Archive for May, 2017

Matthew 19

Matthew 19 has some strong words about marriage and following Christ.  It begins with the Pharisees coming to Him and asking questions about divorce.  Jesus reminds them that divorce was not God’s idea, but man’s.  It didn’t exist until Moses allowed it.  They pressed him further and Jesus gives a single statement about the topic.  “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”.  There is a lot of ambiguity around the area of divorce.  And we can argue all day about what makes it allowable or the right outcome.

The focus needs to be on the sanctity of marriage and how much God wants that to be strong and secure, not what situations will allow us to end a marriage and move on to someone or something else.  God designed marriage.  He created man and woman and brought them together for a purpose in the garden.  We need to focus on the things that keep people together, not look for the things that will allow them to be separated.  It isn’t that divorce is not ever justified.  Jesus says it is.  But the first response to challenges or trials needs to focus on building marriage, not tearing it apart.  That’s harder work, and requires people to focus on what matters rather than their own interests first, but it is God’s design.

Jesus then teaches His disciples about priorities.  They were chasing parents and children away who were trying to come to Jesus.  He stops them in their tracks and says “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”.  All people matter to Jesus – no matter their age or race or problems.  Sometimes we tend to think that Jesus only cares about the people like us.  But He loves all people of every shape, size, creed or other trait.  In fact, He died for each and every person that has or is or will ever be on the face of this planet.  He loves them all.  Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world!

The chapter ends with a very important interaction between a man who comes with a simple question, and the Master who has the difficult answer.  “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life”?  It is a question many have asked.  Jesus gives a direct and simple answer: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments”.  Pretty straight forward.  All we have to do to have eternal life is live an obedient and perfect life obeying the commandments.  Which is where things break down for most of us.  This man felt he had followed those completely.  Most of us will have failed the test already.  But Jesus gives him the next requirement.

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”.  This man had gone through the motions of obedience but hadn’t given his life to following Christ.  That is the requirement that we need to cover our sins and give us access to the Father for eternity.  “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions”.  The man was going through the external motions but his heart was not right with God.  He was missing the inward surrender to the Savior.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, Who then can be saved”?  It seems impossible to gain eternal life.  And left to our own efforts, quite frankly it is.  “But Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.  This is the good news of the gospel.  We’re doomed left on our own.  We can’t possibly obey all that is required and we will miss the mark and fall short of God’s requirements to enter heaven.  But Jesus paid the price on the cross that gives us access through Him.  When we receive His gift of grace through confession, repentance and believing, we can confidently stand before God as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!  That’s how we can do the impossible – put our faith in Jesus!

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Matthew 18

Matthew 18 is a chapter with a lot of important lessons, and promises.  Jesus begins with answering a deep question raised by His disciples. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”?  The answer they got was not what was expected.  Jesus tells them “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.  He starts with the requirement to even enter heaven – to become like a child.  That means complete and full faith.  But Jesus adds some color to His answer:

  • humbles himself like this child is the  greatest in the kingdom of heaven
  • receives one such child in my name receives me
  • causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck
  • despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father”

Jesus is clear that it isn’t the biblical scholars who will be greatest in heaven.  It is those who truly put all their faith in Him.  Scripture points that out in Hebrews 11 with the faith hall of fame – it is those who put all their faith and trust in God that are called out as great.  But Jesus goes on to talk about the importance of a word our society doesn’t like to talk about today – sin.  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin”! Sin is a big deal in God’s eyes.  It isn’t some little mistake – sin is missing the mark – it is disobedience to a holy and righteous God.  And it comes with consequences. Jesus talks about those consequences this way:  “It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire”.

Sin matters to God. In fact, it is sin that will keep us from spending eternity with Him.  He can’t tolerate sin because of His nature of godliness, holiness and righteousness.  It will disqualify us from entering heaven.  Jesus came to this earth to address man’s greatest problem – the reality that every one of us is guilty of sin and will someday stand before a Holy and Righteous Judge who will have to deal with the sinful life we have all lived.  Standing before Him on our own, the outcome won’t go well.  We’ll be banished from heaven.  But if we’ve address the sin of our life – if we’ve received the gift of grace God provided through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross and confessed and repented as we believed and received – our sin will be covered and we’ll stand before Him as righteous and worthy.  That’s what is at stake here and what Jesus is talking about.  Sin is real – and it has eternal consequences.

Jesus addresses a key challenge we face in the church today – what do we do with sin?  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”.  Does sin matter?  Enough God tells us we have to deal with it and purge it from the church.  But the method here is critical and clear.  It doesn’t begin by telling your friends and neighbors about someone elses transgressions.  It has to begin one on one.  Then one to a couple.  And if after all those efforts, finally it comes to a broader group in the church.  Too often it gets done incorrectly and causes destruction and division.  Jesus gave us the formula to address sin.  Failing to do it this way is sin itself.

He gives us a promise about the power of prayer and His Spirit we need to claim and cling to.  “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask,  it will be done for them by my Father in heaven”.  What are the limitations to prayer?  There aren’t any.  There is power in community and the fellowship of believers.  We need to spend time together.  He goes on to say “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”.  It doesn’t say He might show up.  God is where His people are.  We need to remember that and not only relish His presence, but act like He’s there with us!

He ends by answering a question Peter asks about forgiveness and how many times we should forgive someone.  Peter suggested maybe seven times was the limit.  But Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven”.  Forgiveness knows no limits.  That’s a good thing or we’d be in deep trouble before a Holy God.  But because of Jesus shed blood and the forgiveness of sin that He has provided, we’re forgiven as many times as it takes.  And we need to do the same to those in our patch. In fact, Jesus makes that clear. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart”.  If we fail to forgive as God has forgiven us through Christ, we will have to answer to God for those choices.  If we know Jesus we’ve been forgiven, so we are required to do the same to those in our patch!

Matthew 17

Matthew 17 has Jesus spending special time with three of His disciples.  This is when we begin to see the inner circle of the Twelve.  “Jesus took with him  Peter and James, and John his brother”.  He takes them up on a high mountain and is transfigured before their eyes and meets with Moses and Elijah.  That had to be quite an unexpected event.  Peter states the obvious and says “Lord, it is good that we are here”.  We can always expect Peter to be the first to speak, even if his words or actions are a bit off base.

As they are there, God shows up and in a  loud voice from above says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Here is one of the simplest instructions in all of scripture that can help us live our life well.  We merely need to listen, and then obviously obey.  The disciples were a bit overwhelmed.  “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified”.  It’s not every day the clouds speak to you.  Jesus isn’t out of touch with their reality.  He may have been meeting with a couple of the key people from history, but “Jesus came and touched them, saying, Rise, and have no fear”.  He never leaves us.  And we can always trust Him.

After them came down the mountain, a man came up to Jesus and gets on his knees pleading for healing for his son.  He was desperate.  “I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him”. Jesus didn’t have the same limitation and asked the father to bring his son to Him.  “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly”.  That didn’t take long, or require a lot from Jesus other than speaking the words.  The disciples came to Jesus confused and ask “Why could we not cast it out”? They’d seen Him do it many times, but for some reason were unable on their own.

The answer Jesus gave is so important for us to hear clearly.  He said to them,  “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting”.  It’s all about faith – believing in the power of God that can be manifest in us and through us.  It is not our power though.  It is God’s and it comes alive in us through faith in God through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.  It is limitless – Jesus was clear about that – to the degree we learn to use it through faith.  He makes it clear that spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting are part of receiving that power.  But it is ours if we learn to live real faith!

Jesus begins to bring the disciples into the reality that His life was going to take a change.  He lays some pretty deep stuff on them.  “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day”.  Jesus has just met with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop, and cast out a demon from a young boy.  And now, He’s talking about being killed.  That had to get their heads spinning.  And to top it off the chapter ends with Jesus answering Peter’s question about paying tax.  He basically tells Peter to submit and pay it to keep things from escalating.  “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast 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 me and for yourself”.  He could have just spoken the shekel into Peter’s hand.  But He chooses to use a fish to deliver it and to simply pay the tax rather than stir the situation at this time.  Jesus is tuned into God’s story and follows that lead!

Matthew 16

Matthew 16 has the Pharisees and Sadducees testing Jesus to see if they can catch him in something that will allow them to put him away and out of their turf.  Jesus is a threat to their livelihood, and they want Him gone.  Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap – which was their request for a sign from heaven.  He wasn’t in the business of doing things to impress people.  He did His signs and miracles to change people’s lives.  He warns the Twelve of these religious zealots.  “Watch and  beware of  the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees….the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees”.  These men were leading people away from God, not to Him.

The disciples were heading with Jesus across the lake, and they arrive with no food again.  Seems to be a pattern here.  They are worried about what they’ll eat.  Jesus scolds them saying “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered”?  They had just fed tens of thousands of people (when you include the families of these men) and now the 12 of them are worried about how Jesus will feed them?  They picked up more leftovers than they will need.  We tend to forget the power of God in our lives.  We need to remember and have faith.  God never fails us.

Jesus was becoming more familiar to the people, but there was plenty of confusion about just who He was.  He asks His disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.  Definitely confusion about who Jesus is.  But Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am”?  That’s the question each of us will have to answer when we stand before God at judgment day?  Who is this Jesus? Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  And He is still that Son today. That is the answer each of us will need to make when we stand before God.  Jesus is the Christ.  He is our Savior.  We have to know Him.

Jesus goes on to tell Peter what lies ahead for him.  “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.  Wow – that’s some pretty cool stuff for Peter.  But it didn’t last long.  He soon decided to rebuke Jesus for what he thought was nonsense of Jesus telling them that He was going to have to be crucified on a cross, die and then raise from the dead.  Peter wasn’t buying it.  But Jesus tells him “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”.  Peter didn’t see the big picture and Jesus has to set him straight.

Christ ends with challenging his disciples with a couple key questions we all need to answer.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul”?  Deep questions that we need to ponder and have a ready answer for.  Life isn’t about what we accumulate here.  It isn’t about money or stuff.  It is about relationships and people, and the most important relationship we will ever have is the one with Jesus.  He is Lord and Savior of this world.  But He will only be Lord and Savior to us as individuals if we receive Him as that gift and turn our life over to Him.  Are you trading your life for what matters?

Matthew 15

In Matthew 15, the Scribes and Pharisees get after Jesus that His disciples weren’t following the laws like washing their hands before eating.  This sets Jesus off as He gets after them for their hypocracy.  They were bending the law to fit their situation.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”.  Jesus points out the real important thing in life – the condition of our heart.  It isn’t what appears on the outside that matters, but what is within our heart.  The Scribes and Pharisees were “like the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit”.

He teaches the disciples this principle.  “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart”.   It is the source of reality in our life – good or bad – the source is our heart.  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness,  slander. These are what defile a person”.  Jesus makes it clear that the religious leaders had hearts that were focused on themselves and twisted the law to fit their circumstances and needs.  We each need to examine our heart and make sure it is aligned with God and His ways.

A woman comes to Jesus and pleads for healing for her daughter.  She is persistent, and the disciples want to get rid of her and the commotion she was creating.  “Send her away, for she is crying out after us”.  That would be the easy way out.  Get rid of the loud distraction so they could get on with their day.  But Jesus has compassion, and because of her continued persistence, He says “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire….her daughter was healed instantly”. Jesus deals with us based on our faith.  If we aren’t experiencing His power in our life, we need to look in the mirror and check our faith.  He continued to touch people and create evidence as those around him “saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing….they glorified the God of Israel”.

The day wore on and again a huge crowd was gathered to bring their sick and hurting to get healing from Jesus.  The day was almost over and again the disciples want to send people away to get something to eat.  They obviously have a short memory as not much earlier Jesus has fed the 5000.  So again, He asks what they have available.  “Seven loaves, and a few small fish”.  A bit more than what was required to feed the masses last time.  And Jesus does it again.  He takes what they have, blesses it and sends the disciples out to feed the people.  After all were fed, “they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children”.  He did it again.  Took what appeared to be far too little and make it more than enough.  That’s what Jesus can do!  Not just then, but today too!

Matthew 14

Matthew 14 has the death of John the Baptist happening at the hands of Herod the tetrarch.  John had condemned him for the way the king had taken his brother’s wife, but in a drunken offer to his daughter, he got caught with a pledge to do what she asked which was for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Her mother, tired of hearing John accuse them of adultery, asked for his death and the king felt no choice but to carry through and deliver on his pledge.  So John was killed.  Jesus shows His humanness when His friend and the one who was preparing His way is killed. “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself”.  If you wonder if Jesus had human feelings, He did.

Jesus comes back to shore and is greeted by a large crowd of people.  He teaches and heals them.  It is getting late in the day and His disciples say “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves”.  They were isolated and had no obvious way to meet the needs of this crowd.  But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat”.  Can you imagine the looks He got from the Twelve.  A large crowd, middle of nowhere, and no preparation to care for their needs.  They tell Him the obvious which was “We have only five loaves here and two fish”.  Hardly enough to make a very big dent in the crowd.

Jesus is not even phased by their response.  It didn’t matter if there was not even enough to feed the Twelve.  Anything plus Jesus is enough.  The Twelve hadn’t experienced that yet.  But Jesus asks them to bring all they have, and He blessed it and “broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds”.  So far, so good, but remember he only had 5 loaves and 2 fish to work with.  But here’s what happened: “they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over”.  They pick up more leftovers than they started with.  That’s the abundance of Jesus.  Maybe the crowd wasn’t really a crowd?  Hardly the case.  “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children”.  The sufficiency of Jesus is always more than enough!

They dismiss the crowd with full bellies and Jesus decides to go across the lake to the other side. The disciples are out there in the dark, and see someone coming at them walking on the water.  They are petrified.  But Jesus says “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”.  Peter does his normal thing and boldly says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”.  Peter isn’t afraid to test Jesus and His power.  And Jesus isn’t afraid to use this as a lesson in that power.  He said, “Come. So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus”.  The lesson here is that Peter got out of the boat and trusted His Savior.  We have to run toward Him and trust His power.  It was going well until Peter took his eyes off the Master.  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, Lord, save me”.  The key is to keep our eyes on the Master.  He is the Way!

Matthew 13

Matthew 13 has Jesus continuing to teach.  This time, he moves to a boat as the crowd pressed in around him, and He begins to teach in parables.  His first lesson is about about the parable of the sower.  “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed,

  •  some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them
  • Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root,  they withered away
  • Other seeds fell among  thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them
  • Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”.

Jesus points out four different ways that the sower sowed, or four different ways those seeds fell – the kind of ground they went into.

He later gives the disciples a more thorough explanation of the parable.  Here is what He tells them:

  • Hard soil – “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and  does not understand it,  the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path”.
  • Rocky soil – “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away”.
  • Thorny soil – “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful”.
  • Good soil – “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty”.

Jesus talks about the condition of our hearts in terms of types of soil.  Our goal needs to be to have a heart of good soil so we can receive the word and live it in a way that bears fruit and brings honor to God.

The disciples asked why He was teaching in parables.  He gives them a thorough and complete response.  “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given”.  Jesus wanted His twelve to know and understand what He was teaching in the parables, but the public wasn’t ready yet.  Jesus goes on to say “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand”.

Jesus went back to His hometown and began to teach in the synagogue.  The locals who knew Him could not understand how this young man they had know growing up “taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works”? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things”?  It didn’t make sense to those who knew Him from childhood, and His wisdom and knowledge of the scriptures were more than they could fathom.  It aligns with prophecy that said He would not be received in His hometown.  But He is Jesus, the Christ, who is our Savior and Lord, no matter what the hometown people believed.

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