Monday, January 15, 2018

Matthew 13 "Preach the Gospel and If Necessary Use Words!"

click here to read Matthew 13

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus teaches six different parables to the crowds who were following him.  A parable was an earthly analogy, with a heavenly meaning.  Jesus often used analogies in parables that people could understand.  For instance the first three parables deal with farming, which was very relevant in an agricultural society.  For example the "sower and seed", "weeds and wheat", and "mustard seed" parables are the first three he teaches.  
Jesus taught parables that rewarded those who were seeking the truth, and only further hardened those who had already rejected the truth.  
William Barclay says it this way, 
"The parable conceals truth from those who are either too lazy to think or too blinded by prejudice to see. It puts the responsibility fairly and squarely on the individual. It reveals truth to him who desires truth; it conceals truth from him who does not wish to see the truth.” 

In another passage Jesus tells his disciples not to throw their "pearls before swine." Meaning don't feed what is holy to the dogs.  Simply put, Jesus wants all people to seek the truth through Him. But if people are not interested or are disinclined to take him seriously, he lets them be.  Jesus can't make anybody listen to him, nor does he try to.  Jesus also realizes that some were already hardened, and might listen but with no intention of learning anything from him. 

I think this is a good principle to remember.  We have all had conversations with people who were combative to our point of view from the beginning.  We see this a lot in political conversations.  There is really no exchange of ideas, just one person trying to prove another wrong. 

So then how are we to share the Good News? We know we are called to share the Good News. Jesus gives us the Great Commission. But that is just it, sharing is different than trying to "cram it down someone's throat".  As our first parable teaches, we are only cast the seeds. If it falls on fertile ground, it may take root. Or it can initially take root, but then weeds may choke it out its growth.  But some seed that is sown takes root, grows and actually bears fruit.  Importantly for us to remember is, "Though we plant the seeds, it is God who makes it grow!"  

In the end this truth takes the pressure off of us to convert anyone.  We should not even try. We are only called to live a life worthy of the gospel and then when asked, give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus.

St Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel and if necessary use words!"  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Matthew 12 What is the Sabbath Day Really For?

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Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
As Jesus' following increases, so does the Pharisees' jealousy.  They weren't used to people challenging their authority.  They were the ones who were supposed to be leading the people, not this upstart teacher from Nazareth.  Since they could not deny the works he was doing, they needed to find a chink in his armor. There was no better place than the Jewish Law to expose the error of his teaching.  After all, they were the experts and no one could challenge them in these matters. 
On this day, there was a ripe opportunity to trip up Jesus in his interpretation of the Sabbath law.  The Sabbath day was at the heart of Jewish piety.  There were several hundred laws of what the Jews could do and not do, which the rabbis added to over the years. Although the Sabbath day was made for man, it sure had become the opposite for the people in Jesus' day.  Today a man with a shriveled hand showed up, and the Pharisees were at best using it as a test case for Jesus.   
But as Jesus often did, he turned the test back on the Pharisees.  He questioned them on what they would do if one of their sheep fell into a pit.  Everyone knew what the answer was for the sheep was at the heart of their livelihood.  One commentator has said,
"Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by showing their greater concern for their own possessions than for a man in need, arguing persuasively that it can’t be wrong to do good on the Sabbath.
At the heart of legalism is valuing rules over people. It also creates a ripe environment for hypocrisy, because those setting the rules often break the rules too.  But Jesus reminds them that God's laws were not to be used to control others, but to set people free.  God's law was meant to to protect the Jews from things that would do them harm.  The Sabbath day laws protected them from workaholism, not getting enough time for rest and worship, and time with family.  But the Pharisees turned it into an excuse for not healing a man with a shriveled hand.  Jesus reaches out to the heal the man.  He kept the Sabbath day holy by loving his brother and bringing him what he really needed ... a new hand.  Meanwhile the Pharisees, instead of being happy for the man being healed, sulk away to devise a new plot to get at their new enemy.      


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Matthew 11 What Yoke Are You Under?

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28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees, was that the Pharisees tied heavy burdens on people's back which made them weary.  Whereas Jesus' took people who were weary and burdened and gave them rest. The Pharisees made it hard to get into heaven, whereas Jesus made it easy.  The Pharisees made it hard to follow God, Jesus made it easy.  

A yoke in Jesus' day was put on the oxen's back and then attached to the plow.  The yoked oxen pulled the plow through the fields to get them ready for seeding.  If the yoke was not well fitting to the oxen it made them irritable and uncomfortable.  And the last thing a farmer wanted was irritable oxen.  

Often we think following Jesus is a real burden.  We see his commands as restrictive and burdensome. Or at least sometimes the church makes them seem that way.  But I think this is the great lie. Jesus comes to those worn out by religiosity and legalism and says, "Let me show you a new way to pull the plow. Let me be the yoke, and I will do the heavy lifting!"

Is following Jesus a heavy "yoke" for you? Or is Jesus' yoke easy and well fitting in your life?  The Good News is that Jesus came to give you life and life abundantly.  By dying on the cross for you he took the burden of your sin and did the work of accomplishing for you your salvation unto eternal life!  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Matthew 10 Show and Tell Like Jesus Did!

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5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jesus is now entering a new phase of ministry.  He has gone from doing ministry and showing the disciples how. To the disciples doing the ministry and showing Jesus.  In any good training program students learn from their mentor by watching them do what they eventually want to do. But at a certain point the trainee needs to get on their own and try it for themselves.  

I remember going through sales training and getting a lot of good information.  Such as: what to say, how to open a deal, and close a deal.  Finally and most importantly, how to deal with rejection!  But eventually I had to go out and make a call. As a mentor said to me, "If you are not out selling you are getting outsold."

The disciples have gone through own boot camp with Jesus, and now they are sent by him on their mission.  What is their mission? To proclaim the message, "the kingdom of God has come near!"   And then show what the kingdom looks like here as it is in heaven.

As another pastor friend of mine has said, "They finally got to do the stuff!"  What is the stuff? The stuff Jesus did like healing the sick and reaching out to lost sinners.  We can spend all of our lives learning about Jesus, but ultimately like the disciples were are called and sent to proclaim the Good News through word and deed. Sound scary?

Actually I have found that being involved in kingdom work is one of the most meaningful ways to invest my time and gifts into.  Let the showing and telling begin! 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Matthew 9 - Hanging Out With Tax Collectors

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The Calling of Matthew

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
At this point in Matthew's gospel, Jesus moves from doing the ministry of preaching, teaching and healing to equipping others to do it. He realizes that unless he teaches others to do what he is doing, the movement he has started will die when he leaves.  Interestingly, the first person he calls is a tax collector, named Matthew.
Why is it interesting? Because tax collectors were hated by the Jews in Jesus' day.  They were in charge of collecting exborbitant taxes for Rome and then charged a surplus to make their money.  Rome was bad enough, but a fellow Jew to do this caused bitter resentment among the Jews.  But Jesus obviously saw some redeeming value in Matthew, so he called Matthew to follow him. And sure enough, Matthew got up and followed him.  Whatever there was a bad about Matthew, he decided to follow Jesus perhaps because he knew he was a sinner in need of a Savior.    

Not only did Matthew follow Jesus but his friends became interested in him as well. Perhaps Matthew told them about Jesus, or they were curious. Whatever the case Jesus is invited to Matthew's house and has dinner with them.  And the self righteous Pharisees, who avoided such filthy sinners, scoffed at him and questioned him for doing it.  The Pharisees looked down at sinners like Matthew, while Jesus hung out with them.

If Jesus took this approach in recruiting one of his first disciples, who would later likely write this gospel, should not we use the same strategy?  And what would this mean?  It would probably mean getting out and rubbing shoulders with sinners like Matthew in our day. After all, as Jesus will say later in the chapter, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."  Sinners knew they needed a Savior. The Pharisees looked at everyone else's sin but were oblivious to their own.

My question today is, "Are we more like the Pharisees or Jesus?"  A good indicator might be how do you look at and treat sinners like Matthew.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Matthew 8 - Jesus Does Not Discriminate!

Click on this Link to Read Chapter 8
Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
After Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does many miracles of healing in chapter 8.  Including: healing a man with leprosy, the centurion's paralytic servant, Peter's mother in law's fever, and many others who were demon possessed and sick.  And it says "all of them" were healed! 
As important as what he did, was how he did it, and to whom. Jesus used many ways to heal people.  He "reached out his hand" to the man with leprosy. This was no small deal in those days, as lepers were considered "unclean" and "untouchable".  He healed the Roman Centurion's servant by just saying "the word", even when he was not in his presence. In those days the Romans were hated by the Jews.  And, in fact, he said that he had not seen faith like the Centurion in all of Israel. Finally, he "touched the hand" Peter in law's mom and the fever left her immediately.  
Jesus has taught what the kingdom looks like in the Sermon on the Mount and know he shows what it looks like in chapter 8. And what does it look like?  
First, it comes to all people.  Lepers, Roman Centurions, and even "mother in laws".  Jesus came to show all people his kingdom, especially those who were open to it and had the faith of the Roman Centurion.  And Jesus did it in a lot ways.  A touch, a word, a hand.
In a word Jesus was showing the kingdom was available to all!  This was a radical new concept.  And guess what?  The kingdom is available today to all too.  In fact this is a primary way God draws people to himself through us.    

Monday, January 8, 2018

Matthew 7 - Narrow But Wide!

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The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
The context of these verses is that they come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  In the next two sections of this chapter, Jesus will teach about the nature of true and false prophets, and true and false disciples.  He is warning the disciples that not everyone will be what they purport to be, which is why he uses the analogy of the tree and its fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and conversely a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.  Someone has said, "the fruits show the roots".  
So then what do verses 13 and 14 have to do with that?  Jesus is teaching that all ways are not the same or equally good.  Inspite of what universalism teaches, "All roads do not lead to God", Jesus is saying that not all roads lead to life.  In John 14:6, Jesus says there is a narrow way and that way is through him.  He says, "I am the way".  I think this is the context of what Jesus is saying here.  True prophets and true disciples have one thing in common, they have entered the gate through Jesus, the one and only way.  
Being a Christian is to humble ourselves and confess, my way will only lead to destruction, I need a better one. I can't save myself.  To say Jesus is the narrow way is not to insinuate that God is narrow minded. It is a way that God wants all people to enter in precisely because He wants people to know that He so loved world that He gave His one and only Son to make a way for us.