Archive for September, 2010
Maybe it’s just me, but I love to read where Jesus shuts down the Pharisees. It’s just because of how their only goal is to silence or embarrass Jesus. It always backfires on them.
Here’s how it went in chapter 22:
34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Makes it pretty simple, no?
If we’re loving our heavenly Father with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then the rest comes naturally. We’ll be motivated to obey, inspired to share and honored to follow Him anywhere He may lead.
I will meditate on this today.
Here’s Matthew’s version:
18Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
21Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew’s account is not my favorite, however, because it leaves out my five life-changing words, “It was out of season.” See Mark 11. Why are these words life changing for me?
Well, as I see it, the fig tree was doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing – what God had created it to do. It was not the season for it to have figs. It was “resting”.
At first, I thought about how unfair that was for Jesus to curse a tree for doing exactly what God had created it to do – or, to be more exact, not do what it was not supposed to be doing.
But then, I felt God teaching me through this internal debate. You see, I’ve grown up being taught to pray “God’s will”. I had come to understand that everything had to be preceded or followed up with “if it be Your will.” Yet, it was not “God’s will” for this tree to have fruit at this time of the year. Still, Jesus prayed that the tree would wither and die and that no one would eat fruit from it again. And it did.
Then, the next day when the DUHciples acted so astounded that the tree was dead (particularly my favorite, Peter), Jesus laughed and told them that if they told a nearby mountain to get up and throw itself into the sea, and DID NOT DOUBT, that it would be done for them.
Hardly God’s will for a centuries old mountain to suddenly vanish into the ocean, huh?
So – I took all this to mean that my watered-down, powerless prayers were due to my lack of faith – how I believed that a prayer I muttered would be answered only if God willed it to happen. If He didn’t will it to happen it wouldn’t. So, why be concerned about faith? I was told to pray, so I did. That was the end of it. And, as a result, I seldom saw answers to my petitions to God.
Yet, with these five words God rekindled my understanding of the power of belief. Doubt is just as powerful, and I started to finally understand that. I began to practice praying and not doubting. I prayed confidently, less concerned with this internal debate about God’s will. Amazingly, I started seeing answers to my prayers – some small but some rather big. This increased my faith even more.
I should include a disclaimer about how you shouldn’t test God with selfish motives and inappropriate requests, but I think we all understand that.
Something to think about …
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t comment on verse 10:
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
However, for some reason, I never noticed before that it was the DUHciples saying this, not Jesus. Hmmmm, that’s a game changer for me. I see Jesus response to their comment in verse 12b:
“The one who can accept this should accept it.”
One passage that I find myself continuously meditating on is the story of the rich, young ruler, found in this chapter in verses 16 – 24:
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17″Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18″Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20″All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell 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.”
I can’t get my brain around Jesus last comment about a rich man and the eye of a needle. I’ve had some people since tell me that “the eye of a needle” is a treacherous pass in the mountains somewhere in the Middle East, but I’m not buying that. I think Jesus is making a strong point – and from the rich people I’ve met, I think it might be true. Really rich people generally don’t realize their need for God because they can buy whatever it is they need. And, when you have too much to let go, like the man in our story here, it’s extremely difficult to recognize the need for God.
Of course, I don’t have this problem! My financial situation requires daily help from my Heavenly Father. The good news for all of us, rich or poor, is the hope that comes next out of Jesus mouth:
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
God be praised.
It must have been amazing to walk around and see Jesus perform miracles, teach and deal with the Pharisees so “delicately”. I love to read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ time on Earth.
However, the one passage that jumped out at me each time I read this morning (because I really wanted to focus on something else because I don’t understand this passage):
43″When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
I was intrigued, however, so I checked into Matthew Henry’s commentary. Here’s what he had to say:
The unclean spirit leaves for a time, but when he returns, he finds Christ is not there to shut him out; the heart is swept by outward reformation, but garnished by preparation to comply with evil suggestions, and the man becomes a more decided enemy of the truth. Every heart is the residence of unclean spirits, except those which are temples of the Holy Ghost, by faith in Christ. (see http://mhc.biblecommenter.com/matthew/12.htm)
Did you catch that last line? “Every heart is the residence of unclean spirits, except those which are temples of the Holy Ghost, by faith in Christ.”
Wow – it’s no wonder the battle seems to be getting harder and harder! The fewer Christians there are in the world, the more enemies of the truth! It’s automatic – if a man is not a Christian, he is the residence of unclean spirits!
This has shown me how important it is for us to reach others for Christ – to build up the army.
The time is now (or never).
Today, I took great pleasure reading the following from Matthew 11:
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
Most of the time, I feel like a child when it comes to understanding the Christian walk. I believe there is something significant in having the faith of a child – trusting for no good reason, not over-thinking, not judging – just trusting God. I want to be more like that.
And, of course, this well-known passage came at a good time today:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The encouragement for you today:
What hit me as I read Matthew 9 is how the religious establishment kept coming against Jesus – even though he was doing “good works” such as healing and fellowship. I think I would have wanted to yell at them, “Leave Him alone!”
The first example is the paralytic. Men brought the paralytic to Jesus and this is what seemed to get Jesus’ attention:
2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
Of course, the comment about sins being forgiven caught the attention of scoffers and they HAD to throw in their venom.
Later, Jesus called Matthew to follow. Matthew was a known tax-collector, someone not very well respected as you can imagine. Yet, this is who Jesus called. Again, the Pharisees had to spew their venom and comment about how Jesus eats with such sinners.
Later still, the Pharisees had to comment about how Jesus and His disciples did not fast like they did. I love Jesus’ answer:
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
I don’t know about you, but I see lots of people eager to spew venom even today. It seems like some think it’s their only responsibility to look for things to mock or ridicule or complain about. Jesus was not the least bit deterred from His mission. This talk had no effect on Jesus’ mission. He knew His mission and went about doing it.
I will focus today on my mission and let the distractions and nay-sayers have no effect on my mission.
We’ve all probably heard and read this chapter so many times. But, it contains so much instruction from Jesus – the central tenants of Christian discipleship.
There is so much power in Jesus’ teaching in regards to helping people understand how the Old Covenant is done away with by Jesus’ coming to earth. I’m sure many chins dropped when Jesus delivered this statement:
21″You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Like some who profess to be Christians today, it’s easy to say, “I may not be perfect, but I do pretty good when it comes to the ‘Big 10′”. Not so much. What about this one:
27″You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
It’s clear that when we’ve broken one, we’ve sinned…period. It’s not a matter of if you’ve done more good than bad, or if you’re better than someone else. If you’re feeling pretty good about yourself because you compare yourself to anyone but Jesus, you might want to reconsider.
And, comparing ourselves to Jesus only points out that we can’t make it on our own. That’s the whole point of the New Covenant. We need the redemption of Jesus, who took on our sin at the cross and paid the penalty once and for all.
Lastly, verse 48 jumped out at me:
48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Impossible? Well, it’s a journey. None of us is perfect. The Bible is clear about that in Romans. Yet, with a soft heart, and eye always on Jesus, and a band of brothers to help keep us in line, we will be moving more towards perfection through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit inside us.