Monthly Archives: April 2015

Picnic’s Parables Pharisees and Peter

Post covers readings of chapters Matthew 13-17

We start out with the Picnic’s – or as they are presented, the feeding of the 5000 and 4000. Obviously Jesus had a lot to teach the crowds who followed Him. Sometimes the crowds stayed as long as 3 days.[13:32] Matthew is the only Gospel that has two events of feeding the crowds. Some have tried to make this an anomaly and that there was only one occasion where the crowds were fed. We must remember not every witness has the same perspective, or details about a certain time frame.  When we look at Matthew and the three times concern over food is brought up, we get the point that the disciples really didn’t understand, especially when Jesus talks about “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” they take it that Jesus is talking about how that they for the third time did not bring anything to eat. [16:5-12] While I think that it is great to recount the events of feeding the multitude, we miss much of the meaning if we don’t include the Syro-Phoenician woman [a gentile woman], and her request for “crumbs off the table” – Jesus appears to be very insensitive towards the woman’s request to heal her daughter. [15:21-28] When we think that there was so much left over after each multitude feeding, why in this case would Jesus refuse to “feed her soul, need?” Jesus instructed the disciples to only go to the “house of Israel” with the Gospel. We know that the Jews for the most part rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Here this woman, as she understood her position as less than nothing, begged for the crumbs from the table. I think that Jesus saw in her the humility and brokenness that the Faith Displayed – compelled him to heal her. Again why is it that those whom Jesus came to “received Him not” [John 1:11] yet so many non-Jews saw Jesus as the Messiah He was?

Jesus taught in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in chapter 13. The various similes identify those who will be in the Kingdom, and those that will not. Often we think that every member of a church will be in the Kingdom, not so – the parable of the Tares is a classic example of how Weeds and Seeds will mixed together in life until God separates them at the last judgment. In the parables the disciples have to keep asking Jesus what their meaning is all about. [He also tells them not to speak of the things they saw at His transfiguration – obviously the disciples while they were privileged to see – they lacked depth of understanding. The Kingdom is compared to a mustard seed that starts very small and when fully grown, is massive – the seed of faith is meant to grow in the believer. The parable of the pearl and treasure indicate the extreme value of the Kingdom. One would sell all they had to obtain it, the Kingdom is not valued very much today, for people have even denied their faith like Esau, who found it to be of no value.

The parable about the casting net full of fish, shows that just as the tares had unacceptable/fruitless plants that must be separated from the true harvest, so there are bad fish and good fish.  Just as the Tares were allowed to co-exist with the good harvest, so the bad [evil of this world] will be mixed in our time on earth. The angels will do the work of separating the good from the bad at the resurrections.

As a side note, it was a heart breaking read to find that Jesus could not do much in His own hometown because there was too much familiarity with Him as “the carpenter’s son.

The nemesis group of Pharisees are always looking for something to proved that Jesus is the Christ, this will change later, for then they will look to accuse Him. It had to be a tough assignment to be a Pharisee without Hope – Nicodemus had a religion but not a relationship. [John 3]

Finally, it is exam day – who do men say that I am? While all the answers given are laudatory, they are all dead guys. But who do you say I am? Peter is notorious for speaking before thinking – “Thou Art The Christ” – yeah!!! A for the day, but an F for not understanding what he said. Jesus could not be the Christ and miss the Cross. Peter had a rough day at school. But don’t we do the same thing sometimes, we have the answer, but the answer never impacted our thinking and way of life?

 

 

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From the Mountain to the Valley

From the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comes down the mountain to be surrounded by large crowds. I couldn’t help but think what a difference it is to be on the Mountain versus the Valley. Many times we want to stay on the mountain top and relish the “good times and highs.” But there is work to be done, and we must come down the mountain to the people. In chapters 8-12, there is a lot of healing ministry and tough questions to be answered by Jesus. These things cause Jesus’ popularity to skyrocket with the people. However, the more popular Jesus became, the more the religious rulers despised Him and His ministry.

In the process of doing daily ministry to whoever asked Him; Jesus also was assembling His “apostles.” We find supernatural events during the ministry of Jesus. He healed lepers, calmed seas, cast out demons, gave sight to the blind, cured a paralytic, mercy to a woman with a blood hemorrhage. The people always went away praising God for the miracles. Jesus continued His “teaching moments” which also was overwhelming. He had to answer a myriad of questions about why He didn’t do things the way the Jewish religious leaders did, with their strict moral and ethic codes. Jesus actually was questioned by John the Baptist disciples [Matthew 11:1-6] “Are you the Messiah or is there someone else? Jesus replied with Isaiah 61:1-4.

Jesus as the Son of God had power over the very creation that He spoke into existence. I note that even in the natural phenomenons, storms, waves winds etc., Jesus displays power and authority over them. The only element of creation that seemingly won’t respond to His authority is mankind. Partly because we are given free will and make our own choices, but mainly because we are fallen humanity, and have a bent towards sinning.

Two passages [Matt 7:16-21 & 12:33-37] really stuck out for me. I asked myself the question, especially in regards to John 15:2 – is the tree bad because of the bad fruit or is the fruit bad because of the bad tree. Matthew 12:33 – clears this up quickly the problem is a  bad tree. What this means is the internal characteristics of the tree determine the fruit seen visible. So also this is true for us. If Christ is in our soul, the fruit will be good. We really can tell if someone is redeemed or not. By their fruits you will know them!

Recently a particular verse has made its way deep into my heart – Matthew 10:16, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. This is a difficult verse because ravenous wolves kill and shred without regard to anything else. We know the bible explicitly tells us that as they persecuted Jesus that we should expect it too. But we strive to do our best NOT to suffer for Christ.  Yet the test of Discipleship is the willingness to follow and experience what Jesus experienced. Paul took great joy [not happiness] in “the fellowship of His [Christ’s] suffering being conformed to His death. [Phil 3:10]

Jesus does not paint a very glamorous picture for would-be disciples. The biblical account of daily discipleship is a far cry from what is lived out in Western Christianity.

Our reading for this period ends with questions about the Sabbath observances. Obviously the religious rulers were watching Jesus’ every move, not to follow Him but to look for fault or ability to accuse Him of wrong doing. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man [and beast] not Man for the Sabbath. Too often I think “church life” can get so legalistic about what is the way to worship God, that we wind up putting so many restrictions to our worship; and wind up worshiping our system of beliefs instead of Jesus the subject/object of our worship.

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Grace and More Grace

Our reading of the Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. There are a lot of names, and some very important ones. Most of the time I hear people say, “yeah, I just skip over those names, I can’t pronounce them anyway. ”

I find it also interesting that chapter 1 is “the record [book] of genealogy of Jesus.” This similar statement is found throughout Genesis the Book of Beginnings.  [Gen 5, 10, 11:10, 25:12, 36:9, are examples]

In a society that paid little regard to women, Matthew [the former Tax Collector Levi] includes women. But not just any women, some very questionable reputation women.

Tamar – she is the daughter-in-law to Judah, but when he did her wrong in not providing a husband, she tricked him through harlotry.  Yet is included in the line of Jesus through Perez.

Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who hid the spies from enemies.  I have often wondered if the “scarlet” thread later became the symbol of the “Red light district.” Anyway she married Salmon, Salmon is the father of Boaz.

Ruth – the Moabitess, married one of Naomi’s sons. She follows Naomi to Bethlehem and marries Boaz through levrite marriage.  It is through this line that we get to David, through Jesse the grandchild of Boaz.

Bathsheba – the Hittite, wife of murdered Uriah, the adulteress of David. This is of a different sort, but she becomes the mother of Solomon,the wisest man ever.  Very interesting, especially when the Pharisees boasted about their clean lineage of Abraham. Funny actually, because God used people from scandalous backgrounds to get to the earthly parents of Jesus. In each case of where God uses what we might call questionable or unacceptable people, we would do well to remember, there is nothing about us that God should be taken in by us. God uses the foolish things to confound the wise. [1 Cor. 1:26-ff]

We have also read the Sermon on the Mount. This passage [chapters 5-7] have come under lots of scrutiny. Many hold that this was just for then and not for us. Others have tried to say that this was the epitome of what life would be like lived in Heaven, because what is commanded is too difficult to be lived out on earth.  But neither of these views holds much strength. The view I take is the view that it “depicts the normal Cristian life.”

We have all heard of the Beatitudes in chapter five. Some have translated the “Blessed” to “happy.” Pardon me, but blessed and happy really don’t seem to be equal.

One might wonder why would such stringent commands be given? Well the reality is that no one could come close to living out the Sermon on the Mount, which would then lead us to the grace of God. Man cannot save himself, if we thought we could be good enough to merit salvation, the Sermon on the Mount would be the litmus test.  Even where Jesus cites the Law requirements, he extends them. I think I remember a rich young ruler saying he had done all the commandments and really failed to keep the first one. [Mark 10:17-22]

The series of “you have heard it said, but I say to you” statements shows how it isn’t just the letter of the Law that is to be obeyed, but the “spirit and intent” of the Law. [Matt 5:21-23, 27-30, 31-32, 33-37, 38-42, and 43-48]

I hold to a belief that the Sermon on the Mount really is meant to be lived out here on earth, not to be tossed aside because it is too difficult for us to do. The fact that Christ is IN US, that is the power of our obedience.  Man on his own could never attain the requirements of holy living, which is what this passage is all about. Because of our inability to live right, the Law becomes our school Master to show us our sin, and leads us to salvation based on grace. [Eph. 2:8-10]

 

 

 

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Vain Religion

James nick named “old Camel Knees” [because he had worn callouses on his knees from praying]  is the half-brother of Jesus. He is an after the resurrection believer. He and his siblings did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. We don’t want to confuse this James with the James that is martyred in Acts, that person is John’s brother, the sons of Zebedee.

There are so many topics covered in this short book, yet the value of the book is unmeasured. There is often a thought that James is advocating salvation by Works, which would be contrary to Paul’s Gospel of Grace. These two men are not in competition, but is cooperation. Paul speaks of Salvation, whereas James speaks of sanctification. James writes to a Jewish converted audience. His emphasis on faith without works and works without faith fits into the Jewish ritualistic religion. Faith is seen in the good works of the person. We work because we are saved, not to be saved. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 – that God has prepared beforehand good works that we should walk in them. Jesus was confronted with the question of how could people see that He had the power to forgive sin with the Lame man in Mark 2. But so that the audience knew that Jesus is the Son of God, He told the man to rise up and take his mat and walk. The faith of belief is seen by the things we do. There is a fine line for us because many people do good deeds, but they may only be humanitarians at heart not believers.

The topic of trials and tribulations is a straight forward encouragement to the hearers. This is difficult in western Christianity, for we feel that we have done a noble thing if we have avoided persecution. Nothing could be further from the truth. If our lives are lived out correctly, then we will [should expect] trials and tribulations. I often have to be reminded that it is only when I am hurting or struggling with life/walk that I grow the most. As a child I wanted to be tall, but I would have to experience growing pains to do so. If we are to grow to the full stature of God [Eph. 4:12-13] then there will be pain involved. Matt 5:10-12 informs us that in is suffering for the sake of the Gospel, not fall-out from our own inconsistent behavior.

2 Timothy 3:12 and Jame 1:12 have been verses recently that I have clung too. There is must about our world that hurts and scars us as believers, but we must have the proper perspective, if the world persecuted Jesus, then we also will be persecuted. The issue in Western Christianity is we don’t want to suffer for our faith – what a contrast to our brothers and sisters dying for the faith in the Middle East!

So much of James is counsel for us about how to live, so that our religion will not be in vain. How to control the tongue is an often used passage when gossip and slander become issues in the Church. It is sad that the Church seems to kill it own.

James talks about prayer in chapter 4; he points out the reason we do not get answered prayer – we ask not for the Kingdom of God’s glory, but for our own comfort. This chapter has strong admonishment for holiness for the believer.  James offers a great example of how strong prayer is as a weapon against evil when he speaks of Elijah’s prayers. Prayers are strong for the healing of the sick, against the wickedness of evil and Satan and dealing with conflict. Obviously there must have been members that were at odds with each other because James continually speaks of not complaining and quarreling with each other.

Finally, James gives the exhortation to be patient. James 5:7-11 specifically challenges us to live our lives under the timetable of the Lord.  God is not slack as some men count slackness, but is patient towards us, wishing that none should perish but that all would come to repentance. James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

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Sarah or Hagar

This isn’t about two women fighting for the same thing. Both were wives of Abraham. In Genesis God had promised Abraham an heir. The impatience of Abraham is revealed when years have passed and no child. Abraham tried to claim Eliezer as his heir, but that was not God’s Promise. [Genesis 15 & 16]

Sarah finds a possible solution, in that she cannot have a child, but her young handmaid could, offers Abraham Hagar to make the Promise come true. However, the One who makes the Promise is responsible for the fulfillment. The story goes that Hagar has a son by Abraham named Ishmael. [Man’s solution to God’s promise]

When Sarah and Abraham finally have a child – Isaac 25 years after the Promise; there begin a war of sorts between Sarah and Hagar.  At stake in the family is either Ishmael or Isaac will receive the Blessing, Birthright and Promise, but not both. The conflict mounts to a point where, Sarah tells Abraham to get rid of Hagar! [Hagar’s lineage becomes the Arab nations] God was good to Ishmael is that he became great in his own right. However, Isaac was the Son of Promise. God did not recognize Ishmael as a legitimate heir. [See Genesis 22]

The nations of Israel and Arabs have been continually fighting for Inheritance Rights.

I have said all this to lead up to what Paul describes in Galatians 4-6. Legitimate heirs of the Promise. Paul illustrates metaphorically that Hagar is Mount Sinai and Sarah is Mount Zion. Sinai is representative of the Law given to Moses. But Zion is representative of the freedom from the Law. Now the Law does have its place within our lives, it is our schoolmaster to teach us; a tutor of sorts that reveals to us the failings as sinners. Without the Law there is no transgression. We cannot keep the Law and is holds us under its power. But when salvation through Grace occurs, by receiving the “Son of Promise” Jesus was are set free.  Another way of looking at this is Hagar is man’s answer as a result of “Man’s” decision; but Sarah is the “grace” decision of God.

Paul uses these illustrations to show that if a person is under the Law, then they are trying to gain inheritance through man’s works. But is a person is living in the liberty of God’s provision to the Promise – Grace, then there is no need to keep the Law. The Law has done its work. Through the Promise of Christ we have become heirs and joint-heirs with Christ – we are free. If we are free from the requirements of the Law, why then would we go back under the Law to gain sanctification?

In chapter 5 and 6 we are confronted with the Fruit of the Spirit versus the Works of the Flesh. There is warfare between the two. [Galatians 5:16-17] Each produces its own kind of results. The flesh is always at war with the Spirit and vise-a-verse.

As Believers we can either live in the Liberty of Christ, or allow ourselves to be re-shackled to performance oriented Christianity. If we have died with Christ at Calvary, we should also live in the Life of Jesus because of the resurrection.[Galatians 2:20] We do not live the Christian life by doing what we think God wants [our effort in trying to provide what God promised] but by living the life of Christ that has been received by faith in Jesus. We have “come of age” – lets us go on living in the power of being the Heir of Salvation!

 

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