Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category

Matthew Chapter Twenty-eight

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew chapter twenty-eight flies through the resurrection account- to the point where we need to visit Mark’s account to see a very important detail. Before we do, though, it’s good to note Jesus’ commandments to his followers, commonly known as the Great Commission.

Found at the end of the chapter, Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus says, “I am God, and I have a mission for you. If you’re doing my bidding, you will be sure to succeed. Now go, and as you’re going, make disciples. How do you make disciples? You preach the Gospel to them, and as I’m saving them, you baptize them and make their profession of faith public. Then I want you to teach them everything that is found in my Word…and hey- check this out: I will always be with you. How? Through my Holy Spirit who will indwell every one of my followers.”

Those are our marching orders. How obedient are you being to them?

Now I want to go back a second to the moment when the women found the angel sitting in the tomb. Sharing the story from his own perspective, Mark says that the angel told them “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Now watch as this all comes together:

Matthew Chapter Twenty-Seven

Posted: May 25, 2011 in Matthew

            At last it was time. Planned before the creation of the world and promised to us shortly after the Fall, Jesus was about to be slaughtered by his Dad. Yeah…you read that right. By his Dad. Matthew chapter twenty-seven takes us through the horrific account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It isn’t pretty.

            He was mocked, he was beaten beyond human recognition. He was nailed to a Roman cross, and he had a crown of thorns shoved onto his head. He hung there in agony, but his suffering did not truly begin until he experienced the wrath of God for sin. Not that Jesus was a sinner, because he wasn’t…but because he stepped into the place of sinners and became sin for them.

            Just got worse, didn’t it? Not only is Jesus being murdered, but his Dad is punishing him for something that he didn’t even do! Why?

            What could possibly compel Jesus to take a punishment he didn’t deserve? What could possibly motivate God the Father to not only crush His own son, but to be pleased to do it?

            Love.

            Love like nothing we’re ever known before. Like nothing we ourselves will ever be capable of doing. Pure love that knows no limits. An unconditional love unparalleled by any other. God loves us so much, that even while we were filthy, rotten, undeserving miserable wretches…Jesus died for us. Why? Because unless he did that, we would all go to Hell.

            See, here is the biggest problem in all of Scripture. God cannot forgive sinners. He can’t. Think about it. How would you feel if our president declared, out of his great love, that everyone on death row would go free tomorrow? “I’m a very loving president, and I don’t want to punish anyone any longer,” he says. “Therefore, effective tomorrow every convicted murderer in this country is a free person!”

            We would be livid. He can’t do that! That’s not justice! And we would be right, because God tells us in Proverbs 17:15 that whoever justifies a wicked man is an abomination to God. It’s wrong to do that, and therefore God cannot simply say “its ok- I forgive you.” Someone has to be punished, and we will never be able to satisfy God’s justice apart from an eternity in Hell. Someone would have to take our place, a man like we are, yet capable of living a perfectly sinless life- a feat only God himself can do. And that is why Jesus came. That is why they named him Jesus– because he would save his people from their sins.

            The Apostle Paul explains to us in Romans 3 that Jesus removed God’s wrath from sinners at the Cross by absorbing it upon himself. This is true, but this is also the foundation for a heresy known as Universalism, which teaches this: “If Jesus truly paid in full the sin debt of the entire human race, than there is no need for anyone to go to Hell because no one has any sin separating them from God.” Indeed, they can even go to verses like this and this which they use to support their position.

            But…we know this isn’t true, because Hell is real, and people are going there. This makes a theological mess because now we have to figure out what this verse meant, or that one. Various groups understand them differently, so now we have groups saying stuff like “Jesus died for all, so all are saved,” “Jesus died for some, so some are saved,” and “Jesus died for all, but most still go to Hell.”

            Clearing up these arguments would take forever, so here is the short and simple version. Let’s go back to Romans 3:23-26. Paul says that because of what Christ did on the cross, God can now justly justify who- the world? The elect? “The one who has faith in Jesus.” That’s who. At the cross, Jesus beckons all men to come to him. Those that do will be saved, those that do not will not. It’s just that simple. And coming to Jesus doesn’t mean some prayer you say asking him into your heart, because that’s not found in the Bible anywhere. Coming to the cross means that, in recognition of your condemnation in God’s eyes, you know that your only hope for reconciliation with God is to be found through what His Son did on the Cross in the place of lawbreakers, and you are throwing yourself at the mercy of God, in the place where you can now echo the sentiments of Augustus Toplady in his hymn Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

            Will you come to Christ?

Matthew Chapter Twenty-six

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Matthew

              Things finally reach a boiling point in Matthew twenty-six. The teachings and actions of Jesus have finally pushed the religious elite over the edge, so they plan to kill him. Many of us know the story well. After dinner, Jesus and a few of his closest friends go into the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus offers to his Father the famous High Priestly Prayer. Shortly thereafter, Jesus is betrayed by Judas, arrested, and brought before Caiaphas, the High Priest. When Jesus unequivocally affirms his own identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, the people are livid and call for his death. The chapter closes with a painful look of how Peter repeatedly and deliberately denies having any affiliation with Jesus, this rebel carpenter from Nazareth.

            Poor Peter. You can’t help but love this guy. His life was a constant roller coaster of bloopers and ataboys. He tried to convince Jesus that he wouldn’t go to the Cross, but yet he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. He swore vehemently that he wouldn’t leave his teacher, and here he is close enough to see Jesus…yet still he denied knowing him.

            So what do you do when your walk and your talk are two separate things? What happens when, as a follower of Christ, you do something really stupid that no Christian in their right mind would do? Peter was so ashamed that he wept bitterly and walked away. And rightly so. I mean, surely by now Jesus is furious with this weak-hearted, spineless, hypocritical loser who failed to be any kind of real follower of Christ. Right?

            No…not at all. Something else is going through Jesus’ mind. Something we’ll explore in chapter twenty-eight. If you’re reading this and you feel like Peter, like you’ve screwed up beyond repair, like God will never love you again…take heart. There is nothing we could ever do that will diminish God’s love for us.

            Nothing.

Matthew Chapter Twenty-five

Posted: May 23, 2011 in Matthew

            The “Be Ready” motif that we saw yesterday continues into Matthew chapter twenty-five. Following that, Jesus describes the final judgment wherein Christians are given eternal life and all else are given eternal punishment. I want you to think about that. I mean, really think about it.

            Eternal, never-ending, never lessening, never hope-inducing, no chance of pardon punishment.

            For the majority of the world.

            Because of one man’s sin.

            This is a concept so horrendous, so appalling, that many theologians have chosen to ignore clear Biblical teaching in favor of denying the existence of Hell, or a form of Hell that does not last forever. Or differing reasons for one’s damnation. But Hell is real.

            Here’s the question that may kick you in the teeth. If God is the source of our faith, and He is…and if repentance is given by God, which it is…why doesn’t God give the entire human race repentance towards Him and faith in His Son? If all of our choices are based on our desires, and God can and does influence our desires, why doesn’t He work in the hearts of all men so as to secure, by said individuals “free will”, their embracement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? We know that God can do whatever He wants, so can we infer by the damnation of billions that God’s greatest desire is not the salvation of the human race, but rather something else?

            These are all very, very difficult questions that can land a lot of people in the hot seat because of their implications, but if our understanding of God is flawed and in need of correction, shouldn’t that include the aspects of God’s character that would be troubling to us?

            The Apostle Paul had just finished laying out an argument in Romans chapter nine that essentially said that people are only saved by grace, meaning that those from whom God withholds said grace will never come to repentance and faith in Christ (because they certainly have no desire to), meaning that they will forever experience separation from the God they will continue to freely reject and rebel against. In his own words, God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Listen to what Paul says next:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

            Wow.

            Wow.

            Not your typical Sunday School lesson, huh? Why am I bringing up hard texts like this one? I bring it up because I fear that too often our lopsided view of God will ingrain lopsided beliefs about God, which in turn lends itself to errant actions on our part, both towards God as well as towards those around us. Instead, let us resolve to learn all that we can about God, whether we can understand it or not. We believe that God is love, but we must also believe that God hates sinners. These two truths are difficult to reconcile and understand, as is the idea of a loving God damning souls for all eternity, but nonetheless it is all true. It’s our job to embrace all Biblical truth, even the parts we don’t understand, and apply it to our lives as followers of Christ. It’s not our job to discard the portions we don’t like and effectively set ourselves up as our final authority.

Matthew Twenty-four

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Matthew

            In all the hubbub of yesterday’s excitement with the epic fail of a Rapture prediction by Harold Camping, it seems only fitting to touch on the Second Coming of Christ. While the two events are eschatologically distinct from one another, they are both connected to the idea of the end of human history and the beginnings of eternity.

            I gotta be honest with ya…yesterday around six o’clock, as the supposed time of the Rapture grew nearer, I found myself unusually hopeful that Camping’s prediction would (by sheer fluke) be correct, and that I would find myself with Jesus in mere moments. The thought was worse than any Christmas Eve jitters I ever had as a kid. I wanted it so bad, and every time the idea crossed my head I got that roller-coaster feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that from a Biblical perspective, Camping was seriously flawed in his thinking, but still…yesterday gave me an excitement and longing for Heaven that I hadn’t ever previously experienced. As six o’clock came and went, it came as no surprise that nothing happened, but nonetheless I was somewhat disappointed.

            Matthew chapter twenty-four is chock full of theological goodies that have had theologians arguing for centuries, so don’t be surprised to be confused as you read. What I want to zero in on is this fact: Jesus is returning. We can debate the when, where, and how, but we can all agree that he’s coming back. He said, “Be ready, ‘cause you don’t know when I’m coming back.”

            My question for you is this: are you ready? If Jesus were to appear tomorrow, and you stood before him face to face, would you be prepared? Or would you be embarrassed because of your lifestyle, or your habits, or any number of things? I found myself wondering yesterday if I would have done anything different had I truly believed that he was coming back. Well, he is coming back. Sometime. The idea is to live in the reality that any day could be The Day. Let’s be ready for it.

Matthew Twenty-three

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Matthew

“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned. You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds. You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count. Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse. You can’t squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.”

                                                                                                                  Jesus

Matthew Chapter Twenty-Two

Posted: May 20, 2011 in Matthew

             Ever been to that point in an argument where you know you’re wrong, yet you refuse to concede to the other person’s position? We see Jesus bringing the Pharisees to this place in Matthew chapter twenty-two. The subject of the conversation? Himself, of course.

            Jesus asks these religious leaders about their thoughts on the Messiah, the one who would  rescue Israel, who would save the Jews and restore them to God. He asked them whose son the Christ (“Christ” is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew “Messiah”- both words mean “Anointed One”) was. Their response was correct: the Messiah was the son of David.

            Now, one of the things we need to realize is the usage of the term “son of”, because it does not literally mean the same thing we think of in our terminology. Though the Messiah was certainly of the lineage of David, David was not his biological father. We see in scripture that any male descendent of David is rightfully referred to as a son of David, but we see only Jesus given the title of Son of David, which is a Messianic title that denotes the kingship of the coming Messiah.

            Jesus then posits an interesting question: If the Messiah were but a mere man, coming some thousand years after David lived and died, how is it that David was able to refer to the Messiah as his Lord? The only possible answer is that the Messiah were deity, and not just a man, that the Messiah came both before and after David. This question asked by Jesus brought the Pharisees to a fork in the road. They could acknowledge the Divine nature of the Messiah, or they could admit they were stumped and ignorant. The Bible tells us that they did not question him from this day on.

            I may perhaps be a bit pessimistic, but I don’t think the Pharisees left Jesus alone because they simply couldn’t follow his reasoning and didn’t want to appear unlearned to the crowds. I think they left him alone because they finally realized that he was the Messiah, and a supernatural one at that. I think that even in light of the truth of who Jesus was, they stubbornly refused to embrace him as Lord and submit themselves to his authority. They were content to keep hold of their religion and reject all thought of a relationship with God. Sadly enough, we often display the same attitude when we sin, because in our poor judgment we esteem our sin to be more desirable than our relationship God.

            We can all improve our walk with God, and the easiest way to do this is through increasing our communication with him via prayer and Bible study. Let’s not trade closeness with our Savior for trivialities of this life.

Matthew Chapter Twenty-one

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Matthew

             By the time we arrive at Matthew chapter twenty-one, some three years have passed since Jesus’ first miracle. After what is known as the “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, we see what I would call the “Jesus Cursing the Healthy Appearing Tree Because It Was In Actuality Fruitless” episode.

            As you recall, Jesus walks up to a fig tree looking for a snack, only to find nothing but leaves on the tree. Upon seeing this he says, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And just like that, the tree withered up. Now you gotta ask yourself…if Jesus is God, than surely he would have known before approaching the tree that it had no fruit on it. So then why go to it?

            Jesus went to the tree because he wanted to illustrate his disgust with hypocrisy. Everyone seeing a healthy, leafy tree would naturally expect to find fruit on it (provided the season is appropriate, of course), and in the same manner you would expect the one wearing their Sunday finest to church to have a lifestyle reflecting Christ throughout the week. Jesus cursed the tree for its false appearance, and in the same manner we see all throughout the Bible that fake “Christians” will also receive a harsh punishment- Hell. We saw it explicitly in Matthew chapter seven when Jesus plainly said that the majority of professing Christians, even the ones performing miracles in the name of Jesus, are going to go to Hell because they never truly knew Him. Their faith was never anything more than an outward façade.

            Don’t let this be you. Don’t fly out into eternity assuming that you’re saved because you went to church, or you prayed occasionally, or you never killed anyone, or you’re just like everyone else in your youth group. As Paul said, examine yourself. Look at your life. Determine if you truly know Jesus as Lord and Savior. This sermon is a powerful place to start.

Matthew Chapter Twenty

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Matthew

          One of the things I try to do each morning as I figure out what to write about is to look for the oddities that jump out from the text. While there is a lot of deep stuff in Matthew chapter twenty, what caught my attention the most came at the end of the chapter. While leaving Jericho, Jesus is asked by two blind men on the side of the road if he would heal their vision, and Jesus does. While this type of activity is not unusual around Jesus, what did seem to be odd was the attitude of those following Christ. The text tells us that crowd rebuked the two blind men, “telling them to be silent.”

            Why?

            What could prompt a crowd of people who were following Jesus to get after  couple of miserable blind men who were seeking to receive their sight? Granted, the text is quiet as to the crowd’s motives, so the best we can do is speculate, but here are two theories that may explain their behavior; the first one rather weak, the second one perhaps more accurate.

            What if the crowd, in their desperate attempt to hang on to every word that Jesus was saying, shushed the two men because they were disrupting their teacher’s lecture? What if their mindset was, “Come on, guys! Can’t you see the Master is teaching us? Hold it down already!” While possible, this is perhaps merely a lame excuse to justify the crowd’s rotten behavior, as even I don’t see it happening like this.

            I think a more accurate explanation of their actions would go like this: “Hey, I’m not going to benefit from his healing you two, so shut up! We had him first!” What if the crowd was merely following Jesus so that they could benefit from his power, and therefore had no compassion on others who truly needed a touch from the Messiah?

            I would hate to think that followers of Jesus still act like this today, but isn’t it sad how much church can resemble this? Across the nation we see millions of people crowd into buildings each Sunday, yet they will purposely ignore the beggars asking for food or change as they leave their church to go eat in a restaurant and talk about how good God is. Talk about missing the point! If your relationship with Jesus doesn’t change your relationship to everyone around you…your relationship just might not be as real as you think.

Matthew Chapter Nineteen

Posted: May 17, 2011 in Matthew

             Matthew chapter nineteen brings us the infamous encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler. This guy came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to earn himself a spot in Heaven. He wanted to work for it, and Jesus was obliged to let him, so he answered and said, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

            Then Jesus clarifies and lists the commandments that he was speaking of: don’t murder, or commit adultery, don’t steal, or lie, honor your parents…and oh- love your neighbor as yourself. That last one may sound a bit out of place, because it’s not one of the Ten Commandments, as were the others that Jesus listed. Instead, that one simple statement was a recapitulation of all the commandments of God. If we truly love those around us, we’d never sin against them.

            Regardless, we see that this young man is convinced that he’s done all these things, so he tells Jesus as much. Then he asked what else he has to do, to which Jesus replied: “Sell everything you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow me.”

            This wasn’t a commandment in scripture, and nowhere does Jesus command all of his followers to do this, though he has certainly asked it of many. But what is universal to all of us is the call to leave everything we’ve got, everything we’ve known, everything we hold on to, for the sake of embracing Jesus as Savior. Jesus knew this man’s biggest god, and therefore gave him the ultimatum: Leave your treasures, and follow me.

            The young man’s response? He picked his money. The Bible shows that he walked away “sorrowful.” Why? Because his inability to sacrifice all to Jesus showed (1) that he didn’t truly love his neighbors more than himself, (2) that he loved his possessions more than he loved God, and (3) his hypocrisy had just been exposed for all the world to see.

            What will be your response when God makes huge demands on you. How did you respond to Jesus’ command to “repent, and believe the Gospel?” What about if God tells you to leave this life of comfort and go serve Him in the jungles somewhere? Or to move across the country to work in a church? What about when He asks you to face ridicule by taking a stand for Him in your school this week? Are we going to cling to earthly, temporal things that have no lasting value? Or will we obey God and see Him change the world through us?