Monday, June 20, 2022

Matthew Series, Week 31 - “Child-Like Status”

  Take a moment and watch this video and then return for the rest of the sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhRuKt5b0y0



This brings us back to our summer series in Matthew, where we’ll finish up chapter 17, starting in verse 24. And as we open our Bibles to Matthew 17:24, let's see where we’re at so far.


For the last four weeks we have been following the build up to Jesus’ fourth sermon in Matthew’s Gospel. The focus of this build up has been the faith of the individual believer. We have seen how Jesus calls his disciples into a faith that is exercised, transformational, seeking and reapplying. It’s a cycle faith. After coming to know Jesus as our Savior, we are to put into practice what he says. That exercised faith leads to the Holy Spirit working in transformational ways. We then seek God deeper in our faith to grow. This returns us to the basics of the faith because no matter how well we are doing, there is always more and the basics keep us focused on what really matters to God.

If, as individuals, we are active in this kind of faith relationship with God, then Jesus’ sermon not only makes sense, but we would desire to follow through on what he says. However, if we are not active in this type of faith relationship with God, then we’re going to fight God every step of the way. 


And that’s where we find the disciples, they’re doing some of what Jesus is saying, but we also see them fighting against what he wants them to do. Let’s pick this up in Matthew 17:24.


17:24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11 For the Son of Man came to save that which is lost.]

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.


Now we’re only going to read to this point in Jesus’ fourth sermon, because we need to hone in on what’s happening as it’s being laid out by Jesus.


Matthew’s precursor into Jesus’ fourth sermon is a conversation between Jesus and Peter. The situation is a tax, but at the heart of this conversation was status. The tax was an annual tax on all those twenty years and older for the maintenance of the temple. It was collected annually and was about two days worth of wages.

Most monarchs didn’t tax those in their own royal family, only servants, peasants, and the like were taxed. Peter had rightfully proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God back in Matthew 16:16, so it would be within the rights of Jesus to not pay the temple tax like everyone else was doing. Yet, Jesus seeks to not cause offense in this case and instructs Peter to pay the tax. This instruction was a faith exercise for Peter who had to trust Jesus’ words that he would find the payment in the mouth of a fish.

This prelude to Jesus’ fourth sermon gives context for what’s to come. It helps us understand that Jesus is both in a position of high authority, and yet at the same time in a position of humble action. This calls to mind Paul’s words in Philippians 2, verses 6-8, “Who [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”


This dual reality of who Jesus is, Mighty God and Humble Servant, leads into Jesus response to the disciples question in chapter 18 verse 1, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Matthew has already given us this answer, it’s Jesus. He is the King’s Son who should not have to pay the tax, yet he is the one who humbles himself to pay the tax. So right from the beginning the question is taken care of, yet the mindset of the disciples needs to be dealt with.

So Jesus subverts any response his disciples might have assumed Jesus was going to say. Jesus calling for a child to be the center of the discussion flies in the face of the cultural idea. In our culture, children have been seen as a protective class. They are to be taken care of, protected. This status of child that has only come about in the modern day. In the ancient world, children had very little status. They were weaker, seen as not very intelligent, and easily manipulated. Therefore, in a one-to-one comparison, a child was the least in status in their social sphere. Jesus telling his disciples to be like the child, was again subverting the status. Jesus paying the tax is a humble position, and Jesus’ disciples are to take a humble position to, that of a child. 

So Jesus intends his disciples to be child-like in their faith: trusting, humble, weak, dependent, simple. And it’s here that Jesus pivots his teaching. He begins with the child, but moves into his followers being a child-like disciples. 


And a child-like disciple should be what the community of believers are made up of. Yet the reality is, these types of child-like disciples are quickly looked down on, because we can easily fall into where the disciples are. They are looking for advancement, for high status, and a disciple who is child-like, is quickly demeaned and will either be ran off or turned into a status seeker too.

This is why Jesus speaks in such harsh words, about a stone that was used to crush grain being tied around a person's neck and thrown into the water, who causes a child-like disciple to sin.


Jesus then transitions to recognize the reality of the world, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”

Temptations are a part of life in a sinful fallen world, and each one of us is responsible for our respond to temptation; whether if we respond in sin or in righteousness. Yet, Jesus goes after those that bring about temptation, both those in the world and those in the community of believers. If you tempt another to sin, there is greater punishment from God for you. 

So Jesus calls for his child-like disciples to cut out all temptation from their lives. This is a rehash of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-30, where he used almost identical language. Jesus isn’t speaking of literally cutting off appendages, but those things that tempt us; whether it be people, places, objects, or thoughts are to be cut out of our life. 


From here Jesus finishes this thought with the parable of the lost sheep. God’s desire is for the restoration of humanity back to himself. God is seeking constantly those who are lost. When you are the sheep who has been found, you are brought back to the enclosure, safe and secure in the fold of God, but God is still seeking the lost. We are the Church meeting together in one such secure pen of God, yet God is still seeking the lost in our community. And when he brings one back, we are to rejoice and help build them up in their child-like faith, not causing them to stumble, but showing the same grace that brought us from being lost ourselves.

Jesus is seeking his disciples to be humble in their faith like a child is, and to be gracious builders into his other disciples. 


If we are active in exercising our faith, being transformed in it, constantly seeking God, and consistently reapplying the basics, then we will be a community of disciples you are both child-like ourselves, and builders of other disciples. 


But if we skip just a chapter away in chapter 19 verse, 13 and following, we can see that the twelve disciples were not responding to Jesus as he intended. We read this, “13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”


It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting status, to think that we are better than we actually are. Our knowledge of God, our time in the faith, the great things that we have seen God do, our struggles for God, can all give us a mindset of wanting status in Jesus’ kingdom. A, God owes me, mentality.

God’s cure for that is a constant reminder that we are saved by his grace. This is why Paul emphatically states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”


Let us each respond to God’s call to be child-like in our faith. Seeking God that we might recognize our need for him, and be humbled in our lives.


This week I want to challenge you to be child-like in your faith. Take time and do a child like activity. Draw a picture of something a child would. Look at the world through a child’s eyes. Speak to a child, asking them their thoughts on God, and then ponder how they see him. Children are not our example for theology, but they will help us understand that we are far less than we think we are. They will help us seek God as his children, weak, trusting, dependent, instead of cruel, power hungry, and self-sufficient. 


Let us be a community of believers, who seeks God’s righteousness, by being humble, encouraging one another to grow ever deeper in our relationships with God. Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Matthew Series, Week 30 - “Always Seeking the Infinite”

 What is heaven like, is a common question pastors get asked. A lot of our views on spiritual domains comes from medieval depictions. The devil is cast in red with horns, a spiked tail, and pitch fork. Cherub are chubby child like creatures who’s wings look like they couldn’t carry a pencil let alone what they are attached to. Hell is a descending pit in which the unrighteous are tormented in various ways with the final realm being the place where satan forever is chewing on the worst of the worse. And heaven is fluffy clouds with angels perched with golden harps, and God is the kindly old man. 

Yet the Bible speaks of all of these things very differently. Satan is described as coming as an angel of light. Hell is a flaming place, but will be consumed in the Lake of Fire. Cherub are frightening creatures with multiple faces and eyes all over. And God is the Holy One, in the presence of which people have no other course of action but to fall down in worship. 

Our human misconceptions of biblical realities become caricatures of what lies beyond our physical plane and it lessens the impact these beings and places on us. Satan becomes horrific in appearance in our minds, and then we fall to the temptations of the enemy because were not on our guard for the shining angel that brings false tidings. And we do not worship God rightly because we do not grasp the holiness of God that brings his love to humanity. God seeks for us to understand him on his terms. It’s the misconceptions that can be a detriment to a relationship with God, and it’s what will see happen in our study today.

 

This brings us back to our summer series in the Gospel of Matthew where we’ll be picking it back up in Matthew chapter 16, starting in verse 21. And as we open up to Matthew 16:21, let’s look back on the last couple of weeks to bring our minds back to where we are in God’s Word.


In the last three weeks, there has been a consistent theme running between section three and four of Matthew’s Gospel, and that theme is faith. Three weeks ago we saw Jesus calling his disciples’ to exercise their faith. We saw this in the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water. Following that, we saw Jesus calling his disciples to a transformative faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then last week we saw Jesus call his disciples to a faith that consistently seeks him. 

This understanding that each of us needs to take our faith seriously leads us into both this week and eventually Jesus fourth sermon and how our faith interconnects with the faith of other disciples. But there’s one more area to cover before we get there, and so we turn back to Matthew chapter 16, where we’ll cover both the end of chapter 16 and almost all of chapter 17. Let’s read together.


“16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

“22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’

“23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’

“24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

“28 ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

“17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

“4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

“5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’

“6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

“9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

“10 The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’

“11 Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

“14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’

“17 ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

“19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’

“20 He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ [21 But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting]

“22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.”


There are six mini-sections that we need to take in turn so that we can see the progression of what is going on in the overarching teaching that, through the Holy Spirit, Matthew is trying to convey to us.


The first mini-section occurs in verses 21-23 of chapter 16. Just before this, and what we looked at last week, we saw Peter’s confession about Jesus being the Messiah. But Peter didn’t fully grasp that concept. Peter was focusing on his perception of what the Messiah was, rather than the reality of Jesus being the Messiah. This fact that Peter could confess such a monumental truth, yet still not fully grasp it, should give us comfort that we can accept a godly truth, and then over time have God reveal the scope of that truth. We don’t have to understand all concepts of God at the infancy of our faith.

Yet Peter’s desire for a Messiah to overthrow kingdoms, would have changed Jesus’ purpose of salvation through the spiritual need of defeating sin’s control and paying its price. Therefore Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is connected to Satan, who also wanted to change Jesus’ Messiahship to one that would fall under his dominion, we saw this back in Matthew chapter 4. This shows us that, like we talked about last week, we must take Jesus on his terms and not our own. Because we might be playing into the enemy’s mindset, rather than God’s. This mindset of Peter’s needs to be changed and so, we’re given the next mini-section about what the kingdom is.


In verse 16:24-17:1 Jesus turns his disciples’ to what his kingdom is, it’s not what they think. Glamor, earthly glory, riches, no, it’s the barring of a cross, both for Jesus and for those that would follow him. Yet the very idea of the cross seems to undermine Jesus’ Messiahship. The cross was for the criminals, not for the rulers. But this cross doesn’t negate the reality that Jesus is God. The cross doesn’t negate the glory of Jesus. So there will be a time when the world will see Jesus in his full glory, with angels surrounding him, but that’s not this time. This time it’s the broken body of Jesus, this time it’s his spilt blood, this time it’s seemly a defeated Messiah, but it’s necessary for the satisfaction of the justice of God, and it’s the means by which God’s love would be extended to humanity.

But just because the kingdom is a cross that is to be bore, it doesn’t mean that Jesus is defeated. No, the cross is the purpose to which Jesus has come, but it does not take away his glory. And so Jesus gives a promise, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

When Jesus speaks of some standing there will see him in his kingdom, the Greek word basileia (bas-il-i’-ah) carries with it the connotation of royal power, not just a geographical location. And so we need to look at the context to get a better idea on how Matthew uses this moment in the series of moments we’re reading.

And what do we see? The very next sentence is a time stamp. Matthew rarely uses time in his Gospel, in fact we only have one other instance of days being counted up to this point in his Gospel account; this is found in Matthew 4:2, where we get the forty days and nights of Jesus being in the wilderness. It seems more than likely that Matthew is making a connection between Jesus’ statement in verse 28 and the following event. In fact, the other synoptic Gospels, Mark and Luke, make this same connection by dating the time between Jesus’ statement and the transfiguration event (Mark 9:1-2, Luke 9:27-28). This would then mean that Jesus’ statement was meant to be interpreted by Peter, James and John that they would see Jesus in his kingdom glory or his royal splendor, and not at his second coming. In other words, this event on the mountain top, is the fulfillment of Jesus’ words about seeing him in his kingdom.


Here we move fully into the transfiguration event, where we see in verse 2 of chapter 17 the appearance of Moses and Elijah. These two specific people appearing most likely represent the law and the prophets, both of which talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection; the topic that is now in full view. This moment should put an end to thought in the disciples’ minds that the cross somehow diminished Jesus’ divine glory. Because here he stands with those who spoke about him in the Hebrew Scriptures, fully seen by his disciples in his divine glory.


From the appearance of Moses and Elijah were taken swiftly into Peter speaking. In verse 4. Peter speaks out of turn in this moment and is answered, not by Jesus but by God the Father. The Father instructs the disciples to, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” This is the common theme throughout the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is the one to whom we should listen and build our lives upon.

This response rattles the three disciples and they fall down terrified, yet Jesus calls them back up and speaks comforting words, “Don’t be afraid.” These words of losing fear, is another common theme throughout Matthew, because those who are Jesus’ disciples do not have to fear the wrath of God. In fact, all those who put their trust into Jesus’ work on on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, are ushered into the very throne room and presence of God. It’s by the unwanted cross, that the disciples will have nothing to fear.


Yet this mountain top experience doesn’t last long. Starting in verse 14 of chapter 17, we see that the other disciples were dealing with their own situation. 

The father of a boy possessed by a demon who throws him into seizures cannot find healing through Jesus’ disciples, even though these disciples were given authority to cast out demons back in Matthew 10:1. Yet they couldn’t cast out this one. 

Jesus’ statement in verse 17 of, “You unbelieving and perverse generation…how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” is directed at the disciples. We have consistently seen the disciples not put their faith into action and therefore show a lack of it. But he isn’t calling them perverse in the sense of the sexual perversion we think about today. They are unbelieving and have distorted/misinterpreted or have made perverse what Jesus has spoken. In other words they have not really listened to Jesus. And what was the Father’s instructions on the mountain top? “Listen to him?”

When the disciples inquire as to why they couldn’t cast the demonic spirit out, Jesus tells them that this particular demonic spirit could “only be cast out through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29).” The disciples, though they were given authority, were not following through on Jesus’ teachings. Teachings that came before their call to be his disciples. Teaching that spoke of prayer and fasting. In a sense, the disciples needed to get back to the basics of their faith.

But here Matthew doesn’t focus on that particular teaching that Mark does, rather it’s the lack of faith of the disciples that is front and center. They still do not comprehend the scope of who Jesus is. Three of the disciples got a glimpse, but the others have not. And so Jesus is exposing how little faith they have. It should be noted that these same disciples have cast out demons before, but what Jesus is pointing out is that the disciples’ faith is stagnant. They think they have everything they need. But because it has not grown as it should, they are revealing that their faith is really lacking. 

Since God is an infinite God, our faith in him should have no boundaries. Our faith is never at and ending point. We have never known all of the things of God. 

We had a girl in the church about a decade ago that I ask ed why should wasn’t coming to Sunday school any more. She told me that she had learned all that were was about God, and that she didn’t need anymore. I told her that she was farther along then me, because God was always teaching me new things. That girl lost her way very quickly and I don’t believe she has come back to God yet. 

We are to ever be applying God’s word to our lives. Reading and re-reading it; always seeking God’s transformational work in us. Until I see a mountain move, my faith still has room to grow and God still has a work in me to complete. But it’s the ever growing faith that will experience mountains moving.


This section ends as it began, Jesus’s prophetic word about his death and resurrection. To which the events prior to this have silenced his disciples’ in their opposition to him, but they still are grieved at the idea. The disciples still were against the idea of Jesus death and resurrection, but they had been silenced through his reveled glory, his rebuke, and his word.


And here’s the take away, Jesus is calling us to an ever expanding faith. A faith that is never satisfied in thinking it’s come to the end, but desires to know the infinite God. A faith that realizes that as long as God is far beyond our understanding, there’s always more to understand. Yet at the same time, a faith that seeks to constantly and consistently reapply the most basic of Jesus’ teaching. Case in point, I should always be revisiting Jesus words of Mark 12:29-31 of loving God, and loving my neighbor as myself. 

God will always have more for us to learn, and always give us opportunities to apply what we have been taught. 


My challenge for you this week is to seek God to grow your faith. That means that you have to leave behind the idea that you’re fine where you are. An ever growing faith, is not content in being stagnant, but seeks the constant work of the Holy Spirit. In adding to this I want to challenge you to re-read Matthew 5-7, asking God to transform you in places that you are lacking so that you may better follow him.


Let us be a people who are satisfied in God’s infiniteness and who seek to know him in it. Even if it takes eternity to do so, which will have, what heaven truly is. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Matthew Series, Week 29 - “Marvelous Knowing”

When someone asks me to pray for them, there are times when I have a sense that they believe that because I’m a pastor my prayers are worth more than someone else’s. Scripture does say that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16b).” But that means that it’s any believer who’s prayers can be powerful and effective, not a holier class. 

And so, when I get this sense, I’lI ask the person two questions, “Will you give God the recognition if your prayer is answered,” and “Will you be mad at God if he doesn’t answer your prayer?” Because if we already know God, then we will both give him the recognition that’s due him, and we will trust in his will. But if we don’t know God then we will take the miracle for ourselves without giving credit to God, or we will use it as another reason not to believe.

But as we’ve seen in the last several weeks in our summer series in Matthew, knowing Jesus is more important than what we can get out of him.


And this idea of knowing Jesus, is what brings us back into the Gospel of Mathew, where we’ll be picking it back up in in chapter 16, verse 1.

And as we open our Bibles to Matthew 16:1, let’s talk about where we are.


In the last two weeks we have been seeing a build up to an “Ahaha” moment. Two weeks ago we saw Jesus challenge the disciples to exercise their faith by feeding the five-thousand, to which they didn’t. Though later Peter would exercise faith by getting out of the boat in a storm and walking on water with Jesus, he quickly reverted to a state of doubting faith.

Then last week we looked at the reason why the religious leaders and the disciples didn’t have the faith that Jesus was searching for. It was because they were so focused on things not of God that they were missing Jesus’ point. Yet it was a non-Jewish Canaanite woman who got it. She displayed the kind of faith that Jesus was looking for. Faith that doesn’t just say it believes, but pursues God no matter what.

It is now in this week that we come to the “Ahaha” moment for the disciples, and a moment that turns Jesus’ focus from training the disciples, to fulfilling his purpose. Let’s read Matthew 16, starting in verse 1.


“1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

“2 He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,”3 and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ Jesus then left them and went away.

“5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 ‘Be careful,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, ‘It is because we didn’t bring any bread.’

“8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

“14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

“15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

“16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

“17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”


In these three moments, we see, not only the “Ahaha” moment, but a transition for both the disciples in their understanding of Jesus, and Jesus’ ministry in general. Let’s take each moment in turn.


First, like last week, a group of religious leaders, come to Jesus and ask him for a sign. This isn’t the first time we see religious leaders coming to Jesus for a sign. Back in Matthew 12, a similar group asked Jesus for the same thing, a miracle to be done. In that case and this one, Jesus tells them that the sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah. In the first case, it’s one of the first times Jesus reveals something about his death and resurrection. In this case another point is at the center of the response.

The religious leaders wanted a sign, Jesus response was to show them that no sign is good enough to the one who is not truly seeking to understand it. Jesus brings up how the people of his day could look towards the sky, and because of the weather they could understand what type of day it was going to be. But take a moment and think about that. They could interpret things that effected their lives, yet here they were given no direct sign form Jesus, because of all the work that had already been going on was the sign. The feeding of the five and four thousand, the healing of countless people. These were signs given to multiple people, and yet they weren’t good enough.

Jesus recognized that signs were not good enough for the religious leaders, and so the sign they would receive would be Jesus’ death and resurrection. A sign that, if understood by people seeking God, would be the greatest sign. Not only would it be great because it was the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work, but it would be the sign that would kick off the final age of humanity. 


From there, Matthew takes us to another moment, this time with the disciples in focus. They’ve just left the religious leaders and their desire for a sign. Reading Jesus’ words it seems easy to understand their meaning, but for the disciples who are focused on food, Jesus’ words are easily misunderstood. They’re thinking about bread, and Jesus is speaking about spiritual realities. At this point the disciples have seen a lot, probably more than any of us could imagine, because the four Gospels do not include everything that Jesus did (John 21:25). 

By connecting these two moments, Matthew gives us an insight into the mindset of the disciples. They were falling into a pattern that was similar to the religious leaders. Signs by Jesus were common place at this point. Thousands being feed, water walking, healings, demons being casted out, were all becoming common place. And so the disciples were headed down a path where they were not realizing what was happening.

Sure they knew that Jesus was a great teacher, that he had power beyond anything hat any of them had ever seen, but did they interpret the signs of the times correctly. The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they could not interpret the sigs of Jesus arrival. Their teachings precluded Jesus as the Messiah, as the Savior that was prophesied, and so, Jesus is therefore warning the disciples to not fall into that same mindset.


And so in the next moment we see, Jesus asks them a question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” This first question is really asking, how do the people around us interpret the signs that are going on right now. To which we get the disciples’ response, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” This is the interpretation of Jesus by those who don’t realize what’s happening. Those who are not interpreting the signs correctly. 

But here’s the big question, this is the make it or break it moment, Jesus asks the question of the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” This question seeks to answer if the yeast of the religious leaders has found root in the disciples. This question seeks to see if the disciples are interpreting everything they have seen correctly. And the response? “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

This answer is the “Ahaha” moment we’ve been building up to for the last two chapters. These guys don’t get a lot of things right. They are dull as Jesus says, more often than not. They falter in their faith time and time again, but they are interpreting the situation correctly. In John’s Gospel, after a particularly hard teaching by Jesus, people begin to leave. Jesus turns to his twelve core disciples and says, “You do not want to leave too, do you (John 6:67)?” To which Peter responds with, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God (6:68-69).”

Though the disciples don’t have it all together, they do interpret what’s going on correctly. Jesus isn’t just a sign provider, he isn’t just a good teacher to follow, he is the God come down. Jesus is the one that has eternal life. Jesus is the one that, love him or hate him, has to be taken on his own terms. 

From Jesus, the religious leaders wanted signs on demand, and the people wanted their physical needs met. Yet Jesus is calling people not to come to him out of their own desires for what they can get out of him, but to know him as he says he is. The Canaanite woman understood this, and now we see that the disciples are beginning to understand as well. 

This doesn’t mean that the disciples will have perfect faith moving forward, as well see next week, the opposite is true, but what it does mean is that they are moving forward. They are interpreting things correctly. It’s not about the signs, miracles, and wonders, it’s about knowing who Jesus is and following him on his terms.


It’s easy for us to be like the religious leaders and the people, wanting these supernatural things from God. Yet what God wants is a deeper personal relationship with us on an individual basis. He wants us to know him, like he knows us. That it’s not about what we can get out of him, but it’s realizing what he has already done for us, and praising him for it.


Jesus isn’t calling us to perfect faith, but rather to a faith that seeks him for who he is. That kind of faith can falter, but is moves forward because it seeks the object of its faith, the Creator who made us. 

My challenge for you this week is to go before God and just be satisfied with knowing him. If you are asking God for a miracle, ask him to strip you of the mindset that seeks him for what you can get, rather that who he is. It’s not wrong to ask God to move in miraculous ways, we ask him for those every time we lift up a person in prayer, but we need to come to a point where we are satisfied with knowing God, in the absence of miraculous works.

In addition to this, we need to be mindful of the events that are going on around us. We need to have our eyes open to where we find ourselves in human history. Everyday we step closer to the return of Jesus and it seems that day is speeding closer at break neck speed. 

This week, re-read the passage seeing the difference between the mindset of wanting God for miracles, and wanting God for who he is. And pray that your desire to know Jesus will out weigh your desire for what you can get out of him. Then seek the moment of the Holy Spirit to keep you mindful so that you can be interpret the situation that God has put you in.


Let us seek God, to know the Creator as he desires us to know him, so that we are people who may interpret the times around us as our God has worked them out to be. Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Matthew Series, Week 28 - “Transformed Heart”

  With our teenagers we try to not only speak to their spiritual needs, but their physical needs as well. And I’m not talking about feeding them when we have some sort of program or event. What I’m talking about is helping them with life skills. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a teen not know how to vacuum, or sweep, or wipe down a table, or even use a fork and knife properly.

I had one student several years back named Cobey. For three of our In-Town Trips in a row I had him do the same job, wipe down the floor edges of the kitchen. The first year I told him what to do, and then I had to go back and redo it. The second year I told him to do it and then had him redo it with me. It wasn’t until the third year that he did a satisfactory job to where we didn’t have to go over it again. 

But that wasn’t the only instance like that. The second year we were asked by a lady over in Quail RV Park, to clean her the areas on both sides of her single-wide. I had a simple job for Codey, move the pieces of furniture, knock down the spider webs, sweep the area, and put everything back. I went back three times to tell him what needed to be down. Finally on the fourth time I did it myself because we were running out of time. Now either Codey wasn’t getting it, or he played me for a foul because I ended up doing the work.

But I have to tell you that in the third year, when he was able to accomplish his task without help, I was ecstatic. He finally got it. I love telling that story because gave me hope that if Cobey could finally get it, any teen can.


And it’s this idea of hope that people can grasp something that brings us back to our Matthew series where we’ll pick it back up in Matthew chapter 15, verse 1. And as we open up to chapter 15 of Matthew, let’s remind ourselves of where we are.

Last week we started in on section 4 of Matthew’s Gospel account of Jesus’ life, where we talked about how Jesus was calling his disciples to exercise their faith. Too often we as disciples abdicate our role as ministers of the Gospel. Jesus original disciples were given ab opportunity to be a part of Jesus’ Kingdom work in the feeding of the five-thousand, but they faltered. Peter then took the initiative and walked with his Master on water, and still faltered. Yet in both cases, Jesus didn’t abandon them, but moved them forward in their faith. We too need to respond to the calling of God, though we may falter, so that we can move forward in our relationship with him.


With that in our minds we continue into chapter 15, where we’ll see a full circle moment. Let’s read together starting in verse 1.


“1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’

“3 Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is "devoted to God,” 6 they are not to “honor their father or mother” with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 ‘“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”’

“10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’

“12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’

“13 He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’

“15 Peter said, ‘Explain the parable to us.’

“16 ‘Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them. 17 ‘Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.’

“21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’

“23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’

“24 He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’

“25 The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.

“26 He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

“27 ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’

“28 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.

“29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

“32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’

“33 His disciples answered, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?’

“34 'How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish.’

“35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.


Coming out of chapter 14 we saw Jesus calling his disciples into his kingdom work. Here we now see two groups: those that are not apart of that kingdom work, and those that are; something we’ll see again in chapter 16. These two groups are the religious leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, and the Canaanite woman. 


Let’s take them in order. First we have the Pharisees and scribes. This is the third time that Jesus has a direct conversation with this group. We saw Jesus in chapters 9 and 12 dealing with them in connection to forgiving sin and the Sabbath. In both cases, Jesus claims to be the God of Israel because he can forgive sin and he is Lord of the Sabbath.

In the encounter we see in chapter 15, Jesus is challenge by these religious leaders for breaking the tradition of hand washing before a meal. Here we see Jesus’ response as a pretty harsh rebuke when he chastises them for dishonoring parents and then quotes Isaiah to drive home the point, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”

But this is the m.o. of the Pharisees and other religious leaders, they are so concerned with a tradition to keep them on the straight and narrow that they miss the actual purpose of the Word of God. In the case that Jesus brought up, the religious leaders thought that by giving the money that was needed to take care of parents to God, it was honoring God. But the reverse was true. They were actually causing people to dishonor God by not taking care of the need of the parents. 

James picks this up in his second chapter where he writes, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it (v.14-16)?”

The religious leaders had a distorted understanding of what God desires from us, but the action is not key here. If it were, Jesus would not follow up with what he tells the crowd, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

What is key is the motivation of the action. The Pharisees think that if we just do these certain actions then we will be accepted by God, but Jesus takes it deeper as he did with his first sermon we saw back in chapters 5-7. Our motivation is what’s important and that’s a heart issue. 

David in his Psalm of confession wrote this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).” The prophet Ezekiel records God saying this, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).”

It’s a heart issue, and so a heart transplant needs to occur. A rebirth needs to occur. That rebirth can only happen when we accept Jesus as our Savior, are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and follow what God says in his Word. 

 

That takes us to the second group, the Canaanite woman. To put this moment into perspective, if the Israelites had done what they were suppose to do back in the early days of Israel, in the time of Joshua and following it, there should be no Canaanite woman. Her people would have been driven out of the land long ago, and this moment wouldn’t have occurred. Yet God works, even when we do not follow through on what he has told us to do, and he brings goodness out of it.

And so we have the Canaanite woman in desperation. She hounds Jesus and the disciples because her daughter is possessed. The disciples want to send her away, something that has become common for them to do. Send away the five-thousand, no miracle, send away this woman, no miracle. 

So what does Jesus do? He states, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” This is a statement of Jesus’ mission. This is what he was supposed to be doing. He was there to call the covenant people of God, the nation of Israel, back to himself and thereby fulfilling the covenant and prophecies of the Old Testament. But he didn’t send here away like the disciples requested. And because of this statement, we see something that we haven’t seen in the last two chapters, an unfaltering faith. 

Jesus told the disciples to feed the five-thousand and they faltered. Peter walked out of the boat and faltered. Here is a woman who is being dissuaded to see Jesus, and she keeps at it. She comes to him and has an interaction.

“‘Lord, help me!’…26 He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Yes it is, Lord…Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’

This Canaanite woman, who, for all intents and purposes shouldn’t be here, exercises a persistent faith that even the disciples have not shown of being capable of doing. Now Jesus isn’t being mean, or calling this woman a dog, but rather is being analogous to what his purposes are and where she finds herself in connection with those purposes. Yet she persists because she realizes that depth of love Jesus has. How many times at this point have we heard that Jesus has compassion on the people? She realizes this and pursues him.

Jesus’ reaction is telling, “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.”

Immediately Matthew takes us from that triumphal moment to the feeding of the four-thousand. If we’re paying attention, hearing or reading this for the first time, we should be excited, because now the disciples will surely step up and do the feeding. 

But nope. They find themselves in an almost identical situation as before, and their response to Jesus’ compassion is the inability to see that God can do miracles. It’s kind of a let down. It seems that we were building to a great epic moment where the disciples, seeing the feeding of the five-thousand, seeing the walking on water, seeing Jesus call them to a heart transformed faith, and seeing the persistent faith of the Canaanite woman, and then the disciples, don’t do anything except doubt.

This doesn’t stop Jesus from performing the miracle, and what I find interesting is that Jesus doesn’t chastise them about it. Why? Because I think Jesus knows that they are close. They are close to having light bulbs go off, but their just not there yet.


The disciples are still trapped in the religious leaders’ mindset. There are certain outward performances that can and cannot happen. They have not realized that it begins with inward transformation of the heart, through accepting Jesus as Savior and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

In Ezekiel’s recording of God speaking about having a heart of flesh put in us, God follows that up by saying, “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (36:27).” It’s not enough to have a working knowledge of God, the Pharisees had that. No we need a transformed life. A life that isn’t based on thinking if I do certain things that’s what gets me right with God. No we need a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Not just no cussing, but having God transform our desire to cuss. Not just not getting drunk, or not having sex outside of marriage, but having a transformation of the desire to not do these things.

If we think that God just wants us to be good little boys and girls, then we’ll miss it. We’ll be the weeds pulled up by God who thought we were doing it the right way, fulfilling our religious duty, but in reality, missing the transformed life that Jesus died to bring us. 


It’s easy to fall into the thought that if I perform these comfortable rituals, ff I go to church, if I say my prayers, if I read my Bible, if I give money to the church, God will be satisfied. When in reality, God wants us to follow his Word which transforms us from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s uncomfortable stuff, that brings us face-to-face with the sin in our lives, but unless we have a rebirth in this way, we will not walk with Jesus in his Kingdom to come. This is the whole conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John chapter 3.


My challenge for you this week is to read through the two groups, the Pharisees’ and the Canaanite woman’s stories, going before God seeking his transformed life. Asking God to create in you a heart of flesh, a heart that seeks him and desires to be transformed. These challenges are not to give you a false idea of, well if I just do them then God will be happy. No, these challenges are to challenge you to lose your comfortable life and embrace the transformative work of God. This can only be done through submission to the work the Holy Spirit, but when we do we will see the walking on water, the feeding of the multitudes, the freeing of those in bondages of all types. Because that’s what Jesus desires, and what we will see more in the weeks to come.


Let us go out from here people seeking the transformation of God by his Holy Spirit to bring glory to our Savior, and honor to our Father. Amen.