Saturday, May 31, 2008

Matthew 21:23-27


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.

The Temple leadership questions Jesus' authority. "Where did you go to school?" In order to be a teaching Rabbi, you were to have 2 to 3 witnesses who affirmed you-witnessed you. They want to nail down Jesus' authority as to who were the ones who laid their hands on Him in order to teach with authority. Jesus gained His authority on the day of His baptism. There were 3 witnesses present from heaven-the Father's voice, the dove (Spirit of God) and John who was the primary baptizer.

It was customary for Rabbi's to sort of spar with one another by answering a question with a question. It's almost like a chess game. Jesus tied them in knots with His question, forcing them to either side with John as a man from heaven or as coming from men. Their predicament was that the people liked John and John identified Jesus as the Messiah.

NOTE that Jesus does not feel compelled to bring the conversation to some kind of conclusion, but lets it stay in the air for all to consider what was being said. It's like scattering seed indiscriminately to determine what kind of soil (heart) each person possessed. Jesus was content to let the seeds to fall where they will. So, don't you stress over "closing spiritual deals" with people. Just keep on planting the seeds and keep on watering. THEN God will work in their hearts and change them inside out!

Matthew 21:18-22


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.''

Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews. The unfruitful fig tree that was promising something it couldn't deliver was an illustration of those who looked good on the outside, but were fruitless. The history of Israel is one long preparation for the coming of the Promised One. But the promise is unfulfilled in those who reject Jesus through unbelief. Jesus' cursing of a fig tree is an action against the faithlessness of those who rejected his message. For faith to be fruitful and productive, it must be nourished authentic and focused faith.

Jesus turns the incident into a teaching time for His disciples. He challenges them to "have faith in God." They are to pray with a stubborn faith no matter how difficult the situation may be. The phrase "to remove mountains" was a common Jewish expression for removing difficulties. A wise teacher who could solve difficulties was called a "mountain remover". If we pray with faith, God will give us the means to overcome the difficulties and obstacles.

This stubborn faith is what Brennan Manning calls "Ruthless Trust". It's really ACTING AS IF.


Matthew 21:14-17


14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them. 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'?'' 17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.

Note the sharp contrast between the children and the chief priests and scribes:

FIRST--The chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things Jesus did for the blind and the lame, yet became indignant and offended by it.

SECOND--The children saw the same thing and were praising Jesus as the promised Messiah-Hosanna to the Son of David.

What's the difference? The chief priests and scribes are in denial over their dependence upon God and His Messiah. In fact, God and His Messiah will easily mess up the "good thing" they had going for them. Whereas the children have no position to mess up, but are totally dependent upon God and welcome His Messiah. Take it one step further and note the desperate ones-the blind and the lame-who feel their dependent and desperate need to come to Jesus.

There are two ways to live your life: 1. You can be open, humble, eager to learn, and ready to listen.

2. You can be closed, prideful, defensive, and in denial and that's not a river in Egypt!

Matthew 21:12-13


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.''

This was a real problem within the Temple. It was not simply selling CDs, DVDs and books in the back of the room as most churches do or through their church bookstore nor is it the many sign-up, register and pay booths we have at our local churches. This was a real defrauding of the people!

1. Each animal was presented for inspection to see if it was acceptable for a proper sacrifice. Not only did they have to pay the inspector, but they inspectors tended to reject most of them and offer to sell a better specimen back to them at a high price. Or, if a person didn't have an animal to sacrifice they were gouged when they bought one from the Temple authorities.

2. There was also a Temple tax that was imposed upon everyone who came to the Temple feasts. This tax was to be paid in exact half-shekels and nothing else, therefore there was a third offense.

3. In addition to being gouged, those who were from out of town had to get their money changed to pay for the sacrifices. In the exchange transaction there was also a gouging of sorts going on. Because of the vast amount of pilgrims which journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover from foreign lands outside the land of Israel where collections would not already have been made, the revenue from such a conversion of money would have been immense!

They were stealing money from those whose pure intentions were to come to the Temple and make sacrifices to the Lord.

All in all, it seemed to Jesus that this had the spirit of a busy swap-meet, a major distraction away from coming to worship the God of gods. Anything that brings this spirit with money and the exchange of monies is most demeaning to the holiness of our God. So, Jesus cleaned up a bit!

What would Jesus do at your church service?

Matthew 21:1-11


1 When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ``Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. 3 ``If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them.'' 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 ``SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION, `BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.' ''

6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, 7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. 8 Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. 9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, ``Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!'' 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.''

NOTE all the players in this drama of Jesus presenting Himself as God's Messiah:

1. A donkey and her colt. Jesus will use whatever is necessary to demonstrate Himself to those who need Him.

2. The owner or care-taker. Jesus is looking to use all that we have to show Him off.

3. Jesus' disciples. Jesus' disciples are always hanging out with Him as they enjoy the many field trips.

4. Crowds going ahead of Him. These may be the curious, but certainly the interested. This is all God requires-that we be interested!

5. Those who followed Him. Jesus continues to draw a crowd in every nation who will lift Him up and honor Him as the Messiah-Hosanna, Son of David!

This pageantry happens 24-7-365. Each of us has a role to play in this daily drama. What part are you playing? I want to encourage you to find your place in the life and teachings of Jesus. He will present Himself to everyone. Will you participate?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Matthew 20:29-34


29 As they were leaving Jericho a large crowd followed Him. 30 And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, ``Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!'' 31 The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, ``Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!'' 32 And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, ``What do you want Me to do for you?'' 33 They said to Him, ``Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.'' 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

What a powerful contrast! Jesus just finished handling personal ambition by James and John, giving them a new definition of true leadership. NOW, 2 blind men have nothing but their blindness, their vulnerability, their cry for mercy to the only One Who could restore their sight-the Messiah. Jesus' question to them is curious. He's speaking with 2 men who are obviously blind and asks them, "What do you want Me to do?" Again, this is in contrast to the two brothers who wanted something from Jesus-position in the kingdom. Their answer has nothing to do with anything unreasonable, but they ask for a healing of their brokenness-their blindness-their need.

Jesus' response to James and John was to re-teach them what leadership is all about. Jesus' response to the 2 blind men was to be moved with compassion, touched right in their area of brokenness and they regained their sight, then they followed Jesus from that time on.

So, what is it you want from Jesus? To be more comfortable or to have a more convenient or prominent position with Him or to have Jesus meet you at your level of brokenness. One will get you another lesson or sermon. The other will give you the healing touch of Jesus.

Matthew 20:20-28


20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, ``What do you wish?'' She said* to Him, ``Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.'' 22 But Jesus answered, ``You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?'' They said* to Him, ``We are able.'' 23 He said* to them, ``My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.''

24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ``You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 ``It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.''

John Calvin calls ambition, "a concealed flame." It exists in each of us, striving for acclaim, power, position, and attention. The concealed flame of ambition can be easily fueled when losing sight of the cross for visions of personal glory. If those closest to Christ fell prey to ambition, then we too must guard against its grip on our lives.

In my experience it is not just ambition that is the problem. The most extensive problem seems to be an optical one-THE BIG "I". So far in recent days in Matthew we've seen a man whose wealth had become his god and therefore came between him and following Jesus. We now see 2 brothers desiring certain positions in the kingdom-on the right and on the left. When it's all about ME, then it just isn't about JESUS.

Without a doubt the greatest disappointment to me has been watching men and women be more concerned about themselves and their conveniences than about spreading the movement of Jesus and His kingdom. There is more interest in a certain musical bent, the dazzle of a beautiful facility, the promotion of another program, the crowd--all giving a false sense of spirituality to spectating rather than participating! My heart continues to be broken by good people who want to sit in comfortable positions such as James and John, good people with a twisted perspective on what's most important.

Jesus makes it absolutely clear that we are hear, not to be served, but to serve. To be great in the kingdom is to find your position as a servant-that's a participator, not a spectator! So, are you in the stands watching or on the field in the action?

Matthew 20:17-19


17 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18 ``Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.''

This is, at least, the 3rd, maybe the 4th time Jesus has revealed to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, be killed and be raised up again. (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33, Luke 9:22) Although the statement may have puzzled the disciples who were standing close to Jesus' revelation, it was, after all, not inconceivable that the Messiah would ultimately die at some point in time. Therefore, Peter's shock when hearing Jesus' new declaration in Matthew 16 is not based so much on the third day resurrection but upon the opposition to and persecution of the One who he'd just proclaimed to be God's chosen and anointed King-"You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." (Matt 16:16).

Each time Jesus mentions what's coming the disciples seem to be a little cloudy in their thinking as to what is meant. Maybe they are too frightened to ask Jesus what it all might mean.

Now, here before their final journey into Jerusalem, Jesus repeats what is about to happen. I can't emphasize enough the importance of their expectations of the Messiah. There were 2 roles for the Messiah to play. One was that He would come and reign forever (as the son of David). The other was that He would come to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (as the son of Joseph). When you are under the foot of the Romans, you are definitely not looking for the Messiah to come and die. You want the Messiah that is going to deliver His people from this oppression. We can look back on this scene historically without emotion, knowing the facts, that this had to happen this way. But to the disciples, this was emotionally charged with their hopes and dreams of the Messiah's power of deliverance.

It's a little like that when we are awaiting the Lord's deliverance in our own lives today. We are so emotionally involved with our pain that we can't see what is really going on. God is up to something. God is always up to something that will work out better for you-to deliver you from where you are now into where He wants you to be next.

"For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Easily said, but very difficult to trust in the middle of the conditions we may find ourselves. This is precisely the work that we are to do-to learn to trust that Jesus' loyal love toward us is eternally true. Nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus

Matthew 20:1-16


1 ``For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 ``When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 ``And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to those he said, `You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went. 5 ``Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 ``And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, `Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' 7 ``They said to him, `Because no one hired us.' He said to them, `You go into the vineyard too.'

8 ``When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, `Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' 9 ``When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius . 10 ``When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 ``When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, `These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' 13 ``But he answered and said to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 `Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 `Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous ?' 16 ``So the last shall be first and the first last.''

As an illustration of the previous subject of being compensated by Jesus for our work in the kingdom, Jesus tells an interesting story--"the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard." Most pointedly Jesus is elaborating on the statement that many who are last will be first and the first last.

NOTE what the landowner does. He hires laborers to work for a day for a denarius. He hires laborers to work for him at around noon. He hires laborers to work for him at 3:00 pm. He hires laborers to work for him at 5:00 pm for only an hour.

THEN, the landowner paid them all a denarius. Those who worked an entire day were paid the same as those who worked one hour.

The symbolism appears to be straightforward-the householder or owner should be taken either as God the Father or Jesus (there is no real difference in meaning whichever is understood), the laborers are those who are called to become part of the Kingdom of Heaven (as opposed to being identified as disciples-they become disciples when they agree to work in the vineyard), the wages are eternal life or 'salvation' which has already been shown to be the subject of the one sentence warning of Matthew 19:30 and the vineyard is the world or Kingdom of Heaven (where Matthew 13:38 shows that Jesus taught that the entire world is God's Kingdom).

The overall thrust is that God calls laborers to work according to His own will and purpose and that He will reward them as He sees fit-a direct comment on Peter's question about what sort of reward they should expect for leaving everything and following after Jesus (Matthew 19:27). This parable seems to cut two ways: FIRST-Jesus will bring in outcasts and worse into the kingdom--those who have had little prior experience in good behavior. SECOND-Jesus is also speaking to the issue of those who have been with Him from the beginning, thinking that they are owed a bit more than the rest.

He's God and you are not!

Matthew 19:27-30


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.

Peter's question was "What about us, Jesus?" This is not a self-promoting question, but Peter is looking for some affirmation from Jesus, looking for Jesus to confirm Peter's hope that he has made the right choices in giving up everything to follow Him.

NOTE that Jesus does give Peter (and all of us who follow Him) several benefits for following Him:

1-You will sit in judgment of the twelve tribes of Israel. 2-You will receive many times more what you give up for Him. 3-You will inherit eternal life.

Then, Jesus ends with the powerful truth and most important principle of the kingdom, "The first will be last and the last will be first." That's the way it is in the Kingdom of God versus your kingdom. All is topsy-turvy!

You see, in seeking a pleasant, conventional life, we "nullify the commandment of God by our tradition" (Matthew 15:3-6). We tend to seek wealth and possessions, even though Jesus warned of the "deceitfulness of riches" (Matthew 13:22). We seek safety and security, though Jesus taught us to live by faith. We all are kings of our own kingdoms and when we meet King Jesus, we must sign off as king of our kingdoms and bow to Jesus as the King of our lives. No matter what His orders are, we are assured by Jesus' words that we will reap major benefits for our submission to Him.

You can be assured that it will be worth it all someday when the regeneration of the world takes place and when we see Jesus face to face!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Matthew 19:16-26


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. 

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.''

NOTE the contrast between the rich man and the needy children in the previous paragraph. The problem is not that this man had wealth, but that the wealth he possessed had become his god. It was that which he was depending upon and therefore, it was the obstacle between him and God. Because of this property he owned, he was unable to follow Jesus. Jesus points out that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, with people it is impossible! But God is into handling impossibilities such as this! For a rich man or anyone else entering into the Kingdom is a supernatural transformation work of God Himself.

Note that most of your translations say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. In the Aramaic translation of Jesus' words (the language Jesus actually spoke), the word is not "camel", but "rope". Now that makes more sense and more realistic to what the people understood.

The application here is to ask yourself what it is that is between you and God-between you and following Jesus. You were created to be dependent upon your Creator and if you are not dependent upon Him, then you will naturally become dependent upon something else (that may not be all that bad in itself, but becomes that which separates you from God). So, what is it that tends to come between you and your walk with Jesus?

Here's a good way to measure whether or not you are holding on to something too tightly or when something has become your god. Anything that is non-negotiable with God is now your God. Think about it! God, you can have everything, but my business, my spouse, my kids, my security, my house or my car. Anything that is non-negotiable with God is now your God. Think it over!

Matthew 19:13-15


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.

The disciples seemed to feel that Jesus was too important to be bothered with little children. The term that Matthew uses refers to children in general of any age. Luke tells of this same incident that there were very little children among those brought to Jesus, nursing infants in fact, even babies. There was throughout the culture a low estimate of the importance of children. Jesus did not share that viewpoint. Jesus used the lowliness and unimportance of children to illustrate the humility that he requires of his followers. Everyone must be childlike in the sense that he understands himself to be needy, undeserving of the favor of God and man, and helpless apart from the grace of God.

NOTE: In my way of thinking children are possibly the most vivid and accurate illustration of what Jesus wants-they have nowhere else to turn. C.S. Lewis put it this way: "The gospel is not for the well-meaning, but for the desperate." The Lord made the same point in other ways when he accepted, to the amazement and absolute consternation of the Jewish religious authorities, the sick, the outcasts, Gentiles, and women.

When the blind men cry out for Jesus' attention near Jericho, later in 20:31, the crowd rebuked them for bothering the Master. Their attitude was the same as his disciples here. Jesus had better things to do, more important things, than attend to blind people, to outcasts. But Jesus' warm acceptance of all those who are in need, and now children, indicates this fundamental truth: that we do not qualify for Jesus' attention and help by some virtue or status that we have acquired. It is our need only that attracts Jesus to us. Jesus came as the great physician, looking for those who are sick and in need of Him. Whenever I think of this reference to Jesus my response is, "Over here, Jesus!"

Matthew 19:10-12


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.''

Based upon the adulterous nature of messing up within the marriage relationship, the disciples remark that maybe it is better to not marry at all. Jesus’ response has to do with 3 kinds of eunuchs—men who have been emasculated.
1. Born a eunuch.
2. Made a eunuch.
3. Choose to be a eunuch for the kingdom.

There is a myth making the rounds in some circles, that those people identified as eunuchs in scriptures were homosexuals. This is a totally ridiculous idea and nothing could be further from truth. It is indeed astounding that any learned person could come to such a conclusion.

FIRST--Remaining single and not entering into marriage is OK with Jesus.

SECOND--Jesus points out that some men (or women) may choose to be “not married” for the sake of the kingdom. To be single gives you a great opportunity minister full-time without consideration of your mate.

THIRD--Each person must choose, because it is a personal choice.

The bottomline and most important of all is the phrase “for the sake of the Kingdom”. Remember, Jesus said earlier to “seek first the Kingdom of God” and everything else will take care of itself. “For the sake of the Kingdom”. Does that phrase reflect how you evaluate your life decisions? FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Matthew 19:3-9


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.'' 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. 9 ``And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality and marries another woman commits adultery .''

There were two Jewish theological positions on divorce-the strict view of the school of Shammai or the lax view of Hillel. They were trying to test Jesus to get something on which to attack Him. Jesus takes them all the way back to creation, before the Mosaic Law. They then bring up the fact that Moses permitted divorce and Jesus pointed out that Moses allowed divorce, but that wasn't the ideal way it was all intended. Then Jesus makes the statement that gives maybe the only legitimate "loophole" given as a reason for divorce.

On this matter of divorce I am convinced that there are two primary teachings:

1-GOD HATES DIVORCE. It destroys His image that He created in the bonding of male and female. It destroys individuals in the process. It's like glueing two pieces of card-board together, then tearing them apart. It is not a clean break.

2-GOD'S GRACE IS SUFFICIENT. No matter what you have done or choose to do, God's grace is able to cover it. This is not to be used as a "Get out of jail free" card, but this is God's response to our brokenness-whether we caused it or whether it was leveled upon us.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Matthew 19:1-2


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.

Although this is a very brief passage, the impact was monumental!

1-NOTE that large crowds followed Him. Jesus is the most irresistible one of all history. Large crowds continue to follow after Him. It's religion and religiosity that distracts and caricatures Jesus.

2-NOTE that when even large crowds come to Jesus, He is more than willing and able to heal them.

3-NOTE this is what Jesus did, but think in present terms that Jesus IS STILL DOING wonderful things among us today. Instead of WWJD?, maybe it is better to see it as WIJD? (What Is Jesus Doing?). He IS presently still in the healing business and He will heal all who come to Him "there." "There" is where a person finds Jesus!

2 QUESTIONS: FIRST-Are you following after Jesus with your needs?

SECOND-Are you allowing Him to heal you THERE right in your area of need?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Matthew 18:23-35


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[about 12 million dollars] 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 [about 12 dollars] ; 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.''

Jesus told the story of the servant forgiven a great debt who went out and dealt mercilessly with a fellow-servant who owed him a debt that was an infinitesimal fraction of what he himself had owed. And, for this lack of mercy he was utterly condemned. This parable teaches certain lessons which Jesus never tired of teaching.

1. It teaches that a man must forgive in order to be forgiven. If you are not willing to forgive your fellow-men, you cannot hope that God will forgive you! Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt 5:7). In what we call the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father") Jesus said, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt 6:14-15). Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.

2. The contrast between the debts is staggering and compares with our relationship with God. If God has forgiven us the debt we owe to him, we must forgive our fellow-men the debts they owe to us. Nothing that we have to forgive can even remotely compare with what we have been forgiven.

We have been forgiven a debt which is beyond all paying-for the sin of man brought about the death of God's own Son-and, if that is so, we must forgive others as God has forgiven us or we can hope to find no mercy.

The essence of it all is your gratefulness to the Lord and in that spirit of gratefulness you will treat others well.

Matthew 18:21-22


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 goes beyond the Jewish traditional way of thinking about forgiveness-3 times was required!

As I see it, there are five steps in forgiving another person: 1. Remind yourself that this person is only human!

2. Relinquish your right to get even! The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to get (exactly) even. You will either not get back at them enough or you will overdo it. There is just no way to get even!

3. Be ready to hurt in order to heal! You must take the pain all by yourself! This is the real secret to the dynamic of forgiving someone. You must pay for and not demand that they do!

4. Wish them well! This could be the best real evidence that forgiveness has taken place. Try praying for them-for their success!

5. You may have to repeat the process! When Jesus was asked how many times a person ought to forgive another. His answer was 70 X 7 or 490! By the way, this doesn't mean that at 491, you can go them even!

When you make amends, you don't do it for others, but for yourself!

If you don't solicit forgiveness, you can't work well for God!

If you don't forgive others, God can't work well for you!

Matthew 18:18-20


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.''

Although I've understood and taught the simple message of JESUS PLUS NOTHING, I think I've missed something about Jesus and walking with Him. What was missing in my thinking and experience was what we have taught right here. There are two insights here that blow my mind:

1-The principle of 2 or 3 in agreement. The power of 2 or 3 who are in agreement is incredible. This is not just agreeing together about some thought or issue. It is being in the spirit of agreement with a few brothers/sisters. When walking in that kind of agreement, God will respond.

2-The principle of 2 or 3 gathering together. The power of 2 or 3 gathering or walking together is incredible. Remember when Paul, Silas and Timothy strolled into Thessalonica-traveling and in the spirit of agreement together? Their togetherness in Jesus invites Jesus to powerfully move among them and spill over into the hearts of the Thessalonians and He did. The promise here is that when 2 or 3 gather together in the name of Jesus, Jesus will show up!

If you knew that Jesus was going to show up somewhere, wouldn't you do whatever you could do to be there? This brings us back to 3 habits:



THIRD--Waiting on Jesus to lead out-JESUS WILL SHOW UP!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Matthew 18:15-20


Jesus gives explicit instructions for what we are to do among family members in the family of Jesus. The normal approach is to sit in judgment or to gossip about it or to simply ignore it. NOTE the steps.

1) If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. It's so important that you understand that this first step will solve the problem most of the time and the person and relationship are salvaged in the process. HOWEVER, most of the time this first step is so rare.

2) 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. Here, again, this is a great second step. You go to the person alone first, then take another or two brothers or sisters with you if he refuses to hear you.

3) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; THEN, if he refuses to listen to the 2 or 3 of you, then you are instructed to take this person before the church. What is the church? The church or assembly of believers that the person has been connected to. Note that it is assumed that this brother or sister is participating in a fellowship of believers and this fellowship has a built-in accountability factor that will save most family members' lives.

4) and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. THEN, if he refuses the urging of the fellowship around him, you are to let them go-view them as an outsider-as a person who is not in the fellowship any longer.

In addition to the clear steps on what to do, it is interesting to me that these believers in the early church were in fellowship with one another. Please understand that if a believer is not connected to an intimate fellowship, there is little hope for the one another dynamic.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Matthew 18:11-14


11 ``For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. 12 ``What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 ``If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine, which have not gone astray. 14 ``So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

Here is the heart of God. Jesus came to seek out and save those who are lost. He is looking for the one who is lost and doesn't have it altogether. This should be one of the most encouraging of Jesus' words.

In the time of Jesus the flocks were often communal flocks; they belonged, not to an individual, but to a village. There were, therefore, usually two or three shepherds with them. That is why the shepherd could leave the ninety-nine. If he had left them with no guardian he would have come back to find still more of them gone; but he could leave them in the care of his fellow-shepherds, while he sought the wanderer. The shepherds always made the most strenuous and the most sacrificial efforts to find a lost sheep. It was the rule that, if a sheep could not be brought back alive, then at least, if it was at all possible, its fleece or its bones must be brought back to prove that it was dead.

"We can imagine how the other shepherds would return with their flocks to the village fold at evening time, and how they would tell that one shepherd was still out on the mountain-side seeking a wanderer. We can imagine how the eyes of the people would turn ever and again to the hillside watching for the shepherd who had not come home; and we can imagine the shout of joy when they saw him striding along the pathway with the weary wanderer slung across his shoulder, safe at last; and we can imagine how the whole village would welcome him, and gather round with gladness to hear the story of the sheep who was lost and found. This parable teaches us many things about that love.

1. The love of God is an individual love. The ninety-and-nine were not enough; one sheep was out on the hillside and the shepherd could not rest until he had brought it home. However large a family a parent has, he cannot spare even one; there is not one who does not matter. God is like that; God cannot be happy until the last wanderer is gathered in.

2. The love of God is a patient love. Sheep are proverbially foolish creatures. The sheep has no one but itself to blame for the danger it had got itself into. Men are apt to have so little patience with the foolish ones. When they get into trouble, we are apt to say, "It's their own fault; they brought it on themselves; don't waste any sympathy on fools." God is not like that. The sheep might be foolish but the shepherd would still risk his life to save it. Men may be fools but God loves even the foolish man who has no one to blame but himself for his sin and his sorrow.

3. The love of God is a seeking love. The shepherd was not content to wait for the sheep to come back; he went out to search for it. Jesus came to seek for those who wander away. God is not content to wait until men come home; he goes out to search for them no matter what it costs him.

4. The love of God is a joyful love. Here there is nothing but joy. There are no recriminations; there is no receiving back with a grudge and a sense of superior contempt; it is all joy. So often we accept a man who is penitent with a moral lecture and a clear indication that he must regard himself as contemptible, and the practical statement that we have no further use for him and do not propose to trust him ever again. It is human never to forget a man's past and always to remember his sins against him. God puts our sins behind his back; and when we return to him, it is all joy.

5. The love of God is a protecting love. It is the love which seeks and saves.

God's love is relentless, no matter what!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Matthew 18:7-10


7 ``Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 ``If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 ``If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. 10 ``See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually, see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

It seems obvious that Jesus is not literally talking about plucking out your eye, since you could go on sinning with one eye, one hand or one foot. These body parts are an illustration of allowing yourself to be overtaken and become a stumbling block to any other believers. I believe when Jesus speaks of little ones or little children, these are the same as believers-new believers. All were new baby believers.

Jesus is saying that we must take drastic action not to allow anything we do to be an offence or a stumbling block to other believers.

NOTE one more thing. Stumbling blocks/offences/sins are inevitable!

Timothy, my son, and I are both a little perfectionistic in certain areas. We both feel so badly when we have blown in a musical or sermon presentation-something misspoke or some sort of blunder. We commiserate often how horrible the feeling is that we carry with us all week. But this horrible, painful feeling cannot be nearly a intense as what Jesus is warning us to be careful of.

So, take a loss (a foot, a hand, an eye) rather than to participate in the stumbling block movement.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Matthew 18:1-6


Question from the disciples: 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ``Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?''

Answer from Jesus: First-Jesus pulls in a child and declares that no one will enter the kingdom of heaven without becoming like a child.

2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, ``Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Second-Jesus gets to the question of the disciples more directly and says that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven has the humility of a child. 4 ``Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Third-Jesus announces the blessing to those who receive one child such as this receives Jesus personally. 5 ``And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;

Fourth-Jesus warns of the curse upon those who cause one of these little ones to stumble. 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

NOTE that there are basically two conditions to enter the kingdom: FIRST--Unless you are converted. Converted means to have a change of mind-a change of mind toward Jesus.

SECOND--Unless you become like children. Humble, innocent, respectful and most of all, a teachable, tender heart.

It's very interesting to note that Jesus doesn't talk about "going to heaven", but entering the Kingdom. That's His focus for you. What's your focus?

Matthew 17:24-27


24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two -drachma tax came to Peter and said, ``Does your teacher not pay the two -drachma tax?'' 25 He said* , ``Yes.'' And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ``What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?'' 26 When Peter said, ``From strangers,'' Jesus said to him, ``Then the sons are exempt . 27 ``However, so, that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.''

The Temple tax was one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20. It was used to renovate and restore the Temple-to keep the facility functional. Since Jesus was Lord and Owner of the Temple, He and His "children" should have been free of taxation. However, Jesus orders Peter to pay it anyway for both of them to avoid any unnecessary conflict or offense.

It's a curious incident and I think there may be two basic teachings here for us: 1. Some things just don't matter that much. This is an illustration of Jesus' willingness to comply with the conventions of the society of which He belonged. This traditional application of an Old Testament law was not worth arguing over. It wasn't worth a battle!

2. It's OK, even a good thing, to contribute to good things-synagogues and churches, because these religious organizations do good work-relieve pain, poverty, hunger, etc.

Again, I am struck with the fact that Jesus nor any of His apostles took a stand against the synagogues of their time (churches today). Even though Jesus was out to build His church (His gathering or assembly of His followers) and wanted His disciples then and now to BE THE CHURCH, He was still willing to financially support good things.

Jesus was even willing to perform a miracle to illustrate His point. So, this reminds me of the concept we call "orbiting". We practice being the church of Jesus by gathering together around the apostle's teaching, prayer, fellowship and the breaking of bread, but we are to orbit around the synagogues (churches) of our day. Why? Looking for those who are God-fearing, attracted to the person of Jesus and His kingdom and when we discover interested people, we begin walking with them ALL IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

Matthew 17:22-23


22 And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ``The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him and He will be raised on the third day.'' And they were deeply grieved.

Immediately after discussing how little faith the disciples had, Jesus shares with them the upcoming plan-to be killed and be raised from the dead 3 days later!

What's happening here? Their response to Jesus' announcement was to be deeply grieved. Why? 1. One option is that they were so strongly attached to Him, so they were sorry that He was going to leave them.

2. Another option might be that they were unwilling to believe what Jesus was saying.

3. They simply didn't understand what was going on! They could not see how He could be the Messiah and yet be put to death. They simply didn't get the "resurrection" possibility. Their faith was being manipulated by their emotions and not their trust in the person of Jesus.

4. I think there is a fourth reason for their grief. The disciples just didn't like Jesus' plan. They were geared up for winning in the political movement of Jesus, the ground-swell excitement that was growing around Him. Then, Jesus tells them His plan. He was going to die. Die? Are you serious? They just didn't get it that the real message of Jesus' movement was the message of sacrificial love, not a movement of political power.

The disciples had their own agendas regarding what they wanted to do with Jesus, the role they wanted Him to play for them. This is just another way of "living life your way in the name of Jesus." They never got it, until after the resurrection occurred! It's just like us today. We miss the simple point of Jesus' role in our affairs, until after He comes through on our behalf in the midst of death and dying, then and only then do we begin to get it.

Matthew 16:28-17:21


28 ``Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.''

Here Jesus makes an astounding statement that many have discussed its meaning for years and will continue to do so. Some who were standing right there would not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. Jesus' first message was to announce: "The Kingdom of God is near, here and among y'all." Apparently, Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to earth and it is here right now. In a progressive mode the Kingdom of God will ultimately fill the earth in its full form.

Most of what Jesus is doing is to demonstrate His Kingdom. Here He does it most dramatically with what is called the transfiguration of His body, where Jesus' body becomes the undeniable, visible presence of God. He takes three men to come and see it for themselves. Let's look at it.

1 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, ``Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'' 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ``This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!'' 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ``Get up, and do not be afraid.'' 8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.

Notice how Jesus is joined by Moses, the Jewish representative of the Law, and Elijah, the representative of the Prophets. In these three personages the entire story of the Jewish faith rested. But note just as quickly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah disappeared. I think this is the beauty of this dramatic scene. All of the Law and the Prophets dissolve into Jesus standing alone. It is truly Jesus plus nothing and no one else.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." 10 The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" 11 Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

After Jesus put Elijah into perspective, identifying him with John the Baptist, He moves from classroom to another lab experience to demonstrate the Kingdom and His position as the Son of Man.

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." 17 "You unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" 20-21 He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

In order to move into being disciples with the faith Jesus requires, it seems when He mentions "little faith" He is not referring to a certain amount of faith. In the next sentence Jesus suggests that all that is needed is faith as small as a mustard seed in order to live in the realm of the impossible. We are learning that it's all about developing a consistent, ruthless trust in Jesus, counting on Him to do His work in your life in His way. It ultimately means leaving the results-good and bad-to Him. Are you up for such a lifestyle? Give it a try and watch Jesus at work!