Matthew 19 – First and Last

Read Matthew 19

Having never been divorced, I find it hard to understand the thought process that goes into divorce.  In fact, as a pastor, walking alongside people who are struggling with things I have not directly experienced is one of the most difficult things for me.

Jesus, as He continues teaching about turning from selfishness, brings in the sensitive subjects of both divorce and money.  Like those asking who would be first in God’s Kingdom, certainly a self-interested question if ever one existed, Jesus addresses other situations in which self-interest certainly can play a role.

I would not presume to cast judgment on those struggling through divorce or picking up the pieces of life after one, and do not want to paint with broad brush strokes over the experiences of individuals in relationships I know nothing about.  I believe that this passage has been used far too many times to judge and hurt, condemn, label, and nullify people’s feelings without consideration of the details of their situation.  I firmly believe that it is not God’s intention to force people to stay in relationships that are unsafe and dangerous.

As He continues to teach, Jesus challenges our notions of selfishness and self-interest.  As those who are “in Christ,” we are called to put off such temptations, to put others before ourselves.  Ultimately we are called to what Paul calls a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  This calling is a life of freedom, not being bound to our own self-interest but putting others first.  Our freedom is to love in the way that Christ loved: self-sacrificially.  What does this mean for us?  Perhaps it means not pursuing wealth, actually living out marriage vows, or giving our children the time they need and desire after a long day’s work.  Can you think of others?



Matthew 18 – All the Wrong Questions

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We often get caught up in pursuing what we think is most important.  In our pursuit, we inquire and investigate how we can achieve these ‘important’ things in our lives.  Today, at least, we can know that we are in good company.  Jesus’ disciples also had their priorities a little mixed up and we find them asking Jesus all the wrong questions.

As they see Jesus’ ministry growing and continued talk about the Kingdom of Heaven being near, His disciples begin to dwell on a common human question: “where is my place in this Kingdom?”  Jesus has called these 12 men to be His inner circle; they want to know who is going to be Jesus’ #2, His go to guy.  More importantly, they want to know how they can become that person, something accented by Peter’s question later in verse 21.

Jesus’ response turns the usual notions of importance on their head by pointing to the true concern of God in His Kingdom.  Unlike the dominions of men in which power and authority are things to be taken and exercised over others, the Kingdom of Heaven concerns itself with but one thing: that those who are not a part of it are found and welcomed in.  He illustrates this point through teaching and a parable.

It may seem backward, caring for the one lost sheep amidst the 99 that aren’t, or emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation rather than holding a grudge (a form of having power over someone) and revenge, but this is the way of God’s Kingdom; it’s how God’s economy works.  Those who would find life in Christ must lose their own; we must die to ourselves daily.  Here and only here, when our dependence is on God, do we find true freedom and our place in God’s Kingdom.



Matthew 17 – Transfiguration

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There are an innumerable amount of stories about a son leaving home, going into the military, and coming back as “a man.”  There are much more about young people going through a trial and coming out more grown up and mature.  I imagine that the transfiguration had a similar impact on the disciples as they saw Jesus in heavenly glory, speaking with Moses and Elijah, both of whom had been dead for hundreds of years.

The transfiguration was a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus.  While He was not and more or less God or human before, during, or after, this event marks a pivotal change in the focus of Jesus’ ministry, turning from the work and traveling around Israel and towards Jerusalem and eventually the cross.  In fact, Luke 9 records the transfiguration followed by the verse 51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

We experience our own “transfiguration” of sorts when we encounter the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  When we accept Him as our Savior and Lord we are, what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as a “new creation.”  We used fancy Christian words like “justification,” “atonement,” or “reconciliation” to talk about this moment when we experience a fundamental change in who we are.  We go from lost and sinful to found and forgiven.

While this decision is the most important a person can make in their life, what is also important is the daily decision to live this new life we are given.  As Jesus, from this point, sets His face towards Jerusalem and the cross, so are we to set our face toward living the life, the freedom, and the mission that God gives us as His children.

 



Matthew 16 – Bad Leaven

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This is, at least, the second time in Matthew that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day demand a “sign.”  Looking at this from our perspective, their request is ridiculous being that Jesus had been healing so many people.  Yet, just like the visit from John the Baptist’s disciples, who did not believe, these people too couldn’t believe what they have heard and seen.

We would like to think that we are not like them either, that if Jesus came in this way now, we would certainly recognize and follow Him.  Yet I wonder if this is indeed true.  I sometimes struggle with recognizing the work of God finding that when I hear someone way that “God told me to _____,” I am rather skeptical.  When I hear about miracle healings, I tend to want to see if for myself.  Maybe I need to trust more, or perhaps we get wrapped up in our own thoughts about God, who He is and what He does, that we are not willing to entertain things outside of that box.

The warning that Jesus gives after His encounter with the Pharisees is one that we too should heed.  Culture constantly seems to “demand signs” from us as Christians; people asking for proof that what we believe is valid or accurate.  The danger in these requests lies in the doubt they cast when we don’t have an answer other than faith.

Matthew answers the questions and the doubt with an illustration.  Jesus asks His disciples who they believe He is.  Peter’s answer, one of true faith in the Messiah, is one whom Israel had been waiting for.  Jesus’ response is one spoken to all those who believe; their faith is the foundation against which all the forces of evil cannot and will not prevail.



2 Timothy 3:10-17 "Thoroughly Equipped"

1/24/2016 – Paul writes, in the face of persecution and false teaching, that when we face trials and challenges we need to “hold on to what we have learned.”  Instead of running and hiding, instead of backing down, we are called to lean into the Word of God, His Truth, His Hope, and His Love.  It is here that we will find true strength to face any attack of the enemy.



Matthew 15 – What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

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Sticks and Stone can break my bones but words… well words define what is in your heart.  It’s not quite how the childish saying goes, but it certainly illustrates exactly what Jesus is talking about here.  The Pharisees were quick to point out an infraction of the Law by Jesus’ disciples while ignoring their own trespasses and their families for the sake of personal gain.

Jesus talks a lot about how words are a direct reflection of what is going on in our hearts.  While what we do can seem pure or unpure, that which comes out of our mouth is the true identifier of where our heart is truly placed.

The religious leaders of the day focused so much on tradition when it suited them, but they were also very willing to overlook parts of it when it didn’t.  Jesus calls them out in front of everyone.  Later, this actually becomes the basis for eating what was traditionally considered “unclean” by the Jews.

Matthew accents this teaching with a story about the Canaanite woman, someone who was considered dirty and sinful by the religious leaders.  But her heart is revealed through what she says to Jesus.  She isn’t asking for much, she doesn’t care if Jesus gives her any attention.  All she asks for is the “scraps” of Jesus’ ministry knowing they would be more than enough for her.

At this point, everything seems to be backward.  Those that should be at the front of the line, who the world would consider to be righteous, are nothing more than exposed hypocrites, while others that the Jews would not never consider a “part of the Kingdom of Heaven” are looked at as having ‘great faith,’ all because of what they have said.  What does your speech reveal about your heart?

 

Below is audio of a sermon from a couple years ago:



Matthew 14 – The Solitary Place

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What strikes me about this passage is not the miracles that Jesus performed but rather Jesus’ response and commitment to personal time with God.  I’ve heard sermons about these passages but never recognized Jesus’ actions in this series of events until now.

I think that all too often we fall prey to what Charles Hummel describes as “The Tyranny of the Urgent,” the things that are right in front of us and often seem too important to set aside.  It doesn’t matter your age, job, or life stage you, there will always be these things.

What I am not saying is that these things are bad.  Especially in today’s world, they are simply reality.  We can do all sorts of work to “live more simply,” but busyness is a fact of life.

Jesus experienced this too.  He leaves to mourn the death of His relative, but the crowds just follow Him.  It is an important example to us that Jesus does not turn His back on the crowds who need Him, but He also does not forget the importance of His needed alone time to pray and be with His Heavenly Father either.  He probably could have written it off, pointing out the busyness of the day.

He probably could have written it off, pointing out the busyness of the day.  I know I’ve done that before; you just try again tomorrow right?  Jesus doesn’t do that.  He takes the time He knows He needs, the time He desires with His Father at the next earliest time.  I think Jesus recognizes what we should recognize, that our relationship with God is not about the militant keeping of a “scheduled time” at the expense of others, but rather the desire of Jesus’ heart realized in both serving and solitude.



Matthew 13 – New Treasures and Old

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Apart from His direct teachings, which we heard back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus often taught using parables.  A parable is a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.  Matthew again makes a point of referencing earlier Scripture as a way of pointing to Jesus as the promised Messiah that the Jews were waiting for.

Matthew is not the only one drawing on the Old Testament for teaching; Jesus too draws from Scripture to illustrate the work that He has come to do, the Kingdom of Heaven He is ushering in.  Remember with me back in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  Jesus points this out once again in verse 52; He is bringing out “new treasures” as well as old.

What would have been interesting, though, is how Jesus’ teachings would have been accepted by the Jews that were hearing them.  Most of the people of Israel at that time were certain that the Messiah was going to come and make things “how it was;” you know, the “good ‘ol days.”  They were also quite certain about who Jesus was talking about when He referenced the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Sometimes we get to be like this too, spending much more time thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” rather than listening for the Spirit’s movement and teaching in our own hearts.

Jesus is painting a picture for His followers, one that illustrates some things that they may already know, or think they know, while also giving them a new, possibly broader image of what God’s Kingdom will really look like.  He names good and bad, like the fruit from Matthew 12, but makes the point that He will make that determination, not us.



Matthew 12 – Sabbath Fruit

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I can remember, back when I was much younger, the rules about Sunday activities that we had.  We didn’t follow them as militantly as some, and over the years those rules tended to drift away, but I will never forget them.  Sundays were for rest and in some cases, we were forced to rest, whether we liked it or not.

Looking back now, I wonder who this was benefitting.  I know that we are called to honor the sabbath, respect that day as being different from the others, but to what end?

This, I think, is the direction Jesus’ teachings are taking in this chapter.  The Pharisees are questioning the actions of Jesus and His disciples strictly on the basis of the day they happened on rather than the intention in which they took place.  Jesus, after making some unassailable points about the sabbath, teaches about good and bad fruit and how it relates to the living out of our faith.

As has been true, Jesus’ fruit teaching accents the things that have just happened in the passage.  He left the synagogue after healing the shrivled hand and as He went He healed many.  All of this, we see, was the fulfillment of Scrpiture.  When questioned about His actions, He shows them that the fruit of one’s ministry will be an indicator of its source, whether good or bad.

Christians tend to have a sad history of questioning other Christians’ ministries, especially when said ministries are new.  Whether it happens to be a new church, program, music, liturgy, or even order of a worship service, we tend to be pretty quick to judge those things as dangerous and “not God honoring.”  Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is: “what kind of fruit is it bearing?”



Psalm 119:105-112 "Light for the Path"

1/17/2016 – Engage the WORD – There are times when our path seems clear and times when it seems cloudy and dark. In those times, we need to turn to God’s Word to give us light, maybe not to illuminate the whole path, but at least enough for the next step.



Matthew 11 – What you See and Hear

Read Matthew 11

Have you ever had something happen to you where you asked yourself, “Is this really happening?”  Maybe it’s a dream vacation, surprise birthday party, or a visit from a special person.  In any case, you enjoy the time, but there comes that “pinch me I think I’m dreaming” moment when we question reality.  This is also true in negative events; difficult diagnoses, the death of a someone close, and life changing events all make this list.

Sometimes we have trouble accepting what our eyes and ears tell us.  We either have trouble believing or we don’t want to, but eventually the reality of the situation sets in.

John the Baptist struggled with this and he was not alone.  Many saw Jesus perform miracles and struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Matthew, who has been writing so that the Jews would believe, calls out their lack of faith here.  Jesus quotes the Old Testament Scriptures regarding John and Himself, referencing the many signs the Messiah was supposed to perform, and yet still they do not believe.  He even points out that the people went out to see John in the wilderness because they thought he was a prophet, yet they still struggled to believe.

We are not that different are we?  For those of us raised in the church, conversations about faith, Scripture, and Jesus are quite normal.  Yet when it comes to belief in difficult situations, we find ourselves wavering a little, not sure if God can handle our situation.  Jesus responds to those thoughts: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus’ invitation to those people and us is to trust Him and believe what we have seen and heard; allow Him to be the Savior that He is.



Matthew 10 – Authority and Fear

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Have you ever been given authority to do something?  I remember the first time I was deemed the babysitter when my parents left; I was in charge of my brother.  The trust placed in me was exciting however it didn’t take long for the responsibility I had to sink in.  Soon after they left, I found myself terrified of all the “what-ifs.”  Anything that happened would be my responsibility to handle. Questions started flooding my mind about what I would do if…

Honestly, this isn’t unlike the experience of a first job, first-time homeowner, being newly married, or what I assume having a child will be like too.  I’ve experienced this first hand as a new pastor.  There are so many possibilities, both good and bad, and being in leadership makes me responsible on some level.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends His disciples out, giving them authority to do all sorts of things.  After giving them a number of directives, they are told to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven while healing the sick, driving out demons, and even raising the dead.  To me, this sounds like a really tall order, a rather daunting task.

One of the truths about authority, though, is the reality that it has to be given.  Ultimate authority rests with God who empowers us to fulfill the calling He has given us.  Whether it is pastoring a church, raising children, being a banker, teaching a class, or plowing snow.  Multiple times in this passage the disciples are reminded, “do not be afraid.”  It is important for us to remember that, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God has given us authority and empowered us to live for Him, being bearers of His Kingdom at all times and in all places.



Matthew 9 – Healing

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Jesus continues in His ministry, going throughout the land healing many diseases.  It is, however, not the physical healing that gets the attention of the religious leaders this time, but the spiritual healing that Jesus offers too.  Their reaction to Jesus’ forgiving of sins is actually not out of line, but the point Matthew is making here is much deeper.  The authority that Jesus has, the purview of His ministry goes far beyond just the physical realm and infiltrates all the way to the very depths of our true sickness.

As Matthew continues to recount all that Jesus did, his readers begin to get a clearer picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, something the prophets spoke of and Jesus inaugurates.  We’ve seen the scope of this Kingdom, spanning much more than simply the Jews, and now we see it’s impact.  The reign of God and the restoration that He brings impacts the entire human experience, from birth to death, male and female, sickness and health, sin and faith.  Jesus, both fully God and fully human, meets us where we are at, not waiting for us to have it “all together,” and begins the work of true healing in our lives.

When I think about today’s Church, God’s people called to be the heralds of the Kingdom, the “light of the world,” the “workers in the harvest field,” I wonder if the Church’s ministry, in Jesus’ name, covers the same scope.  Often I hear Christians respond to the problems of others with a dismissing, “they just need Jesus.”  Yet His own words and actions demonstrate a much deeper concern for the least, last, and lost, all who have been marginalized in the world.  James 2:14-26 picks up on this theme; we are called to more than just calling for repentance.



Matthew 8 – As you have believed…

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I have heard this chapter described as Jesus “flexing his spiritual muscles” by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming a storm.  There is a lot of truth there and it is clear that Matthew is making a case  for Jesus’ wisdom and teaching, and for His authority over disease, nature, and even demons.

However, the authority of Jesus is not the only thing on display here, it is also the faith of those who come (or don’t come) to Jesus.  Matthew is creating a stark contrast between those with true faith and those that don’t, and it is not who you would think.

Jewish people reading this would have assumed the faith of other Jews.  The Messiah had been promised to Jews, surely Jews would recognize Him.  Yet the picture Matthew gives us is quite different.  A Roman centurion comes to Jesus and Jesus says, “…with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  Even the demons recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but when Jewish religious leaders come, they have things they need to do first.  Jesus speaks of the true cost of following Him.

He accents this point in verses 11-13, talking about those who will enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Again, it is not who you would think.

I wonder if these writings give us pause as we read them.  As Christians, we like to think that we have “given up” everything to follow Him.  However, the reality of our lives often reveals a different story.  While I would never presume to question anyone’s faith, which is a heart matter between you and God, I wonder about our reaction to the Jesus’ call to true faith and what it costs…

…and if that reaction might be indicative of our the state of our faith.



Matthew 7 – The Golden Rule

Read Matthew 7

The Golden Rule, as it has been eloquently coined, is one of the most quoted Biblical references.  In my experience, I usually hear it quoted to children who are struggling with social issues reminding them that people are more likely to treat us well when we treat them well.  It seems, especially for Biblical teaching, to be strangely self-serving.

How could Biblical teaching like this be self-centered?  Wouldn’t that be the complete opposite of the overall message we hear in the Bible?  Well… as a matter of fact, Yes!  In fact, the so-called “Golden Rule” is not a teaching of manipulation so others will treat you well.  It is, actually, an outgrowth of a much deeper and long-standing teaching, the “second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Indeed, all of the teachings in today’s reading are like this, reminders of the appropriate orientation that we are to have as the people of God.  This orientation is not toward ourselves, us trying to make ourselves look better (judging others), us seeing things in the world to elevate ourselves (seek first the Kingdom of God), or us doing things to others to rise above them (the golden rule).  The orientation that Christ is teaching is one of love; loving God and loving each other.

All of Jesus’ teachings here are accented by the notion that a “tree is known for its fruit.”  Jesus seems to be addressing here a culture that is holding up the notion of following the rules, people that go to church when they are supposed to, do their devotions every day, and pray before their meals.  Yet the warning goes out: “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom…”  Jesus continues to say here, “I don’t want your actions, I want your heart.”