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Friday, March 28, 2014

Jesus Asks the Disciples to Feed a Crowd


 Jesus Asks the Disciples to Feed a Crowd

Matthew 14


Jesus and his disciple were camping out in a deserted place away from the crowds for a few days.  Perhaps they needed some quiet time alone to pray and rest.  But someone must have found out where they were because soon thousands of people were rushing out in the desert to be near Jesus. Scripture says that when Jesus looked out over all of the people: “He was moved with compassion for them, and He healed all of the sick among them.”  (Matthew 14:14)     


All day long more and more groups arrived and soon there were people everywhere the eye could see.  Scripture says there were five thousand men in the crowd and in that society only men were considered important enough to count!  No one ever counted women or children!  So, with the women and children, there might have been fifteen thousand or more people in the crowd that day.  And all day Jesus loved the people and held their children on His knee and healed their sick and taught them about God. 


The day passed and it was getting dark and everyone was getting hungry.  So the disciples came to Jesus suggesting that Jesus send the people away.  Perhaps some of the people could buy food in the nearby villages, they said.  But Jesus answered them: “The people don’t need to go away.  You give them something to eat.”  (Matthew 14:16) 


Do you notice that Jesus isn’t telling the disciples that He will feed the crowd?  He is telling the disciples that they are to feed the crowd!  Of course the disciples know that Jesus will back them up in anything He asks them to do.  But still the disciples are overwhelmed with Jesus pushing them out in front to do this impossible job!


The disciples reluctantly go through the crowd asking if anyone has food they can share for dinner.  Amazingly no one in the crowd brought any food along except a young boy whose Mother packed him a lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish.  This generous little boy is hungry but he is still willing to give his lunch to the disciples to share with everyone.  So the disciples bring the boy’s small lunch back to Jesus and tell Him that five loaves of bread and two fish are all that they could find to feed the thousands of people!  The disciples shake their heads.  They know this won’t work!   


Jesus smiles and reaches for the bread and fish and calls out to the crowd for everyone to sit down on the grass and get ready for dinner.  Then Jesus stands and prays and holds up the little lunch and blesses it and breaks the bread and fish and gives the small pieces back to the disciples asking them to serve dinner to the thousands! 


The disciples are nervous and hang their heads but they reluctantly obey Jesus and go through the motions of starting to hand out bread and fish.  Passing out food to hungry people is a big job, especially when there are only five loaves of bread and two fish to give out!  What will they do when it runs out?  Won’t this be embarrassing?


 But it seems that as the disciples’ break more bread into pieces, the broken pieces seem to be growing bigger!  It is getting darker now and in the flurry of giving out hunks of bread to outstretched hands, more bread just seems to be multiplying in the disciple’s baskets as they go about!  They keep passing out food and there is still more in their baskets.  What is happening?  Is this wild and crazy or not? 


 People are laughing and eating and the supply of fish isn’t running out either.  The disciples feel warmed in the Spirit as they move about serving the food.  No matter how many pieces of fish they give away, more fish miraculously show up in their baskets as they hurry through the crowd!  In the darkness and confusion people are being fed and there is joy and abundance in the Lord!  Scripture says that everyone enjoys dinner that night under the stars fellowshipping with Jesus and the disciples. And each person there has more than enough to eat.  After dinner the disciples have twelve baskets full of pieces of bread and fish left over!


What can we learn from this miraculous Bible story of the feeding of the five (or ten) thousand?  Doesn’t this miracle point to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God?  Soon after Jesus feeds this huge crowd, He preaches to the people and tells them: “I am the Bread of Life.  Any person who comes to Me shall never be hungry.  And any person who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  (John 6:35)  I believe Jesus is speaking here about filling our spiritual hunger and thirst.  But of course Jesus is deeply concerned that people who are physically hungry are fed too.  Jesus did not send the crowd away hungry and neither should we.  Doesn’t this mean that we who belong to Jesus should follow His example and do what we can to feed the hungry both spiritually and physically?


Can you imagine how the young boy in the story feels as he watches his one little lunch grow and multiply and become large enough to feed and bless thousands and thousands of people?  When he willingly gives his lunch to the disciples, Jesus takes it and blesses it and makes it to be so much more than it would have been if the boy had kept it for himself!.  And isn’t that what Jesus does with what we give Him too?  He takes and blesses and multiplies what we give Him (our service, our life, our money) and uses our gifts to be blessings in ways we can never imagine.


I don’t think the disciples really wanted to try to feed the crowd with that one little lunch in the first place.  But they reluctantly obeyed Jesus and started passing out the few pieces of bread and fish anyway.  And while they were doing what Jesus asked them to do, the miracle unfolded!  And then things got crazy!  It must have been so much fun for the disciples to have been there and to have been able to play a part in that amazing miracle!  


 And perhaps we are like the disciples.  Jesus is here today in our lives too and He invites us to play a part in His miracles just as He did the disciples back then.  The love of Christ is powerful and dynamic and since we belong to Him we are empowered by His love.  If we obey Him we are provided with an attitude of humility and servant hood.  And when we have a job to do He gives us the assurance of strength and power. (His strength and power being there for us)  And as we move ahead doing what He asks us to do, the miracle unfolds!  And there is joy and abundance in the Lord and people are fed and blessed .


I think that being able to live out our lives today as faithful Christians is a much greater miracle than the miracle of feeding the five thousand was back then.  Jesus is here today with us blessing and guiding and growing the grace that is in our lives.  Troubles come at us each day and an invisible strength seems to take hold and get us through.  And temptations come at us and threaten to bring us down and we stumble and have hateful thoughts and do ugly things.  But the promise is always there for us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9) He just keeps picking us up and carrying us along!  The exciting miracle of living a Christian life just keeps unfolding and growing and multiplying!  And in the end when we finish the course and cross the line, there will be twelve baskets of love and grace leftover!
















Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jesus Teaches with Parables

Jesus Teaches with Parables

Matthew 13


A parable is a story and Jesus often taught the crowds by telling them stories or parables.  When Jesus told stories He would tell about things that the people could understand. Everyone lived close to the land in those days and many were farmers so Jesus would often tell stories or parables about farmers and fields and planting and harvesting.


One of Jesus’ parables was the Parable of the Sower (or the person who plants seeds)  The story starts out with the farmer throwing out some seeds by the wayside and the birds  immediately eating the seeds up. Next the farmer scatters some of his seeds on stony ground.  The seeds quickly spring up into plants but they do not have much earth to grow in, and the hot sun scorches them and so they die.  The farmer throws out more seed on the thorny ground and the thorns spring up and choke the young plants out and they die.  But the farmer finally scatters some of the seed on good ground and the good ground yields a good crop, - sometimes a huge crop and sometimes a medium sized crop – but the good soil produces enough wheat to feed the village for the year.  When Jesus has finished telling this parable He tells the crowds listening: “Let t./hose who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  (Matthew 13:9) 


After the crowds had gone home, the puzzled disciples come to Jesus and asked Him why He talks to the people in parables.  Why doesn’t He just speak plainly to them so that more of them will understand the truth and be saved?  Just be direct – no nonsense – streamline His lessons to get more people into the kingdom.  Why hide kingdom truths behind stories or parables when people might miss something?


Jesus keeps saying “The people who have ears to hear, let them hear.” (Matt. 13:9)  And  the disciples do not know what Jesus means by that!  Most people could hear with their physical ears and understand with their logical minds!  If Jesus would just lay the truths out in a straight forward fashion, wouldn’t most of the people with common sense understand and receive salvation?  Isn’t that what Jesus wants?  Were the disciples missing something here?


Yes, the disciples were missing something!  Jesus isn’t talking about hearing “natural” truths!  He is talking about hearing “spiritual” truths.  Do the people need more than their “natural” ears to be able to “hear” and understanding “spiritual” truths?  If a person needs “spiritual” ears to hear spiritual truths then how would that person go about getting “spiritual ears”?  The disciples found themselves stumbling over one of the many mysteries of the kingdom of God!


It would seem that the condition of a persons’ heart influences whether she can “hear” and understand Jesus’ lessons or not!  A person who deep in his heart strongly does not want to believe Jesus or follow Him probably will not be able to hear His call or be touched by His love.  But a person who prays and asks God to show her the right way and wants to follow the truth, will be given “spiritual” ears that will “hear” and a heart that will be drawn to Jesus and an opportunity to follow.


Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit does not keep pushing forever with a person who continually and obstinately refuses to have faith.  Jesus Christ will not force Himself into the life of a person who does not want Him there. Love does not work that way.  But a person can have a tiny (mustard seed) sized faith and God will work with that.  (Matt. 17:20) 


Like air is necessary and basic for physical life, faith is also necessary and basic for spiritual life!  Scripture says that God gives each person a “measure” of faith.  But what do each of us do with the faith we are given?  Faith is a decision and an obedience rather than an ability.  If you want spiritual ears that “hear” spiritual truths, then God will give them to you!  It’s your decision.  Obedient faith releases the Holy Spirit’s power into your life to hear Christ’s call and to follow.


The Holy Spirit is often pictured in Scripture as the “wind”.  We read in John 3:8 “The wind blows where it pleases and you hear the sound but you don’t know where it comes and where it goes.  So it is with everyone that is born of the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit will “lead you into all truth” (John 16:13).  He will give you those “spiritual ears” if you want them.  It’s up to you.  Our lives are spiritual as well as physical.  Who can understand the mysteries of God?


  Scripture encourages us to ask and it will be given; to seek and we shall find; and to knock and it will be opened to us. (Matthew 7:7)  And we are told that if we lack wisdom (spiritual?) we are to ask God and it will be given to us! (James 1:5-8)  It would appear that we can have good things if we ask for them (if it is His will).  We can have doors opened for us if we ask and seek.  We have a gracious heavenly Father that wants to give us good gifts!  (Matt.7:11) or (Luke 11:13)  And if that isn’t enough, we can do good things if we want to through Christ Jesus our Lord!  (Phil. 4:13)  Isn’t that amazing?  We have not because we ask not!


After the disciples had asked Jesus why He taught with parables, they also asked Him to explain the meaning of the Parable of the Sower. So Jesus told them that when the farmer plants the seed (the Word of God) by the wayside and the birds come and eat the seed, this wayside soil represents the heart of a person who does not understand the Word of God (the seed) when he hears it.  At that point the wicked one (the birds) comes and snatches away the truth that has been given to him so that the seed doesn’t even start to take root and grow in his heart.


The seed (God’s Word) that is spread on stony places represents the person who hears the Word (the seed) and immediately receives it with joy.  But he has no root in himself, no good soil, so when problems or troubles arise because of the Word (the seed) the person doesn’t care enough to nourish the truth given to him, - takes the easy way out and the plant dies.   


The seed that is spread on thorny ground represents the person who has cares and responsibilities and is also trying to impress others with his money and status.  These worldly things choke out the seed (the Word of God) that has been planted in his life.  The farmer had hoped that the time spent with this person in worship and teaching and the prayers for this soul would have made a change in his life – that eventually his life would be productive and fruitful for God.  But alas, the thorny ground (the person who loves worldly pursuits) never produces a harvest.  (the person’s faith never develops)


And Jesus finished by explaining that the good ground where the farmer plants seeds that grow up to produce a fruitful harvest is the person who puts God first in her life and makes plenty of room in her heart for the precious seeds of the gospel to grow there.  The ground is the person’s heart.  When a person does not clutter her life with worldly stuff (the stony, thorny ground) but leaves her life open for God to use, He can produce a wonderful harvest through her life.  


Jesus told many other parables to the people.  The parable of the Wheat and the Tares is one He told about the Kingdom of God.  The story goes that a farmer planted good seeds in his field and then at mid night while he was sleeping an enemy crept into his field and secretly planted tares (or weeds) to ruin his crop.  The farmer’s workers wanted to pull up the tares but the farmer told them not to.  He was afraid that some of the good wheat would be uprooted along with the tares.  He told his workers to let the wheat and the weeds grow together and wait till harvest time to separate them.  Then they should pull up the weeds and burn them and bundle up the wheat and bring it into his barns. 


Jesus explains this parable by saying that the field is the world and the good wheat seeds are the children of the kingdom.  But the tares (weeds) are the children of the wicked one.  The enemy who secretly planted the weeds at night is the devil.  And the time of the harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are the angels.  The parable teaches that until the end of the age, good and bad people will grow up together.  But at the end of the age the angels will be sent to separate the wicked from the just.  The weeds will be cast into the furnace and burned.  But the wheat (the righteous) will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father!


The parable of the Mustard Seed is another of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God.  The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds and yet when it was planted it grew into a large tree that could shelter the birds from far and near, roosting and nesting in its’ branches.  The kingdom of heaven is like that.  History confirms that from the smallest beginning, the church made astounding growth through the proclamation of Christ’s message.


Then Jesus tells the Parable of the Leaven.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”  (Matthew 13:33)  At present the kingdom of heaven is not fully manifested.  But at the end of the age it will be known to all.  Meanwhile, it does its work of permeating human society, penetrating evil and transforming lives. 


And Jesus tells another kingdom parable - the parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for beautiful pearls.  When he found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:45-46)  A common interpretation of this parable is that a person should be willing to part with everything in order to possess the kingdom.  However, the meaning could be that Jesus is the purchaser who gave His all (His life) to secure the kingdom.  (Acts 20:28) 


Through all of his parables, Jesus is showing us glimpses this marvelous kingdom of heaven that cannot be seen with our natural eyes.  And Jesus is telling us stories about this kingdom of heaven that we cannot hear with our natural ears.  And Jesus is giving us truths in his parables that our hearts cannot take in or understand unless we save some “good ground” so the seeds of truth have room to grow and produce a harvest.


In the parables Jesus is trying to share these kingdom truths with us-since we are children of that kingdom.  And we can sometimes catch imperfect glimpses of that kingdom by faith.  But the Day will come when our faith will become sight!  Jesus will come again. And we will see face to face.  And know even as we are known.  And there will be no more sin or sickness or death or sorrows or enemies. The lion will lay down with the lamb and we will leap around for joy!












Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jesus Responds to the Other

Jesus Responds to the Other


The passage in John’s gospel about Jesus and the women at the well (John 4:1-42), is captivating both in a Biblical as well as in a sociological sense. We need to carefully consider the cultural implications of this passage, both in terms of the Lord’s actions and in terms of what it means for us as contemporary Christians.


Most Bible readers are familiar with this story.  Jesus and some of His disciples are traveling from Judea to Galilee.  Their journey takes them through Samaria. Many of the Jews traveling between provinces would go out of their way to avoid traveling in Samaria: Jesus chooses to walk through this nominally hostile area. They stop to rest at the small town of Sychar.  Jesus sits by the town well and the disciples go into town to buy some food. Its late afternoon and He encounters a woman about to draw water for her family at the well. This is interesting, since most of the town’s women would have drawn water in the morning – for some reason, this particular woman is not mixing with the normal early-morning , water-drawing group of housewives.


Jesus begins a dialogue with her and eventually ends up receiving a drink of water from her. If you read this quickly (like in a “through the Bible in six days” type of study), you may miss some really essential points of the story.  In this text, Jesus is breaking at least five Jewish cultural norms. Cultural norms define social behavior and make our lives predictable, since they help us interpret and act appropriately in social situations.  Sometimes, however, these norms reflect cultural evils that cause us to consider some of the people we encounter as others and stereotypically demean them.  History is replete with sinful cultural rules. For instance, one has only to look at the rules that the white folks in our country were once taught, causing them to treat black people in a reprehensible way.


Keeping this in mind, we can better see what the Lord was up to in this story. The first thing to note is that it takes place in Samaria.  Jesus was violating territorial norms by being in Samaria. The Samaritans were intensely disliked by the Jews, and the feeling was mutual. The Jews felt the Samaritans were racial “half-breeds,” and religious heretics. The Jewish culture that Jesus shared had developed a ridged and complex normative ethnic hierarchy.  There were three levels of Jew, then Samaritans, and finally, at the bottom, gentiles.  Despite this, here is Jesus talking to a Samarian. Interestingly, this is one of several examples of a positive encounter with a Samaritan that the Lord has in the New Testament.  The “good Samaritan” story (Luke 10:25-37) is another example of this.


Not only is Jesus talking to a Samaritan, but he is talking to a lone woman.  This was a significant normative violation. Jewish men were not supposed to talk to unescorted women who were outside of their family.  Worse yet, as the text discloses, he is talking to a rather immoral woman. Note that the Jesus observes that she has had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband (her debauched life may be the reason that she was not in the company of the other women of the town).  The woman is astounded by His knowledge of her, and asks if He is a prophet?  Jesus continues with her and asks for a drink of water.  She is startled by His request, since she knew it was highly inappropriate for a Jew to receiver any food or drink from a Samaritan.  Samaritan women were considered by the Jews of that time to be continuously menstruating; hence they and their husbands were always unclean. Having anything to do with a woman in her period was an unclean act to the Jews of Jesus’s era.  Therefore, if Jesus received food or drink from a Samaritan He would be profaned and would have to go through an elaborate purification ritual to be clean again. 


Now, having broken five cultural norms, Jesus begins one of the longest personal dialogues in the New Testament.  He tells the woman about living water. The conversation then turns to the Messiah, and his coming to earth. The woman is quite knowledgeable about the coming Messiah who she indicates would be a teacher rather than a warrior. Indeed, she seemed to have better knowledge of the Messiah than did the Disciples. Eventually, Jesus lets her know that He is the Messiah (he uses the words for God, “I am,” that are found in Ex. 3:14).


By now, the Disciples return.  They are amazed to find him talking to the woman, but are reluctant to query him about this. At this point the woman – leaving her water jar in her haste – rushes back to the village.  The disciples offer Jesus food, which causes the Lord to discuss the spiritual food that drives Him.  It is interesting that the Disciples had purchased and were eating Samarian food.  Evidently the influence of Jesus has already caused the Disciples to be more tolerant of other people.


The woman gathers the village around her and tells them about what Jesus has said to her. She asks them if “He could be the Messiah?”  The villagers rush out to meet Jesus and urge Him and the Disciples to stay with them. They did, and stayed two days, preaching and teaching.  As a result, many of the villagers became converts to Christ.


Isn’t that amazing!  Jesus is in a place where his culture said he really shouldn’t be, talking and receiving from a person he should not be associating with, and yet ends up leading a number of people to salvation.  What does this mean for us?  How many people and places have we avoided because our culture tells us that certain people are “others” and we should never associate with them?  Clearly Jesus wants us to examine our cultural fears in order that we might receive and minister to the “others” in our lives.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jesus, The Suffering Servant


Jesus, the Suffering Servant

More of Matthew 12


It wasn’t fair!  Jesus traveled around Israel causing the lame to walk and the blind to see while healing thousands of people and still the religious leaders did not recognize Him as the Son of God and instead they hassled Him every step of the way.  No matter what He did these Pharisees and priests criticized Jesus continually and schemed to put Him to death.  


Instead of facing the religious leaders and getting into more trouble, Jesus would leave the towns where they were angry with Him and quietly slip away and go some place else.  And He would tell the people He healed not to tell anyone that they had been healed by Him so that the religious leaders would not get even angrier. Jesus was gracious and unpretentious throughout His ministry while suffering terrible prejudice and persecution from the religious establishment.  But why did Jesus put up with all of this since He is the Son of God? Why didn’t He use His power and might to stop these evil men and punish them for persecuting Him?


Seven hundred years before Jesus came to earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be a gentle servant the first time He came.  The Bible records Isaiah’s words, given to him by God:  “Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!  I will put My Spirit upon Him.  And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.  He will not quarrel nor cry out.  Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed He will not break.  And a smoking flax He will not quench.  Till He sends forth justice to victory.  And in His Name Gentiles will trust.”  (Isaiah 42:1-4) 


Matthew quotes these verses from Isaiah as one more prophecy in the Bible that points to Jesus as being the “chosen One sent from God to declare justice to the Gentiles.  And in whom the Gentiles will trust.”  Jesus was indeed proclaimed to the Gentiles (as Isaiah’s prophecy foretold) and billions of Gentiles down through the ages have learned to trust in His Name.  And Christianity has spread around the world.


 From studying the Scriptures, the Jewish people believed that God would send a Messiah or a Savior someday and they were waiting and watching for Him to appear. The Jewish people had probably pictured their promised Messiah as coming from a wealthy family and growing up surrounding himself with important people. He would show up and astound the people as a mighty warrior on a strong showy horse waving a flashing sword, and he would have a large army with him.  They would march through the streets parading their strength and prowess and making an impact on all the people.  Then this future Messiah and his army would go out and slaughter the Romans in a bloody war and save the Jewish people from Roman rule.  And he would be their hero!  Yes, they would recognize their Messiah when he came! 


Even though Scripture mentioned that the coming Messiah would be a suffering servant, the Jewish people tried to forget that detail since it didn’t make sense to them.  So when Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become a poor traveling preacher who hung out with publicans and prostitutes and sinners, the Jewish religious leaders did not recognize Him as their promised Messiah.  And when Jesus went about quietly serving and healing people and asking those who were healed not to tell anyone that He had healed them, the Jewish people still did not identify Him as their Savior.


They were looking for a proud imposing man of wealth to be their Messiah – a leader who could amaze them and win battles for them and save them from Rome.  A shock and awe Messiah!  And when their gentle Jesus arrived on the scene and did not even demand his own rights when the Pharisees were treating him so badly, the crowds gave up on Him as possibly being their Messiah.   He did not fit the picture of what they were looking for.   . 


 If Jesus came today most likely we would not recognize Him either!  He might not drive an expensive car or dress in designer clothes or hang out with the important people.  He probably would not do all the things one needs to do to get out and make the right impression.  After all Isaiah prophesied that He would not: “quarrel or cry out and no one would hear His voice in the streets,”  (Isaiah 42:1-4)  If He came today as a suffering servant and hid out with the homeless in a bad area of town healing folks and casting out demons, would we walk  right by and miss Him?    


The prophecy in Isaiah describes the Messiah as “Beloved” and as a “Servant”.  So the future Messiah was described as being gentle and humble.  Wouldn’t you guess that when the Jewish people were picturing what their Messiah might be like they forgot those descriptions?  And then Isaiah continues with: “A bruised reed He will not break and a smoking flax He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)  What does that mean anyway? 


I can only guess that when Isaiah describes Jesus as the One who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax, that he is in part saying that Jesus will be gentle with people who are bruised and broken.- people who are depressed and discouraged and have no place to turn.  A smoking flax is an oil lamp that is almost out of oil.  So when Jesus deals with a person who is almost out of resources, a person who is desperate for help, Jesus will give this person the oil of gladness in exchange for their heaviness.  And instead of condemning the person caught up in a sin, Jesus will take away their sins and cover them with eternal life.  And in the end “justice will be victorious” according to the Isaiah scripture.  (Isaiah 42:1-4)


For some reason Jesus came to earth as a humble Servant, loving people and preaching the good news.  He put others first and did not try to make Himself important.  And He calls us to follow in His footsteps.  We are to take up our cross and follow Him.  We are to be clothed in His Spirit – a humble gentle Spirit.  We are to deal with the people in our lives the way Jesus dealt with the people in His life.  We are not to “break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax.” (Isaiah 42:1-4)  Just like Jesus, we are to be gentle with people who are bruised and broken.  And we are to reach out and give help to the people who are almost out of resources and in need.  Scripture tells us that if we do something good for “the least of these, it is the same as doing something good for Jesus. (Matthew 25:40)” 


It is all important that we put on His Spirit of humility and gentleness because without it we can easily” break some bruised reeds and quench some smoking flaxes.”   Or in other words we can easily step on some of the invisible hurting people that Jesus cares about. Without a spirit of humility we can not even see them!


Are we able to follow Jesus down this humble road that He has called us to?  It’s a glorious road, but there are steep stretches and deep pot holes in it.  Can our self esteem take it when things get rough? We are not playing the world’s ego game and we will eventually be persecuted because we are not in step.  And since we try to be gentle and not rude and pushy, we will eventually be walked on. Will we turn back then?  Can we deal with the slings and slights of life and keep on going?  If we are walking with Jesus, you know something - We can!  Hallelujah!     




Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Unforgivable Sin?


The Unforgivable Sin?

Matthew 12



Jesus spent his life ministering to the people of Israel - preaching and healing and loving the Jewish people.  In order to spread the gospel and heal the many that needed his touch, Jesus and his disciples spent a lot of time walking many miles from one Israeli town to another.  One afternoon as they were traveling along and getting hungry they happened to walk through a field of grain and the disciples began to pluck heads of the grain and eat it as they walked along.


It was the law of the land in Israel that a hungry person should be allowed to pluck enough of his neighbors’ grain to eat and satisfy his hunger.  God had given his people this divine law regarding sharing..  God spoke to the people through the prophets and commanded them to be there for one another when they were in need. (Deuteronomy 23:25) .  


 A group of hostile Pharisees were following Jesus and his disciples and watching everything they were doing.  They were looking for any nit picking thing they could use against Jesus.  When these religious leaders saw the hungry disciples in the fields plucking grain and eating they were furious, not because the disciples were picking and eating someone else’s grain but because they were doing it on the Sabbath!  How dare they!  The religious leaders began criticizing the disciples for breaking the Sabbath.  A person was not supposed to “work” on the Sabbath day and the angry Pharisees accused the disciples of working.  The Pharisees insisted that plucking grain was work and to work on the Sabbath was sin.   

Jesus answered the angry Pharisees by quoting Scripture.  He reminded the Pharisees of a time when King David was fainting from hunger and he went into the temple of God and ate the showbread off of the altar.  Jesus told the religious leaders that even though God had given them a law restricting the showbread from being eaten by the priests. (Lev.24:9)  Extreme human need overrules a strict interpretation of the law.  Jesus told the Pharisees: “God desires mercy and not sacrifice.”  (Matthew 12:7)  It seemed that if we are loving and merciful in our dealings with others that that is more important to God that if we do everything perfectly.    . 

Jesus gave the Pharisees another illustration.  He said that the law of the Sabbath rest where no one can work is not absolute.  He reminded them that the priests needed to work on the Sabbath to keep the temple open for people to come and worship.  And it wasn’t illegal for the priests to work.  (Numbers 28:9, 10)  And Jesus ended the conversation by telling the upset priests that He was the Lord of the Sabbath.  “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  (Matthew 12:8)  Jesus was implying that He is God in this statement and that really made the religious leaders want to have him killed!  

Jesus and his disciples left the grain fields and went to the synagogue, or their place of worship, since it was the Sabbath.  A man who had a withered hand was worshipping in the synagogue when they arrived.  The Pharisees and priests followed Jesus into worship and they asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  They wanted to catch Him breaking more of their rules so they could have him arrested.

So Jesus answered their question.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  First Jesus turned and asked the Pharisees: “Who among you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not reach in and pull the sheep out of the pit?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath?”  (Matthew 12:11-12)   Jesus has said that God made the Sabbath to be a day of rest for the people, to be a blessing and not a burden.  The Sabbath was made for people and people were not made to legalistically keep the Sabbath.

 Then Jesus turned to the man with the withered hand and said: “Stretch out your hand.”  (Matt.12:13)  And then to the joy and amazement of everyone in the worship service, Jesus healed the man’s withered hand!  Scripture says: “Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Jesus, how they might destroy Him.”  (Matthew 12:14)

 Following God for the Pharisees had become a great burden.  To be pious and pure the Pharisees and religious leaders had to force the people to keep hundreds of laws.  Jesus’ law of love and mercy and his message of repentance and forgiveness were threatening to the religious establishment.  Their Scriptures and their prophets told them that God would send a Messiah and a Savior but they refused to consider that Jesus might be that promised Messiah - even when Jesus raised people from the dead.  The religious leaders were afraid that they might lose their power over the people. 

Jesus and the disciples left the area since the religious leaders were out to get Him.  And Scripture says that when they left: “Great multitudes of people followed Him, and He healed them all.”  (Matthew 12:15b)  It seems that Jesus was ever gracious and never left sick people behind if they wanted His healing.

 Someone in the crowd brought a demon possessed man to Jesus.  This poor man was so enslaved by the demon that he could not speak or see.  It seemed that the demon possession had caused two side effects – blindness and dumbness. Jesus looked at this pitiful man so twisted and tormented by this evil demon and He reached out His hand and healed him.  The man raised his hands in exuberance and began to talk excitedly!   And he could see too!  The demon was gone and this man was healed!  The crowds went wild!  “Could this be the Son of David?” they asked.  (Matthew 12:23b)

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had healed this demon possessed man, instead of being glad that this desperate man was finally healed and rejoicing with his family, they accused Jesus of being in league with the devil and using the devil’s power to cast out demons and heal people.  They said: “Jesus does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”  (Matthew 12:24)  The religious leaders said that Jesus was going about healing and doing good by the power of the devil! 


Jesus responded to these supposed men of God and this is what He said: “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26) 

And then Jesus spoke about the unpardonable sin!  This is what He said:  “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people but the blasphemy against the Spirit.  That will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, (Jesus) it will be forgiven him, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”  (Matthew 12:31-32) 

Here Jesus is saying: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.”  The general principle is that all our sins are forgiven by Christ because of His death at Calvary.  Even the very worst slander against God will be forgiven. (vs31) if we are sorry.  But one sin Jesus is declaring unpardonable: “Whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit.” (vs32)  Scripture has always proclaimed that Jesus’ death on the cross is adequate to forgive all sins.  So what is this sin that will not be forgiven?  Isn’t there a contradiction here?

Jesus says that the unforgivable sin is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  We do not believe that Jesus was saying that blasphemy against God or against Jesus would be forgiven but that there is a peculiar sacredness about the Holy Spirit so that we can not speak against Him and be forgiven!  That’s not it!  Let’s stop and discuss what the Holy Spirit does.  What is His work?  Then this unforgivable sin will make more sense.

Scripture says that “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”  He will guide us into all truth.”  (John 16:8,`13)  The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of sin and to guide them to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  The Holy Spirit is God’s agency for conversion.  Without the Holy Spirit, no one would come to Jesus on their own and be saved. We may think that we believed in Jesus because of our common sense and our smart mind, but faith in Jesus is a spiritual thing and the Holy Spirit was the “wind” that pushed us along to Christ. 

I believe that the unforgivable sin was not the sin of the Pharisees’ accusing Jesus of casting out the demon by Satan’s power.  The Pharisees did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah and thought He was healing people by the devil’s power because these Pharisees absolutely refused to listen to the Holy Spirit, whose job is to draw each person to the Truth and to salvation. The Pharisees’ sin was their abject refusal to even consider that Jesus could possibly be their promised Messiah.  They hated Jesus so much that they rejected the Holy Spirit’s strivings in their hearts to bring them to Jesus.  Jesus’ miracles were right in front of their eyes and they shut their eyes and refused to see. 

It would seem that when the Holy Spirit tried to speak to these religious leaders they must have been so unwilling to listen that they completely shut the Spirit out, blasphemed the Spirit and refused to hear his message.  The particular function of the Holy Spirit to bring the Pharisees to God was quenched by their stubbornness and their hatred of Jesus.

 If a person shuts out every overture of the Spirit again and again, if a person is continually determined year after year not to be drawn to the Truth, and if a person refuses to listen to the Spirit’s pleadings time after time; then finally the rejected and blasphemed Spirit sadly removes His spiritual presence from that person whose ears are deaf and whose heart is permanently hardened to His calls.  The Bible says: “My Spirit shall not always strive with humans.”  (Genesis 6:3)  It is a scary thing when the Holy Spirit finally stops striving with a person!

Since according to Scripture the Holy Spirit is the force that leads a person to the Truth – which is Jesus, then continually rejecting (or blaspheming) the Holy Spirit until He finally stops pleading can be the sin that is unforgivable.  (John 3:36)  In other words, a persons’ sin will not be forgiven by Christ if that person does not allow it to be forgiven.  If a person says “no” to the Holy Spirit and “no” to Jesus then they have chosen to live life their own way and not God’s way where they would have been forgiven.  And since the Holy Spirit is the One who brings a person to Jesus, if a person says “no” over and over again to the Holy Spirit then that person has shut out the only way to Jesus – the One who would have given them salvation!.  

Jesus has given the warning that He can only forgive the person who wants to be forgiven.  He won’t force a person to come to Him.  Our part in our salvation is being open and willing to try to follow Jesus.  We don’t need to worry that we have committed the unforgivable sin if we want to follow Jesus,- if we fail sometimes but still try.  We cannot see into people’s hearts but I am guessing that the people who may commit the unforgivable sin are the ones who have never cared and don’t care now and don’t want to care.  The Holy Spirit has no where to go with them since they have slammed the door in His face when He came to call (or they blasphemed Him) and the door stays shut year after year.  

The Holy Spirit sends out the call: “Whosoever will may come.”  (Rev.22) Love is free and there is always a playful freedom about it!  True love is very precious –joyful and valuable.  Just ask lovers how wonderful it is to be in love.  And our relationship with the Lord is like that too.  A person who loves another has to want to love that person.  You cannot force another person to love you! You cannot legislate love.  It must come freely from the heart or it is useless.  God has created it that way!  If we do not want to love God, He will give us what we want.  Even though it may break His heart, He will not force us to love Him.  That’s not who He is.  If we hold back our love, if we reject and refuse His unbelievable Love, then that I believe that that is the unforgivable sin!