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Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Send You out as Sheep among Wolves

I Send You out as Sheep among Wolves
Matthew 10

Jesus called his twelve disciples to do a great work. He commissioned them to go out into the world and preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons.   Along with His call, Jesus also gave them His authority to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits. He gave them power to work miracles for the confirmation of the gospel.  They were to use this power to do good because they were sent by a good God whose mercy is over all His work. 

Jesus told his twelve disciples to go to the “lost sheep of Israel”. (Matthew 10:6) But later Jesus’ followers would be called to go out to the rest of the world with the Christian message (Mark 10:11-14). These twelve disciples were called “apostles” because they were the very first ones to go out and spread the gospel, but we all follow in their footsteps.  Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions, recorded in Matthew 10 about how to behave and what to expect on their journeys, were meant for all of His followers in every generation as they go out to be His people and witness in the world. 

Jesus began by telling His disciples not to take money or bags or extra clothes along as they went out.  The people they would be blessing with Gods’ message would supply their needs.  These very first missionaries were to depend upon God to provide and make a way for them.  They were called to walk by faith and not by sight. To remember that they had been called by God and He would be with them.   And I believe we followers today are called to walk by faith as well.

When the disciples would arrive in a town they were told to look for people there who had a heart for God and to politely ask if they might stay with these Godly folks while they were preaching and healing. The disciples were to bless the house they stayed in with God’s peace. The family who hosted them would reap the benefits of God’s blessing. But if the family or the whole town rejected Jesus’ disciples and threw them out, those folks would lose out on that special blessing. (Matthew 10:11-14) Great blessings can be lost by neglecting what God has prepared for us. Scripture says: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”  (Hebrews 2:3) 

Bible scholars believe that Christ’s words to His twelve disciples were also words meant for all of His disciples down through the ages. We followers of Christ in every generation have all been given the commission to go into the world and preach the gospel.  (Mark 16:15) Jesus calls all of His followers down through the ages to share the news of salvation with others and pray for the sick, feed the hungry and help the poor.    

And Jesus also warned all of His followers both past and present that there would be sufferings and persecutions that go along with this work of spreading the gospel.  Let’s listen to some of Jesus’ warnings to His followers in Matthew 10.  “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore, be a wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Be on guard against people: because they may hand you over to the local councils and whip you in their synagogues. “ (Matthew 10:16-17)   We can be imprisoned and beaten and shamed and prosecuted just because we are Christians. 

Jesus tells us that we will be persecuted by some people in this world because we are “not of this world”.  We are new creations in Christ and we have the Holy Spirit in us.  So we don’t quite fit into the old secular worldly system anymore.  Christ calls all of His own to this commission to share the gospel and do good.  But we are sent out like “sheep among ravenous wolves”.  And like policemen and firemen who can face danger and even death every day in the course of doing their duties, the followers of Christ can also face danger and death as they go out to be God’s people in the world. 

Jesus spoke about this mystery here: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.  If you belong to the world, it would love you as its own.  But now you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.”  (John 15:18-19) When we are surrounded by this hate we are to be “wise as serpents” and remember that Jesus told us to expect this. But also we are to be as “harmless as doves” and not strike back with more hate.    

Jesus goes on to say: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child: children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All people will hate you because of Me, but he or she who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.”  (Matthew 10:21-23a) There is a spiritual battle going on between good and evil, light and darkness, and the heavenly kingdom and the worldly kingdom.  And this spiritual conflict can even occur between members of the same family!  Christ was betrayed and led off to death not by an outsider but by the kiss of one of His most trusted and beloved disciples.  So we can experience this sorrow also.

If we are to reign with Christ we must also suffer with Him.  Christ will faithfully be with us through the periods in life of shame and sorrow and pain. The dark night of the soul will not be long. We Christians are His witnesses in this world not only in our doing work but in our suffering work. It is one of God’s mysteries. Jesus reminds us that: “Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses his/her life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)   Perhaps we will be best prepared to follow Christ through the bad times when we learn to hold loosely the things of this life.     

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jesus Speaks about Dealing with Other People's Faults

Jesus Speaks about Dealing with Other People’s Faults

Every time we Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive our sins in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us.   Part of the Lord’s Prayer reads: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” (Matthew 6:12).  Jesus taught this prayer to the disciples when they asked Him how to pray.  And then right after teaching this prayer Jesus added: “If you forgive people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive people their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:14)  

These are tough words from Jesus.  God, in forgiving us, has a peculiar respect to our forgiving those who have injured us.  Our selfish nature hates to comply with this.  We love to stay angry at people who have slighted us and we are good at playing the part of the victim. Over and over in Scripture we are commanded to forgive, so we must bind ourselves to it. We have a promise here.  “If you forgive, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”    Christ came into the world as the great Peace-Maker, not only to reconcile us to God but to one another. 

Then Jesus also tells us not to judge others.  This is what He said: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.  Now can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye.  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:1-5) 

Jesus is telling us here not to sit in the judgment seat or despise our brother and put him down.  (Romans 14:10) We must not judge unkindly or with a spirit of revenge or a desire to harm the person being judged.  We are to leave all of this to God.  There will be a judgment day.  It is God’s prerogative to try the heart.

After Jesus gave this lesson about not judging others He finished with these words: “Do not give dogs your sacred treasure and do not throw your pearls before swine.  If you do they may trample them under foot and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)  Bible scholars believe that the ”sacred  treasure” or the “pearls” Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:6 is the gospel.  And the “dogs” and “swine” are people who are too brutish to care about the gospel. And we would have to judge that a person was a “dog” or “swine” in order to heed Christ’s warning. Scripture warns us not to judge others but then calls us to test everything.  Doesn’t that sound like a balancing act? We are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16) Perhaps Jesus is calling for his followers to put up some boundaries and protect themselves from harm by not preaching to those who make fun of the gospel.  Jesus also says: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14) Perhaps the words” shake the dust off your feet” may mean to write it off and move on.  And to not allow toxic people to tear you down.    

As children of God we are commanded to love one another.  That is one of the ways that Scripture tells us that we can know that we are Christians.  Scripture says: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)   Constant criticism often destroys love- the love that our heavenly Father desires his children to have for one another. Sadly, groups who profess to know God while constantly criticizing others have done a lot to scare people away from Christ.  There will always be reasons to criticize, but Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek.  (Matthew 5:39) He loved us and forgave all our faults so He calls us to love others and forgive their faults.

 Once, years ago, we were almost destroyed in a Christian group that was very critical.  So today we belong to a church that is very loving.  It makes all the difference. Over and over in Scripture God calls us to love one another and bear one another’s burdens.  (Ephesians 4:2)  To work for the common good and not just for ourselves.  We must not overlook this all important call to love others when we follow Christ. 

Christ calls us never to make fun or bully another person and never to call another person names.  Here are His words: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother without a good cause will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” must answer to the Sanhedrin (religious leaders).  And anyone who says, “you fool” will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  (Matthew 5:22)   Scripture says: “Blessed is the person who does not sit in the seat of the mocker,” (Psalm 1:3) Malicious slander is a poison under the tongue that can tear down the other person.  But Christ is calling us, His followers, to build up the other person.  We are to carefully preserve Christian love and peace with our brothers and sisters.  

One day while Jesus was out teaching and healing the people, His disciples turned to Him and  asked a question. “Who is the greatest person in the kingdom of heaven?” To answer the disciples question Jesus called a little child over to Himself and said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes a little child in My Name welcomes Me.”  (Matthew 18:3-5) 

The disciples had been jockeying among themselves for who might have the higher position in heaven.  Competing against each other as to who might be the most impressive or the smartest or the best.  We humans so soon learn to shove others aside in the struggle to get to the “top”.  But Jesus holds up this simple child to show us the danger of pride and ambition.  Wasn’t it pride that threw the sinning angels out of heaven!  Instead Christ is teaching his followers to be humble.  He shows the honor and advancement that attend humility. And He teaches that we are to become as humble as a little child if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

When we are humble like a little child we can simply follow our Father’s call and love imperfect people.  A little child just follows what her parents tells her to do.  When pride doesn’t get in the way we can forgive people easier when they hurt or insult us or our loved ones.  Jesus set his reputation aside and endured the shame of the cross for our sakes and when we are humble like a little child we can set aside our reputation and love and forgive those who hurt us, as Christ has asked us to do.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment in God’s Word was the greatest.  And Jesus answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37) 

Observe the weight and greatness of these two commands.  Jesus is saying here that everything hangs upon the law of love.  Take away love and everything falls to the ground and comes to nothing.  Love is the root and spring of all other duties. Jesus calls us to a greater and even greater love – greater than I am capable of having without His help. Let us pray that God will give us the power to love Him with our whole heart and mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we want to be what He wants us to be, He will answer our prayer give it to us.   



Friday, July 15, 2016

Is Anything Worth Everything?

Is Anything Worth Everything?

Jesus began his preaching in the city of Capernaum on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.  And He began his preaching with these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  (Matthew 4:17) Our pastor says that the kingdom of heaven is the realm where God’s will is done.  And when Jesus taught his followers the Lord’s prayer he included these words: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Jesus was saying that this realm or place was near, even in their (our) midst, waiting to be discovered.  We see the place where God’s will is done when someone stands up for what is right in the face of criticism.  Or when love conquers hate.

Jesus tells the listening crowd several stories or parables about the kingdom of heaven, or the realm where God’s will is done.  He says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  When a person finds it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found a pearl of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)   

These two parables of Jesus tell us that the kingdom of heaven is worth everything!  The merchant sold everything he had to purchase the pearl.  And the man who found the treasure in the field sold all he had to purchase the field so he could have the treasure.  We are called to seek and search.  To look for what God is doing in the world and join in.  Follow Christ by doing things that make for peace and love and help reach out to the poor. The kingdom of heaven is light and life and love and peace and joy.  It is a treasure, a pearl of great price that is worth everything we have and much more. Jesus was calling people then and He is calling us now to repent and give Him all that we are and all that we have. 

The gospel is the field where the treasure is hidden.  And Jesus Christ is the true Treasure: in Him there is eternal life. The treasure is not hidden in an enclosed garden for a select few to find but it is hidden out in an open field for all to come and find.  Whatever treasures we find are all our own.  The Bible is the Word of God and those who would search the scriptures in the Bible can find Christ and eternal life. (John 5:39)

We humans here on earth are busy searching for pearls. One pearl would be riches, another would be honor, and another would be learning and higher education.  We pursue happiness and pleasure, fame and excitement. There are counterfeit pearls out there that we can chase after. But Jesus Christ is the only Pearl of great price.  When we have found Him, we have enough to make us joyful forever.  He covers us with His righteousness and takes away our sins. A true Christian is a spiritual merchant, that seeks and finds this Pearl of great price.  He or she desires to be spiritually rich.  But those who would have a saving interest in Christ, must be willing to pay everything they have for Him and leave all to follow Him.

And then Jesus gives us a third parable about the kingdom of heaven.  This time He compares the kingdom of heaven to nets cast into the sea.  Here is what e said”HeHHe He said: “Once again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the sea and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 13:47-50)

Here in Jesus’ parable we find that the world is the vast sea.  And the preaching of the gospel is the casting of the nets into the sea to catch fish. This net gathers some good edible fish and some inedible fish, along with seaweed and junk.  In the visible church there are some inedible fish along with the good edible fish. The net is still filling now and it is not known yet what is in it.  The fishermen themselves cannot always distinguish the good from the bad.  But the time is coming when the net will be completely full and drawn in to the shore. And when that time arrives, there shall be a separation between the good and the bad that were gathered in it. 

Many Christian today do not like to talk about hell and judgment!  We talk about God’s grace and His love for us.  But we leave out God’s justice and judgment. We live in a world where there is good and evil.  And God is a God of justice. In order to have justice we have to have judgment. – courts, policemen, judges, prisons. When crimes are committed there must be some form of judgment.  If we did not deal with crime or have laws protecting citizens from robbers, murderer and terrorists, our society would crumble. 

Jesus Christ went about preaching about God’s grace and love, but He also preached about hell and judgment.  In fact He mentioned judgment and hell many times in his sermons. In this parable we are reading today, Jesus tells us the time will come when the nets will be full.  And the end of the age will be here. The good will be separated from the bad. And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Jesus began his ministry inviting everyone into the kingdom of heaven.  God loves and wants them all. There would be a price to pay, but what is everlasting life worth? Heaven we are told in Scripture is a place where there will be no death, no sin, no sorrow or crying, a place of life and love and peace.  If we could bring our sins along into heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven anymore, would it?

 So Scripture says sin cannot enter heaven.  And we cannot get rid of our sin by ourselves.  That is one of the reasons the Treasure hidden in the field or the Pearl of great price is so valuable.  Christ does for us what we can never do for ourselves.  In Christ we are made sinless and are able to enter the kingdom of heaven. At the end of the age the angels will throw us over on the pile of good fish.  We won’t be left outside. I think that great judgment day will be here sooner than we think.  If we have searched for and found the Treasure or purchased the Pearl of great price we will be taken care of on that final day at the end of the age.     

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Cost of Following Jesus

The Cost of Following Jesus

Jesus traveled all around Israel preaching and teaching and healing as He went. The blind, the lame, the mute, He healed them all!   And He even raised the dead. (Matthew 9:22)    Scripture says that Jesus had great compassion on the sick and on those who had no hope and He was there to comfort and heal.  He went about preaching and teaching and healing.  And of course the word got out and crowds soon followed after Him wherever He went.  The masses brought their sick to Him to be healed and they listened to His sermons wondering if He might be the Messiah that had been promised to them by their prophets.

The Jewish religious leaders soon became upset.  When they heard that the crowds loved Jesus and were following Him everywhere, they were afraid that they might lose some of their influence over these people.  The religious leaders spoke for God to the people and they enjoyed the power and authority they held over the people of Israel.  When the Pharisees and priests heard that Jesus was healing people, they were frightened and angry.  Instead of listening to Jesus to see if perhaps He spoke God’s Words, most of them closed their minds and hearts to Him.  And they tried to put Him to death for healing a lame man on the Sabbath.

One of the religious leaders did come to Jesus one day when He was in a large group teaching and healing.  The religious leader spoke to Jesus and said: “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Matthew 8:19) Jesus smiled at him and replied: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Matthew 8:20)

What did Jesus mean when He discouraged the religious leader from following Him by telling him that essentially He, the Lord and Savior of the world, was homeless and had no safe comfortable place to sleep at night?  It’s true, Jesus and his disciples lived upon the charity of sympathetic people.  Scripture says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that through He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)  

Perhaps Jesus wanted the religious leader to know up front that following Him would not be easy.  That each of His followers must endure hardship and every believer would carry a cross.  The Master (Christ) would be persecuted and so would the Master’s followers.  The Lord Jesus would give his life for his own and his followers might also be called on to become martyrs for their faith.  Many who would consider following Christ would turn away because of the difficulties of the journey.  It would seem that this Jewish religious leader who wanted to follow Christ turned away when Jesus told him that there would be hardships. We don’t hear of him again.  Jesus calls us to follow Him and never turn back no matter what.   

Scripture says: Now if we are children, then we are heirs, - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”  (Romans 8:17)  And also: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. “(1 Peter 4:13)

Another disciple also came to Jesus and said that he wanted to follow Him but first he must go and bury his father.  This time Jesus replied: “Follow Me, and let the dead bury the dead.”  (Matthew 8:22)   I am not sure what Jesus meant here.  He always insisted that children should honor and respect their parents.  I think Jesus meant that following Him would sometimes cause family problems, even family breakups.  Some families would even disown a family member if he or she continued to follow Christ.  And in these cases Christ’s followers should choose Christ over their rejecting family.   

 Jesus also said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  A person’s enemies will be the members of his/her own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:34-42)

Tough words! Christ calls us to love Him first. He wants the real thing!  Not one who starts out with Him for a little while but then rejects Him.  Such a person is unworthy of Him. Christ doesn’t deserve their unfaithfulness.  But He is not telling us to reject our families.  They may reject us, but we don’t reject them.  With Christ we will love our family members more than we would without Him. We are called to love Christ and love our family too. Children must love their parents, and parents must love their children.  But if a follower of Christ puts family ahead of Christ, the follower is unworthy of Him.  Those are the words of Jesus.

 When we read the whole Bible and not just this one passage we can see that Christ always calls families to love each other and take care of one another.  But sometimes when we try to follow Christ it may anger a family member or go against what they want us to do.  If that happens we must not be discouraged from following Christ because of the disapproval of our relative.  And we must not reject Christ even though the loss of a family member’s love may be deeply upsetting and painful for us. When a problem comes up, we must do what we believe is right, what we feel Christ is calling us to do, even if it causes our dearest family members to be angry with us.  They may want us to do something that we know is very wrong.  It may be difficult to say no to family. Christ wants first place in our lives and for us that means doing what we believe is right and good and staying away from what we feel is wrong even when family members feel differently.  That is how I interpret Christ’s words and I may be wrong.

Those who are best prepared for the life to come, are those who sit loosely here in this present life.  It was on the condition of being prepared for suffering that Christ took on his disciples back when He walked the earth.  And He still wants our first allegiance today if we are to follow Him.  It is our duty, not only to believe in Christ, but to be ready to suffer for Him.   We don’t only follow Him in the good times, but we are to be there through the difficult times too.  If Jesus Christ is worth anything, He is worth everything.  He gave His all for us so we should give back our all for Him.  It’s the least that we can do.