, with God’s help, she did.

Following His Footsteps: “The Rock of Offense” – Matthew 12-13

Nicholas 1One of the men that has an infectious testimony presenting Jesus to crowds over the last few years has been a man named Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech). Born in Melbourne, Australia without any arms or legs on his body, Nicholas refused (even as a young man) to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle. Take a moment and imagine his world… living life without hands or feet you would need help with the most basic needs of life, and you would have no ability to ever tenderly embrace your loved ones… it is a sobering thought. It wouldn’t be easy. In fact, according to his testimony, this young man tells a story that was ANYTHING but easy. He struggled through his early life both lonely and depressed. He didn’t WANT to be different from other children… he just WAS – and there was nothing he could do about the difference, but learn to live with it. One day, Nicholas said, he met someone who changed his entire perspective of life, gave him purpose, and promised never to leave him alone… no matter how other people saw him. Nicholas met his Savior Jesus, and saw Him as both Savior and Loving Creator. Since Jesus made him with purpose, he knows now that he lives with purpose. “If only one more person comes to Jesus because of me, my life will be worth it!”

Who can deny that Nicholas found in Jesus a winning perspective on life? How did he do it? He placed Jesus where He belongs – at the center of the answers to our life’s most important questions. He recognized Jesus as both loving and powerful, and didn’t place Jesus at his own feet to explain things in a way that satisfied his temporal longings… so Jesus has worked powerfully through his life – and thousands have had their eternal destiny changed through his message. Limitations that could have driven Nicholas into seclusion and self-hatred, put him on a platform drawing others to Jesus.

Key Principle: When we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives, He withdraws His mightiest works, and we can easily end up offended at Him instead of being in awe of Him.

Since the “Fall of man” many of us somehow got the idea that God was made to serve us, and we were made to judge Him and the “job” He was doing running the world – but we have it completely backwards. Somewhere along the line we joined the “league of Job’s friends” and felt ourselves capable to both understand and even grade God’s work in our lives, as if the Almighty sits aloft in Heaven waiting for our approval. Even some believers today have bought into the notion that God must be fair according to whatever sense of fairness our current culture dictates – with little regard to our serious limitations in understanding absolute truth and walking in unstained righteousness. This isn’t a new problem, and in two chapters drawn from the middle of Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, we can see this illustrated powerfully.

There are five stories that weave together this important lesson – people who “get” Who Jesus is are changed – and people who don’t, if they carefully consider His claims, just get offended by Him:

First, Jesus’ followers picked barley and ate it walking through a field one Sabbath (12:1-8). After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His position offended the religious leaders of His day.

A second encounter is presented at the synagogue only a short time later (12:9-21), when a man with a withered hand is healed by Jesus. The leaders were so offended at the healing, they gathered in secret to kill the Savior, causing Him to withdraw from them.

As if in the same setting, Matthew recorded a story of some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus, and the Savior healed him (12:22-37). The blind and mute man became the seeing and singing friend! Religious leaders accused Him of having such power in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic.

A fourth encounter pitted Jesus squarely against those manipulative leaders – as they demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45), but Jesus offered only a coming sign that they themselves would help bring about. Jesus doesn’t “jump through hoops” of demanding and arrogant men.

The final story of the text laps into the next chapter, and offered a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52). This tiny episode is posed as the backdrop of the seven part “parable of success” (13:1-52) which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Let’s go back and look at the way the stories weave the point together…

The Case of the Hungry Disciples

First, drop into the scene as Jesus’ followers walk along through a field with stomachs growling one Sabbath (12:1-8).

Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads [of grain] and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw [this], they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

This passage always intrigued me. First, I am wondering why the boys didn’t have any bread in their satchel for a moment of hunger. Second, I am trying to figure out why a group of Pharisees are field watching on a Sabbath afternoon, watching what Jesus’ disciples are doing. Aren’t you curious?

The answer to the first question seems simple enough… even lovers of Jesus get the munchies. It may not be a meal time, but disciplines are hard to come by when walking by edibles with a growling stomach. I guess I can let that question go without any trouble.

The answer to the second question came with time around religious people. At first, the whole “watching the fields for violations” thing didn’t make sense to me – but now it is so very simple. Religious people are all about two things: rules and control. They seek to take a standard ostensibly made by God, and apply it distinctly and precisely to the lives of those around them, so as to control their behaviors. Religionists are focused on defending the purity of God by controlling access to God. Followers of Jesus are focused on pointing people to purity by allowing God to transform them – and they claim no control over the process. To an outsider the processes may look the same, but they are altogether different. The “law” referred to in 12:2 is not in the Torah – but in the rabbinic application of the Torah. Everyone sitting at a table in Sabbath had the opportunity to pick apart food and chew it – that didn’t violate any standard. The Torah prohibition against picking grain was to keep people from productive labor – not stop them from chewing on grain as they took a walk on a Sabbath afternoon discussing things with God – which is what the disciples were doing.

Drop your eyes to Jesus’ answer in verse three: 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 “But if you had known what this means, I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus made three claims:

• First, a careful reading of the Word would easily show that these men revered people like King David, but overlooked that he violated important principles they held dear.

• Second, in the Torah a priest performs functions that would be a ready violation of the teachings of these rabbis.

• Third, and here is the real heart of the matter, they are in no position to judge what Jesus did or allowed. As God in human skin, He simply didn’t require (nor seek) their approval for an understanding of what He meant by what He commanded. He already understood His Sovereignty – even if they didn’t.

After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The fact of His position may well have offended the religious leaders of His day, just as it does in ours, but that wasn’t relevant then – and it isn’t now.

Here is the point of the passage: When Jesus is held in His rightful place – He is Lord over all. Our wants, our desires, our plans and our understanding are all subject to what He says about life. We don’t demand that He follow our rules – we humbly follow His rules… that is why we call Him LORD.

The Case of the Withered Hand

A short time later in the synagogue a man with a withered hand encountered Jesus (12:9-21).

Matthew 12:9 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And a man [was there] whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”– so that they might accuse Him.

Call me crotchety, but does it bother anyone else that the man with the withered hand doesn’t seem to be anything but “window dressing” to the men who are attempting to entrap the Savior? I have read the account repeatedly, and I cannot grasp even a slight hint of compassion on the part of the leaders for the man in the midst of his emotional and perhaps physical pain.

Contrast that to the imagery Jesus uses to describe what He is going to do…

Matthew 12:11 And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Jesus immediately phrased the man’s situation as one who was “stuck”, entrapped by a problem for which he needed rescue. He cited a well-known rabbinic exception to the Sabbath prohibitions: “If an animal is in need of emergency rescue” and makes the point that the man had more value than the sheep. That would seem obvious, but in that room on that day – it was anything but obvious. The man was being used by leaders to test Jesus – and none of them were voting for the man to be made whole. If I were the man with the withered hand, I would change my friends, and move to a different synagogue if at all possible…

Jesus continued: Matthew 12:13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, [as to] how they might destroy Him. 15 But Jesus, aware of [this], withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16 and warned them not to tell who He was. 17 [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet….”

Can you imagine the scene? The men set up a test with no thought of a man with a withered hand, only to plot to destroy the healthy man that healed him…What a prized group of humanitarians! The leaders were so offended at the audacity of rescuing a hurting man on the day of the week they declared unavailable for that purpose – simply because it violated their amending of God’s law! They concluded that killing this blasphemous and thoroughly uncontrollable prophet was the obvious best course of action. After all, they couldn’t have people just walking around healing people with God’s power with no respect for when and where they were instructed to do it! Matthew concluded that Isaiah’s promise was being made real. Can you hear the prophet calling from the grave, “Oh vey!” Like so many people in life, when these men recognized they couldn’t control Jesus, they were ready to kick Him to the curb. People want a Savior, just as long as He is more like a genie in a lamp and less like a God on a throne.

The Case of the Demon Possessed Man

Perhaps in the same setting, Matthew continued with some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus (12:22-37).

Matthew 12:22 “Then a demon-possessed man [who was] blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard [this], they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.

Jesus was in “healing mode” and some friends brought in a demoniac that was blind and mute and placed him before the Master. Jesus delivered the man and gained a new friend who could see and share praises. The crowd was mixed with rejoicers and murmurers, people wondering who the One was in front of them. Fortunately, they had “paid staff” on board, a regular board of “experts” to consult with on Jesus identity. Unfortunately, the “experts” were completely wrong… So Jesus uncovered their flawed thinking and made the situation clear:

First, it is ridiculous that He could be using Satan against himself; that just doesn’t make sense.

Matthew 12:25 “And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast [them] out? For this reason they will be your judges.

Second, if it wasn’t from Satan, but rather from God… something very significant was happening right in front of them! If He was moving demons out, He must have power over Satan himself – or the demons wouldn’t budge!

Matthew 12:28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong [man]? And then he will plunder his house.

Third, lines are being drawn – for Jesus and against Jesus– and the choice has consequences.

Matthew 12:30 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

In the end, people must decide that the work being done is truly by God to acknowledge God’s presence among them. If they ascribe the work as that of Satan, they will reject the payment Jesus will make on the Cross – and that has devastating consequences.

Fourth, if people sided against Jesus that day, they still had time to change their mind… until they died – then it would be too late.

Matthew 12:32 “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the [age] to come.

Finally, Jesus told them to choose to follow those whose fruits of life are good and wholesome. Listen to their words – if they are poison it is an indicator of “heart troubles”. If the words are sweet and the fruits wholesome – the heart flows with good treasures. Listen to every word, because what they are saying is a good indication of what is inside…

Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. 36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In the end, religious leaders accused Jesus of having powers in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic and helped people listen to their words to examine more of their heart.

The Case of the Demanding Leaders

Nowhere is the wrestling for control more obvious than in the fourth encounter of the passage, where Jesus squarely answered manipulative leaders who demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45). The problem was they wanted to command Jesus to give them a special sign, so that He would show them what they wanted “on cue”. Jesus refused, but offered them a sign of His own choosing:

Matthew 12:38 “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Obviously, Jesus was unhappy with the behavior and hearts of these leaders, and offered three prophetic words concerning the generation of leaders that stood before Him. Note that all three words were ABOUT THAT GENERATION, as is noted in each verse. Don’t neglect that, or you will draw strange ideas from these words! Jesus said:

First, even the wicked Gentile men of Nineveh that repented will be able to condemn that generation, for in their darkness, yet they fell to their knees and pleaded for God’s mercy.

Matthew 12:41 “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Second, a Gentile Ethiopian Queen will be able to stand in judgment over them for she sought truth from God – and these men denied God’s own word given directly to them!

Matthew 12:42 “[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Finally, this generation, by denying the Master before them and remaining unrepentant, was setting itself up for a terrible future. They may have their theology well organized, and may even have some of their former sinfulness set aside, but they were about to be swallowed up by even worse evil than they had ever known.

Matthew 12:43 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find [it]. 44 “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came; and when it comes, it finds [it] unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.

Jesus stood before a generation of Jewish leaders that would answer before God for the rejection they were making – and their future generations would be wounded by their choice. Jesus wept over it, warned about it, and offered them something different – but religion is about control. In the absence of a real relationship with the Father, they could only attempt to organize their belief system, and clean up their disciplines. Little did they know the future would sweep in with such force that their efforts would mean little.

The Case of the Waiting Family

Finally, the last story of the text laps into the next chapter, offering a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52).

Here is the episode as it is recorded: Matthew 12:46 “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47 Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

There it is, Jesus was under pressure from his family, because they were being pressured to shut Him down. Leaders were not happy with Jesus’ seeming defiance. Mark 4 suggests the crowds were less than happy with that they were getting from the messages of Jesus. In that context, Jesus offered a seven step parable concerning the “meaning of success” as He related it to the “Kingdom” He preached in Matthew 13:

1. It is like a sower and seed (v.3-23). After careful analysis of the elements of the story, the truth is, though the sower is good and the seed is good, there is some soil is that bad and some that is good. Not all the seed will produce fruit, because not all the soil is good. The problem is not the messenger (Jesus), nor the message (the Kingdom’s arrival) – the problem in the hearer.

2. It is like a field with wheat and tares (24-30; 36-43). Some of the plants are good, some are bad, because the enemy mixed in bad produce that looks like the good for a season. Both good and bad plants will be dealt with at harvest, but for now the Kingdom will contain both. There will come a time when the house will be cleaned, but that time was not then and the cleaners were not them.

3. It is like a farmer who plants a mustard weed (31-32). Who would take valuable garden space and plant a weed? Only the farmer that cares about a home for birds! His seed will seem foolish, but it will care for a surprise! God’s plan is to care for some that no one was thinking about!

4. It is like a little leaven that changes the whole mix (33). Think of it! Every Jew used leaven regularly in the making of bread. They put the leaven starter dough into the mix and the effect was slow, but irreversible. Such was the word of the King.

5. It is like a “treasure buried in a field” (44). This one, on first glance appears to part with the others. After all, who ever thought of a treasure in a negative light? Jesus did! Look at the other times He talks of treasure (Mt. 12:35) and it becomes clear that it can be either good or evil – some treasure is good, some is bad. Here it appears as something good – one who is committed to the Kingdom will sell all for the mysterious treasure of God! SOME will get the value now!

6. It is like a merchant who finds a special pearl (45-46). Wow, that is beautiful. What could be negative about a pearl? To a Jew, it is beautiful, but the product of an unclean origin – an oyster. What a great image for one like us! Even that from the unclean thing will be bought and brought into the Kingdom when one recognizes its unmatched worth!

7. It is like the dragnet (47-50) that pulls both the kosher and non-kosher into its net, and then casts off that part that is unclean at a later judgment. Good and bad are with us until the judgment – disciples should expect both this side of the judgment day.

Jesus shared that THESE THINGS HAD BEEN A SECRET (13:34-35)! “It is not clear to those who study the Tenach, and have not been clearly revealed before My message. Those who understand the Kingdom will realize it will include that which has been revealed earlier, and that which is new, both of which are treasures” (13:52).

The whole episode was posed as the backdrop which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Remember Nicholas – the armless and legless Australian? When he pushed ahead against God – nothing happened. When he submitted to God… his Creator began to use even his limitations for great purposes!

Pastor Jerry Shirley shared a story that I pass to you, because I think it helps pull these five scenes together into our lesson:

A very wealthy old man had an elaborate collection of Van Gogh and Monet paintings. His only son shared his father’s interest in the rare paintings. They traveled around the world buying these painting wherever they could find them. The son enlisted in the army and was placed in the medical corps. In a severe battle, while carrying a wounded soldier to safety, the son was seriously wounded himself and died. The mother was dead already and the news of the tragedy devastated the old father. He grieved in loneliness for months. One day a knock came at his door and when he responded he found a young man with a package. The young man explained that he was one of the several soldiers that the son had carried to safety. Knowing of his interest in paintings he had painted a picture of the son and presented it to the father. The painting was not rare but was very precious to the old man because it was a good resemblance of his son. The man moved a very valuable painting from the mantle and placed the picture of his son in its place. Hour after hour he sat in a rocker and gazed up at the image of his beloved son. When death came the art collection was put up for sale by auction. Hundreds of collectors came to bid. The auctioneer announced that the will stated that the picture of his son was to be auctioned first. A moan of disappointment could be heard from the crowd. “Let’s get on with the real paintings,” one was heard to say. The son’s picture was held up and the auctioneer cried, “Who will give $100.00, $50.00, $25.00. There was no response. A kind old gentleman in the back asked, “Will you take $10.00.” “Sold,” said the auctioneer. “Good”, cried the crowd. “Now we can get on with the auction.” “Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the auction,” announced the auctioneer. The crowd was puzzled and upset. Then the statement was given. The will declared that the son’s picture was to be sold and the person who took it would get all the rest. The old man who paid $10.00 for the picture of the son was suddenly amazed at the fact that he now owned all the valuable paintings. When a person takes the Son of God, everything God has is included.

Remember, when we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives. When we do, He becomes our Savior and our Master.

Following His Footsteps: “Misrepresented” – Matthew 10

misrepresent 2Have you ever had someone misrepresent your position before others? The other day a friend explained to me that he got in trouble at work because he sent an email to someone in another department that was entirely appropriate, but that employee added offensive words to the end of the message and passed them on to his immediate supervisor with a stinging rebuke that made clear they “didn’t want to receive that kind of correspondence again.” Fortunately, my friend had a copy of the original still in his “sent” file – and it became clear that the problem wasn’t his email, but the other employee’s claim that cast a fellow employee in an inappropriately negative light.

When it comes to misrepresentation, we have all had both services and products presented to us without the caveats that made clear what the purchase will and won’t truly do for us. Even worse than these “sales pitches”, everyone in America, unless they have been living in the wilderness “off grid” has been subject to a barrage of commercials about drugs they don’t personally need, with a list of warning of what could go wrong if you TOOK the drug. I find some cases where I suspect I would choose the disease over the side effects of the drugs. “Got insomnia?” the ad says. “Take our drug and you will sleep well, but Medical studies show that you may also lose your hair, teeth, liver and desire to take meaningful nourishment – but, then again, at least you will sleep!” I am wondering what I would do in life as a profoundly hairless, toothless emaciated man who slept well, but needed dialysis twice a week. I think I would just stay up nights, and pick a new book to read to pass the time eating potato chips with my full mouth of teeth, but that’s me…

It occurs to me that if there is anyone in the history of man who has ever been misrepresented, it has to be Jesus. I can think of no one in history who has been misquoted (that is if clear intent matters in accuracy of a quote) more often. Jesus has had many a “spokesperson” – and careful examination of their words show they have perhaps never even “met” Him – and some I doubt ever even “saw” Him. Today’s lesson is about the proper representation of Jesus as He was proclaimed in the Gospels, and as He told men to represent Him and His message. For insights into that question, we have to drop into the Gospels as Jesus was about to send out the twelve to bring His message to surrounding areas near the Galilee shore.

In our last lesson, we looked briefly at a “theme message” of Jesus to the crowds by the Sea of Galilee – a teaching that really exposed the heart of Jesus and how He wanted to be reflected in the actions of His followers. A few chapters later, as Matthew recorded the work of the Savior, we have a different kind of teaching. This one was directed to the handful of disciples that were in final preparations of being sent out to speak to the villages near to Jesus –and the focus of the teaching was on representation of the Messiah and His Kingdom. Here is the simple truth…

Key Principle: Jesus set the tone and gave the message to those who represent Him. Any other presentation that doesn’t match what He established is a misrepresentation of Him.

Before we look at the passage deeply, let’s skim the surface of Matthew 10 and make some quick notes about what Jesus was doing in the record, so we can feel “at home” in the scene. It appears on quick glance that He took (at least) five profound actions as He sent out the disciples:

First, Jesus selected the men and second He empowered the men. Their specially endowed abilities became like a “uniform” or a “badge” that allowed others to recognize their authenticity as “official representatives of Jesus”. Matthew shared it this way:

Matthew 10:1 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Matthew 10:2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

It is clear from these first four verses that Jesus called each man, knew each one, selected them for the task, and gave them enabling that was neither natural nor from within them. God never tasks us without providing us access to His power to complete His purpose. One other thing is also obvious by the end of verse four – not all of those who experienced the empowering and the representing would graduate from the class. Judas Iscariot was counted in the number. That should remind us that experiencing ministry isn’t the same as following Jesus. Accessing His power is not the same thing as truly being His child by faith. We can DO the right things and not be truly surrendered to the Savior, walking with Him in a way that He has called men and women to do. That was even more obvious from Jesus’ earlier preaching when He warned disciples that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Did I not cast out demons in your name?’ Yet I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you!’” (cp. Mt. 7:23).

In addition to calling and empowering, a third action of Jesus was that He instructed them. Matthew recalled it this way:

Matthew 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 9 “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. 11 “And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. 12 “As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13 “If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace.

Jesus offered the men five important instructions:

• Speak to the God-selected audience. You don’t have to decide who to talk to – follow the instructions you are given.

• Offer the God-selected Word. You don’t choose the script – teach what I give you to say.

• Don’t just speak – act to free people. Focus on needy people – not self-sufficient types. Make sure that in addition to clear teaching, you offer practical assistance – especially in light of the power I am giving you.

• Don’t charge to get the message to people, and don’t carry much. I have people lined up to care for you all along the way – and I will give you a way to decide who they are and what do when you are not with them.

• Find those who are spiritually sensitive and stay with them – blessing them and remaining with them.

Fourth, in addition to instruction, Jesus clearly warned them about situations ahead. Matthew recorded it this way:

Matthew 10:14 “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! 26 “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

You must be both shrewd and yet harmless because some will not receive you:

• Remember they will be judged at the right time by the Master- so don’t feel that is what YOU must do. This subject seems to have been a constant temptation Jesus battled in His followers – as He made clearer in Matthew 13 when He said: “The angels are the reapers.”

• Expect to be unjustly treated, physically assaulted and governmentally abused – but don’t worry about your self-defense – God’s Spirit will provide whatever defense God wants you to have.

• Expect even close family to betray you. People will fear for their own lives, as well as be desperate for acceptance of their peers. In fact, the startling truth is that Jesus told His followers that if they valued relationships and peace more than they valued the truth of His message, they were not worthy of Him.

• Expect hatred and persecution, but flee when you see persecution coming – and keep fleeing. Don’t expect it to be fair.. You will face abuse, lies and accusations, and you should expect it– because you are Mine.

• Don’t worry! All the secrets of your persecutors will one day be fully disclosed. You don’t have to work at showing how the people who tell lies are funded or connected – I will bring it all out in the end.

Finally, it before sending the men, Jesus commissioned them to do the work at hand. Matthew recorded:

Matthew 10:27 “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. 32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. 40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

Break down the words of Jesus and it is obvious that the charge or commission of the men was four-fold:

• Stick to the script! What I tell you to say is what you should publicly proclaim. Your message is MY message. Your job is to articulate My words, not re-think and re-sculpt My words.

• Take courage! Don’t stop proclaiming because they threaten you, or even kill some of you! God takes no sacrifice on His behalf lightly, and He values your life. Stand up for Me before men and expect I will do so for you before the Father.

• Make sure that you recognize the proper priorities! Do not put any other relationship before Me – that is idolatry. Get set to even lay down your life, so that you will truly gain it. If you hold tightly to this physical life – and you will lose it.

• Remember the promise: God keeps track of what people do – and He rewards the smallest deed done truly for Him.

That is the summary. Jesus selected, empowered, instructed, warned and commissioned a specific group of men to represent Him. That is a helpful nugget of history, but a closer look at the passage will offer even MORE. Step back and ask yourself what Jesus offered by making this a part of the record for His church? While you are thinking about that question, go back with me to your old high school, and stand outside the gymnasium for a moment…

Imagine you were trying out to join the “Varsity squad” of a team in your favorite sport. You showed up for every practice and gave your best effort – and you had some talent in the sport. In the individual try-outs your performance was not the best, but not the worst…and you are hoping to be selected, not only for the team, but for the “starting line-up” of the team’s roster. The day arrived for the team list, and it was posted on the board. In the hallway, outside the coach’s door, the whole team crowded around to see the list of who made the team, and who the starters were going to be. Not everyone that began the first day of practice ended up on the team, for it was necessary to fill the positions with the RIGHT people. Those who were “cut” from the team were those the coach believed would not do as well in the season’s contests. The coach was selecting the team.

Though Jesus was building a totally different kind of “team”, this passage offered His initial followers a list of expectations that Jesus had, as well as some reasonable expectations a disciple should have. It was a reality check for disciples. No one can claim that Jesus made it sound like a vacation to truly represent Him!
Principles of Outreach

First, let’s make something clear based on our study of the Gospels – discipleship was the method by which Jesus intended real and sustained growth in the Kingdom. Jesus didn’t send out the mass of people He fed on the hillside. They were able to spread a “popular message” about a folk Jesus – but they didn’t really know Him well enough to represent Him well. To be a disciple, a man or woman needs to have spent time following Jesus, not just be attracted to the neat things Jesus can do.

Spending time with Jesus, they a disciple saw His passion, and felt the warmth of His love – first for the Father, then for men and women. You see, it is easy to determine when something is aflame; it ignites other material that touches it. The fact is that any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. Jesus “touched” His followers in the discipleship process – and the fire of passion to surrender this life for the promise of the Father spread.

The record of the sending of the disciples reminds us of important principles:

First, we are to GO TO THOSE HE SENDS US TO (10:5-6). Everyone who is called to be a disciple will eventually (after some training) be engaged in deliberately reaching others for Jesus, but the people we reach out to will be selected by God. In time, disciples of Christ will reach all 18,800 people groups on the planet, different disciples will be drawn by God to different groups. (Acts 1:8). Jesus said of His mission, “For even the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10). His method to reach men and women has been through other men and women… Let’s be clear: Evangelism is not an option for a disciple of Christ Jesus – they go when Jesus tells them to go, to whom Jesus sends them. Disciples are intentional, decisive, determined and directed about reaching others for the Master. If that is not a part of your life – you cannot claim to be an obedient disciple.

Second, disciples PREACH THE KINGDOM OF GOD (10:7). The Kingdom literally means, “King’s dominion or control.” We are to declare the truth of recognizing Jesus as Lord – not simply preach a “fire escape message” that allows people a “get out of Hell free” card at death. We must explain that it all begins with a personal relationship with Christ who is the door to heaven. Before people will agree to submit to Christ’s control they need to be introduced to the real Jesus of the Word. Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 162. H. Richard Niebuhr summarized the core of liberal theology in a single sentence. This shows how and why many churches have lost their zeal for evangelism. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (Source: Michael Moriaty, The Perfect 10: The Blessings of Following God’s Commandments in a Post Modern World. p. 86). The Jesus of the Bible is both a loving Savior and a Sovereign Lord – or the Jesus being preached isn’t the One found in the Bible.

Third, disciples of Jesus get a “platform” to speak into people’s lives when they MEET NEEDS. Jesus said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matt. 10:8) Christ told them to meet physical, emotional, mental, social, cultural and spiritual needs of people to whom we are called by God to minister.

• Missionaries in Africa are now reaping a great harvest of new souls because the pioneers set up hospitals, schools and leprosariums to meet the needs of the whole person in many of the 54 countries of the African continent.

• Around the year 1800, there were less than 10 million true Christians in Africa, today there may be as many as 400 million in Africa because of the seeds of love sown by the earlier missionaries, and the sacrifices of this generation of mission workers.

We must work today, not only to reach men for today, but to offer a platform for ministry tomorrow. Let me illustrate: Once Napoleon told his soldiers to plant trees along the streets of Paris so they would provide shade for his troops. A top lieutenant said, “It may take twenty five years before those seeds come to full fruition. Napoleon paused and said, “Well, start now, no sense waiting any longer.” (author unknown).

Fourth, disciples should deliberately CHOOSE PEOPLE OTHERS LEFT BEHIND (10:8). Outreach is an expression of our overflowing gratitude for what the Lord has done for us through Jesus Christ. We are not to feel that we are doing something above and beyond the call of duty. Reaching into the lives of others should come out of an overflow of our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. We should be like the four lepers who discovered the enemy had fled and the necessary food and supplies were now available to the starving in the cities of Israel (cp. 2 Kings 7:9). They said, “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” If people do not share the good news of Christ they will be held accountable for their failure to share the cure for sin and eternal life through saving faith in Christ Jesus.

Fifth, disciples TRUST GOD TO BRING NEEDED SUPPORT (10:9-10). We must recognize the Lord will supply us with all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19) Some people hesitate to reach out because they do not think they have enough knowledge, financial resource or emotional strength. Let them realize that as we move ahead in God’s will we will not lack any good thing. Hudson Taylor famous quipped: “God’s will done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply.” Here is the truth: the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you. Real outreach should be the reflection of God’s supply, not the contrivance of men.

Sixth, disciples BUILD AN INDIGENOUS TEAM to spread the message long term (10:11-13). In my experience, the people who have been called “great evangelists” are often people that do not work well with others. There is something wrong with that. Many missionaries are learning that by working through local people who are spiritually open but under-trained, they are far more successful. Local messengers are considered much more credible because they speak the language, understand the social, cultural and educational environment of their audience – and can apply the Scriptures more precisely.

Seventh, disciples have to learn a very hard lesson… to PASS BY THE UNRESPONSIVE. (10:14-15) Jesus said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matt. 10:14,15). Apologetics is an important study background, but we must learn not to argue incessantly nor take rejection personally. We cannot internalize criticism directed against our Savior and fight in His place. Remember, many people are reacting out of conviction of their sin and those who recognize the Lordship of Jesus are completely repulsed by it. Lost men want to control their own fate – even though they really DON’T. Control is an illusion they love to savor as truth. Jesus said, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects Me but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:15,16) Continue to show love, but don’t tie up all your time trying to get those who reject the message of the Lord, as He is fully able to deal with them in His own time and way. Our responsibility is love and clarity, not convincing – that is left to the Spirit of God. When you argue, you can easily get in His way. Maybe it isn’t the content of your message that offends – but the fact that it will cost them control of their own life. At least, if that is the case, they grasped the message.

We should EXPECT OPPOSITION. (10:16-18) There will be opposition both from the agnostic world as well as in the halls of the religious who have made a system that is their own ladder to God, and do not wish to hear of surrender to Jesus. They built their ladder, rung by rung – only to find at the end of life they propped it against the wrong wall. Let every disciple be warned: “Take up the full armor of God so you can stand in the evil day.” (Eph. 6:10-18) We must EXPECT OPPOSITION EVEN FROM HOME (10:21-39) when we stand for Jesus and live by His principles. They oppose the natural order. People don’t want to live a disciplined life. They don’t want to live in monogamy. They don’t want to take responsibility. The world defines freedom as “constant unfettered choice” when it comes to them, but expects another to be faithful to them. Their method doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense – but no matter…they like it their way. Don’t be surprised: Some of the people appear to be our allies may end up opposing God’s priority purposes in our lives. I have watched as my government went from promoting family health to flying rainbow flags on foreign embassy buildings – pushing an agenda that will destroy the nuclear family.

Finally, disciples learn to TRUST GOD’S SUPPLY IN ALL THINGS (10:19-20). Fear is a chief reason some believers do not put themselves into the discipleship process. We are, in a sense, saying “Follow me as I follow Jesus.” Doesn’t that sound arrogant – I “know how to follow Jesus”? It isn’t arrogant, it is obedience. You will slip and fall in front of other disciples – that is ok. Get up. God will use even your failures to get to the goal. Don’t be afraid of the critics. Don’t worry they will trip you up. Jesus said, “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known… Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:26-28) The reverence of God is a great antidote to the fear of men.

The real disciple knows the RESULTS ARE NOT OUR ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY (10:40-42). We don’t run the plan. What others will see in our life is this: have we truly surrendered to following Jesus. We are not consultants, we are disciples. He is the Master.

There is an old story about Alexander the Great that is probably apocryphal, but nevertheless makes an excellent point. He conquered the western world with his military strength, cleverness, and sometimes even diplomacy. One day Alexander and a company of soldiers approached a strongly defended, walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice, demanding to see the king. The king approached the battlements above the invading army and agreed to hear Alexander’s demands. “Surrender to me immediately,” commanded Alexander. The king laughed. “Why should I surrender to you?” he called down. “We have you far outnumbered. You are no threat to us!” Alexander was ready to answer the challenge. “Allow me to demonstrate why you should surrender,” he replied. Alexander ordered a squad of his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to rocks below. The king and his soldiers watched in shocked disbelief as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths. After ten soldiers had died, Alexander ordered the rest of his men to stop and to return to his side. According to the story, the king and his soldiers surrendered on the spot to Alexander the Great. He could not defeat an army with such resolve. (source unknown).

These men were more than followers – they were dedicated to their master’s victory at any cost. They were HIS MEN. What would happen if the world met Christians with that level of surrender and dedication? They would have met those who knew EXACTLY how to represent the Master correctly. Jesus set the tone and gave the message to those who represent Him. Any other presentation that doesn’t match what He established is a misrepresentation of Him.

Following His Footsteps: “Journey in a Foreign Land” – Matthew 5-7

JetPicAt age 19, I left my home and my family in New Jersey to go to an archaeological school in Jerusalem. I had never flown in a plane. I never before had a stamp in that brand new, spotless and blue, US passport. I hadn’t traveled much past the Philadelphia tri-state area for the first part of my life. I hadn’t stayed in a hotel, and (probably because of the size of our family) hadn’t eat outside my mom’s kitchen for most of my life. The trip was exciting, but I don’t mind telling you it was also a bit scary. The languages of Hebrew and Arabic were a mystery, I couldn’t even read their characters. The tribal nature of the Arab culture was utterly foreign to my way of thinking. The only thing I knew of Judaism was that my childhood dentist was Jewish – and I didn’t like dentists as a rule, but that was not exactly an informed decision about a cultural group.

It isn’t an exaggeration for me to say that those days in Jerusalem changed my life. I learned about the Bible’s native culture, and was thrilled to learn about the huge pile (pun intended) of archaeological evidence for the Bible that I had placed so much trust in since I came to Christ. I learned that Arab culture preserved many ancient practices and methods that were familiar to the ancients, while the Hebrew language – revived over one hundred years ago and now spoken throughout Israel – made clear the details of Bible stories that seemed distant and obscure before I studied them. The Bible came alive in the flora and fauna of its ancient home… but those weren’t the only lessons I gained.

I learned what it was like to be in a crowded city, and yet feel intensely lonely. I experienced being “on the outside” as part of a tiny minority as it regards issues of faith and culture. I felt people despise me simply because I was Christian. You see, I was an alien in a place I admired – it wasn’t MY place. Sometimes it hurt because I couldn’t join in the things going on around me – I was different, that was made very clear to me, many times.

I mention all this because I want to assure you as we look at a well-known portion of Scripture, that I understand some of the emotion behind resistance to following what Jesus taught in the “Sermon on the Mount” before we begin our study. I know why this sermon can prick the heart of even the most experienced in the faith….It takes barely fifteen minutes to read aloud in Matthew 5-7, but it is riveting, powerful and penetrating. The problem of the sermon isn’t the complexity – it is very simple. The problem is its proposition – it is painful.

A careful reading of the sermon will yield one clear observation: Jesus repeatedly called for His followers to be DISTINCT from the world around them. He urged them not be like the people who were dominating the religious landscape, (like the Pharisees) nor like those who did not know God… His followers were to be distinct. They were to be different. They were to live out a practical righteousness that was unique in their time, and show themselves to be a disciple of Jesus – a true follower of the Master’s teaching. This is the hard realization: Following Jesus makes us aliens in a world we used to feel at home in…

Key Principle: A disciple of Jesus doesn’t BLEND in. He or she is called to exhibit attitudes, make choices and stand on commitments that are distinct from the world around them.

Look at the beginning of Matthew’s account of the famous sermon of Jesus:

Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…

Stop reading in the middle of the sentence before you hear what Jesus taught. It is important to set the message in context. The landscape was set on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. A slope in the early morning drew a crowd, and the early public ministry of Jesus was just getting underway. Fishermen, stone masons, bakers, leather workers, shepherds, cheese makers – the lot gathered to hear what the now rising itinerant speaker was presenting. His preaching voice carried over the rocky slope, and Matthew remembered this as a major address, giving it a large and complete telling in his account. The words Jesus spoke on that mountain were no doubt compelling, but the other Gospel accounts remind us they were delivered again and again in other places and settings. Because that is true, let’s look at these words as a well-remembered “theme message” of Jesus.

The sermon can easily be divided into three major parts:

• The Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
• The Commitments (Daily Practices) of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
• The Choices (Ultimate Direction) of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

The Character Traits of the Disciple

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that He expected them to be unique, to stand out, and to display character traits that would mark their lives. He opened the message with these eight traits, but they offered a coherent sketch of one kind of individual – the dependent kind:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus wanted His followers to be absolutely clear about the fact that HE was to be the center of their lives, and He could not use anyone who was unwilling to yield their importance to Him – and make Him the Master of their lives. How did He say it? He said:

You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time. I am seeking one who is:

• POOR IN SPIRIT – not self-dependent (3),
• ONE WHO MOURNS – not someone who is self-secure (4),
• ONE WHO IS GENTILE – not a self-reliant person (5),
• ONE WHO HUNGERS AND THIRSTS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS – not one who is self-satisfied (6),
• ONE WHO IS OTHER PERSON CENTERED – not a self-focused person (7),
• ONE WHO IS SINGULAR IN HEART – not one who is divided within (8),
• ONE WHO MAKES PEACE – not someone with a power agenda (9),
• ONE WHO CAN TAKE THE PERSECUTION – not a self-defensive person (10-12)

If I readily admit that I am bankrupt in my spirit, I am not self-assured. If I look within and see such lack as to fill my eyes with tears – I am not smug. If I seek to offer gentleness to others, I acknowledge my need of them. If I long to be righteous, I admit my current inner darkness. If I am willing to have my heart reduced to purity, I already recognize that without heat, the dross will pollute it.

Step back and you will see one idea that protrudes through these rich words… Jesus had no need of self-made men and women. He wanted the wounded, the broken, the inadequate. That was the room in which He chose to make His closest friends. The less someone believed in themselves, the closer they were to being ready to allow Jesus to change them, run their lives, and follow His commands. Let’s be clear: Weak people make great disciples; self-made and self-assured people make lousy disciples.

A second kind of person was also mentioned by Jesus as one with the character traits that were right for a disciple… that of the loyal kind. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

This saying is often badly misunderstood. There are two facts the Bible student needs to get it right: first, that salt in the region was collected by the Dead Sea and placed on the table in a “chunk” with the dirt mixed in. As people took from the salt chunk all of the salt, what was left was mainly dirt – and the salt lost its savor. Second, the preservation use of salt doesn’t seem to be the main idea here. Mark 9:50 appears to be the cross reference to this passage, and the reference is about loyalty between disciples:

Mark 9:50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus was looking for people who would lock arms together and follow Him together. He wasn’t expecting the “Long Ranger” or “Superman” type. He celebrated the disciple that was willing to do something that others got the credit for; He sought the one who cared more for the team than self-exaltation. Make no mistake about it – Jesus likes team players. He chooses disciples who want to build up others, not those who enjoy tearing down others. Religious people get a special thrill out of tearing down those who don’t measure up – but Jesus chastised that behavior, and didn’t pull that kind of smug and arrogant type on His team. He wanted people who could celebrate others, not run them down and make them feel small.

A third trait also attracted Jesus’ attention – Jesus sought people who recognized they would not blend into the crowd, but rather would walk before others and be the kind that offered an example. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

The fact is, Jesus told His followers that they were unable to be a true disciple and remain anonymous. They would not be hidden, because they were not called to be hidden! Their purpose was to live in such a way that others would turn to the Father in Heaven because of their example. They would be a sign of God’s living transformation, and point people to the One who was making the changes in their lives. The simple fact is that Christians don’t blend in, because they want others to see the God that is at work in them. They don’t hunger for personal attention, rather they crave God’s exaltation and serve others to get them to consider the work God can do in them as well. They put their life on display without the desire to be affirmed in themselves.

When we step away from the first sixteen verses of the sermon, we can clearly see that Jesus chose dependent, team-loyal, willing models to join His discipleship team.

The Source of Standards for the Disciple

The thumbnail sketch of those Jesus called for discipleship notwithstanding, there was a second feature of the call that was very carefully taught by the Savior – the source of the standard of ethics for His follower. The standard of their training was not mysterious; Jesus called disciples who recognized the value of God’s revealed Word, particularly in the principles found in the Law. The standard wasn’t other religious people – it was God’s Holy Word – and every timeless principle it revealed.

Jesus plainly said:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

No one can claim to be a disciple and have little regard for the Word of God. Even though the Law was given for Israel in a specific context, it was built upon the character of an unchanging God, and not a word of it was spurious. Jesus loved the Word, taught the Word, explained the Word…and is the living embodiment of the Word made flesh. Jesus taught that no command of the Creator could be routinely pushed aside – His Word has pre-eminence over all else. No teacher can decide to carve out of the Word something God has spoken – as the Pharisees did. Religious men often believe the things that offend them offend God – and they entitle themselves to add selections to the Word of God that originated in their own egos.

The law was given as Jesus’ standard but only when understood within its original intent (5:18-48). The measure of a disciple was not the Law plus the additives of the rabbis – but the Law as it was originally delivered – following the principles that the Father in Heaven cared about.

God cares more about people than about religious celebration. Jesus said:

Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ‘ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

Follow the line of His teaching all the way down to 5:26 and you will see clearly that “killing” was something that could be done to the body OR the spirit. It would be done with the mouth, and it disqualified one from worship. Jesus said it was more important to make right broken relationships than to make offerings and perform religious celebrations.

God cares more about inner disciplines than outward piety. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY ‘;

No sooner did Jesus say that than He made it clear that adultery could occur without a movement, solely in the lustful heart. Every part of the disciple was to be surrendered and cleansed, disciplined and submitted – because God desired that more than their attendance at the Temple.

God cares more about integrity than theological intricacy. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:31 “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘;

The teachers of the Law of Jesus’ day had taken to word trickery at the cost of integrity when it came to promises – even in the most important area of marriage. They had theologically accepted games that allowed their vows to seem clear, but really have a completely different meaning. Jesus upheld the value of vows, and rebuffed any attempt to water down our word with slick games. A disciple should say what they mean, then stick to their word. His disciples are called to speak honestly, and lived without the complication of deception that marks people who routinely “double speak.”

God cares more about drawing people to Him by life testimony than disciples getting justice now. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.

People of Jesus’ day took a standard of Law that was designed to urge than any punishment fit the crime, and turned it into an individual license for revenge. Jesus urged His “would be disciples” to consider the value of doing more than was demanded and giving more than was asked for in order to be a testimony to their Master’s teaching, and draw others to God.

God cares more about how you treat those who mistreat you than those who affirm you. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.

The Master made clear that anyone would naturally care for those who show them love, but the measure Jesus considered was how one handled the persecutor, the hard to love, the dissenter. He made it incredibly clear: “Love your enemies” – period. The standard that was acceptable in the world was not the standard that was acceptable to His disciples. In the end, Jesus made it clear yet again… His disciples were to be distinct. They were to be different… and one of the places that was to be ever clear was in the face of persecution and those who meant harm to His followers. Jesus stood unimpressed by the warm embrace we can offer for those who already love us, for He called us to seek to offer that warmth to those who appear to hate us.

Each of these five statements were examples of how Jesus used the principles of the Law to demonstrate the standard of righteous living to His followers. Yet, a disciple needed more than principles, they needed clarity when it came to daily practices of their faith. What exactly WAS the commitment of discipleship? When they “signed on” what were they agreeing to do?

Eight Commitments (Practices) of My Disciples (6:1-7:12):

Jesus broke down the daily practices into eight essentials:

First, His followers were to give –but their giving was before an audience of One – God alone (6:1-4). They were to avoid public displays for God that were given specifically to be noticed by others. There was to be no intentional show (6:2), and they were to make a concerted attempt to cloak their giving for the “Father’s eyes only” (6:3-4).

In the same way, the second practice was praying intimately (6:5-15), but taking care to avoid hypocrisy (5:5) and seek to pray in privacy (5:6). Disciples avoid meaningless expressions (6:7) and don’t take cues from the pious who don’t know God (6:8). When real disciples pray they acknowledge: the Person of God, the Place of God, the Perfection of God, the Plan and Purposes of God, the Petitions of need, the Pardon from God, the Protection of God, the Power o God and the Praise to God!

A third practice was that of fasting – but again it was for the audience of One (6:16-18), avoiding outward shows (6:16) and deliberately trying to keep from public view the private work of God in us, so that it is not cheapened and we are not tempted to be showy (6:17).

Nicholas Herman worked in the food service industry. He was a short-order cook and bottle-washer. But he became deeply dissatisfied with his life; he worried chronically about himself, even whether or not he was saved. One day Nick was looking at a tree, and the same truth struck him that struck the psalmist so long ago: the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other and deeper than itself. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.” He is known today by the new name given to him by his friends: Brother Lawrence. He remained obscure throughout his life. He never got voted pope. He never got close to becoming the CEO of his organization. He stayed in the kitchen. But the people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. “The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.” After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God and is thought, apart from the Bible, to be the most widely read book of the last four centuries. This monastic short-order cook has probably out-sold novelist John Grisham and Tom Clancey and J.K. Rowling put together. (sermon central illustrations)

A fourth practice was saving in the right place (6:19-24), keeping at center our focus on things eternal, not earthly – to help us keep our hearts on target (6:19-21). We must keep a clear agenda and open heart (6:22-23) determined to serve God above any other agenda or goal (6:24).

A fifth practice was to push worry out of our lives, and learn to trust God with our lives (6:25-34). Disciples must remember God is powerful (6:25-26). Though we have no power over many things (6:27), God is able to meet our needs in elegant ways beyond our comprehension (6:28-30). Our confidence must become a testimony that marks us as different (6:31-32). If we focus on following God, He will take care of the rest for us (6:33-34).

Once time filming a movie in the desert and an old Indian walked up and said, “Tomorrow Rain.” The next day it rained. Week later the old Indian walked up again and said “Tomorrow storm.” Three days later walked up and said “Hail storm.” The director was amazed with the Indian, and he told his secretary to hire the Indian so He could predict the weather for the remaining of the shoot. However, after several accurate predictions the old Indian did not show up for 2 weeks. Finally the director sent for him. They found him and told him the director was counting on him for his weather predictions because there was a big shoot coming the next day if the weather permitted it. “What is the weather going to be like?’ The old Indian shrugged his shoulder and said, “Don’t know… radio is broken.” (sermon central illustrations)

A sixth practice is that of the examining properly our companions and ourselves (7:1-5). We are not to judge another with a standard different than we judge ourselves (7:1-2). We must not overlook our issues to spot theirs (7:3-4) but deal with our issues first (7:5).

Someone has said: “A Buzzard and a Humming bird fly over the same desert. One is looking for something dead and rotting. The other is looking for pretty, colorful flowers. BOTH find what they’re looking for!” (source unknown).

A seventh practice is that of guarding God’s truths (7:6). We are to understand the value of what God has given us, and be careful not to treat His Word as common. Guarding includes where and among whom we share God’s truth.

Finally, an eighth practice includes seeking confidently God’s provision (7:7-12). Disciples ask for what they need (7:7-8) and understand the Father is good, and is FOR us (7:9-12). He is not stingy, nor does He delight in withholding good things!

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27)

Jesus’ sermon closed with four couplets that emphasized the fact that a true follower must come to a place of choices concerning Jesus’ teachings:

He told of two gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “every one else” seems to be going! You have a choice!

He told of two fruit trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

He pointed spoke of two confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!

Finally, He spoke of two foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

Think as we close this lesson of the early disciples of Jesus. They had no history behind their movement. They had no public identity. They had no publishing houses, no music ministries, no publicly performed dramas, no seminaries to train preachers and no architecturally designed church houses. They often met in secret, in the darkness of night, in a private villa. They cared for each other and they shared with each other – even when they barely had enough. They loved Jesus, and they showed that, not by carrying a big Bible and sitting in a prominent place in church meetings – but by how they loved those who persecuted them and how they lived exemplary lives. Soldiers in the Roman army surrendered to Christ in large numbers – because they were the devices of persecution that encountered Christians first hand. The early disciples stood out, even when they had no public banners, building markers or t-shirts. What showed the world their faith and their Savior was their distinct behavior. They acted like they were in love.

A disciple of Jesus doesn’t BLEND in. He or she is called to exhibit attitudes, make choices and stand on commitments that are distinct from the world around them. This is the chief problem with Jesus’ call to discipleship. He wants people who will live like this world is a foreign place – not people who will try to make this world a HOME to them. He wants followers to treat our time here as a journey in a foreign land… where we never “fit in”. That is a tall order – and few there be that truly do it.

Following His Footsteps: “Rising Star” – (Mt. 4, Lk. 4, Jn. 4)

risingstar1“The hardest part was at the very beginning!” said the young pop music star. “I came along before there was an ‘American Idol’ show, but just after the big record labels were already losing to the digital market of iTunes and Napster. That window was very hard to get started in this business!” the young woman complained. Truthfully, I didn’t know who she was, but her interview caught my attention on the TV set above my head. Of course, the fact that my flight was going to be delayed and my sandwich was utterly uninteresting may have also had something to do with my interest in her interview. I watched the whole exchange and then my mind drifted. Getting started… sometimes that really IS the hardest part. My mind faded back to my home:

My hedges need clipping, but to do it I’d have to get the clippers and the cord out and drag them through the hot backyard in the Florida summer sun… I think that can wait!

I really need to start this diet and drop off these extra summer pounds that came from writing for hours in a chair, but to do that I have to get the stuff to make those morning breakfast shakes in the cupboard, and besides… there is a pan of brownies in the kitchen that shouldn’t go to waste…

I need to paint the woodwork upstairs, but in order to do that I will need to check in the garage on the pan and brushes, and that garage is a mess. I am not sure where the paint is, and that is going to be another fiasco to get the right color…

Anyone who wrestles with themselves to get things done knows that starting isn’t easy. It takes commitment, and you have to believe that it is both important and able to be accomplished. Today’s lesson is about the beginnings of the public ministry of Jesus – the “getting started” in crowd teaching, healing and shepherding. Jesus was stepping out of the shadows into center stage in some Galilee villages. After Nicodemus was taught by Jesus to see life in a new way, and the Samaritan “woman at the well” in Sychar found that her life was not empty and useless – Jesus made His way back to the western lower Galilee, to the region where He had grown up years before. The first interviews were concluded, and Jesus was now working with growing crowds and a handful of disciples that John sent his way. Jesus needed to make His message known, and back it up with significant works to show His power. Four short passages recall this time of ministry, and each offers a view that includes different problems and different reasons to believe in Jesus and His message.

Key Principle: Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a religious control or a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

The short passages found in both Matthew’s Gospel and that of the Gospel of Mark tell us the same thing about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – it began with public preaching. Jesus was not simply some philanthropist – He was a public preacher.

Preaching: Preaching repentance and Kingdom preparation (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:14b-15).

Note the two records and what they offer us about the message of the Savior at the outset:

Mt. 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mk. 1:14 “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

First, Jesus’ preaching was, from its beginning, about BEHAVIOR, not simply about Pharisaism or “world peace.” That is a more important point than we may have believed in time past, because people in our country have been consistently told otherwise. Listen to the words of the text – Jesus said four things if the two accounts are taken together:

The time had come: God has a plan, and He unspooled events to coincide with His purposes. God chose a time when a portion of Judah had been returned to the ancient homeland of Israel. He chose to send Jesus into a time when a singular language gripped much of the western world. He offered His Son when the Roman Empire – a politically contrived power – was blending many languages, cultures and cultic worship forms into one cohesive unit around the Mediterranean. He picked a moment in the timeline of human history that He knew would work the best for His plan.

Repentance was necessary: Meeting God is always on His terms. Jesus didn’t tell people to “fix themselves”, but rather to turn away from their self-determined path and follow Him. That “turnabout” is the meaning of the word “repent” (meta-noeo). The implication is that change must come. As long as one believes they can apprehend God by their own seeking, the need for a Savior is tiny. If one doesn’t see themselves as “lost” they seek no Savior. The requirement of repentance was this: Know you have a need and that you cannot find it within, or in any religious system you currently possess.

The Kingdom was near: Where the King goes, the kingdom follows. The Jesus of the New Testament was the “Eternal Son of God” involved as the very agent of Creation (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the “expressed image of God’s person” (Hebrews 1). Because He was the promised King that would one day sit on the throne of David, the Kingdom was near. It would be enacted, first spiritually and later physically… but God always delivers His promises.

It was time to believe in the Good News: The coming of the “Perfect Lamb” that John the Baptizer made clear “came to take away the sin of the world” was very good news. The system of atonement was never-ending with death and bloodshed – a graphic reminder of sin and the payment in blood and death. The message that Jesus’ sacrifice, as gruesome and horrible as it was made, was the total payment was very good news. Sheep and goats applauded along with their human owners! His death was their life – and that was good news.

As long as people believe they can earn God’s forgiveness through religious or philanthropic deeds, they will maintain their own control over their spiritual destiny, and therein is the lie. God has a plan, and God provided the Lamb when it suited Him to do so. The message came with the King – the Kingdom was coming next.

Power: Healing long distance (John 4:46-54).

During the early days of His preaching, Jesus returned to Cana (sometime after He had turned water into wine at a wedding). People were excited to have Him back, and I am sure He had plenty of invitations for upcoming parties! John’s Gospel recorded:

John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” 49 The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives “; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

By including this short episode, John offered us the opportunity to observe the happenings in Cana, and recorded a story that can easily be broken into three simple parts:

The Encounter with Jesus (4:46-50a): the official left Capernaum and traveled up the steep climbing road to Cana. He met Jesus and explained his need, and Jesus obliged and told him the child was healed.

The Trust in Jesus (4:50b-52): the second half of verse fifty began with the simple statement that “the man believed”. The truth of that belief was illustrated in his journey home.

The Full Grasp of Belief (4:53-54): as the healing of his son was made plain, the man knew how to connect his son’s change to Jesus’ words.

Let’s move into the verses and examine the “encounter with Jesus” (4:46-50a). Though the man was a “royal official”, he was also a father. This desperate dad heard of the reputation of Jesus and sought out a rescuer for his child. We know three things about the man. First, the man knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (4:46a). Second, the man was faced with a heart rending problem he could not care for (4:46b). Third, the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (4:47).

The troubles of his son led the man to abandon any sense his self-sufficiency and seek Jesus. He was an official, but he was unwilling to mask his vulnerability. In a way, his son’s plight became the source of a great blessing from God, but it was found only when desperation opened his heart and made him willing to take his need to Jesus, abandoning self-reliance. The man had to traverse both the steep upward path from Capernaum to Cana and the humility of the social difference in status between Jesus and himself. Under normal circumstances this reach “downward” would have been unthinkable. This nobleman had to “lower himself” to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and now roaming preacher.

It is worth remembering that when we speak to people who are “at the top of their game” that there is no home into which pain, sickness and sorrow cannot enter. The most accomplished athlete, the most popular celebrity – every person lives within fragile bodies and in a fallen world. Our power, glory and strength can be reduced in the turn of a single news cycle of events. With the wrong word, we can watch our popularity recede faster than our hairline. When a person speaks in arrogance, it is often because they are not yet far enough along the journey – but their day will come. Troubles and pains, sickness and death – these realities humble every man or woman who isn’t senseless. It is for that reason we should look beyond arrogance and anger, and see a person within.

Jesus met the official, and listened to his need (4:47) but His initial response did not seem helpful. Jesus said that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE. (4:48). Is that strange? Jesus’ reaction did not sound loving at all – is seemed cold. He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe.” Why take a seemingly desperate man and hold out on him like that? The answer is not as complicated as it may appear. Remember, this is another story in the string of John’s narrative, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman – and each illustrate an earlier statement of that Gospel: “Jesus knew the heart of man” (John 2:24-25). Jesus knew how manipulative people can be – especially those who have been in positions of power. Most of us can readily admit that we will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. When the miracle is something as pure as healing for a child or when the miracle or God intervention is something else. The sad truth is, though, when it’s done we will show no commitment to Him or His message – but will move through life in our own plan and strength. Many of us need to admit we use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to full submission to God.

God has an objective in the troubles of our lives – but it may surprise us. His objective is our trust in Him in all times and circumstances. People say: “If God is a healer, then why are there sick children in the world? If God is peaceful, then why do wars happen? If God loves, then why do bad things happen to good people?” Behind these questions there is the desire to see God prove himself by taking these evil things away so that we will all believe in Him and live ‘happily ever after.’ The problem is reframed and God’s goodness is questioned – not our submission to Him based on what He has already done. In this scenario, God left Himself cloaked and refused to do what was necessary to make us believe. Our disbelief then, is HIS FAULT… but the problem is framed over false logic. Think about it: There are plenty who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, a roof over their heads. Yet many of those people have no relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives. Our relationship with God cannot be simply based on his ability to heal us or perform other miracles for us. Our faith must leave this world’s way of thinking and take on a Biblical world view, solely based on surrender to the Word of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus make it easy for the man? In our modern American lifestyle, we often act as though life should be easy. Ease, in fact is not always what is best for us. A faith that requires no effort is a faith that is not worth having. Faith takes effort because it requires a change on our part. It comes from God, Ephesians tells us – and not from within us. A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle removed the former king!

Jesus told the man that he could trust the Word alone – “Your son is made well.” (4:50a). What is clear on close inspection is that the man changed when he encountered Jesus. Panic fled away. The ‘need to trust only what he could see’ left him… as he exchanged panic for trust (4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight – 4:52b) and yet did not return the same day. The text is clear the man encountered his slaves “the next day”. How could this be? He came with panic in his heart and yet stayed from one o’clock in the afternoon until the next day to journey down the five and one half hour path to his home? The key to the change is the word “BELIEVED” in verse 50.

The man believed. The man trusted the word of Jesus. He rested in the promise of Jesus overnight. He “ceased striving” to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

Sometimes, it even takes time to find out if the surrender is real: A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, He should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was He? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves… This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded. Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing. (Adapted from Source: sermon central illustrations).

Her surrender was not real, though her amazement was. She was amazed at first that God could and would act on her behalf. If our encounter is with amazement alone, it will fade. If our encounter led us to true surrender – we will ever be changed and marked by our walk with Jesus. Jesus is looking for surrender to Him, not an applause line from an amazed admirer. In the royal official, He got a surrendered heart.

Problems: Facing hometown rejection (Luke 4:16-31a).

Luke 4:16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” 20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” 24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. 31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath;

Four observations struck me in this story:

First, it is interesting that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to conflict (Matthew 4:1-13) and ONLY THEN to fame, when the temptation to fulfill a mission for self-motivation had been clearly defeated. (Matthew 4:14). Jesus was not taken off His mission or message by the affirmation of the crowds, but He understood the need to remain on message regardless of the response (4:22-24).

Second, Jesus established a reputation of teaching that caused others to take him seriously (4:15), but only after they had observed His life (cp. 2:52). His life was marked by the commitment to worship and the Word (4:16).

Third, Jesus’ understanding of both His mission and of the crowds was bathed in His knowledge of the Word, and the examples of Elijah (cp. 1 Kings 17:9ff) and Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-14; 4:25-28). He framed the situation and the response to it from Biblical examples – because that was the source of truth.

Fourth, Jesus responded to opposition with strength and surety (4:29-30) neither harming the opposition, nor acquiescing to them. It is not necessary to “win” a discussion that uncovers people in conflict with God (or even the notion that He exists). You must strive only to be clear and not be derailed. We should concentrate on speaking Biblical truth with grace and show patient love toward the dissenting voice. It isn’t our job to make people believe in God or the goodness of His plan, but to show how belief works out in the practice of our life. Their heart is ultimately their responsibility.

Prophecy: Settling down by the Kinnereth (Mt. 4:13-17).

There is yet one more short passage that captured the landscape of the start of Jesus’ preaching, and it is found in Matthew 4:

Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES – 16 “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The summary statement in verse seventeen was at the heart of the first part of this lesson – that Jesus came “out of the gate” with a message of repentance. Our second story reminded us that submission was a non-negotiable point in Jesus’ work. His time in Nazareth illustrated that Jesus was undeterred in His presentation – He would not be led by family or follower – but by His Father and the mission given to Him from above. This last portion reminds us that the mission was not a new innovation, but a long expressed prophecy. Jesus was following a path that was revealed to prophets long before His birth in Bethlehem.

What appeared to be a REJECTION in Nazareth was a signal to move to Capernaum near the Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee). Matthew 4:14 made clear this was NOT a simple choice – but the fulfillment of a designed work that was already stated. Think about that for a moment. God made a plan, and even the choice to move “home base” was a part of that plan.

Was not the arrest of Jesus part of that plan? How about the striking of the face of the Savior by wicked men? Was the Cross itself part of that plan? Listen to words about the Savior written seven hundred years before His birth:

Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.”

Here is the point: What looked like a spontaneous rejection of his neighbors was part of a bigger plan. What appeared to be a failure to reach people with a message of love was also part of that plan. Jesus’ life was pre-scripted and pre-revealed in prophetic narratives. His earth ministry wasn’t about self-choice, but about following His Father’s plan… and so is yours. You have few plans to make… you have paths to follow. You do not know what they are – so you must trust the One who does.

There is an old story about a potato farmer who had a son. The farmer was old, but the son young and strong. The son was accused of theft and thrown in jail – and the old farmer was heartbroken. It was time to break up the hard ground to plant the potatoes – if he didn’t do it soon the year would be lost to the crop. He wrote a letter to his son and expressed anguish that hard times were at hand. His son wrote back: “Dad, don’t dig up the potato field…that is the place where we stashed the loot!” Within hours, a team of policemen were digging the entire field searching for the proceeds of the theft. Finding nothing, they went home. The next day, the young man wrote from his cell: “Dad, that was the best I could provide to get the ground broke up, and as I have said all along, I didn’t steal anything. I hope they got the place ready for you.”

The young man cared for his father’s need in a way that no one expected – but he was working a plan. That was the same story we read in the Gospels. There was a man accused as a criminal, beaten and executed…but that wasn’t the story. The truth was that God provided something they didn’t understand in a way that they didn’t expect. That is the kind of God we serve.

Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

• Jesus is the answer. He created me, and He insists that I yield to Him – and He is right.
• Jesus is the answer when those closest to me are hurting, and I take their need to Him.
• Jesus is the answer when people want to use Him to fix their problems, but want to deny His right to choose when, where and how He works.

He was the answer when His coming was announced three thousand years ago, and He was the answer when He came two thousand years ago. He is still the answer today.

Jesus will be the answer when believers are assaulted by academics, scoffed at by cynics and beheaded by evil men. He will be the answer when the church is hated, and when it is removed. He will be the answer when Israel is brought under the full weight of human hatred. He will be the answer when He comes in the clouds and they “look on Him Whom they have pierced”. He will be the answer when His mouth opens and destroys the best weaponry of the world’s military machines. Jesus WAS, IS and IS To COME – as the answer to the human need.