Saturday, February 4, 2023

Persecution - Matthew 5:10-11

Matthew 5:10-11 (ESV)

[10] “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[11] “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

In a world where having someone disagree with you is considered offensive, I’m not sure we understand these verses at all. The apostles laid their lives on the line to follow Jesus. Paul died in a Roman prison. Peter was crucified upside down because he did not believe that he was worthy of dying as his Lord did. Every Apostle had his life cut short for the gospel except for John, who was truly persecuted and then exiled to a small island alone. Men and women around the world are ostracized by their families, imprisoned, and killed for their faith. Is having to wear a mask to church really persecution? Is a Pride parade in your town really persecution? Is an internet meme or a letter to the newspaper about the evils of Christianity really persecution? I watched a television show the other day about some people racing around the world. They were in the African bush and in the crowded streets of India. Their concern was missing their eye cream and their makeup. Really!? Look around you! We have become so accustomed to and dependent on the things that bring us comfort that we have begun to think of them as necessities. Without them we must be persecuted. I’m sitting in a heated room with electricity, hot coffee, a Bible, a computer, and good internet access all provided at no cost from a Christian ministry allowing me to take a couple days for a planning retreat. At the same time there are brothers and sisters around the world shivering in the cold or hiding in fear, but grateful to have the opportunity to know God and worship him. I don’t feel guilty for what I have. I am incredibly thankful! But I am also aware that my Christian faith is not dependent on these comforts. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” I only pray that my faith will be as strong when I am called to face real persecution.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Blessed - Matthew 5:2, 13

Matthew 5:2, 13 (ESV)

[2] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[13] “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Between these two verses is the passage we call the Beatitudes. They are a list of character qualities associated with being blessed, happy, or fortunate. What does it mean to lose one’s saltiness? It occurs to me that the answer to that question is the exact opposite of each of the beatitudes. Rather than being poor in spirit the proud and arrogant are the ones who are no longer salty. Those who find their joy in their circumstances never know God’s comfort. The independent and self-sufficient ones fail to gain the blessing of the meek. Those who see themselves as having achieved righteousness will never know true righteousness. Those who fail to show mercy because they have never felt the need for mercy will in fact never experience the blessing of receiving mercy. Those who believe that they are pure because of their external religion will never see or understand God. Those who divide from and persecute others who have not achieved their elevated spiritual status will in fact never be acknowledged as children of God nor know his reward.

This passage is not about how to earn salvation. It is directed toward the self-righteous, religious elite who think of themselves as better than the rest. They think of themselves as holy people uniquely acceptable to God. They fail to recognize that they have lost their saltiness and failed to be the lights to a dark world they were intended to be. It makes me wonder how many of us who sit in church every Sunday morning have lost our saltiness as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Ministry Model - Matthew 4:23

Matthew 4:23 (ESV)

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

There were three aspects to Jesus’ ministry. He was teaching, preaching or heralding the gospel of the kingdom, and healing. The teaching connected his ministry to a correct understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. The healing validated his ministry as a true prophet of God. The proclamation of the gospel was central. He was proclaiming that the world was about to change. The kingdom was near. Repentance was the proper response.

Our ministry as Christians and particularly as Christian ministers ought to have those same three elements. We teach from the Word of God, demonstrating that what we are saying is not just our ideas or the thoughts of mankind. We minister to the hurting, the poor, the broken, the outsiders and unacceptable people, demonstrating the love and compassion of God. We proclaim the gospel becaue that is what truly changes people from the heart out.

The lack of any one of these invalidates our ministry. If we are not rooting our teaching in the Scriptures then we have nothing but man’s ideas to put forth. There is life changing power in the Word of God. If we fail to minister to the broken, we fail to demonstrate that we truly are new creations in Christ and that God’s message is real. It is the love of Christ in us that convinces the world that what we have to say is worth listening to. Finally, if our ministry fails to include the gospel then we provide temporary help at best. We are just polishing the brass on a sinking ship. As believers, as leaders, and as ministers may we follow the example of Jesus and point people to the truth through our teaching, our serving, and our proclamation of the gospel.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The King - Matthew 4:19-20

Matthew 4:19-20 (ESV)

[19] And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [20] Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

One of the themes of Matthew is the King and his Kingdom. When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, and a short while later to James and John, “Follow me,” they followed. When the King speaks, you obey. That concept is foreign to many of us today. In a world that highly values individualism the idea of a King with absolute power is not only foreign, but even offensive to many. When my son was little we left him with his grandparents for a couple days. At one point he turned to my Dad and said, “Your not the boss of me!” He found out quickly who was the boss of whom. But somehow, we think that way. We hear and repeat things like, “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do,” or “No one has power over you unless you give it to them,” or “Don’t let others tell you how to live your life.” These statements have the sound of wisdom. There is some truth in them but ultimately, we have to stand before the King. It is the King who designed us. It is the King who tells us who we are. It is the King who defines right and wrong, good and bad. We do not have the right to define those for ourselves. It is the King who deserves immediate obedience, not hesitant obedience, or compromised obedience. He is the King.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Following the Plan - Matthew 4:12-13

Matthew 4:12-13 (ESV)

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Why Zebulun and Naphtali? They are about as far from Jerusalem as he could get. Jerusalem is about 72 miles west of the top end of the Dead Sea. Nazareth about 90 miles north of Jerusalem. But Samaria was between Jerusalem and Nazareth, making the trek even farther for the Jews who would travel around Samaria rather than taking the direct route through it. From there Jesus moved even further north to Zebulun and Naphtali. Naphtali was the northernmost area of Israel, so why travel so far from the center of everything?

There seem to be two clear reasons, but a likely third as well. First, it was safer away from Jerusalem. Herod had arrested John and eventually had him decapitated. If Jesus was associated with John then his life may have been at risk too, short-circuiting the Jesus’ plan. Second, it fulfilled Scripture. Verses 15 and 16 are quotes from Isaiah that are fulfilled by Jesus’ travel to Zebulun and Naphtali. Perhaps a third reason is that around Galilee is where Jesus would call his fishermen disciples. Jesus had a plan and was working it even when no one could see it.

I tell people that I have never yet ended up where I thought I was going, but each step of our journey was a part of God’s process of ministering to us and through us. Through us he ministers to others. In us he faithfully molds and transforms us. We can’t see the plan. Truthfully, if we had seen the plan I’m not sure we would have been up to it. But God . . . . But God is faithfully working his plan. We just need to listen, follow, and trust.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Truth and LIes - Matthew 4:8-9

Matthew 4:8-9 (ESV)

[8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. [9] And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Satan is a liar. In John 14:30 Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world,” so yes, in a sense Satan could have given Jesus the world. But it’s a little bit like a squatter offering to give a house to the rightful owner. He takes the owner through the house showing off all the great features of the house and then offers to give it to him for price. Of course, the owner has another plan. He will likely call the police. In this case, Satan has usurped the authority of the earth by convincing the rightful overseers to abdicate their role. That is what happened in the Garden of Eden. Jesus has a different plan. Satan offers the world if only Jesus will abdicate his place as God and worship him, a created being. It’s a short cut, but there are consequences. In reality, the world will be back under Jesus’s authority again, but only when the Enemy has been thoroughly trounced. That trouncing began at the cross and is finished when he is thrown into the Lake of Fire. Satan is a liar and a deceiver. Jesus was promised the world, but in bowing before Satan he would have given up everything.

It is no different with us. Whether we are talking about drugs and alcohol, violence, gambling, or just bad habits, in the end they deliver the opposite of what they promise. Sitting up late watching mind-numbing television to escape the pressures of the day only add to the pressures the next day by keeping us from good sleep. Drugs offer freedom from physical or emotional pain, but in the end, they become the source of our worst pain. Unforgiveness sounds like justice, but in the end, it only hurts the one who is unwilling to forgive. Satan is a liar. As believers we need to walk in the truth and watch for the lies. God’s Word is truth.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Rightly Handling God's Word - Mt 4:6-7

Matthew 4:6-7 (ESV)

[6] and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

[7] Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

I have often heard it said that there is no need for a church or ministry to have a doctrinal statement; they just need to hold to the Bible. The problem with that is that even the Devil can quote scripture, but he knows how to twist it to meet his ends. That is why not only a doctrinal statement is important, but why careful study of the Scripture is invaluable. Did Satan quote the Psalms correctly? Yes, although there is a line that he left out which is significant. Between the words “you” and “on their hands” is the line, “to guard you in all your ways.” That connects back to Exodus 23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” “All your ways” is related to following God’s lead to his destination for the people of God. While the Scripture does say that God will protect you, it is no guarantee that he will protect you if you do something that is clearly against his will and purpose, or just plain unwise. For example, this is no guarantee that if you intentionally step in front of a bus traveling 50mph you won’t get hurt. This is no guarantee that if Jesus leaps off the pinnacle of the temple, he won’t be broken on the rocks below. When Scripture is not carefully understood it can easily be misused. Don’t just read the Bible. Meditate on it. Compare Scripture to Scripture. Study it in its context and the meaning of the words used. It is worth the effort, and it will guard us against misuse and abuse. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

Friday, January 20, 2023

Treasuring God's Word - Matthew 4:4

Matthew 4:4 (ESV)

But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus was tempted by the Accuser to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. John had just said in chapter 3 that God could even raise up children of Abraham from the stones. If that is the case, it should be an easy task for the Son of God to turn stones into bread. But Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed. That means that when we pick up our Bibles, we are holding the very words of God that Jesus was referring to. In a time when we have dozens of Bibles available on our phones and computers this makes me wonder whether we truly appreciate this truth. These are the words of God. Are my heart, mind, will, and emotions fed and satisfied by God’s words or do I try to fill them with stuff, activities, achievements, etc.? It makes me wonder if we really take Jesus’s words seriously. Do we truly value the words of God that we hold in our hands?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Jesus's Baptism - Matthew 3:13-15

Matthew 3:13-15 (ESV)

[13] Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John was preaching a baptism of repentance. Jesus certainly had no need to repent, yet he asked John to baptize him, “to fulfill all righteousness.” If you remember, in Daniel 9 Daniel confessed the sin of his people, “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Dan 9:5). Daniel was not guilty of the sin he confessed, but he is identifying with his people. Similarly, Jesus is identifying with all sinners as he is baptized. He is identified not only with the Jews, but with all people. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated true humility. How might it change our attitudes, actions, and evangelism attempts if we demonstrated some of Jesus’s humility? How might it change our marriages and families if we attempted to identify with each other? How might it change our approach to disagreement and conflict if we demonstrated the same humility and identification as Jesus? What if we stopped asking what is best for me and started asking what is best for you? How might this change pastoral ministry if we expressed more humility and less pride? What if we first asked why the other person is disagreeing with us, and how we might serve them? What if . . .? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Repentance - Matthew 3:9

Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

For the Pharisees, acceptance with God came because of their heritage. They were descendants of Abraham and they had the Law of Moses. That’s all they needed to know. How exactly stones could raise up children for Abraham I have no idea, but with God all things are possible. They needed to understand that heritage does not gain one access to God. Similarly, having been raised in the church, being a preacher’s kid, having generations of believers before you in your family line, none of those things gain favor with God. Just like the Pharisees, you are trusting the wrong thing. John the Baptist called on the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8). They had misplaced faith. Repentance is turning from trusting self, heritage, law, etc. to trusting God. Trusting God brings about a change in our thinking and acting. So, let me ask you, what are you trusting? Acceptance with God was purchased for us by the death, burial, and resurrection of his son Jesus the Messiah. When we trust God to accept us because of Jesus, he transforms our life. Are you trusting him?

Persecution - Matthew 5:10-11

Matthew 5:10-11 (ESV) [10] “ Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake , for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] “B...