Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Year 9, Day 198: Matthew 24

Theological Commentary: Click Here

Matthew 24 is a difficult chapter to read.  It is so easy to read Matthew 24 at fall into the temptation of predicting the end is near.  How often do we see people doing this very thing?  How often do we hear and see people using this tactic of fear against others to try and coerce them into godly behavior?  In fact, if we think about it, isn’t the act of doing so merely going to produce people who are unrighteous on the inside but appear righteous outside?  Didn’t Jesus condemn such life yesterday with the religious leaders?  Seeing this chapter as a chapter designed to allow us to predict the coming of the end of the world and thus instill fear into others produces the very thing that Jesus condemned in Matthew 23.

That being said, Jesus does tell us how to recognize signs.  In fact, in Jesus’ comparison to the fig tree Jesus tells us to do that very thing!  He tells us to watch out for betrayal.  He tells us to understand that the world will have elements that hate us.  He tells us that famine, earthquake, and war will all be present as we draw to the end of the age.  He tells us to be careful to not follow after false christs.

What is Jesus’ point if not to give us the ability to know the end of the age?  Look at where Jesus ends.  Jesus doesn’t tell us to go out and threaten people with the fear of Hell!  Jesus tells us to use this knowledge to get our own house in order.  After all, has there ever been a period of human history where a war wasn’t being fought?  Has there ever been a time in human history when we haven’t heard of earthquakes, the threat of famine, or droughts, or people turning on one another?  Jesus is telling us that because these things are ever present, we cannot know when the Lord will return.  If we cannot know, then it is vital to live our life as if He could return at any moment.

In the end, this should be unnecessary.  Shouldn't a disciple of Christ follow in His example?  Should we not live lives worthy of the grace we have received from Him?  Therefore, the warnings we receive from Christ are not meant as tools for us to threaten others with fear!  They are tools to help remind us to keep on the straight and narrow.

Jesus didn’t come to earth and scare people into belief.  He loved them into belief.  It is His disciples – in a very personal and secluded moment, mind you – who are the benefactors of this teaching.  Faith brings us to Christ.  Recognition of the evil within each of us and the world around us continual reminds us of why we need Him.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Year 9, Day 197: Matthew 23

Theological Commentary: Click Here

Matthew 23 contains a long diatribe against the religious leaders.  The crucifixion is coming quickly.  He is almost done with His ministry and a few things need to be said openly.  Jesus has questioned the religious leaders before.  He has spoken parables against them.  Now is the time to speak openly about their error.

What is it with which Jesus has an issue?  Jesus is concerned that the religious leaders are giving off an appearance of righteousness but covering up what truly lies within.  Actually, I don’t think that is quite right.  Jesus is concerned that those who follow the religious leaders will develop the same traits.  Jesus is concerned that if the religious leaders put on holiness like a cloak to cover up the greed and power hunger that lives within then those who follow them will learn to live the same way.

In short, if you read through this list of woes, there is a strong sense that the inside of the religious leaders doesn’t match the outside.  Human sinfulness lies within while a coat of cultural purity masks its presence.  Jesus argues that their forefathers – the ones who killed the prophets and ultimately watched God’s judgment come upon them in the form of Babylon and Assyria – were just like them.

Here we get to the heart of Jesus’ argument.  Religious leaders, much like every other human being on the planet, have evil within.  All people are subject to the temptations of greed, lust for power, lust for popularity, lust for control, and the like.  Those who bury it within are prone to succumbing to its effects.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.  The only way to truly combat the evil within is to bring it to the surface so that we can do daily battle against it.  The religious leaders look perfect but are corrupt within.  Jesus is teaching His disciples to look real on the outside and the inside, acknowledging the struggle that truly exists between humanity and righteousness.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Year 9, Day 196: Matthew 22

Theological Commentary: Click Here

The wedding feast is a haunting story if I’ve ever heard of one.  The king – the single greatest authority in the land -prepares a feast.  Yet, when the time comes, those under him can’t be bothered to attend because their lives are so busy or because they have a lack of interest.  I can’t imagine saying no to a king’s feast.  Jesus’ point, though, is that this happens all the time.  Every single person on the planet has been invited to a feast in the presence of God.  He wants to be in relationship with us.  Yet, how often do we all turn to God and indicate that we have better things to do, different plans than Him, or that we really can’t be bothered?  This is a haunting story because it exposes a characteristic in each of us – the faithful and the rebellious.  We are our own people and have our own ideals, dreams, and agenda.  Sometimes we clash with God when we should be focused on getting ready for the feast.

The next two stories – taxes and marriage – show the focus of the religious leaders.  They are trying to trap Jesus, and they go about it in a very worldly manner.  They ask Jesus about taxes.  Jesus responds by telling them that taxes are not something God is all that concerned about.  Let the world rule itself in worldly matters!  The Sadducees then come and want to talk about marriage, especially when it comes to producing heirs through remarriage.  Jesus brushes this question off as He did the one about taxes.  We are His bride, after all!  Which marriage is more important, one done in the world or one done in heaven?  Again, let the world rule over worldly matters and let the divine rule of the divine.

We then come to the greatest commandment.  Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  With whatever is left, love your neighbor.  Note that God doesn’t say anything great about pursuing our own dreams and looking out for number one.  Everyone can look out for themselves.  That’s just human nature.  It takes a divine perspective to be willing to put the other ahead of the self.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Year 9, Day 195: Matthew 21

Theological Commentary: Click Here

The triumphal entry signifies the last week of Jesus’ ministry before the crucifixion.  It is a bittersweet story.  It marks the point where Jesus’ ministry gets more desperate, more direct, and more pointed against the religious leaders.  This also means that His teachings get easier to understand and inherently more challenging.  It also indicates that we’ll see the flaws in humanity more clearly.  After all, we start this week of Jesus’ life with a crowd shouting Jesus’ praise.  We’ll end it with a crowd shouting for His death.

Jesus goes in for the kill when some religious leaders come to challenge Him.  They want to know from where His power comes.  Jesus won’t tell them because they refuse to acknowledge the truth in their hearts about John the Baptizer.  While this is an impressive twist that Jesus does, I think the lesson in this story is that honesty is the best policy.  The religious leaders get nowhere because their inability to be honest.

What if the religious leaders had admitted that John was from heaven?  That would have opened the door for Jesus to ask some hard questions.  Why didn’t they believe if they thought he was from heaven?  That question would have led to a good place of analysis and faith eventually, though.  It would have been a hard question, but Jesus could have used it to lead the religious leaders to truth.

What if the religious leaders admitted that John’s power was human and not divine in origin?  They would have had to face the crowd and realize that their opinion was one in the minority.  Again, Jesus could have used that opportunity to show them the truth.  Jesus could have used that to open the door to discussion about why so many people disagree with them.

Instead, the religious leaders refuse to commit.  Because they refuse to commit, no fruit can be born in their life.  They don’t come to truth.  Their lives are left unchanged and they are allowed to go on existing in their own fabrication of reality.  Answering Jesus’ question would have been harder than not answering, but it would have had a much greater opportunity to end in truth rather than the lies they chose to believe.

This same thread is woven throughout the rest of the chapter.  The fig tree refuses to fruit.  It is denying its purpose.  Rather than grow fruit – a hard process that costs something, the tree simply produces leaves.  Because the fig tree is unwilling, like the religious leaders who were unwilling to acknowledge truth, it is cursed.

 Take the story of the two sons.  One seems unwilling at first but is willing in the end.  That son is praised.  The other son displays willingness on the outside but has a heart of stone on the inside.  That son is rejected.  We continue to see that we must be willing in order to bear fruit and do God’s will.

Lastly, there is the story about the tenants.  The tenants want to keep all the harvest to themselves.  They don’t want to face the reality that the owner of the land has the right to it – or at least some of it.  They don’t even respect the son of the owner of the land.  They try to live in denial of the truth.  They try to live in a world of their own making.  Instead of living at peace with the landowner and embracing a shared prosperity, they end up being killed and replaced.  The religious leaders who refuse to take a stand – and in doing so refuse to give Jesus an opportunity to lead them to a place of better truth – are about to be replaced with disciples of Jesus who come willingly from the ranks of fishermen and tax collectors.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Year 9, Day 194: Matthew 20

Theological Commentary: Click Here

There is an interesting contrast in the final two stories of this chapter.  The mother of James and John comes to Jesus and requests the highest positions of authority for them.  Before condemning her, look at what is really going on.  A mother is looking out for her sons.  She’s looking out for them, not for herself.  That’s almost commendable, right?

Unfortunately, no.  It’s not commendable.  Jesus rebukes them.  He then adds challenge onto them.  He tells them that they will drink the cup that Christ’s to drink without guarantee that they will sit at the right and left hand of Christ.  Instead, they should focus on serving as Christ has come to serve.  How’s that for a reversal?  Their mom wants them to be granted positions of honor and they end up being told to go out and serve.  Thanks, mom.

The last story of this chapter is almost the complete opposite.  Jesus is walking through Jericho when a couple of blind folks start crying out.  They are told to be quiet, but they cry out even louder.  Jesus takes notice and asks what they want.  They ask to be healed.  They ask for something for themselves.  Sounds selfish, right?

Fortunately, no.  Jesus doesn’t see it that way.  Jesus has compassion.  He heals them.  Underneath the self-centered desire to be healed, He senses hearts that want something to follow.  He heals them and disciples are born.  They follow Christ.

What does this tell us?  It tells us to stop judging books by covers.  It tells us that external appearances seldom tell the whole story.  It tells us that discipleship is a higher goal to pursue than fame, reputation and standing.

It’s always neat to see not just the points of individual stories but to gain insight from the context of putting stories beside each other.  It shows how masterful storytellers in the ancient world truly were.  It shows the depth of wisdom found within God.

Before stopping, look at the opening text for this chapter.  Here is the story of the laborers in the vineyard.  These laborers do unequal work, but they all receive the reward that the master of the vineyard promised for their work.  Is it fair?  From the human perspective, no.  From the perspective of God, yes.  They each get the reward they were promised.   Some worked harder, but they all got the promise.

Remember that this story preceded the two stories already talked about.  That means that this story foreshadows the other two.  The workers focused on human fairness – like the mother focused on human reward for her sons – are disappointed.  Those workers who focused on the perspective of God – like the blind guys who wanted sight but  were willing to follow Christ – see the reward.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Year 9, Day 193: Matthew 19

Theological Commentary: Click Here

Matthew 19 brings three stories: 2 massive bookends and a tiny little story about children smashed in the middle.  Considering the study of the past three or four days, I’m not surprised by this arrangement in the least.

In the first story, the religious leaders challenge Jesus about divorce.  Jesus argues about divorce and says that it was only given to people because of the hardness of their hearts.  I think a fair paraphrase for this is that people would rather live in the world they understand than live by faith.  Jesus tells the religious leaders that the reason they have a law about divorce is because they are unwilling to live by faith.

This has an interesting consequence upon the disciples.  They begin to think that it is better not to marry.  After all, what married couple can claim to have never once contemplated divorce or separation?  Jesus turns to them and offers a different kind of challenge.  He doesn’t agree with them because he doesn’t want to demean God’s gift of marriage to us.  What He does is put the challenge upon the disciples.  He agrees that if a person is unwilling to live by faith, then maybe it is best to not get married.  But if a person is willing to live by faith – and thus live in a world where answers ae not easy to come by – then marriage is completely accessible to us!

In the last story, a rich man comes before Jesus and asks what must be done.  After challenging the man on the Law, a challenge the man shrugs aside, Jesus tells him that he needs to sacrifice some of his stuff.  The man walks away sad because he has a lot of stuff.  The man prefers to live in a world he can shape and control rather than live in a world of faith.

This, too, has an effect upon the disciples.  They hear this teaching and immediately wonder who can manage to enter the kingdom of God.  After all, who doesn’t like their stuff?  Who doesn’t like to live in a world of their own control?  Who doesn’t like to live in a world with answers and confidence?  As Jesus says, “With man, it’s impossible.”  One cannot scientifically and logically enter the kingdom of God.

With God, it is possible.  When we are willing to live by faith, we can see how heaven is given to us.  When we place our faith in God, He can bring us to the kingdom of heaven.  It involves faith, not science.

This brings us back to the small little story in the middle.  Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come.  Look again at the sheer size of the stories in this chapter.  Adults unnecessarily complicate things.  The discussion about divorce and the kingdom of heaven are long and complicated.  The story with children and the fact that heaven belongs to them is short, simple, and sweet.

This leads me to wonder why it is so easy – and often imagined necessary – for adults to want to live in the world of the first two stories when we could simply live in the world of the middle story.  Life in faith is easy.  Life in science and logic is complicated.  It’s a choice we all make; some of us better than others.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Year 9, Day 192: Matthew 18

Theological Commentary: Click Here

I love the opening story in Matthew 18.  Over the last few days, a challenging concept has arisen.  How does the follower of Christ balance their human understanding with their inability to fully understand God?  How does a person simultaneously live in the realm of science and logic while also living in faith in the unknown?

As a demonstration, Jesus marvelously answers the question about the greatest person.  The disciples wonder who the greatest is, expecting Jesus to pick one of them.  Instead, Jesus seeks out a child and lifts up the young one.  What is Jesus doing besides risking malcontent among His followers?

Jesus is making a point.  What is it that a child does better than an adult?  Children are masters at surviving in a world of unknown.  Children actually know very little.  They don’t really understand food preparation.  They don’t know where their clothing comes from, much less how to make it.  They don’t get economics, science, legality, the complexity of human interaction, the implications of humans upon the environment around them, etc.  Children don’t get quite a bit; yet they thrive.

What is Jesus’ point?  Children do what they can.  They also readily put their faith in people who understand more.  Yes, they make mistakes, but they rebound well and aren’t typically very afraid.  The truth is that if you want to look at a person who lives in both the realm of understanding and the realm of non-understanding, look at a child.  This is why Jesus says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is like the greatest in the kingdom.”  Those are Jesus’ words.  It’s a gravely challenging concept to most adults.

Much of the rest of the chapter is about sin, temptation, and forgiveness.  Woe to people who lead others astray.  Woe to the person who is unable to have joy when a sinful person comes into relationship with God.  Woe to the person who cannot find it in their heart to forgive.

The last two are especially troublesome.  Human beings love to harbor grudges.  We hate the ethical implications of things like deathbed confessions.  How many of us struggle to think that a despicable person can be reformed simply by experiencing God?  We love to condemn people for their past without seeing their present.

Don’t get me wrong.  Human beings can be incredibly deceptive.  I’ve seen people fake repentance just to take advantage of those who desire to be forgiving.  However, fear of being taken advantage of is no excuse for human inaction or forgiveness.  If we really believe in an afterlife, if we really believe in a gracious and generous God, can a person take me for more than God can give?  If I forgive and a person isn’t truly repentant, can not God deal with that?  On the other hand, if I withhold forgiveness and a person is repentant, what does that say about me?

Life really is simpler as a child.  The child is the greatest in the kingdom.  We make life so much more complicated with our adult need to understand.  We complicate life with our fear, especially our fears when it comes to dealing with other people.  Can it be any wonder that when Jesus is asked about the greatest that He lifted up a child in their midst?