We think we could do a lot for God’s kingdom with twelve legions of angels. Or twelve million dollars, or twelve thousand people in our congregation, or – you get the picture. We think big and powerful is always good. We think we could do so much for God if only we had ______. But Jesus didn’t have ______.  Alone, with no weapons, no money, no power, Jesus accomplished the greatest thing for God’s kingdom that has ever been done.

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Download Matthew Part 94

Matthew #94.  Matthew 26:47-74

A lot of the so-called “contradictions” of the Bible take place in this section of the gospels. There are small details that differ between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some are details about what time certain things happened, or where exactly Jesus was taken, and when. For instance, John records that they took Jesus first to the house of Annas, who was the former High-Priest, and father-in-law to the current High-Priest, Caiaphas. John says that after that, they took him also to the house of Caiaphas. The other gospels record only that Jesus was taken to the house of Caiaphas. This isn’t actually a contradiction, but merely an omission. Matthew doesn’t say that Jesus was not taken to Annas, but rather, he simply doesn’t mention it. John agrees with the others that Jesus was also taken to the house of Caiaphas.

I haven’t examined each so-called contradiction in that much detail, but I suspect that they could all be reconciled in similar ways. The truth is, all four gospels substantially agree about what was said and done during this twenty-four hour period. In a court of law, four eye-witnesses that agreed so thoroughly would be considered very powerful evidence. The fact that each gospel writer has his own unique perspective of those events is normal, and to be expected. In addition, the fact that there are small differences is powerful evidence that the gospels were not made up after the fact. If it really happened, you would expect everyone to have some slightly different memories of it. If it was made up, or edited later, all four gospels would say exactly the same thing. Once more, we find what we would expect to find if the Bible is what it claims to be.

As we examine the text, again I remind you that there might be dozens of worthwhile teachings from this passage, all of which would be good and useful for disciples of Jesus. I’m simply giving you what the Holy Spirit gives me about this text at this time.

The first thing that jumps out to me are Jesus’ words to Judas: “Friend, why have you come?” Jesus knew why Judas had come. He already knew that Judas would betray him – we saw that in 26:21-25. So, why ask the question?

I think it is one more final opportunity for Judas to repent. We saw how Jesus gave Judas the opportunity to repent during the last supper (see Matthew #91), but once more Jesus is opening the door for Judas. I think he is saying, “Why did you follow through? Why, after I warned you, did you still do this? You should have stayed away.” I think even at this point, Judas could have repented. Jesus still would have been captured, but Judas could have broken down, asked Jesus for forgiveness, and come back to him. As we will see, he did not.

Next, comes the swordplay. John tells us that it was Peter who struck the blow, and that the man who lost his ear was a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest. Luke tells us that Jesus healed the man. They all four tell us that Jesus put a stop to the violence almost immediately.

52Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? 54How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way? ”

 55At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture Me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple complex, and you didn’t arrest Me. 56But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptureswould be fulfilled.”

Then all the disciples deserted Him and ran away. (Matt 26:52-56, HCSB)

Verse 52, of course, is the source of the famous quote: “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” I think this is worth unpacking a little bit.

First, we see in the New Testament a change from the Old. During Old Testament times, the people of Israel were often used by God militarily to punish rebellious nations. God even used the armies of pagan nations to discipline Israel. But in the New Testament, we have a change. Jesus now says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In other words, the time for God’s people to use physical violence for God’s purposes is over.

In political and religious discussions, it is common for non-Christians to say: “The Bible teaches violence to God’s enemies. How can you be so critical of other religions like Islam, which teaches the same?” But the Christian Bible does not approve violence as a means for Christians to advance God’s Kingdom. In Christianity, the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament; that is, we interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New. If there is a difference, the New Testament supersedes the Old. Therefore, we see that Jesus taught that now, since His own death and resurrection that redeemed us, violence is not an appropriate way to advance the kingdom of God. I can only say that though Christians have sometimes claimed the support of the Bible in using violence, they did so in ignorance of the teaching of Jesus, who, after all, also told us to turn the other cheek when we are struck, and to love our enemies.  In addition, the New Testament teaches us that the real battle is not physical, but spiritual. Paul writes:

10Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. 12For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. (Eph 6:10-12, HCSB)

Christians, either in the past, or in the present, who interpret the Bible  to condone violence (except in self-defense) are using bad and invalid interpretation practices. They are out of step with the entire history of Christian theology. Though the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition used violence in the name of Jesus, it cannot be justified with consistent Bible interpretation; it can’t be justified with words of Jesus himself. Christian theology has always been consistent on this.

Jesus, in his words to Peter about the sword, is saying this: “That isn’t how it works, Peter. If it worked that way, I could call down legions of angels to force people to submit to me.” Instead, in the spiritual battle, Jesus chose the way of humility, submission and even suffering. God’s kingdom comes about through those sorts of things.  We see that Peter, later in life, learned this lesson well. He writes to Christians in Asia Minor:

19For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. 21For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps.

22He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; 23when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.

 24He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1Pet 2:19-25, HCSB, some parts made bold by me for emphasis)

I think there is a related lesson here, also. The kingdom of God is not made real, or advanced, through human beings forcing it. James writes:

for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. James 1:20  (HCSB)

Jesus himself says, “How would the scriptures be fulfilled if I used all of the tremendous force at my disposal? How could the Kingdom of God be accomplished?”

We don’t think this way. We think we could do a lot for God’s kingdom with twelve legions of angels. Or twelve million dollars, or twelve thousand people in our congregation, or – you get the picture. We think big and powerful is always good. We think we could do so much for God if only we had ______. But Jesus didn’t have ______.  Alone, with no weapons, no money, no power, Jesus accomplished the greatest thing for God’s kingdom that has ever been done.

The kingdom is advanced, as Peter says, when we follow in Christ’s footsteps of suffering and humility. Many times I have seen people seek to advance the kingdom, not through violence per se, but through what I would call “force.”

I think I may have done that myself. I fancy myself a pretty intelligent guy. I’ve read a few books in my time, and I remember a lot of what I read. Every so often I meet someone who claims to be an atheist. This used to get me very excited, because I have yet to meet someone who can out-argue me about the reality of God and the reliability of the Bible. But the truth is, my arguments – which have plenty of intellectual “force” – have never convinced anyone to become a Christian. I have helped to lead a number of people into God’s kingdom, but it never came about through any kind of “force” at all. The kingdom of God doesn’t happen through violence or force.

I’ll leave you with one additional thought. The kingdom of God comes through suffering and humility: and that is scary. As Jesus embraced this right before their very eyes, as he declared that the scriptures were being fulfilled in their presence, the disciples ran away. I can’t help but think that if they had really known the end of the story, they might have stuck around. But even though Jesus had told them it would all be OK in the end, they were so shocked and terrified by what was happening, they fled. It was a mistake they never made again afterwards.

Sometimes, the suffering and humility that goes along with following Jesus might be scary or unpleasant. But Jesus has already told us how it will end. There is no reason to fear. To run away would be silly. It sometimes feels horrible in the middle of it, but the ending is better than we can imagine.

Let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you about these verses today.



Our own expectations are a burden to us. Our demand for Jesus to behave the way we want him to turns our spiritual life into a wearying struggle. There are other things that wear us out, also: our own goals and ambitions for this life, our attempts to control circumstances and relationships, our attempt to hold onto things that we know are sinful and wrong. Jesus says, “Drop all of that! Take on me, and me alone, and you will find rest and ease for your souls.” This is not a word of judgment, but of grace.


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Matthew #37 . Matthew 11:7-30

Last time we considered how Jesus failed to meet the (quite reasonable) expectations of John the Baptist. Jesus responded essentially by saying, “Look back to the Bible and trust what it says. You are blessed when you aren’t upset because I don’t act like you expect me to.”

We pick up this time as John’s disciples are leaving to give him the message. Jesus continues his thoughts by talking to those who are left about John.

John has been overshadowed in history by Jesus, but during his life, and for an entire generation during after his death, John the Baptist was a very influential figure. Many of his followers did not make the transition to following Jesus, and instead, they formed a powerful sub-segment of Judaism until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Jesus clearly acknowledges John’s greatness. He explains John’s place in the history of God’s people: he is a prophet and more than that, he was the one predicted by Isaiah who would come before the Messiah and announce him to the world. In fact, Jesus calls him the greatest man alive. Then Jesus adds two interesting thoughts. First, he says that in spite of John’s greatness, “the least in the kingdom of God” is greater than him. This is puzzling, and there are several possible things that Jesus may have meant. It could be that what Jesus means is that John represents the old covenant, the one which the people of Israel never could keep, and by which they could never be reconciled to God. In this scenario then, John was the greatest man who could live by the old covenant, but the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ is a completely different and greater righteousness. The most pathetic one who is justified by faith in Jesus Christ is closer to God than even the most diligent and self-denying law keeper of the old covenant.

Another possibility is that Jesus means that those who have died and gone on to glory are greater than even the greatest living man. This fits somewhat with what we learned last time, where John was anxious about his present circumstance. Jesus might be saying, “John’s greatness in this life is nothing compared to what he will experience once he dies in faith and fully enters the kingdom of heaven. He is concerned about temporary salvation, but the eternal salvation I offer is so much greater.”

The second strange thought that Jesus shares is this:

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; 14 if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come.

I think what Jesus is referring to here is the widespread belief, perhaps also held by John the Baptist, that the Messiah would bring physical and political deliverance from foreign oppressors. In fact the Jewish people (and possibly John as well) were expecting a violent Messiah. This may sound shocking to us; we know what actually happened, what Jesus actually did and taught. But at the time Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish people sincerely believed that the Messiah would arrive to do violence to their enemies. Jesus is not affirming this. In a continuation of what he said to John, he is explaining that he will not meet those expectations. The idea that the Messiah would preach love, and seek to reconcile all human beings to God (even Romans and foreign soldiers), was completely unique and unexpected to the people at the time.

In fact, for most of the rest of Chapter 11 Jesus is pointing out that he is not meeting expectations. The people criticized John for overt, severe self-discipline; then they turned around and denounced Jesus for not showing overt, severe self-discipline. Both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton have observed this continuing habit of criticizing Jesus and Christianity for opposite things. One the one hand, people say that our faith is merely wish-fulfillment and pie-in-the-sky; we are too optimistic. On the other hand, Christians are frequently criticized for the doctrine of original sin and the future of the world; we are too pessimistic.

When Jesus speaks to the towns ins verses 21-25, he is continuing with this same theme. The towns he mentions are all in the area of Galilee, where he has been ministering. His point is that he has done amazing miracles, that he has fulfilled many prophecies about the Messiah, and yet the people in these towns have not accepted him. Most likely, the reason they did not was because he did not behave the way they expected the Messiah to behave.

It’s hard to believe that the culture at the time thought the Messiah would be a violent man of war. But what are the common strange expectations of our time?

Our culture believes that God asks nothing from us, and holds us to no personal moral standard. We expect to do as we please, and then be welcomed into heaven when the time comes. To the extent that our culture believes in Jesus at all, it believes that Jesus died to show us love, and that now we should continue our lives unchanged and unaffected by that sacrifice. In fact, Jesus himself calls us to die to ourselves and surrender to Him and His purposes; we’ve seen that already in the book of Matthew. Just as the people at the time ignored what the Scripture actually said about the Messiah, so also our culture ignores what the Bible actually says about Jesus.

Our culture believes that Jesus preaches a kind of universal religion, no different from anything else in the world, when in fact, Jesus’ own words proclaim that he is unique, and that our entire future hinges on our response to him, and him alone. Of course, there are elements of truth in other religions. But Jesus makes it clear that he himself is the ultimate revelation of truth, and that our choice to either receive him or reject him is of eternal consequence.

When we hear the words of the Bible, do we receive them and surrender to them, or do we, like the towns in Galilee, reject the truth because it does not conform to our expectations?

Jesus closes this discourse with one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)

Our own expectations are a burden to us. Our demand for Jesus to behave the way we want him to turns our spiritual life into a wearying struggle. There are other things that wear us out, also: our own goals and ambitions for this life, our attempts to control circumstances and relationships, our attempt to hold onto things that we know are sinful and wrong. Jesus says, “Drop all of that! Take on me, and me alone, and you will find rest and ease for your souls.” This is not a word of judgment, but of grace.

Just to make sure we have the picture correct, let me explain what Jesus meant by “yoke.” A yoke was a kind of farm or work implement. It was a piece of wood that was somewhat curved and could fit over the necks of animals or human beings. If the yoke was for a human, the ends might attach to a harness, which then could be attached to a plow or a cart. The man with the yoke across his shoulders could then use the leverage of the yoke to pull the plow or the cart. Alternatively, a load could be hung from each end of the yoke, balanced across the shoulders of the man. Picture a man with a bar across his shoulders, and a bucket hanging from each end of the bar, and you get the idea. There were also yokes made for animals. Some of them were double-yokes in which, say, two oxen could be fastened, and using the yoke, their strength could be combined to pull a load.

I think there are two things we can get from this image, both of them appropriate. The first is the straightforward meaning of Jesus’ words, which is that the burden or work involved in trusting him is light, and even restful for the soul. Picture a yoke with no weight or harness attached to it. The point is, when we give up our own expectations or demands, and surrender to Jesus, and to living life his way, it is restful and healing for our souls.

The second image is that of the two oxen pulling together. Jesus might be saying: “Hitch yourself to me, and let me do the pulling. When I do the work alongside you, you will find it easy and restful.” The idea is that we trust Jesus to do what needs to be done, we let his strength take the weight of the burdens that we face.

I like to picture it like this. Imagine that you are wearing a large, hiker’s backpack. The pack is absolutely stuffed with equipment and all sorts of things that you might reasonably think you need for the journey. It weighs 60 pounds or more. Now you meet Jesus standing by the trail. He is holding a very small, comfortable -looking pack. As he hands it to you, you feel that it is maybe 5 pounds. There is no way it could hold anything more than perhaps food for your next meal.

Now, you are carrying so much weight and bulk that when you try to add that 5 pound pack from Jesus, you find it is considerably harder than before. Jesus laughs at you. “No, silly! Get rid of your big old pack and carry only my pack.” The key of course, is to trust that if we take on only the 5 pound pack, Jesus will be with us to give us the other things we need, when we need them.

You see, I think so many Christians do not find following Jesus to be restful. The reason is, they try to follow Jesus, and at the same time, try to maintain their own control, their own goals, ambitions and expectations. This is not the rest that Jesus offers. The rest and peace come when we give up our own burdens and take his yoke, and only his yoke, upon ourselves. The way to lightness and ease for our souls is to take the yoke of Jesus on ourselves, leaving our own “yoke” behind.

I invite you to do that right now. There is no time like the present. Are there expectations that you have of this life, or of Jesus, expectations that the Holy Spirit is now calling you to release? Are you holding onto the weight of controlling your own life? Is it possible that your own ambitions and plans are a burden to you? Is there some way in which you are insisting that you get what you want, or that you must get it in your way?

These are all heavy burdens that Jesus is calling you to release. In exchange, he offers you just one light, ease-filled, restful burden: to trust him, and to let him be in control. Let him pull the weight, while you relax and trust him.

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