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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Jesus Heals Leprosy and Palsy

Jesus Heals Leprosy and Palsy

Large crowds followed Jesus down the mountainside where He had been preaching.  When everyone reached the valley floor a man with leprosy limped up to Jesus and knelt down before Him begging. “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.”  Jesus smiled and immediately answered the leper saying: “I am willing.  Be clean.”  And immediately the leper was healed.  (Matthew 8:2-3) When the leper saw that his terrible disease was completely gone, he was overjoyed and began jumping up and down and thanking and praising Jesus.  But Jesus asked him not to tell anyone and to go to the priest and be pronounced “clean”

The Jews in Jesus’ day believed that leprosy was a punishment from God and that the person who had this dreadful disease must have committed a terrible sin. Leprosy was thought of as an uncleanness rather than a disease and the society had rules for dealing with it .  A person with leprosy was forced to leave his/her family and become an outcast from society.  No one was to touch the leper or get near him. The poor leper was forced to live alone or with other lepers outside the city.  If the leper walked by another person he or she was to shout the word “unclean, unclean” loudly so that the others could keep their distance. Jesus broke the rules of society, as He often did, and welcomed the lepers to come to Him.  Jesus and his disciples healed many people who had leprosy.

According to Scripture, when Jesus walked the earth He never turned anyone down who came to Him and asked to be healed.  The leper had seen others healed by Jesus and he knew that Jesus had the power to make him clean from leprosy.  But he asked if Jesus was willing.  And Jesus immediately responded that He was willing.  Jesus healed by a word of power, the power of His authority. “Be clean”. He spoke the word and it was done. He put out his hand and touched the leper and he was clean!  Leprosy was a somewhat contagious disease but Christ can make the foulest clean.  We are invited to come to Christ as the Great Physician and ask Him for healing.  

After the leper went on his way, a centurion came to Jesus asking for help.  A centurion was a Roman officer who was responsible for one hundred soldiers. The centurion told Jesus that his servant was lying in his house paralyzed and in terrible pain.  Before the centurion could say more Jesus answered him, “I will go and heal him.”  (Matthew 8:7)  

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go’, and he goes: and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’  (Matthew 8:8-9)

Scripture says that when Jesus heard this from the centurion He was astonished at his faith and told the crowd: “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.  I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 8:10-12) Then Jesus told the centurion: “Go!  It will be done just as you believed it would.”  And that very hour the centurion’s servant was healed. (Matthew 8:13)    

The Jewish people longed for their independence and freedom from Rome and they resented Roman rule and the Roman soldiers living in their country. Though the centurion was a Gentile and a Roman soldier who was hated by the Jewish people, Jesus was pleased with him and his faith and praised him and healed his servant.  Jesus was as ready to heal the poorest servant as the richest master. 

Jesus admired the centurion not for his prestige as a Roman officer but for his faith and his grace.  And Christ would want us not to admire worldly pomp, but a kind and faithful spirit.  Some of the Jews may have been unhappy with Christ for admiring this centurion’s faith since he was a Gentile and a Roman, and they thought only the Jews were supposed to be able to know God.

 Many Jews at that time felt that they were the only nation that knew God and all others would not be saved.  Jesus was telling them here that many from the east and from the west (people from all over the world) will find their way to God.  Believers who in this world were distant from each other in time, place, or outward condition, shall all meet together in heaven.  A  society of believers will be a part of the joys of heaven.

 And Jesus also said that some of “the subjects of the kingdom (the Jews) will be thrown outside where there will be darkness…”  (Matthew 8:12) He might have been saying that just because the Jewish people had a Covenant or promise with God still if they turned away from that promise they would not find eternal life.  He might have been thinking about the Jewish religious leaders who would later put Him to death. 
What did the centurion do to please and astonish Jesus?  First I believe the centurion came to Jesus in humility.  He humbly said: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”  He also said that he didn’t want to put Jesus to any extra trouble by having him walk all the way to his home to heal his servant.  And he must have known that Jesus is Lord because he calls him “Lord”.  The centurion was an important man yet he owned his unworthiness before God. The centurion believed that Jesus was compassionate and merciful and was able and willing to heal his servant.  He trusted Jesus and that was all important. Many people came to Jesus for their own needs but this centurion came for his servant’s needs.  It sounds like he was a caring person.

Also the centurion had enough faith to believe that Jesus didn’t need to go with him to his home and heal his servant.  He believed that our Lord Jesus Christ could heal from a distance.   Scripture says:” Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6) The thing that Christ seeks is faith, and wherever it is, He finds it even if it is small. Do we have a faith that pleases Jesus?  That astonishes Him like the centurion’s faith did?

 We may believe that Christ can heal from a distance like the centurion did. But do we have the faith to believe that Christ will answer our prayer even though there is a distance in time until they are answered?  Perhaps our prayer will not be answered for many years.  Or until after we die.  Do we become discouraged and give up when too much time passes and our prayer still has not been answered?  Can we have faith that Christ will answer our prayer even after many decades have passed? 

Jesus healed the centurion’s servant because the centurion asked in faith and believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that He could heal.  Christ told the centurion: “Be it done as you have believed.”  (Matthew 8:13) We see in this story the power of Christ to heal and also the power of faith.  We are the modern day centurions. Christ is in our midst today and we are invited to come to Him and ask and believe. He is waiting to answer our prayers if they are in His good will. (James 4:3) Jesus tells us: “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2) “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  (Matthew 21:22)    


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Good and the Bad, The Broad and the Narrow

The Good and the Bad, The Broad and the Narrow

Jesus taught that there were only two paths for people to walk on through this life, the good path of holiness or the bad path of sin.  The narrow path or the broad.  We sometimes hear people say that there are many ways to God.  But Jesus taught that there was only one way and that He is that Way. (John 14:6) Jesus gives us His holiness which we must have in order to walk in the good way.

 Let’s hear what Jesus says about these two ways.  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.  But straight is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus says we walk on either one path through life or on the other.  There is no middle way.  First let’s talk about the broad way.  The broad way is attractive and popular.  Many folks are travelling on this broad way and having fun.  You will feel right at home with plenty of company.  It seems natural to follow the crowd.  Also you are free to go right through the gate without checking anything.  You can bring anything you want along on the trip.  Your lusts, appetites, passions, sins, idols, anything.  You have the freedom to do your own thing on this broad road. Whether it is the high way of basking in your own importance, or the back way of taking advantage of people behind their backs, walking this road will be your ruin.  When you have walked down this broad road to the very end, Jesus tells us that it will lead to “destruction.”

And then Jesus mentions a second road, the narrow road with a straight gate.  Accepting Christ as Savior and Lord and being changed by the Holy Spirit, this is what must happen for you to go through the straight gate which leads to this narrow way.  We must bend down and stoop to get through the straight gate.  We must humble ourselves and deny ourselves and confess our sins.  Promise to follow Jesus. We must pass out of a state of sin and into a state of grace, and be born again. This straight gate is hard to find and hard to get through.  There must be a new heart and a new spirit, and old things will pass away.

When traveling the narrow road we must take up our cross and follow Jesus while enduring persecution. Christ gives us His righteousness as a covering and He gives us His peace and joy as we walk this narrow way.  And when we come to the end of the road there is eternal life waiting for us.  Christ has prepared a place for us and our mortal bodies will become immortal.

Jesus told several more stories to emphasize the same truth about the two directions in life that each person has to choose from – the good or the bad.  One of these stories is that of the Wise and the Foolish Builders.  Here is Jesus’ “Wise and Foolish Builders” story: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose up, and the winds blew and beat against that house: yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose up, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

Jesus says that there are two hearers represented here.  One hearer is wise and the other foolish.  Both hearers hear the word of Christ but only one follows His word. Only one builds his life (his house) on Christ’s words. The other hearer doesn’t.  We must ground our hope on Christ for He is our Rock.  He pardons our sins, gives us the power of his Spirit, sanctifies us, and prays for us.  We build our lives on Him because He is our rock.  And Scripture says that the Church is built on the rock, which is Jesus.  We build on the rock by hearing and doing and obeying.  By believing.  Building upon the rock requires care and pains, but also so much grace and joy!  And glory!

And then there are those builders who despise this Rock and they build their house (their life) on the sand.  The sand is anything that isn’t the Rock.  Some build their hopes upon worldly prosperity, and others upon enjoying themselves.  But then finally the rains come and the streams rise up and the winds blow and beat against the house (their life)   Death finally comes to both builders.  And when death comes the builder who built her hopes on Christ (the Rock) will stand.  His comforts will not fail and will be an anchor for her soul.  But the builder who built his house (life) on the sand will fail.  His house will be destroyed.  Washed away in the storm, with no Rock to hold him in place. 

And then Jesus told even a third story about the two choices a person has.  This story is about the good tree and the bad tree!  Let’s listen: “Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Also every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:15-23) 

All three of Jesus’ stories here illustrate the same truth.  The truth that we can only live out our life on one of two paths, the broad path or the narrow path.  We can only build our life on one of two places, on the Rock or on the sand.  And like a tree we can only produce good fruit (good work) or bad fruit (bad work).  Jesus said that if a person is not for Him then that person is against Him.  No middle ground. (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23)   We each have a choice to make in our life. A choice to go one way or the other. Which way will it be?        


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Don't Love Money and Don't Worry

Don’t Love Money and Don’t Worry

Jesus had so many teachings to leave his followers. He told them that He knew they couldn’t understand all of what He wanted to share with them at that time. But He promised to leave them (and us) His Holy Spirit who would guide them (and us) into all truths and would also help us to understand.

Jesus talked about money and what our relationship to money should be.  Let’s listen to His words.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”  (Matthew 6:19-24)

Jesus is warning His followers against running after the wealth of the world.  If they do, it will take them away from putting Christ first. And Christ wants first place in our lives. Christ’s disciples had left everything (the world) to follow Him.  But when Judas, one of Jesus ‘disciples, betrayed Christ for money - thirty pieces of silver, he threw away his Savior. The love of money can do terrible things to the human soul. Jesus is telling His followers that they are to work for spiritual treasures and not for earthly treasures. We sometimes think we can work for both – have it both ways - but Jesus teaches us that that is not possible. “We cannot serve both God and Money.”  (Matthew 6:24) We must choose one over the other. And Jesus is asking us to choose Him over money.  With His Spirit to guide us we can joyfully obey His command concerning money.

Worldly riches have in themselves a principle of corruption and decay.  They do not last. Of course we are to work to earn enough money to pay our bills, give to the poor and take care of our families.  But we are not to burden ourselves striving after wealth. Christ counsels us to make the joys and glories of the other world our best things. To place our happiness in them.   Jesus says: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20) It is the things not seen that are eternal and that won’t be taken away from us.  In Jesus we have an inheritance that is incorruptible!    

And then Jesus also has another lesson for His followers.  He tells them not to worry about their life and the problems that come with living. (and there are so many!)   Here is part of His teaching. “therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink: or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?   Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-26, 33)  

I do not believe that Jesus was telling us not to work to make our lives and those around us better.  But He was telling us not to worry while we work and not to have concerns that disturb our joy in God.  He says that He came to give us a more abundant life. (John 10:10)   Jesus also promises to give His peace and joy and we cannot have peace or joy in this world if we are worrying.  He is our Comforter and Helper and our joy.  He wants to free us to have a more abundant life in Him.  Doesn’t that sound good?    

Along with telling us not to worry about our lives, Jesus went on to tell his followers that our Father in heaven would give us what we asked for if it is in His good will.  Then Jesus encourages us to ask and not worry.  Let’s listen: “Ask and it will be given to you: seek and you will find: knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives: and he who seeks finds: and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you sin, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-12a)

Isn’t this a wonderful promise?  And this promise is made to all of Christ’s followers.  We are encouraged to ask God for whatever we want and need.  If we would be rich in grace, we must bring our needs to God, our heavenly Father.  And being told to seek and knock seems to imply that we should go further than casually asking and praying.  Sometimes the answer takes time to arrive and we must wait and wait some more and trust God. But it will arrive, if it is in His will.  Christ allows us to knock at His door, because Christ knocks at our door. (Revelations 3:20)  He knocks and desires to enter our lives.

The curtain is drawn back here and Jesus gives us a picture of our loving Father waiting for us to come to Him with our needs. Our heavenly Father desires to give us good gifts, just like good fathers and mothers here on earth desire to give good gifts to their children.  Our loving Father has us in His hand.  He has us covered.  That is why we can relax and let go of our worries and let Him take care of us.    

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Don't Brag about How Much You've Done for God

Don’t Brag about How Much You’ve Done for God

One of Jesus ‘teachings was about not bragging about how much we’ve done for God.  Or show off about how spiritual and righteous we are!  Or how much closer we are to God than others!  The Spirit of Christ is humble and we are to live our lives with that same Spirit of humility. In our giving, we can either humbly worship God privately with our tithes and offerings, or we can give our money and time proudly out in front of lots of people making a showy display for all to see and admire. 

Let’s listen to Jesus’ words about giving to the needy.  “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before people, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets. . .  to be honored by men . . . When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you openly.”  (Matthew 6:1-4) 

Jesus seems to be saying that when we give either our time or money we must watch against the subtle sin of hypocrisy.   Vain-glory can sneak into our lives so easily.   One minute the humble love of God is flowing out of our hearts to the needy causing us to help take care of a problem, or right a wrong.  But then so soon we are looking around to see how many folks are watching us and how many are impressed with our good deeds.  And we are adoring our own shadow.  Our names are written down as “Gold” donors or a “Silver” donors for all to see how important we are to give so much!  And we are so proud that we bask in the praise of the crowds and the feelings of being better than so many others.

Jesus also talks about what not to do when we pray.  Let’s listen.  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.  And then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly.  And when you pray do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not do that, for you Father knows what you need before you ask Him. “(Matthew 6:5-8) 

Jesus is teaching us that our praying should be between ourselves and God.  That doesn’t mean that a Christian cannot stand in front of a group and lead in prayer and worship. But we need to be careful not to pray in order to impress other people. What passes between God and our own souls sometimes must be out of sight?  When Jesus talked about believers who pray in very public places, He might be suggesting that these folk wanted to pray openly because it gave them the opportunity to be noticed.  They wanted to be seen by the “important” people.   They wanted to build a reputation for being righteous and religious.

Jesus also speaks against babbling like the pagans do in their prayers, when they think that they must speak many words for a long time in order to be heard. Not that long prayers are forbidden.  That is not the point.  Christ prayed all night. But prayer is not merely saying words.  It is not repeating or “saying” our prayers. Jesus is calling for real genuine prayer where we “pray” our prayers.  Prayer is pouring out our hearts to God.  I believe God wants our hearts.  I think Jesus is calling for our prayers to come from our hearts and not just be words we “say”. 

Jesus was trying to get across the point that it is too easy in prayer or in giving to use God to help show ourselves off.  And God wants us to come before Him in prayer as His loving children without any added agendas.   Jesus adds fasting to the list of religious acts that we can perform to try to look good before others.  This is what He said about what not to do when we fast.”  When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show people they are fasting.  I tell you they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen: and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly.  (Matthew 6:16-18) 

Jesus also tells His followers in the same sermon not to use Gods’ Name in an oath or a promise. We are to fear and reverence God because He is holy and also reverence God’s Name and never toss it around casually.  We are to treat God’s Name with great respect and never misuse it. This is the third command in the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:7) Jesus tells us not to swear by God’s Name and also not even to swear by anything.  Instead of swearing Jesus says to “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’.”  (Matthew 5:33-36)   I believe that Jesus’ main message again here was to teach His followers that God is holy and we are not to make light of Him when we go about living our lives as Christians and when we are praying and fasting and giving and using God’s Name.

It seems that the same theme runs through these four teachings that Jesus gave. He seems to be saying that we are to do these acts sincerely, reverently and humbly, and not play games or use God to impress others.  We serve an all-powerful, all loving, all holy and all righteous God and we are to remember that when we come before Him.