Revelation #5 NO ROOM FOR FEAR

Old keys on a old book, antique wood background

Following Jesus often involves some sort of trouble or hardship, in the middle of which we are called to remain faithful and obedient to the Father, even when we don’t understand. Jesus words to each of us today are: “Do not be afraid. I have the keys to death and hades. I have this. I have you. I am the first and the last – I have your trouble surrounded.

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Revelation #5. Revelation 1:9-20

John continues his letter with a reminder, and then, his first vision of the heavenly realm.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

John says he is a brother and partner in three things that “are in Jesus.” I think these things are very important for Christians in our time to remember, or perhaps to realize for the first time. Being “in Jesus” involves each of these things.

First, John writes he is a brother in the tribulation that is in Jesus Christ. The Greek word here (thlipsis) implies pressure, or “being squeezed.” It can be translated, as tribulation, affliction, distress, or pressure. In his gospel, John records that Jesus said that tribulation or affliction will be a normal part of following him. In the passage below, it is this same Greek word that Jesus uses:

33I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, HCSB)

You will have suffering/trouble/affliction/distress in this world if you follow Jesus. Peter affirms this idea:

12Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. 13Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. (1Pet 4:12-13, HCSB)

We Christians in 21st Western Civilization need to understand this, for two reasons. First, we need to recognize that suffering and tribulation are the present reality for millions of Christians in various places around the world. Like John, we need to act as siblings and partners in tribulation with those Christians who are suffering for their faith more than we. In China, Indonesia, all over the Middle-East and North Africa, our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ are in trouble for believing what we believe and trying to live it in their everyday lives. We need to stand with them in prayer. We need to support those who support them. We need to communicate our love and encouragement to them.

Second, we need to recognize that, as we remain obedient to Jesus, we encounter various types of suffering – not all of them persecution. John Piper writes, in Desiring God:

The suffering that comes is a part of the price of living where you are in obedience to the call of God. In choosing to follow Christ in the way he directs, we choose all that this path includes under his sovereign providence. Thus, all suffering that comes in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ – whether it is cancer or conflict.

Following Jesus often involves some sort of trouble or hardship, in the middle of which we are called to remain faithful and obedient to the Father, even when we don’t understand.

Those of you who know me well will realize that I know what I am talking about. More importantly, John knew what he was talking about.

The second thing that is “in Jesus” is “the kingdom.” We examined this in greater depth last week. When we follow Jesus, we belong to His heavenly kingdom. Our primary “citizenship” is in heaven, not in any earthly country. Our primary “fellow-citizens” are those who follow Jesus, whatever country they come from, whatever ethnicity or culture they wear on the outside. There is one other thing about “the kingdom that is in Jesus” and it is this: it means we must obey the King.

The third thing that John says is part of being in Jesus is “patient endurance.” This goes along with suffering/pressure/trouble.  Paul puts it together in his letter to the Romans:

3And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:3-5, HCSB)

In case you were wondering, Paul’s word for “afflictions” is the Greek word thlipsis – the same that John uses, the one we discussed above. We aren’t called merely to suffer, we are called endure it patiently, to stick to Jesus, to have “grit.” This would have been very important for John’s first readers, since, as we shall see, they were facing all sorts of pressures and troubles. John is saying, “You aren’t alone in your struggles. This is part of the deal, this is part of what it means to be ‘in Jesus.’ You aren’t off track and you aren’t doing something wrong. We are all in this together.”

Next, John goes on to share one reason why we should be encouraged as we suffer and endure patiently in Jesus. He records that Jesus gave him a message for seven specific churches, but also to all Christians at all times. And Jesus not only gave him the message, he also gave him a picture of the heavenly reality that should encourage us; a reality that exists even when our lives are in the midst of pressure and struggle.

John says that he was “beginning-to-be in spirit on the Lord’s day,” (my rough literal translation) when he heard a loud voice behind him. I’ll tell you frankly, that I don’t have a clear idea of what that means. I suspect it means that John was meditating, deeply. But here’s something interesting. Even though John was “in the spirit,” the voice he heard came from behind him. It’s not much, but perhaps this is a reminder that even when we do all that we can, we still God to reveal Himself to us. For all his meditation, the voice of God came from a direction he did not expect. The revelation had to be given to him – he couldn’t get it simply by meditating.

John looked and saw a scene with seven golden lampstands, and Jesus standing among them. By the way, my own way of looking at Revelation divides the book into seven “heavenly encounters.” A “heavenly encounter,” for my purposes, is a vision of things as they are in heaven, or from heaven’s perspective. After each heavenly encounter in Revelation follows some content divided up into sets of seven. This vision of Jesus among the lampstands is the first Heavenly Encounter.

Thankfully, verse 20 explains what is going on. The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches to whom the letter is written. I think there is every reason to believe that the seven churches (named in chapters 2-3) were seven actual Christian communities that existed at the time John saw his vision. At the same time, I believe that the Lord chose seven particular churches in order to communicate that this amazing vision is for all Christian churches at all times in history. Remember, the number seven represents God’s complete work. So, I think he picked seven churches (there were certainly more than seven in existence at the time) to show he meant this to be for all of us.

In the midst of the seven lampstands John sees “one like a son of man.” He means Jesus, who consistently called himself “the son of man.” John’s vision of the Heavenly Jesus sounds similar to visions that were seen by Daniel and Ezekiel, down to details like the hair, feet, eyes and the sound of his voice; especially, however, the sense of bright light emanating from him (Daniel 7:9 and 10:5-6; Ezekiel 1:26-27).

Jesus holds seven stars in his hand. Again, we are given an explanation in verse 20. The stars are the seven angels of the churches. I don’t know about you, but this surprises me. I don’t normally think of an individual congregation as having an angel watching out for it.

While we are here, we might as well briefly talk about angels, since there is a boatload of them in Revelation. Though we don’t talk about angels very often, there are 182 verses in the New Testament that mention them directly, and a few others that speak of them indirectly. Sixty-five of the direct verses are in Revelation. Angels are usually portrayed as spiritual beings who do God’s work, often serving God as messengers. Hebrews 1:14 (one of the indirect mentions of them) gives us the clearest description of what angels are:

14Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Heb 1:14, ESV2011)

So, angels do God’s work, and part of what they do for Him is to minister to us who are inheriting salvation through Jesus Christ. Apparently, also, some of them are responsible for individual churches. To put this theologically: That’s awesome. It might also give us a different view of church. There is an angel assigned to your church. Just think on that.

In verse 16, we get our first taste of the weirdness of Revelation: there is a sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus. This is meant to be symbolic. The Apostle Paul pictures a sword as a spiritual weapon:

17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. (Eph 6:17, HCSB)

The sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is The Word. For us who follow Jesus, that “word,” that sword, is the Bible. His words are powerful and strong. His words created the universe:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. (John 1:1-3, HCSB)

 3By faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible. (Heb 11:3, HCSB)

So Jesus stands among the churches, with the power of his Word evident. Now, listen once more to His words:

17When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, 18and the Living One. I was dead, but look — I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. 20The secret of the seven stars you saw in My right hand and of the seven gold lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev 1:17-20, HCSB)

“He laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid!’” How deeply we need this sometimes! We are afraid of so many things: the future, or the future of those we love. We are afraid of financial ruin, or social ruin. We fear pain, and sorrow and difficulty and loss. Most of all, we fear death, and the death of those we love. I invite you to gather your fears up right now. It’s OK. Admit to them, let them show themselves. Now, feel the strong hand of Jesus on your shoulder. Listen to him say: “Do not be afraid!”

And why should we not? Because Jesus is the First and the Last. He has us, and our lives, and everything surrounded. We fear death, but look – he has overcome death, and he holds the keys. Not only that, but he is with his church – he stands among the lampstands. He holds our angels in his right hand.

Jesus is with us. He hasn’t forgotten or abandoned us. He touches us and says “do not fear!”

Will you listen to Him today?

 

DOES JESUS HAVE AUTHORITY IN YOUR LIFE?

jesus teaching in temple

We need to understand that Jesus didn’t welcome sinners simply because they were sinners – he welcomed them because they humbly recognized that they needed forgiveness, repented, and put all their hope in Him. They let him change their lives. They submitted to his authority.

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Matthew #75. Matthew 21:23-27

I trust that you have noticed as we’ve gone through Matthew 21, that there are certain themes running throughout the chapter. One, is that Jesus is becoming very deliberately confrontational towards the religious leadership in Jerusalem. He is doing so in order to force them to make a choice about him, a choice which he knows will end in his own crucifixion. A second theme is that even though Jesus is doing this in order to fulfill his mission to die for the sins of the world, everything he says and does is righteous. In other words, he is not wrong to confront the religious leaders in the way that he does. I think it is appropriate to take this even a step further, and say that not only is it not wrong, it is good and righteous. The things that he says to them need to be said. They are part of his mission, not only in the sense of forcing the religious leaders to make a choice, but also in that his words are truth that needed to be spoken, and later written down by his apostles. What I mean is, if we did not need to hear the same words today, the Holy Spirit would not have inspired Matthew and the other apostles to remember them.

During this second day of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was found teaching in the temple. It is as he is teaching that the chief priests and elders – that is, the religious leaders – confront him and ask the question of the day: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

These are the people who feel a certain amount of ownership of their own religion, and religious observance. Jesus entered the temple, and let little children sing praises to him. He caused a riot, driving out the money changers and livestock merchants. The feeling of the religious leaders is that he has come into their place, and is acting as if he owns it. Why does he get to decide that the moneychangers shouldn’t be there? Where does he get off, teaching that the people of Israel were not fulfilling the purpose for which God created them?

One thing we should know is that already by this point in history the Jewish people had begun to develop the habit of teaching by quoting “authority.” Suppose, for instance a rabbi (which simply means “teacher) was discussing the Sabbath. The rabbi might say: “The great Rabbi Hillel used to say about the Sabbath that the chief purpose of it is rest for the soul.” The rabbi would then go on discussing Hillel’s ideas, and perhaps offering quotes from other rabbis with different ideas, and maybe finally adding his own thoughts. Rabbis most definitely did not say things like: “This is what I think about the Sabbath.” They always quoted others; that is, they taught in reference to other “authorities.”

This was not how Jesus taught at all. Earlier in Matthew, we have a great deal of Jesus’ teaching, and we see that sometimes Jesus would even go out of his way to show that he was not quoting authorities. For instance, in the sermon on the Mount, several times, he said “You have heard it said…, But I say to you…”

So the religious leaders in Jerusalem are offended by Jesus’ style of teaching, in which he seems to regard himself as the authority, and also by the way he seemed to treat the temple as if it was his own house. By confronting him while he is teaching, the religious leaders are trying to expose him in front of those he is teaching. They’re trying to remind the listeners that he is not quoting authorities.

Jesus turns the question back on them. He asks, “Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?”

I think it is likely that many people knew that John the Baptist, before his death, had endorsed Jesus. It is unclear how many people knew that they were relatives, but many of Jesus’ disciples had started out by following John the Baptist. In a way, this is a big endorsement of the ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus is saying that John’s ministry came from the same source as his own.

This caused a big problem for the religious leaders. Many people have forgotten it now, but John the Baptist sparked a movement that lasted for more than a generation. At this point in time, John, and his ministry, were still a very big deal. John the Baptist represented a significant religious and cultural movement within Judaism.

So, the elitist leaders are afraid to say “John the Baptist was not legitimately sent by God,” because they know that will make a lot of people very angry, and they might lose their power over the people. But if they say, “John was from God,” then they would have to explain why they didn’t listen to what John said about repentance, and even more importantly, what John said about Jesus.

Like the politicians they really are, the religious leaders give an evasive answer: “We don’t know.” So Jesus responds in kind: “If you won’t answer about John’s teaching, then I won’t answer about mine.”

Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why Jesus didn’t just answer them directly? Why wouldn’t he just say: “My authority comes from God”? Before this, he was trying to lay low and finish training the disciples, and so sometimes he was evasive or enigmatic. But at this point, he knows he has less than a week to live. Why not just come out and say it? I can imagine that perhaps Jesus wanted to make sure he wasn’t arrested until after he had eaten the Passover with his disciples. Even so, directly saying “My authority comes from God” would probably not have made them arrest him much faster than they did. As it turned out, they arrested him in secret, since they were afraid of the support he had from the ordinary people. I doubt it would have happened any differently if he had answered them directly at this point. So why did he take this approach with them?

I can think of one possible reasons. First, he may have done this in order to expose their own internal dishonesty. Rather than just answering the question, he made them think. His question forced them to become aware of the choice they were making about him, and what was going on in their hearts. They couldn’t pretend they were defending the sacredness of their own religion, or the temple. They had to decide: “Are we going to accept Jesus as sent from God, or not? Does God’s authority even matter to us in this case?”

They understood that if they accepted his authority as from God, they would have to listen to him and obey him. His question made them face that, and decide.

In all of this section of Matthew – almost a quarter of the book – Jesus often sounds harsh and confrontational. As I have said, there is a practical purpose to this, in that it led to his crucifixion. But we need to realize that these words are still relevant today. When people were humble, repentant and desperate, we see Jesus being gracious, loving and compassionate. But when he encountered people who wanted to live their own lives, who rejected his authority, he made them face their true attitudes, often by speaking in ways that seem harsh to us. Jesus still presents people with a choice today: Will you accept his authority in your life, or will you hedge your bets, stall, or evade the question?

These days, we still have religious hypocrites who reject the real work of Jesus in their lives. What I see here in the Southeastern USA, is that a large number of people attend church and claim to be Christians, but in reality, they live their lives however they please. They often don’t wield religious power, but they claim, to one degree or another, that they are people of faith in Jesus. However, when they are confronted with something that Jesus says through the scripture, like: “Don’t get drunk,” or “Don’t gossip and slander,” or “Don’t have sex outside of marriage,” or “Don’t pursue money or wealth,” they are like the religious leaders Jesus confronts. Their internal attitudes are: “Nobody has the authority to tell me how to live my life,” or, “Is that part of the Bible really even relevant anymore?”

When I read these verses in Matthew, I am reminded of a similar attitude toward the authority of God and his word to his people.

1Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’? ”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”

4“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5, HCSB)

From the beginning, Satan has been casting doubt on the authority and reliability of what God said. Like with Adam and Eve, like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, he tempts us to listen and agree when the serpent whispers: “Did God really say that? Do you really have to pay attention to it? Actually, God is just trying to hold you back. You’ll be better off if you don’t pay attention.”

Some people read these parts of the gospels and think, “Jesus is taking down religious people. Go Jesus!” But the problem with these leaders is not that they are religious, but that they have rejected the authority of Jesus in their life. There are plenty of people in the workplace, in bars, at the gym, in our families, who are not religious, but who reject the authority of Jesus in their lives. They are just as proud and stubborn as the religious leaders during Jesus’ time.

We need to understand that Jesus didn’t welcome sinners simply because they were sinners – he welcomed them because they humbly recognized that they needed forgiveness, repented, and put all their hope in Him. They let him change their lives. They submitted to his authority. Unlike the religious leaders, they did not say: “Where do you get the authority to tell me how to live?” Instead, they said: “I need you, your love and forgiveness. Take my life and do whatever you want with it.”

Obviously, no one is perfect. Even those of us who generally are sincere about our faith often fail to live as Jesus wants us to. They key is what happens when Jesus confronts us about it through the scripture, or other believers who are sharing scriptures. Do we hedge, and say, “Do I really have to accept the authority of Jesus [through the Bible] in this matter?” Do we listen to the serpent? Or do we say, “I’m sorry Lord! Forgive me. You have the right to every part of my life.”

I don’t think we need to be afraid every minute that we might be rejecting the authority of Jesus. The religious leaders probably were not thinking consciously about what they were doing, but Jesus, by his question, drew their attention to it. He made sure that they understood the choice they were making. He will do the same for us – if we have a problem, He will make it clear.

Perhaps he is using this scripture passage, and this sermon, to make something clear to you right now. Is there some area of your life where you are tempted to reject the authority of Jesus? Is there some way in which you are saying, “Do I really have to pay attention to that part of the Bible?”

Before we close I want to remind us again that He is merciful and gracious, and loves to show compassion to those who humbly repent and receive him. With that in mind, let him speak to you about these things right now.

MAYBE FIXING EVERYTHING DOESN’T FIX EVERYTHING

perfect life

Jesus truly cares about our trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems. Jesus should be the most significant factor in any situation for us. Even so, having our troubles “fixed” often leaves us unchanged, and that’s not always a good thing.

 

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Matthew #50 . Matthew 15:29-38

Greetings, dear friends. This week I will be writing about, among other things, how the presence of Jesus should be the most important factor to believers in all circumstances. In terms of energy, time, talent and finances it often seems like I am inadequate to the callings the Lord has for me. But just as the most important thing for the 4000 hungry people to know was that Jesus was among them, so it is with me, and you too, I might add.

For this reason, I invite you to pray with me for the ministry of Clear Bible.

Please pray that the Lord will provide every need to keeping making this ministry what He wants it to be. Pray it will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. God really is our true provider, so please do pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

917 Canyon Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

(this is a new address by the way. It is merely an administrative change).

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

~

One of the arguments made by skeptics is that the Bible, as we have it today, was shaped and “redacted,” by early Christian communities. In other words, goes the theory, over the first few hundred years of Christianity, various Christian communities changed some of what was originally written, and made up other parts out of thin air. Of course, this theory is destroyed by the known facts of how the Bible came to be. With vast numbers of complete and partial manuscripts in various languages, with a few surviving portions of manuscripts dating back to the time of the apostles, and large numbers of surviving papyri dating to within one generation of the apostles, we know that early Christian communities changed nothing. If they had, we would find widely varying readings in the various surviving manuscripts, with significantly variant readings clearly centered in geographical areas. Instead, we find that by A.D. 250, virtually all Christians across the known world (at the time) were using essentially the same New Testament texts. This occurred while Christianity was still an illegal, persecuted religion, so no one got any wealth or power from what is written in the bible.

Matthew 15:29–38 is another one of those passages that would only be included if the Bible is in fact what it claims to be. In other words, if you were in an early Christian community deciding what the Bible was going to be, you would almost certainly leave this out. If you haven’t already, go ahead and read the text. Now, think about it. We already have the feeding of the 5000. In that story, Jesus healed a bunch of people, and then fed them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. In this story, we have almost the same thing. Jesus heals a bunch of people, spends three days with them, and then feeds them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. The main differences appear to be that the second crowd was with Jesus for three days (instead of just one), and there were 4000 men (plus women and children), instead of 5000 (plus women and children). We also have different numbers of bread and fish and of baskets of leftovers.

Why would we include this second story? We already have a story just like it. The answer is simple: the reason Matthew included this story is because it really happened. It wasn’t put in by an early Christian community because they had some sort of agenda; this story does not advance any agenda beyond that of the first mass-feeding. A made-up gospel would simply leave it out. No, the only reason to include this story is because this is what actually happened. By the way, Jesus and his disciples have a conversation in Matthew 16, in which they refer to both incidents.

We might ask, why then, did Jesus repeat this miracle? We can ask this in true faith; it is a reasonable question. Sometimes, however, I think we hyper spiritualize what we read in the Bible. Sometimes the answer is very simple and straightforward. I think the reason Jesus fed the 4000, even though he had previously fed the 5000, was because, at that particular time, he was with the 4000 and they were hungry. In other words, it wasn’t some sort of additional lesson, or spiritual parable. He wasn’t proving a point. He happened to be there with those people. They were in need, and so he healed them; they were hungry, and so he fed them. It was simply Jesus providing for needy people.

Now, I believe this is true, and I think it is the main reason we have this text. I also believe that the Holy Spirit can, and does, use every part of the Scripture, and so I also think that we can hear God speak to us through this text.

First, I want us to notice something about our desires and their fulfillments as we look at this passage. Matthew tells us that he’s only counting men (in a census, only men were counted, which was a good thing for the people when it came to war and taxes). Conservatively, if you assume only one woman and one child for every two men present, on this occasion, Jesus fed about 8,000 people. On the previous occasion it would have been 10,000. So, between the two incidents, Jesus miraculously fed 18,000 people (possibly many more). In addition, he healed many of those people. I am sure that many of them desperately wanted healing for themselves or their family members before they went to see Jesus. I’m sure that many of them were very tired and hungry before Jesus fed them. Well, they got what they wanted: they were healed and then fed. They came to the Lord, asking him to meet their needs, and he did. But what was the result?

Luke tells us that when the dust had all settled after the crucifixion and resurrection, there were about 120 people (men, women and children) who followed Jesus. We don’t know for sure who each one of those 120 people were, but we know that the twelve followed him before the feeding of the five or four thousands. We know also about many women who were already his followers before this, along with several people whom were not present when he fed the five thousand, or the four, but became followers later, in Jerusalem. What this means is that at most, out of 18,000 people who received miraculous healing and miraculous food, fewer than 100 ended up following Jesus. That’s about one half of 1%. It is possible, of course that not a single one of these 18,000 people were among the 120 disciples at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

The reason I bring this up is because it speaks to the heart of a lie that we human beings tell ourselves so often. We think that if God would just show himself we would put our faith in him. We believe that if God would simply fix our difficult situation everything would change for us. There are many Christian circles where it is popular to say “you cannot minister to a person’s spiritual needs until you have ministered to her physical needs.” But all these ideas are destroyed by this fact: Jesus Christ himself ministered to the physical needs of more than 18,000 people, and virtually none of them followed him; virtually none of them were fundamentally or permanently changed.

Our true need is not for God to simply alleviate our suffering, for him to deal with the thing that we think is bothering us the most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the alleviation of suffering, particularly my own. But I do not think it accomplishes as much as we suppose it does. In the lives of these 18,000 people, it did not accomplish much spiritually, it did not fundamentally change the lives, or eternal destinies, of very many of them.

When I have a friend who is not a believer, and is suffering in some way, I usually pray that the Lord would alleviate his suffering. In that situation, I also often tell my friend I am praying for him. I have this idea that if God will simply intervene, my friend will become a believer, surrender his life to Jesus, and be changed forever. But this business about the feeding of the thousands shows me that that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps (!) the Lord is wiser than me when he chooses not to intervene miraculously. Maybe fixing everything doesn’t actually fix everything.

Jesus addressed physical pain, and physical needs, because he loved people, and the Father allowed him to help them. And I think this is another important lesson to take from the passage: Jesus cares, and sometimes Jesus does something about suffering. If nothing else, this passage shows us that he has great compassion on those who suffer. He did his miracles of healing and feeding, not because it led to more people following him, not because through it, more people received his salvation, but simply because it broke his heart to see them in need.

He did not need to do this miracle to show the people something about who he was as the Messiah – he had already done that with the feeding of the 5000. But he cared about the fact that these people were also hungry. He had just provided physical healing for number of them, and he did not want to send them off on a long journey with nothing to sustain them; he did not want hunger to undo the physical healing he had already brought. He cared about their hunger, he cared about their need, and combining his compassion with power, he met that need. The book of Hebrews says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” That means that Jesus is still like this today: he still cares about our physical needs, and he still meets them, perhaps even miraculously at times. Maybe you need to hear this word for you today: Jesus cares about you, about every single thing in your life.

I don’t think I’m contradicting my earlier point. I think we need to put our own struggles and sufferings in perspective. We need to realize that if Jesus were to miraculously solve all our problems, we would still have a deep need for him. We need to recognize that the resolution of all earthly obstacles does not actually accomplish very much for us in eternity. Even so, Jesus truly does care about our present, earthly trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems.

There is another thing I find interesting here: the response of the disciples when Jesus suggested that they should provide food for the crowd. It’s easy to judge them; after all they were in this same situation, probably no more than a year or two before (Matthew does not tell us how much time has passed since the feeding of the 5000). To me, their response seems almost incredible, at least on the surface: “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?” Seriously? Did they learn nothing from the first time?

However, I think perhaps when we judge the disciples in this way we are not being entirely fair. First, it isn’t like Jesus is producing food out of thin air every day. From day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month they are eating with Jesus in the normal way. In fact, we know from Luke that they were generally dependent on help from others for their daily necessities (Luke 8:1-3). It is likely that they themselves had experienced times when they wondered whether or not they would get a meal. Clearly, Jesus did not miraculously provide food on every single occasion when there was a need.

Second, I find that when I am in a place of need, I still often doubt the Lord, even though he has so clearly provided in the past. I think this is human nature, and it may be one of the reasons why the Lord grants so very few Christians the dangerous position of financial security. We are meant to keep looking to him for all we need, and very few of us really do look to him until we are in need. There is something about our relationship with the Lord that keeps inviting us to trust, and in order to truly trust, doubt must be possible. In any case, I have to admit, I’m still sometimes not expecting Jesus to do anything, still sometimes surprised when he does. How often do I, like the disciples in this text, expect that Jesus will not really do anything?

This is a reminder to me to keep looking to him. Once again, I don’t think this a contradiction to anything I said earlier. I don’t think God’s provision turns people into disciples. However, for those of us who have already begun to follow Jesus, it is vital that we remember God as the most important factor in every situation. We have eight thousand hungry people, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a bill we can’t pay, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a broken relationship that we can’t fix, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. Maybe you are lonely, or dissatisfied with life, or overwhelmed. The presence and will of Jesus should be the deciding factor for us in all circumstances.

WHEN JESUS OFFENDS YOU

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Sooner or later, Jesus will behave in a way that could offend us. Sooner or later he will allow something to happen that we think he should not have allowed, or he will fail to do something that we think he should have done. Our thinking will not appear unreasonable to us; it may not appear unreasonable to anyone. And yet, Jesus won’t conform to it. What do we do when that happens?

 

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Matthew #36 . Matthew 11:1-6

When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else? ” Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.” (Matt 11:1-6, HCSB)

I believe that one of the first two or three sermons I ever preached was on this text. I really wish I could remember what I said, because I’m sure it was brilliant. Actually, of course what we do here is always to try and listen for what the Holy Spirit has to say to us through the text right now. So perhaps it would be a bad idea to simply go back to something I said 20 years ago.

Let’s get a little background here. As we know, John the Baptist started preaching before Jesus began his public ministry. We saw already in the book of Matthew, that John (the Baptist) believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and pointing people to Jesus was John’s major mission. In addition, we learned that Jesus’ mother and John’s mother were cousins, and while they were both pregnant they spent some time together. At that time, John, still unborn, leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of Mary when she was with pregnant Jesus. So these two have a long history together.

There is evidence that after Jesus came upon the scene, many of John’s followers left him to follow Jesus. Apparently John felt that this was good and right and appropriate. The apostle John (a different individual) records that some of the Baptist’s remaining disciples complained about those who left John for Jesus. But John the Baptist responded like this:

“No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-31, HCSB)

John viewed Jesus as the bridegroom, the man of the hour, and himself as the best man. This was absolutely correct and good. But no one, not even John, knew before-hand quite what Jesus’ mission on earth was really supposed to look like. As Jesus’ ministry unfolded, circumstances caused John the Baptist to wonder.

What happened was this. Sometime after Jesus began his public ministry, John the Baptist, being the outspoken person he was, criticized Herod Antipas, who, under the Romans, was ruler of Galilee (this was the son of Herod the Great, who had tried to have the Messiah killed as a baby). He chastised him for taking his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own wife. Herod might have put up with this, but Herodias did not, and John was thrown in prison (Matt 14:3).

John, like most Jews of his time, probably had the idea that the Messiah was going to liberate the people of Israel from foreign oppressors like Herod and the Romans. He went into prison believing that the Messiah was his cousin, Jesus. This is just a guess on my part, but I think it’s a pretty reasonable one: I believe that John expected Jesus to liberate him during the course of his messianic campaign. So John went to prison thinking: All I have to do is wait and when Jesus starts the war to drive out the Romans and the Idumeans, he’ll free me from prison, and I’ll join him in the victorious campaign.

Even if John was not caught up in that sort of thinking about the Messiah, he still probably thought: the Messiah is my cousin. I’ve served him and his cause faithfully. Surely he will not let me rot in prison. After all, that’s reasonable. Friends don’t let friends die in prison, if they have the power to prevent it.

At least, that’s what we think.

So after John had been in the dungeon for a while, it was natural for him to become a little bit impatient. After a little while longer, it is clear that he began to wonder if he had been wrong about Jesus being the Messiah; that is, in fact, the reason he sent people to Jesus as recorded in this text.

Now, I want us to observe something very significant. What caused John to wonder? Think about it. John had a deep knowledge of the Old Testament, and his preaching about the coming of the Messiah was based upon those Scriptures. But those Scriptures had not changed since John was put into prison. John also knew Jesus personally, and Jesus was still the same person that John had known since before he was born, the same person, in fact, whom John had pointed out to others and said “There is the Messiah. He’s the one I’ve been talking about.” So John’s knowledge had not changed, and the Scriptures had not changed, and Jesus had not changed. What caused John to wonder was that his own circumstances had changed, and Jesus had done nothing about it.

This is tremendously important. Jesus was not meeting John’s expectations. He was not behaving the way John thought he ought to behave. As crass as this sounds, the truth is that Jesus was not doing what John wanted him to do, and that caused him to doubt Jesus.

I have met many, many people who have the same struggle as John. For years, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the day I could meet with someone who was an atheist for purely intellectual reasons. In my imagination, when I met such a person, we would have an engaging, far-reaching, stimulating discussion. It would end with the atheist realizing for the first time that his arguments are in fact illogical and not founded on the truth. With the intellectual obstacles removed, the atheist would become a person of faith.

But the truth is, everyone I’ve ever met who claims to have an intellectual objection to Christianity, in fact rejects faith in Jesus because God has disappointed them personally in some way. It never fails. It sounds noble to have intellectual objections to faith. But the truth is that people reject God because at some level he did not behave according to their expectations, or do what they wanted him to do. At times, I’ve had the same struggle myself.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that what John the Baptist wanted Jesus to do was trivial. It was no trivial thing to be put in prison in first century Galilee. The prisons were generally damp and unsanitary, filled with rats and disease. Nutrition was poor, fights and abuse by guards were frequent. Many people died simply from being in these conditions for long period of time. John had no standing, no patron to plead his case with Herod. His prospects were incredibly grim. It wasn’t unreasonable for him to want Jesus to rescue him. What could be more natural than to expect the Messiah to rescue his own cousin, the same man who had proclaimed him to be the Messiah to many people?

Many of the things that we want God to do for us are not unreasonable either: to save the life of a child, to heal a parent, to restore a marriage, to prevent something that any reasonable human being would call a tragedy.

But we find, like John, that sometimes Jesus simply doesn’t do it.

This fact made John wonder, perhaps it even caused him to doubt. At least John did the right thing with his doubts: he was honest about them, and he took them to Jesus.

Jesus did not chastise him for having doubts. He said this:

Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. (Matt 11:4-5, HCSB)

This little statement from Jesus makes reference to no fewer than five messianic prophecies from the Old Testament (Job 29:15; Isaiah 26:19, 29:18, 35, 61:1-2). In essence, Jesus’ reply is this: “You want to know if I’m the Messiah? I am fulfilling the messianic prophecies about healing the blind, healing the lame, cleansing those with leprosy, healing and death, raising the dead, and proclaiming the good news to the poor.”

To say it even more plainly, Jesus was telling John to remember and rely upon the scriptures. He was reminding him what the Old Testament said about the Messiah, urging him to compare it to Jesus himself, and then to trust.

Jesus then adds this comment: “and blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me,” (my translation). I think Jesus is cutting to the very heart of the matter. He knows that we are sometimes offended or scandalized by the fact that he does not conform to our expectations. Again, in John’s case it wasn’t about social or religious expectations; it was about a personal desire that was entirely good and appropriate, which Jesus chose not to fulfill. In a way, he is saying, “I know you don’t understand, John. But you will be blessed if you don’t let your lack of understanding cause you to be offended by me.”

But Jesus is not only talking to John. His words are for all of us. Sooner or later, Jesus will behave in a way that could offend us. Sooner or later he will allow something to happen that we think he should not have allowed, or he will fail to do something that we think he should have done. Our thinking will not appear unreasonable to us; it may not appear unreasonable to anyone. And yet, Jesus won’t conform to it.

Like John, the best thing to do, the only thing to do, is to bring our doubts and wonderings to Jesus himself. We can be honest with him. He did not rebuke John for doubting, or for his honesty. His answer to John is also for us: Look to the Bible, it is the most reliable witness to whom Jesus is. The Bible has not changed. Jesus has not changed. The only thing that has changed is our circumstance, and that is not a reliable guide to truth. There are hundreds of reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is the same person we read about in the pages of the Bible. There are hundreds of reasons to believe that the Bible is reliable and can be trusted (By the way, if you are not sure about that, I encourage you to go through my 10 part sermon series entitled, “Understanding the Bible.” The first sermon can be found here, and you can go on sequentially from that). We know from all this that Jesus is real, and that he loves us. We know also, that this life is not all there is, and there are many reasons for things that we will never be able to comprehend. Sometimes, we can only see part of the picture, and the rest of the explanation can only be understood in the light of eternity.

And Jesus says to us, “You are blessed when you’re not offended by me.” We are blessed when we allow Jesus to be who he is, even when it doesn’t conform to our own expectations of him. We are blessed when we trust him, in spite of our circumstances.

John never did get out of prison. But Jesus says, later in this text, that while he is alive, John is not as well off the very least individual who is already in the kingdom of heaven. There is a plan. There is an answer. It is just that sometimes the plan and answer extend into the next life, where we cannot see right now. Ultimately, in the light of eterinity, John was better off more quickly because he was not released from prison.

With John, will you hear the words of Jesus now? Will you trust him? Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

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JESUS CLAIMS #1 SPOT FOR HIS FOLLOWERS

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At some point, anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is faced with a call to daily deny himself or herself, die to self, be willing to actually die, and follow Jesus. This isn’t just theoretical. It will affect the way we relate to other people. It will affect what kind of jobs we take, and when and where we take them. It should make an impact on how much we indulge ourselves. It may even at some point cost us our lives.

 

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Matthew #35. Matthew 10:32-42

Remember, Matthew chapter 10 begins with Jesus sending his disciples out on a training mission. He gave them certain instructions, from which we can gain certain principles, and we looked at those already. Last time, we looked at the words of warning that Jesus gave his disciples. He told them to expect persecution and trouble. But he also gave them (and, by extension, us) many wonderful words of comfort and promise, words which we can hold on to in times of trouble.

After these comforting promises, Jesus begins with this: “Therefore…” One of my old Bible school teachers always used to say “What is that therefore there for?” It’s a useful little question. In this case, it is to remind us that what Jesus is going to say next is connected with what he has already said. In other words, because we have these warnings, and especially because we have these promises, Jesus says this:

“Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33, HCSB)

Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Acknowledge me before men.” He first gives us instructions, and a sure and beautiful promise of his presence and his grace to us in the middle of hard times. Considering those things, he now says, “All these promises are connected to me. To receive them, you must confess me. You must put me before all things.”

The Greek word that is here translated “acknowledge,” might also be “confess.” The two root words of the Greek term, put together, really mean “to say the same thing as,” or “to speak with.” Some translations make it “confess.” I like this better than “acknowledge.” We are to confess Jesus. Confession means not only to admit something, but also to agree with something or someone. We are to say the same things that Jesus says, to agree with him. Jesus makes it clear that we are to do so not only privately, but also in public.

Jesus goes on. He makes reference to a verse in the book of Micah, implying that it is a messianic verse and he is fulfilling it:

Surely a son considers his father a fool, a daughter opposes her mother, and a daughter-in-law is against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. But I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will stand up; though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. (Mic 7:6-8, HCSB)

He also says “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This is one of those things Jesus said that many people don’t seem to know about. You don’t have to go far to hear Christians and non-Christians alike saying, “Why do conservative Christians have to stir up so much trouble? Christians are supposed to get along with everybody. It isn’t Christian to cause controversy.” In light of these verses, I guess maybe Jesus wasn’t a Christian. He is quite clear: He is a polarizing personality; those who follow him will find themselves at times embroiled in conflict, even within their own families. This isn’t an endorsement of violence in any way, shape or form. It isn’t a license to be rude, or to bully. But Jesus does want us to recognize that following him can lead to controversy and difficult relationships.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this preached by anyone else before. But obviously, it is right here in the text. If Jesus said anything at all, he said this as well. We can’t ignore it. These days, when we agree with (that is, confess) the things that Jesus said, or the things that his Holy Spirit inspired his apostles to write, it is easy to draw flak. If we agree with the Bible about what the Holy Spirit calls “sin,” we are called hatemongers. If we agree with what Jesus actually said about himself, we are called narrow-minded and intolerant. Following Jesus does indeed lead us to be peaceful and loving. But it does not mean that others will see us that way, or even that our lives will be free from conflict with those who do not follow Jesus or his word.

Now, Jesus ratchets it up a notch. Not only does he suggest that following him can lead us into conflict, but he demands that when there is a conflict, we choose him above anything and anybody else.

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matt 10:37, HCSB)

It’s easy to breeze through these words of Jesus. But hold on a minute: we are supposed to choose Jesus even above our own children? That is what He says here. Now obviously, much of the time we are not faced with choices like this. Following Jesus is usually compatible with loving our children. But Jesus is saying, flat out, that we should always love him more than we love our own children, or anyone else for that matter.

Let’s step back a minute and look at this message. This is not merely a great moral teaching about loving other people. It is, in fact, a demand that we love Jesus, and that we do so at a higher level than we love anyone else. Unless Jesus is God, this teaching is either nonsense or pure evil. There is no sense in which Jesus is saying “Follow your own path to enlightenment.” He is not saying, “Follow me, follow Buddha, it makes no difference as long as you are sincere.” He is not saying, “Just love everybody else and you’ll be fine.” Instead, he is clearly saying: “Everything comes down to how you relate to me. I am the basis upon which you must prioritize your life and make your decisions.” To put it another way, the central teachings of Jesus are about himself. No wonder he was such a polarizing figure.

Next he says this:

And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. (Matt 10:38-39, HCSB)

Over the years, this little part of what Jesus said has morphed into this: “I have my own cross to bear.” But this is not at all the meaning that Jesus had in mind. It’s true, each person has their own unique struggles in life; I think it’s fine to recognize that. But when Jesus was talking about taking up our cross, he wasn’t talking about that. This was the period in history when the Romans used crucifixion as a method of execution. Typically, if the condemned person was healthy enough, he had to carry the instrument of his own death to the place of execution. In other words, condemned people could be seen from time to time carrying the crosses upon which they were to be killed. To carry a cross was to be on your way to death. So when Jesus tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow him, he is saying that we must follow in his example of dying.

I think it is appropriate to understand that Jesus means, among other things, that we must die to our own ambitions, comforts, and goals. Jesus actually repeats this teaching again later on in his ministry. Luke records that the second time Jesus said it, it was “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” I think this definitely captures the meaning. Taking up our cross means that we deny ourselves. We don’t deny ourselves just to show that we are self-disciplined, but we put Jesus’ goals and ambitions and desires for us ahead of our own. I think it’s useful that Luke says this needs to happen “daily.” But even more than dying to our own desires, right here, Jesus is telling us that in order to follow him we need to be willing to go as far as actual physical death. Throughout the past 2000 years, many Christians have been faced with the choice to either deny Jesus or give up their physical lives. I live in a time and a place where that is unlikely to happen, even so, Jesus wants my willingness. Not even continuing to live should be more important to me than Jesus Christ. As Jesus says, if you save your own life, by compromising your relationship with him, you have actually lost it.

In the next few verses Jesus’ claim is emphasized once more. He says that he is so central to everything, that when people offer respect, regard, or even a cup of water, to his followers, because they are his followers, they will be rewarded. The point here is not the reward, it is the fact of people recognizing who Jesus is and honoring that in the way they relate to his followers. It is about honoring Jesus.

I hope you understand that these words of Jesus are confrontational. He is presenting us with a choice: does he have the preeminent place in our lives? Do we love him more than we love anyone else? Is Jesus our number one priority? He is claiming here that he should be. This isn’t about following a moral code, it isn’t about living according to some sort of principle. It is about making Jesus Christ, the person, number one in our lives.

When controversy comes because you confess Jesus Christ, or you agree with what he says, what is your response? It isn’t wrong to seek peace with those with whom you disagree. But when peace is impossible, when agreement cannot be reached, Jesus unequivocally calls us to side with him.

At some point, anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian is faced with a call to daily deny himself or herself, die to self, be willing to actually die, and follow Jesus. This isn’t just theoretical. It will affect the way we relate to other people. It will affect what kind of jobs we take, and when and where we take them. It should make an impact on how much we indulge ourselves. It may even at some point cost us our lives.

Now of course, we can’t be perfect in putting Jesus first. I know I fail to do that in many ways. I believe Jesus offers me grace and forgiveness when I fail. But I do think he wants me to make the choice to put him above everything, even if at times I fail in following through. It is good to know, that my failures are not the final word.

Once again, we do not have the comfortable choice of viewing Jesus as a kind, harmless moral teacher. In some ways, he has been at the center of controversy for the past 2000 years. We can reject what he has said here, and call him a lunatic, or a megalomaniac. Or, we can receive him as our Lord, take up our crosses, and follow him.

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND HEALING?

Jesus heals bleeding woman

First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

 

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Matthew #32 . Matthew 9:18-34

This time, we’re going to try and cover a larger piece of Scripture than normal. Truthfully, most of chapter nine should form one, complete passage, and I have artificially broken it up into several sections. So I will try and complete the main body of the chapter today. In reality all of what we covered today should go along with the incident where Jesus heals the paralytic.

There are two basic themes running throughout all of chapter nine up to verse 35. The first theme is that Jesus has divine authority and he proves it through miracles. The second theme is that his claims to have divine nature, and his controversial actions, are beginning to create opposition among some of the religious leaders of his time.

Altogether Matthew chapter nine records four instances of miraculous healing and one incident of deliverance from demonic oppression. But the point is not so much the individual miracles, as it is confirmation that Jesus has the right to say the things that he said at the beginning of the chapter, and indeed, the right to say everything he has said up until this point. I think it is important to understand the healings and miracles in that context. Their main purpose is to validate the words of Jesus Christ.

But there is something here that I think is worth examining further. Many people have claimed that if you want God to heal you, it won’t happen unless you first have faith that He will do so. But in these miracles, we find a curious thing. We don’t know if the paralytic man had any faith or not. Then we read about the woman who is healed, and Jesus indeed says, “your faith has delivered you.” The next person that Jesus heals is actually dead, which means, among other things, that she could not have had any faith to exercise. Most of the people around her clearly didn’t have faith, since they laughed at Jesus when he said he would make her well. Even so, Jesus heals her. And then, we come to the blind men, to whom Jesus says “as you have trusted, let it be done in you.” Finally, we come to the demon-oppressed man and find there is no record of him exercising any faith or his own deliverance. Altogether in Matthew chapter nine we have three miracles where no mention is made of faith, and two others where Jesus says something about the faith of the people he heals.

The truth is, the connection between faith and healing is complicated and difficult to understand. In fact, I would not claim to understand it myself. As we have seen, even this single chapter doesn’t especially clarify things.

In my own life, I have encountered this same difficulty understanding the connection between faith and healing. Several years ago, I was speaking at a church retreat. As I began one session, I suffered a kidney stone attack. By that point in my life, I had already had three or four kidney stones. I knew then, and I know now, what a kidney stone feels like. I shared with the group what was happening, and begged their forgiveness, and told them I was going to have to go lie down. Several people in the group asked if they could lay hands on me and pray for me before I did so. I agreed of course, but I was hoping that they would make it quick, because the pain was starting to become very intense. Before that point in my life, people had prayed for me for various ailments at one time or another, and I never could tell that the prayer made any difference. On this occasion, I wasn’t expecting much. However, when they prayed for me, I actually felt the kidney stone disappear. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. I was able to continue on with the retreat and suffered no ill effects. The kidney stone was completely gone. In short, I believe I was miraculously healed.

About six months later, I woke up, suffering from another kidney stone. It happened to be on a Sunday morning, so, as I fought the pain, my wife drove me in to church. There, the same people who had prayed for my kidney stone at the retreat several months previously prayed for me once more. After my experience at the retreat, I was filled with faith. I was fully expecting to be completely done with the kidney stone as soon as these people had prayed for me. I assume that they too, were filled with faith as they prayed for me, since God had used them previously in the same situation. And yet, on this particular occasion, I was not healed. I wasn’t able to stay at the church service, and I had to go home, take painkillers, and wait for the kidney stone to pass in the ordinary way.

If healing is dependent only on my faith, I should not have been healed the first time, but I should have been healed the second time. However, what happened was exactly the reverse. Both times I was facing virtually the exact same situation: I was about to deliver a scriptural message to the same group of people, I experienced the same ailment in both cases, and the same people prayed for me in both instances. But the result was different, and it did not seem connected in any way to how much faith I had.

So why does Jesus say “your faith has delivered you” to the woman with the bleeding problem? Why does he ask the blind men if they believe he can heal them, and then say, “as you have trusted, let it be done for you”?

I should point out that in the Greek, at least in this passage, Jesus never says, exactly, “your faith has healed you.” To the woman he says, “your faith has saved you.” The Greek word there is sodezo. It is the same word used when Jesus says:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35, HCSB)

It is the same word the disciples used in the middle of the storm when they thought they were going to drown, and called out to Jesus: “Lord save us!” Now obviously, Jesus could mean that her faith has saved her from illness, but he might just as easily mean that by her faith she is saved from the devil and hell. I suspect that he means both. In any case, the words “healing” or “healed” are not used.

With the two blind men, Jesus still does not use the word “healed.” The most literal translation, would be something like this: “as you have trusted, let it begin to be created in you.” Of course, in context, Jesus must be talking about healing. But the emphasis here is that their faith has begun something inside of them. Healing is undoubtedly a part of that, but there is nothing to suggest that it is only about healing. Even the fact that Jesus asks them if they believe he can heal them is a more complicated question than we realize. I am certain that Jesus was not primarily concerned with whether or not people believed he could do miracles. Our faith is never supposed to be simply about what Jesus can do for us; instead, it is supposed to be first and foremost, about who he is.

The truth is, I don’t have a definitive answer about the connection between faith and healing. I am pretty certain that Jesus can and does heal even people who do not have the faith to believe that he will. I think we are egregiously mistaken if we think it all depends on us and our faith. On the other hand, I am also pretty certain that it is better to have faith in Jesus’ desire and ability to heal us, than to not have such faith. And in both of the instances here where Jesus talks about faith, it seems to include more than just faith that Jesus can and will do heal. It seems to also include the idea of trusting Jesus for everything: for life, for eternity, and for salvation.

In verse 30 Jesus says something that might seem strange to us. He tells the formerly blind men to keep quiet about how they had been healed. I’m a little bit torn about how to understand this. It simply can’t be that Jesus thought they could keep their sight a secret. Anyone who had ever known them, or seen them begging on the road, would surely notice that now they could see. I think, however, that Jesus really did mean that they shouldn’t tell people it was he who healed them. This actually makes sense. Jesus came to earth with two main purposes:

1. To train disciples who could and would communicate the truth about him to others, and who would train new Jesus-followers to do the same.

2. To sacrifice himself; to take our place and our punishment for the sins and failings we have, making us righteous in God’s eyes.

At this point in time, Jesus was clearly not done with the first task, so he could not do the second, since it involved his own death. The more popular he got, and the more influence he had, the more enemies he would gain. Eventually, the powers that be would decide they had to do something about him. This was part of his plan, part of how he intended to sacrifice his life for us, and it is exactly the route that led to his crucifixion. But since he had not trained his followers yet, it wasn’t yet time for him to be killed. Therefore, he did not want his influence to spread too quickly, which is why he told the men not to mention his name in connection with their healing.

In verse 34 we have the first indication of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. In other words, his influence was already growing, and certain people were already starting to view him as someone who must be opposed. We have already seen several times that Jesus makes stunning claims about himself, and implies in many places that he is in fact divine in nature. If Jesus never did anything miraculous, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. The Pharisees could simply dismiss his claims. But as we saw at the very beginning of the chapter with the paralytic man, Jesus connects his miraculous power to his divine nature. In that incident, he basically said, “let me prove to you that I have the authority to forgive sin.” In fact, most of chapter 9, even though we have broken it up into several sections, is an ongoing record of how Jesus demonstrated his divine authority to forgive sins.

So anyone who does not want to accept his divine authority must somehow discredit his miracles. The Pharisees, offended by his claims of divine authority, therefore attribute his miracles not to God, but to the devil. It is interesting that nobody claims that the miracles did not happen. Clearly the events themselves were quite convincing. Yet again, we find that it is not possible to consider Jesus just a good man, or a moral teacher. The people at the time understood that either he was who he claimed to be, or he was a devil.

Now let’s focus on what the Holy Spirit might want to say to us through this passage today. First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

In addition, I think this passage encourages us to seek Jesus as our only hope, our only resource. The father was desperate to have his daughter healed; Jesus was his only hope. The woman had exhausted all other resources, at this point, Jesus was her only resource. The blind men surely could have no hope of seeing, apart from Jesus.

One of my ongoing life lessons is to learn to see Jesus as my first resource, instead of my last. The man’s daughter was dying already when he came to see Jesus; the woman had already spent all of her money on doctors before she came to see Jesus (Luke gives us this detail in Luke 8:43). How much better if they had come to him first! How much better for us if we learn to go straight to Jesus with everything. I don’t mean that Jesus’ primary mission is to function like some sort of cosmic vending machine for us. As I’ve already mentioned, sometimes he heals, and sometimes he does not. Even so, I think he wants us to look to him first. He may answer our need the way we want him to, or he may not. But either way, he should be our first resort, not our last. And he should remain our hope, even when he doesn’t behave the way we want or expect him to.

Although faith is not really about getting what we want in this life from God, it is clearly something important. Jesus was delighted with the faith of the centurion, as recorded earlier. He is delighted with the faith of the woman here, and also the two blind men. As always in the New Testament, the Greek word for faith might just as well be translated “trust.” Jesus wants us to trust him with everything, and he is delighted when we do. These miracles show us that his word is good and reliable. We can trust what he says. We can trust his forgiveness for us. We can trust his grace and his love.

But the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

 

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

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New Joy Fellowship

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Lebanon, TN 37087

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Thank for your prayers, and your support!

DO YOU REALLY NEED JESUS?

 

Jesus

 

As always what is at issue is not “religion,” but Jesus himself and how we respond to him. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that they were religious. The issue was, they did not think they needed him. They were satisfied with themselves as they were. They weren’t willing to admit their need for grace, nor were they willing to humbly follow Jesus Christ. You can be a self-righteous Pharisee, and think you don’t need Jesus. You can be an obvious sinner, and still think you don’t need Jesus. Either way, it’s the same thing, and it’s a tragic thing.

 

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Matthew #31 Chapter 9:9-17

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me! ” So he got up and followed Him.

While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? ”

But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Then John’s disciples came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast? ”

Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:9-17, HCSB)

Matthew records that Jesus came to him when he was a tax collector. In this incident, Mark and Luke call the same individual “Levi.” However, later on, when the twelve special apostles of Jesus are named, Luke and Mark use the name “Matthew” and mention no one named Levi. The obvious solution to this puzzle is that just as the apostle Peter once was called Simon, and Paul was once Saul, before he was changed by Jesus, Matthew was known as Levi. Matthew himself, feels the change is so profound that he does not even refer to his old name in the telling. He is fully convinced that he is not the old person, Levi, but rather the new person, saved and changed by Jesus Christ. He isn’t who he used to be. He is done with his former way of life.

What was his former way of life? Well, Matthew/Levi was a tax collector. The Romans controlled Judea and Galilee and the whole region, and they required taxes from it to run their empire. They used underlings who were not Jewish to help them – these underlings were the Idumean people, the most famous of whom was Herod the Great. The Idumeans owed the Romans the taxes for the region, and they also collected their own taxes to run the provinces and also to enrich themselves. The Idumeans, in turn, left the dirty work of actually collecting the taxes to traitorous, unscrupulous Jews, who willingly cooperated with these foreign oppressors because they could get rich doing so. Matthew was one such person.

Basically, the way it worked was this. Matthew was given an amount that he needed to collect to satisfy his Idumean masters (who in turn, also had to satisfy the Romans). But Matthew could collect any amount he wanted. In other words, suppose his masters needed a thousand dollars from each family. Matthew could charge a family $1500, give the Idumeans the $1000 and pocket the $500 for himself, and go on to the next family and do the same thing. So he was a traitor, because he worked to support the foreign oppressors, and he was a parasite, even a thief, because using his position, he took whatever he thought he could get from his fellow countrymen. If anyone objected to what he was collecting in taxes, he simply whistled for the soldiers, and the person who refused to pay was beaten and imprisoned, and the tax was forcibly taken anyway.

Not to belabor the point, but Matthew was not “good people.” He was a quisling and a snake. People looked at him the way you and I might view a pimp, or an organized-crime boss. He might have money, but it was the kind of money no good citizen would touch. Respectable folks did not hang around with people like Matthew.

We have to understand this, because it was shocking – scandalous, even, that Jesus, a godly Jewish Rabbi, would invite Matthew into his core group. It was even more shocking that right afterwards, Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner, and Matthew invited such friends as he had – none of which were good people, because good people wouldn’t hang around with Matthew. So use your imagination to recreate the picture. Jesus is at the house of a local organized crime boss. Next to him on one side is a drug dealer. Two places away is a pimp. Across the table from Jesus is a guy who makes his living breaking the legs of people who don’t cooperate, and he’s in the middle of a discussion with a hit man. The meal is being served by hookers.

If this makes you uncomfortable, then you are getting a sense of why the Pharisees reacted the way they did. They ask him why he’s hanging out with such people. It’s not an unreasonable question. Jesus says, basically, “I’m here for sick, not the healthy.”

It’s easy to mis-apply the words of Jesus here, so pay attention. What Jesus basically means by his words is, he is seeking people who need him, and who know it. Some people mistakenly claim that Jesus prefers blatant sinners to religious people. But Jesus’ problem was not with the fact that the Pharisees were religious. The issue was, they did not think they needed him. They were satisfied with themselves as they were. They weren’t willing to admit their need for grace, nor were they willing to humbly follow Jesus Christ.

Applying this to today, a “Pharisee” may or may not be religious, but the defining characteristic is that such a person does not truly, in his honest heart, admit that he needs forgiveness, grace or Jesus. So today, like back then, you find some “Pharisee-types” in churches. These people are concerned with the form of religion, but their hearts are not humbly surrendered to Jesus. They have never truly acknowledged that they need him.

Surprisingly, you can also find many “Pharisees” who never go to church, and who sin blatantly. They are Pharisees not because they are religious (they aren’t) but because they don’t think they need Jesus, or they aren’t willing to follow him. They may admit (even somewhat cheerfully) that they are sinners. But obviously, they don’t take it seriously, and they refuse to humbly receive the grace that Jesus offers them and to follow him.

You can be a self-righteous Pharisee, and think you don’t need Jesus. You can be an obvious sinner, and think you don’t need Jesus. Either way, it’s the same thing, and it’s a bad thing. As always what is at issue is not “religion,” but Jesus himself and how we respond to him.

There is no doubt that in the church we still have some people who look down upon those who are caught in overt sin. Jesus’ words should speak to us. He came precisely for everyone who knows they need him and want him. We have no right to reject, or look down upon, anyone who wants Jesus and is willing to take him on Jesus’ own terms. He says, “I’m here for those who know they need me, who want me, who know the desperation of their situation without me.” Matthew was precisely one such person and that is why Jesus called him. We can assume that Jesus was hoping to find other people like him at the dinner party in Matthew’s house. By all accounts he did.

Jesus was not affirming the sin of the sinners. But he was also not affirming the self-righteousness or prudishness of the Pharisees. As Christians, it is good for us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and welcome sinners who want him. We shouldn’t exclude anyone, no matter what they have done, no matter how bad they are. Jesus makes it very clear: his mission is to call sinners to repentance and faith in Him. Our mission should be the same.

It is also true that not every sinner wants Jesus. And I think it is a mistake to affirm people who are not interested in repentance or in following Jesus. We are not doing them a favor if we give them the impression that a sinful lifestyle is okay. Part of the proof of this is that Matthew’s own lifestyle changed radically. Matthew left his position as a tax collector. He gave up cooperating with the foreign authorities and he gave up vast wealth to follow Jesus. The same is true of other sinners whom Jesus encountered. For instance, Mary Magdalene, who gave up prostitution and followed Jesus, Zacchaeus, another tax collector, followed Matthew’s path, and even the thief repented as he was crucified next to Jesus.

The Pharisees were not the only people who failed to understand the mission of Jesus. The followers of John the Baptist were also puzzled. They approached the disciples and asked them why they and Jesus did not engage in fasting. What this has in common with the problem of Pharisees is that Jesus is not conforming to their expectations. The Pharisees expected Jesus to stay away from sinners. The followers of John expected Jesus to fast. Jesus did neither one.

Jesus’ reply to the followers of John is yet one more instance where he claims to be divine. His response is essentially, “Why would anyone fast when I’m here with them? The whole reason for fasting is to get close to me, and here I am!” Jesus clearly saw himself as the “bridegroom.” This picture is drawn from Jewish weddings, but basically what it means is that Jesus sees himself as the one everyone has been waiting for. Once more, this is not great moral teaching – unless it is true. Once more we are confronted with this choice: Jesus is either a megalomaniac, or God come in the flesh.

Matthew closes out this section with a comment from Jesus about patches and wineskins. Unfortunately, these days, many of us have never even patched a piece of clothing, let alone seen a wineskin or used one. We need to understand the cultural reference before we can realize what Jesus is talking about.

This was long before the invention of polyester or nylon so imagine a piece of cotton clothing. Cotton shrinks appreciably when it is washed and dried. So if you sewed a brand-new cotton patch onto a piece of clothing that had already been washed and dried, the first time you washed it after the repair, the new patch would shrink more than the fabric around it, and simply tear the shirt again.

The picture with the wineskins is similar. In those days most wine was not put into bottles like we do today. Instead, the wine was put into containers made from animal skins – basically, leather. However, the wine was not fully fermented when it was placed into the skin container. As the wine continued to ferment inside the leather container it bubbled and released gases, putting pressure on the sides of the container. If it was a fresh new wineskin, it would stretch with the expanding gases within it and continue to hold the wine securely. However, if you put new wine, not completely fermented, into an old leather skin that was already stretched out, when the gases expanded, the leather would have no more flexibility left, and it would burst.

It amounts to this: both the Pharisees and the followers of John wanted Jesus to conform to their own expectations. But Jesus was telling them “something new is happening here. You can’t contain it within the old forms of the Jewish religion. You can’t make it fit your own personal expectations.” It took a long time for both sides to realize, but this is the beginning of the split between Christianity and Judaism. Jesus was saying, “this is not the religion you have known. Something new is happening now. It will take a new approach to get the good wine I’m offering.”

So what does all this mean for us today? Have you thought of yourself as a sinner? Do you feel that you don’t deserve grace love and forgiveness? The wonderful news is that Jesus came precisely for you. His whole mission was to find people who are not perfect people, not “good” people, but rather, people who know that they need him and are willing to receive him. So receive him. There is nothing that you have done, or could have done, that puts you beyond his grace and forgiveness. He says that he came for people just like you and me.

As you receive Him, he calls you also to follow him by obeying Him, to the best of your ability. As you continue to trust Jesus, the Holy Spirit will make you more and more able follow him in obedience.

Next, I think it is important for us who have begun to follow Jesus to recognize that Jesus’ mission is to sinners. We don’t get to decide who deserves his grace. The fact is, he offers his grace to everyone: even tax collectors and prostitutes and hit-men. I believe he wants us right there beside him offering his grace to everyone. On the flipside of course, just because someone is a sinner does not mean that she automatically wants the grace that God offers to her in Jesus Christ. And it is not helpful for us to pretend that it is better to be an honest, yet unrepentant, sinner than a dishonest religious person; the truth is it is better to be neither, and instead to be a repentant Jesus follower. Even so, we Christians should not dismiss anybody out of hand. Jesus came for those who are sick, those who are sinners.

Another thing is that, like the Pharisees and John’s followers, I think we all tend to want Jesus to conform to our own personal expectations. But he has a way of bursting our paradigms like old wineskins. Are we willing for Jesus to be himself even if that turns out to be different from how we expect him to be? I think one of the biggest reasons that people reject God is because he often does not behave the way we want him to. He doesn’t always heal those we think he should heal. He doesn’t always answer prayers that we think are reasonable and even righteous. Jesus is calling us to forsake our own paradigms and accept him as he is; to follow him in trust, even when we don’t understand.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today?

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

 

Thank for your prayers, and your support!