Tag Archive for Matthew

Doing Justice

Have you ever wondered why Jesus told people to walk around naked? It’s a topic I am hoping to make my first sermon sometime in the next two years. In the meantime here is a really short answer I offered in response to an answer on a midterm. I hope it has relevance to your life even though you may be missing all the details and context from the class! Here goes…

[Walter Wink]* appeals to the verses in Romans, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter, which say “do not repay evil for evil” and to Matthew 5 where it says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth’, but I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them your other cheek also. If someone sues you and wants to take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” 

He appeals to these texts because he believes that this passage has often been misinterpreted to passivity instead of nonviolent resistance. 

He interprets the slapping on the cheek in view of the necessity of a blow on the right cheek being given as a backhanded slap rather than as a punch. Being backhanded was a blow met to degrade. Punching was something one did when they fought an equal. He believes Jesus was telling victims to communicate to their abusers that they had the same human value and dignity as their abusers. 

Wink interprets giving of cloak as well as tunic to indicate exposing the evilness of the system. Only the poorest of the poor were being stripped of everything in the time of Jesus. By the time someone was suing them for their tunic instead of their land, they had nothing. By walking out of court naked, the victim would shock his abusers as well as expose the true result of their actions. In that society the naked person was not the one on whom shame was put but rather the one who was looking upon the naked. 

Wink interprets going the second mile to be a way in which the oppressed Israelites could take the initiative against their Roman oppressors. Roman soldiers were allowed to impress service on civilians and force them to carry their pack for a mile. To carry the pack a second mile would be to put the soldier in a position of possible punishment. Perhaps he would be put on barley instead of wheat, made to stand outside of the officers’ tent holding a lump of dirt, flogged or a number of other punishments. Whatever the case, the soldier wouldn’t know what was happening to him as a result of the Jew’s “generosity”. Wink calls us to consider the humor of the scene of a Roman soldier begging a Jew to give him his pack back! 

This interpretation is about finding a way to resist evil without becoming evil in the process of doing so. By exposing the injustice of the system room may be created for just change.  

Well, that’s that! I have much more to say on the topic, but it’s time to hit the road running. I have far more to accomplish this week than I can imagine doing.

May the grace of God be with us as we go throughout our day and resist evil in the ways Jesus teaches! Consider His life. Never did He condone it. Always did He resist it. Let us do the same, but without becoming evil in our means of doing so!

*Most information in this answer is taken from pages 98-111 of The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Walter Wink, 1998.

A Pearl of Great Price

I have been thinking about how Revelations says that the twelve gates of heaven are made of pearls. One pearl for each gate. Pearls.com says that natural pearls form when, “an irritant – usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand – works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre’, is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.”

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46

I have been considering that Paul and Barnabas said, “We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. Acts 14:22

Paul also said that the way of the cross is so simple that it is a stumbling block to the religious and offense to those who are learned.

“Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

The world looks different to those who are being saved. Faith changes life.

Jesus promises a hundred times as much as I had before, but then He adds, “along with persecution”. Mark 10:30

He says I cannot be His disciple unless I carry a cross. When He said this, a crucifix with someone dying or dead hanging on it was likely within sight. If not literally, certainly each of His immediate hearers could clearly remember the last time they saw one. (Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, Luke 14:27, Mark 8:34)

Yet the way is not hard.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Survival of the Fittest

I have been listening to a podcast about animals, and the phrase “survival of the fittest” is brought up consistently. It is no secret to anyone that in the natural world it is the strong that survive while the weak perish. The fastest lion will always eat the slowest gazelle. One must always be at worst the second slowest gazelle to survive.

I can’t help but wondering if survival of the fittest was what Paul was talking about when he said that all creation has been groaning since the beginning of time. I love this passage in Romans 8:19-22.

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

When Paul said creation was hoping to be liberated and to share in the freedom and glory of God’s children, I wonder if he meant we are all waiting for the day when everyone survives not just the fastest – or at least the least slow.

I say this because the kingdom of God works differently. In the kingdom of God it is the weak who are strong. Jesus said to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “ 2 Corinthians 12:9

Jesus instructs His disciples:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45

There is the ever present warning that we must be as a child in order to enter the kingdom of God. For Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17 (similar passages are found in Matthew 18:3, Matthew 19:14 and Mark 10:15)

Does creation groan waiting for the day when the weak not only survive but thrive? Does the animal kingdom cry out for the day when the strong will not eat the weak? Do snakes cry out for the day when eagles will not eat them? Do birds cry out for the day when snakes will now swallow them? Is every one wanting this rat race of pain to finally end?

After speaking of all creation, Paul says in reference to us, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:23-25

We can wait for the day when the physical creation stops groaning patiently and with great confidence knowing this day WILL come. In the meantime, remember that there is rest for the weary human being!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Perhaps today you will go to a job that seems like it is simply a race for the “survival of the fittest. As you do so, rest in Him. Know His grace is sufficient for us! Be patient. Wait confidently. Hope with great assurance that some day ALL the weak will thrive!

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious”

Isaiah 11:6-10

A look at destiny

Much of what God has destined me for, I am really excited about. I am excited about becoming like God (Romans 8:29), being holy and blameless in His presence (Ephesians 1:4), being adopted as His son (Ephesians 1:5) and being for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).

I am a little less excited about 1 Thessalonians 3, which says I was destined for trials and persecution. Indeed Jesus Himself warns us constantly in the gospels that the life of a disciple will be one fraught with pain. We will have to lay down our entire lives (Luke 14:33); we may lose our entire families (Luke 12:51, Matthew 10:34); we may be called the devil (Matthew 10:24-25). The list could go on and on.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul reminds his readers that he warned them frequently in person that they would under go persecution and “it turned out that way as you well know.” He had sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith, “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.”

It’s not a fun fact, but it is a fact. You and I will have many trials in this life. Jesus has a good way of cheering us up! “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

It’s true that we will face trials and persecution here, but it is just as true that we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6) We don’t submit to our trials. We don’t worship them. No, they are under our feet. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!

Today as we face each trial and every unkind word, let us remember Romans 8:35-39

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Grace, Grace, and more Grace!!!

Have you ever wondered how you can quickly tell the difference between a pastor that teaches the law and one who teaches grace? Listen for whether they teach you how you should act versus what you should believe about the identity of Christ and yourself.

In both Romans and Galatians, the Apostle Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, which reads, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Later he (or the writer of the letters to Timothy) instructs the young pastor that “the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Timothy 1:8)

The law isn’t bad. Paul states in Romans 7 that rather it is holy, righteous and good. It simply needs to be used properly.

In Romans 10:5-13, Paul explains the difference between living by the law and living by faith. In this text, he once again quotes the Law of Moses, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) This verse, he says, refers to life lived by grace. He then makes the very famous statement, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

A life lived by grace is one that is lived by learning what to BELIEVE and not by learning what to DO. The two stand in direct opposition to each other. Many pastors and teachers disguise the law by calling it “wisdom teaching”. When someone has lives by what they do, they can live a very fruitful life. Moses states this, and Paul reiterates it as being what distinguishes the law from grace. (Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12)

When we live under grace, we learn how to believe. We learn God’s identity as a Being who is loving, kind, just, patient, joyful, good, etc. We learn our identity as beings made of the same substance as God Himself.

When we are in a grace-based relationship with God, we also are loving, kind, just, patient, joyful, good, etc. It is the natural outflow of being “of God”.

In Romans 10, Paul goes on to declare that those who believe will never be put to shame by their belief. He quotes two more Old Testament passages as referring to this relationship with God that is based on grace and belief (faith) rather than on actions (law). He quotes Isaiah 28:16 (in the Greek translation) as saying, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” He also quotes Joel 2:32, which says, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Paul’s conclusion is, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12) Once again notice that there is no racism in Christ.

Why say all this? Why know the difference between a grace-based life and a law-based life? Well, it is very important! Note that a grace-based life is lived from the inside out while a law-based life is lived from the outside in. Jesus has something to say about those who live from the outside in.

Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

A consistent theme in the teachings of Jesus is the importance of what is inside us.

Note how this same teaching of Jesus is described in Luke. “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:39-40

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus ties generosity with the poor to having a clean inside (heart)? It ties back to what I said yesterday about there being no classism in Christ.

Today as we go out, may we live from a place of grace and acceptance. May you come to know and understand the difference between living in condemnation and living in freedom! May you know that you know that you know that you are PERFECT, HOLY, RIGHTEOUS, LOVED, PRICELESS, A REFLECTION OF GOD’S IMAGE, A VESSEL OF GOD’S GLORY, ACCEPTED, CREATIVE, BEAUTIFUL, KIND…..

For your own sake and for the glory of God, BELIEVE!!!!!!!!

Jesus wept

It’s okay to cry. Today I want to remind us of that simple truth. The same man who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice always!” cried as he wrote part of the letter. (Philippians 3:18) He also cried every day for three years when he served as a missionary in Ephesus. (Acts 20:31)

Part of following Jesus is NOT turning off our human emotion. Jesus wept. (John 11:35) He became so angry in one instance that He whipped people out of the temple courts. (John 2:13-17) Jesus as the image of the invisible God wept and was angry. (Colossians 1:15)

The reality is that until Jesus comes a second time and restores peace and perfection to the whole earth (all its inhabitants, creatures and creation), there will be things to legitimately cry about here. There will be reasons to be righteously angry. It is only after the coming of the new earth that this changes. (Revelations 21:1-4)

If you have something to weep about this Christmas season, I encourage you to give yourself permission to do so. Jesus cried. It is okay if we aren’t laughing every moment of every day. It doesn’t make us any less godly or Christ-like.

As you express your emotion as part of a very real human experience, I pray that you will experience God’s comfort. For Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Cut off your hand literally? Ouch!

I have been reading Josephus, a Jewish historian born a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion. I have learned that people really did cut their hands off, literally, to demonstrate that they were going to no longer do something. Well, sometimes someone else cut off their hands to demonstrate that they could no longer do something. 

I am reading an ebook without page numbers, so I can not provide actual page numbers. However, by the time I have gotten to what must be the equivalent of page 10 out of about 950 pages, three people have lost their hands! Two have had their hands cut off by others. The third takes his sword in his right hand and uses it to cut off his left hand. Yuck! and ouch! 

Why was it done? Well, in one case,  it seems the Galileans cut off both of a rebel’s hands because of his rebellion. (Location 470) In another, Josephus, who was a military leader, has a rebel severely beaten, cuts off one of his hands, hangs it around the rebel’s neck, and sends the rebel back out to the other rebels around his house. (Location 404) 

But the other case is the one I found most intriguing because a rebel cuts off his own hand to spare himself getting both hands cut off instead. And so, Josephus notes, an end was put to this sedition. (Location 462) 

Such were the times in which Jesus lived! 

As I read the example of the man cutting off his own hand to spare his own hide, Jesus words came to life! 

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. Matthew 18:8

Jesus wasn’t talking about something which his listeners never saw. He was speaking about something with which they were intimately acquainted. In their society, rebels had their hands cut off to demonstrate their repentance and their powerlessness to continue fighting against the legitimate power. At least in some instances, they even cut off their own hands! 

Am I suggesting that Jesus meant for us to literally cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes in order to keep from sinning in our lives? 

Perhaps not. 

I am suggesting that Jesus was really serious about the consequences of sin. It really is a life and death matter. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Jesus knew this. 

Am I suggesting that our works or lack of sin is what saves us and gives us eternal life? 

Absolutely not! 

Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” 

I am suggesting that we will reap what we sow. If we watch porn, if we curse and swear, if we gamble, if we overspend and live in luxury instead of caring for the poor, we will reap what we sow. 

Romans 6: 16 says, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” 

Today let us run the race well! Let us do whatever is necessary to get rid of that which destroys and kills! Let us be serious about loving God and loving our neighbor. With soft hearts, let us turn to the Lord and rejoice as we do His will! 

Information taken from The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, which can be purchased on Amazon

Who is the Boss?

For much of my life, the Great Commission has struck fear in my heart… and not the fear of God. Fear of man has long instantly consumed me. Pastors quote it trying to get their congregations motivated for sharing the gospel – as though beating people over the head with a law could somehow truly inspire them to share the message of God’s grace. 

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

A few years ago, I took upon myself the task of memorizing the gospel of Matthew. I had a great big whopping revelation. The Great Commission, to the best of my memory, had never been quoted to me in context. An old and well-known rule was not being followed when the Great Commission was quoted to me by someone trying to convince me that I was not a proper Christian if I wasn’t following one of Jesus’ most important commands. 

This perhaps is true enough. Without following this command, it could be wondered if I understand the gospel message correctly. And quoted as it is above, it would have to be wondered if those instructing me understood the Great Commission correctly – for they were sending their people out without power. 

As I have taken upon myself to memorize great portions of the Bible (much of which I can fully retain only on a mild level), I have begun to notice a missing context to much of it. Often commands are quoted without context. This lays a law on listeners that is not in the original text. 

I am in full agreement that all followers of Christ ought to go and make disciples of all nations, but I don’t think they should try it without a strong understanding of Jesus’ previous statement on which the “therefore” in the Great Commission is based. That statement reads as follows: 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18

Without understanding who has authority in heaven and on earth, there is only one way to share the gospel; and that is with a strong fear of man. When we understand who has the authority, then neither you nor I ever has to be afraid or worry about whether we will be accepted or liked as we share the gospel. We can share and live from a place of strength and peace. When “all authority” is with Jesus, then talking about Jesus isn’t that hard. But if we think authority on earth is with the evil one, we will always be afraid to open our mouths to expand the kingdom of God. 

Have I become fearless while sharing the gospel of Christ? Not yet, but in the last year I have made giant steps toward becoming so. Now there is at least a possibility that I will open my mouth to a complete stranger and share Christ. There is also the reality that on occasion, I go out two by two with those in my local church to share the gospel with anyone open and willing to listen to it on the streets of Manhattan. What good fun it is! 

Today I want to encourage us that Jesus Christ is the one with authority on earth. Don’t be afraid. Don’t tremble. He has got your back. He can keep you in perfect peace. Remember who is boss, and live like the new person you actually are!