Showing posts from November, 2023

The Attitutude of a Servant Pt 2

The Heart of a Servant Pt 2 Matthew 20:20-28 “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”               The disciples were in turmoil.  The mother of James and John had requested that Jesus appoint her two sons to be the leaders in his kingdom.  To sit on the right and left hand was equivalent to being second in command, for these were the highest positions of honor.  When the other disciples heard of the request, they were incensed, wanting the same positions of honor. As a result, a heated debate threatened to fracture the disciples' unity.               In response to the rising tension, Jesus calls the disciples together to confront the crisis.  Jesus reminds them that the world’s perspective is about position and power.  Christ is not condemning those in authority; he is confronting the insecurities and pride that lead to self-elevation.  These individuals see power and authority as something to grip with a tight-fisted clutch.  They wrap up their identity with

The Mark of a Servant

The Attitude of a Servant Pt 1 Matthew 20:17-19 “They will hand him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”               Would you go into a situation when you knew for sure that it would result in your death?  If we knew it would lead to our demise, we would avoid it at all costs.  If it were within our power, we would find an alternative.             As Jesus prepares to go up to Jerusalem, he informs the disciples of the events that will transpire.  The disciples knew the risks of the Jewish leaders' opposition and hatred towards Jesus.  They knew that going up to Jerusalem involved a high level of risk.  In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter sought to persuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem.  In his mind, the risk was too great. Furthermore, it did not fit the narrative of the purpose of Christ’s ministry.  In the minds of the disciples, Jesus was going to establish his Messianic kingdom now, not in some future day.  Furthermor

The Surprise Reward

The Unexpected Gift Matthew 20:1-16 “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”               The day started as any other day; workers came to the place of business to look for someone to hire them.  Quickly, they were hired to work for the standard wage of one denarius.  Pleased with the wage, they promptly went to the fields to begin the work.  However, the owner of the Vineyard realized that the job needed more laborers for the harvest was great, but the number of available workers was few.  Realizing his need, he repeatedly returned to the market to search for more workers.  Five times, he searched for workers, and five times, he hired those who were available.               As was the requirement of the Old Testament law, the man paid each his wage. However, he started with the person hired last.  Surprisingly, he paid the person who only worked one day a full denarius.  Seeing what he paid those who only worked one hour, the other workers were excited.  If he paid those wh

The Reward of Complete Surrender

The Reward of Complete Surrender Matthew 19:27-30 “And Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”               It is easy to have strings attached to our obedience to Christ.  We want the benefits of heaven but not the costs. We are willing to serve and obey Christ—as long as it is on our terms.  It needs to fit within our schedule and our convenience.  It must be with the cost of pursuing our agenda and plans.  It needs to be in line with our thoughts and values.             In response to the shallow faith of the rich you man, Peter inquires what their reward would be.   Peter is not asking for a reward for himself; instead, he is inquiring if they have done what is necessary to earn a reward.  They had forsaken everything to follow Christ.  In contrast to the rich young man, the disciples did not merely follow Jesus for a couple of days and then go

The Value of Surrender

God’s Value System:  The True Treasure Matthew 19:16-26 “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.”               What we value is what we treasure and strive to attain.  A young, rich man comes to Jesus with a remarkable and insightful question. There is no more important question we may ask than the question: “Teacher, what good things shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”  This one question is the most critical of all the questions we wrestle with, and we desire to find a clear answer.  It is a question we must all ask.  “What do I need to do to obtain eternal life?”               However, even as he asks the question, there is a hint that he is looking for the wrong answer.  His question related to his works.  In his mind, salvation was attained through our efforts, and the way to God is obtained by living a good life. He stands in contrast to the little children who came to Jesus. 

God's Value System

God’s Value System Part 1 Matthew 19:13-15 “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”               The disciples were disturbed.  Their busy day, filled with interruptions, was now being interrupted by children.  Their schedule was filled with what they considered important activities.  They were in discussions with the rich, the influential, and the powerful.  The reader should notice that the interruption of the children was in the middle of Jesus interacting with the Pharisees.  They were the spiritual and religious leaders.  They were men of significant influence over the people.  If Jesus were to gain the following necessary to establish his kingdom, they would need them as part of the team.  Following his interaction with the Pharisees, Jesus interacted with a rich young ruler.  He was one of the social elite and powerful.  He was the type of person the disciples wanted to connect with to gain his influ

God's Intent for Marriage

God’s Intent for Marriage Matthew 19:1-9 “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”               In reading this passage, we often fail to see the importance of what Jesus is saying.  The focus immediately goes to the “exception clause” and its meaning.  Thus, the focus is on when divorce is permissible and prohibited.  While that is a critical discussion that is both complex and controversial, we miss the main point of Jesus' statement.              The Pharisees came to Jesus to test him by asking him when it was permissible to get a divorce.  For them, just like for us, there was a great deal of controversy and debate.  The Pharisees that followed the Teaching of Shammai argued that the correct interpretation of the statement “found some indecency in her” in Deuteronomy 24:1 referred only to sexual unfaithfulness.  Others, who adhered to the teaching of Hillel, argued that it allowed for divorce even

The Lost Art of Forgiveness

The Lost Art of Forgiveness Matthew 18:23-35  “ My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from   [ g ] your heart.”               The parable is easy to understand but one of the most difficult to apply.  We are familiar with the story but often fail to use its implications for our lives.  It is for others but not for ourselves.                The story begins with a servant who owes an insurmountable debt.  It was an insurmountable amount, one talent equal to 6,000 denarii, or 20 years of wages for the average worker.  The fact that the servant owed such a large amount not only suggests gross mismanagement of the master's funds but embezzlement as well.  For the servant, there was no possibility of repaying such a large debt.  When the master announced that he must repay the amount immediately or face imprisonment, there was no hope.  His only hope was to plead for mercy.  While he asks for more time, the Master does the unexpected

Caring about Lost Sheep

Caring about the Lost Matthew 18:15-20 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”               We need to ask ourselves two questions:  First, do we care enough about others to confront them when they fall into sin?  Second, do we have a strong enough desire to grow in Christ that we welcome someone when they confront us with sin?  We must ask these two questions in response to the passage before us.  The mantra today is that we are not to judge others.  In other words, we are not to condemn any sin in other people's lives. Instead, we are to accept not only them but also their behavior.  If we denounce corruption, we are labeled as judgmental.  However, this passage dispels that argument.              As we read this passage that outlines the process of church discipline, we must place it into the context of the lost sheep.  In the previous verses, God deeply cares for anyone who strays from his truth.  Verses 15

The Value of One

Never Devalue the Value of One Matthew 18:12-14 “So it is not the will of our father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”               For those involved in ministry, whether a pastor or a Sunday School teacher, it is easy to get discouraged when we do not see visible, outward results.  This is especially true in the small church.  We see the growth of other churches; we hear of the dramatic effects that others achieve and become discouraged because we do not see those same results.  We would like to be the one others talk about for our dramatic results.  Thus, we struggle with the question, “Is my ministry valuable when just a few are influenced by the gospel?”             In this parable, Jesus compares his attitude to that of a shepherd.  In the story, one of his sheep has gone astray.  Instead of worrying about the ninety-nine sheep and their safety, he immediately searches for the one that is lost.  What is remarkable about the story is that the flock is still

Dealing with Sin

Dealing with Sin Matthew 18:7-11 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”               Our natural tendency in our sinful state is to minimize the severity of sin.  We make excuses and strive to justify our actions. We like to categorize sin by our view of its severity.  We regard some sins as abhorrent, while others we justify.  We rightfully condemn murder and theft but justify our bitterness and anger towards others.  We condemn dishonesty but fudge on our taxes and justify it by stating that “they get their fair share.”  In our natural, sinful nature, we recognize sin in the lives of others but justify and minimize our own. What we do on a personal level, we do on a societal level as well.  Person sin becomes the product of society's ills rather than the treacherous condition of our soul.               For all our justification of sin, sin alwa

Protecting Children

Protecting Our Children Matthew 18:6-7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks…but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes.”               We live in a time of unprecedented moral change. Wrong has become right, and right has become wrong.  However, the tsunami of change that has blown across our country would not have surprised Paul.  For Paul, it was predictable.  In Romans 1, he warns that once a society has rejected God and forsaken his moral compass, the natural outcome is not only society embracing immorality, but they would “give hearty approval to those who practice them” Romans 1:28-32.               Having pointed to the importance of becoming like a child to enter into the kingdom of God, Jesus warns those who would lead a child down the path of moral and spiritual corruption. Anyone who entices an innocent child to sin and deceives them with false truth will face the severe judgment of God.  God takes sin seriously and takes special note of those wh

God's Value System

God’s Value System  Matthew 18:1-6 “Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”               The disciples were like many people today; they measured success by attainment, power, and position.  The disciples were increasingly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to establish his kingdom.  They rightfully understood that the Messianic kingdom would culminate in Christ's physical reign, in which he exerted his sovereign rule over the whole world.  They failed to grasp that the kingdom was also spiritual, involving Christ's spiritual reign over his people, in which we would increasingly manifest his sovereign rule over every facet of life.  For the disciples, the fact that Christ was coming to establish his kingdom in the present age they were concerned about who would obtain the top positions in his kingdom.  For them, success and participation in the kingdom of God involved the ultimate quest f

Adapting for the sake of our testimony.

Adapting for the sake of our Testimony Matthew 17:24-27 “but lest we be a snare to them…give it to them for me and you.”               The event of the Temple Tax is both unusual and has perplexed commentators and misused by some who want to avoid paying taxes to civil authorities.  The events begin with the temple tax collectors approaching Peter and asking him to pay the required tax for the temple.  It is important to note that these were not the civil authorities representing the government. Instead, these were religious leaders who went about to collect the religiously imposed tax for the temple's upkeep. The two-drachma, which was a half-shekel, amounted to two day’s wages for a typical day laborer.  All Israelite males were required by the Jewish religious law to pay the tax annually.  Coming to Peter, they asked if Jesus was going to pay the temple tax. They phrase the question so that they expect an affirmative answer.               In response to their question, Peter com

The Power of Minute Faith

The Power of Faith Matthew 17:14-23 “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”               The disciples were perplexed.  A desperate man had come to the disciples for help.  His son was possessed by a demon who caused his son to attempt to fall into fire or water.  Rightfully fearing for his son’s life, he had come to the disciples for help.  Even though Jesus had given the disciples authority over demons (Matthew 10:8), they failed to help this man and his son.  When Jesus approached the disciples, he brought a strong rebuke upon them.  They had failed, not because of a lack of power, but because they had trusted in themselves rather than the empowerment of God.  The word “faithless” points to the wrong attitude they had towards God.  Instead of trusting in God, they were relying upon their own strength and power.  The word “perverse” points to one who is ‘twisted

Listening to the Right Voice

Listening to the Right Voice Matthew 17:1-13. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”               With all the plethora of voices today, each claiming to have insight into the truth, how do we determine what is true and correct?  We live in a time when we are bombarded with conflicting messages from politics to medicine, morality to religion.  Each claims their answer is correct.  So, how do we know whom to follow and listen to for answers?  The answer lies in their credentials.  During COVID-19, when there was so much contradictory information for guidance, I turned to the one person I knew was qualified to give insight: my son Andrew.  Andrew is finishing up his PhD in Immunology at Cornell University.  I not only trusted his opinion because he was not involved in any of the politics of Covid-19 but he also was involved in the research on Covid-19 and how to strengthen the immune system to fight this new disease.  He was well-versed in how the disease

Living a Life of Success

Establishing Priorities in Life Matthew 16:24-28 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”               It is easy to become distracted by the superficial and unimportant in life.  We get so caught up in the day-to-day activities and priorities that we lose sight of the significance. The greatest tragedy of life is not failure but success in the unimportant.  At the end of life, life is not measured by our financial success, career attainments, or achievements.  People will not remember the size of our home, the success of our business, or the accomplishments we have attained. What people will remember will be our relationship with God and people. A successful life has eternal consequences and only comes through a right relationship with God.  It is to allow God to control our lives so that he defines our lives and his kingdom determines our priorities.             Developing a right relationshi

The Self Interest of Man

The Self-Interest of Man Matthew 16:21-23 “You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”               Peter was flabbergasted.  Instead of Jesus talking about how they were going to go to Jerusalem to establish his messianic reign, Jesu started talking about how they were going to go to Jerusalem, and Jesus would be arrested and put to death. Jesus had just commended Peter for his insight in faith for rightfully identifying Jesus as the Messiah.  Peter had rightfully affirmed that Jesus was the Son of God.  This confession fit their expectations and understanding of the Messianic king who would come.  However, the Idea of Jesus being the suffering servant was outside the realm of his expectation.  Like the rest of the disciples, Peter had not grasped the significance of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, that the Messiah would be the substitutionary lamb who would die for the people's sins.  Thus, when Jesus mentioned that he would go to J

The Solid Rock

The Solid Rock Matthew 16:13-20 “Upon this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”               Peter was never shy about giving his view.  Of all the disciples, Peter was the most outspoken.  At times, we rightfully criticize Peter for his verbal bravado, for there were times when he spoke without genuinely understanding the implications of his words.  However, on this occasion, Peter makes an incredibly insightful statement.  In 16:13, Jesus takes the disciples to the remote northern city of Caesarea Philippi.  It was a relaxing area away from the crowds.  Visit the site today, and you will walk along the gently flowing Jordan River in a park-like setting.  So, it is not hard to imagine Jesus wanting to take his disciples away from the crowds for a respite. It allows him to spend time out from all the pressing crowds just to spend time with his disciples.  Here, away from the public, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of M