Respond

Jesus wants people to respond to him and enjoy their relationship with God

Read: Matthew 21

“For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him.” (Matthew 21:32a)

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:43)

Reflect:

Some days reading the Bible is like wading through treacle. It’s just a hard slog. I read the words and then I re-read them. I leave the Bible aside a bit to mull over it, then come back and re-read again. The message still doesn’t want to stick.

Part of the problem today is that I slept in and didn’t read the Bible first thing when I was fresh, so I’m coming to the Bible filled with evening angst. Also, I’ve had about a million things to do today and I’ve had to make two million decisions. It’s been a Busy Day, the kind of day I try very hard to avoid, but which is sometimes unavoidable. So my brain is tired.

But actually, the words of Jesus are quite difficult too. At first I think he’s teaching a basic lesson about children obeying parents (21:28-31a). But then I see the thread that joins these story vignettes together. It’s not generalised obedience, but response.

Jesus says, “choose how you respond to me.” (I’m paraphrasing.) One way will bring you into the kingdom, the other will get you kicked out. But there’s no avoiding the choice.

My eldest daughter asked me today what “agnostic” meant. I explained according to the dictionary definition, but according to Jesus there’s no such thing as a fence-sitting agnostic. Either you yield your “fruit” (the efforts of your heart, soul, mind and strength) to the “owner” (God) of your “vineyard” (your life) or you will be brought to a wretched end. Two choices: two very different futures.

crux:

Jesus wants people to respond to him and enjoy their relationship with God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It’s hard not to judge when I read a passage like this. Hard not to judge myself for yielding such flawed fruit up to you. (I need to be reminded of the gospel every moment.) It’s hard not to judge others for refusing to care about the owner of the vineyard that is their lives.

But now I want to rest and relax and just appreciate the way you call and call and call again for people to hear your voice, repent and believe the good news. Thank you for sending the prophets, for sending John the Baptist, for sending Jesus your Son. Thank you for keeping after me until I surrendered to you.

Please do not let me get so caught up in Busy that I don’t have the mental energy to appreciate your revelation, your word, your voice calling my name in the wilderness of my everyday ordinary.

Amen.

War

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win

Read: Matthew 20

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Matthew 20:32)

Jesus had compassion on them. (Matthew 20:34a)

Reflect:

I wonder what I would ask for, if Jesus asked this question of me. Would I even have a ready answer? Or would I mumble and tremble and stumble and end up asking for something worthless, so Jesus felt pity for me rather than compassion?

These two men knew their problem and were bold enough to ask for the solution.

What is my problem? My biggest problem is sin.

Two days ago I prayed asking for a member of my church to rebuke me for any sin of which I was unaware. This afternoon, I got a call from my dear friend who hosts the weekly ladies’ Bible study I lead … in answer to that prayer. I knew immediately that I had sinned, not doing the good I should have done. I even told her on the phone I knew she was telling me [about this situation with another person] because of my prayer to expose my sin.

Yet still, all afternoon, I’ve been struggling with my attitude; battling against my tendency to offer excuses and self-justify; wrestling with my unrepentance. The war on sin is real – the battleground is my heart.

What do I want Jesus to do for me? I want my heart to be purified.

crux:

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God. You are righteous, pure and blameless in all you do.

Thanks be to you that your word promises me, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I need your righteousness, the gift of your righteousness apart from the Law.

Please forgive my sin against X. Please forgive me for being selfish with my time and not visiting her when she was sick and in need of a visit. Please help me to visit her quickly and not put it off again.

You know my heart, LORD. Purify me so my sins that are red as scarlet before me may be as white as snow. Purify my heart, I pray.

Please forgive me for not caring enough about other people’s emotions, and only valuing my own emotional desires. Teach me to love sacrificially, LORD, as Jesus did for me.

Teach me to respond to your Spirit’s niggling voice when I need your prompts to enact love. Speak louder, LORD, when I don’t listen.

Please forgive me. Help me when I go tomorrow to make my apologies to X in person.

Amen.

One Flesh

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but it can’t become my god

Read: Matthew 19

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Reflect:

One flesh. As a married person, I love that expression, but I know it also has its dangers.

In recent years, Jeff and I have started celebrating what we call “one flesh moments” with a high-five. When both of us answer a question from the children with identical words, we high-five. When we both laugh at a joke no-one else understands, we high-five. When we look down at ourselves and realise we are wearing coordinating outfits, we high-five. Actually, that one’s just me. I high-five Jeff on that occasion whether he wants to celebrate or not. And when we sit down to talk about a big issue and realise in the first 60 seconds that we already think exactly alike, we high-five for another one flesh moment.

Of course, these moments of mutuality are partly a natural result of living in the same household for almost two decades. Our first memorable one flesh moment came when, after a decade of marriage, we sat down to a game of Articulate! Your Life and absolutely blitzed the opposition, a newly-married couple, because we could anticipate what our spouse would say; we had a shared language developed from shared experiences.

These one flesh moments are also the fruit of our very deliberate efforts to love each other biblically: to make decisions together that bless each other and our children; to set goals together and work towards them as partners; to support each other as we develop our interests and passions; to support each other in our weaknesses and struggles; to work as a team in our parenting and in ministry. We work very hard to be united in all we do.

I thank God for my husband, but it is important I don’t let my husband become a false god, an idol in my life. I need to remember that it is God who loves me best, even when he chooses to show his love through Jeff. It is God who leads me, even when he uses Jeff to provide the guidance. It is the LORD who is the true God.

crux:

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but I can’t let it become my god.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the gift of my husband. I am very aware that he is fairly awesome, as husbands go, for you have made him so.

Thank you for the many blessings you bring into my life through Jeff, including:
the delicious dinner he’s cooked tonight,
our helpful Bible talk this afternoon,
his hugs when I came home from work,
the way he apologised for not getting up to be with me this morning before I left for work having already made my lunch the night before,
and his care for our kids on their last day of school holidays.
Please help me to always be aware that it is your Spirit within Jeff who warms his heart to love me.

Please help me to treasure our marriage and always seek too be closer in unity with Jeff. Please also keep me from idolatry, so I may never value my husband above my God, nor my marriage above my salvation.

LORD, I’m very conscious that not every single Christians wants to be single and not every married Christian enjoys the one flesh experience. Please comfort them, strengthen them, encourage them, bless them with your love, with your companionship, with union with your Son and your Spirit. Please grant them and us deep, abiding satisfaction in our relationship with you our God.

Amen.

Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Inclusion

Jesus includes all who believe in him into the family of God

Read: Matthew 17

After Jesus and his disciples arrived at Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24)

“The children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:26b-27)

Reflect:

I think every time I have heard teaching on this story, the doctrinal emphasis has been on the fact that Jesus is identifying himself as the child of the King whose temple is in Jerusalem. That is, Jesus is proclaiming himself to Peter (and to Matthew, and others who overheard this conversation) as the Son of the Living God, just as Peter had earlier declared in his statement of belief (16:16).

This doctrine, that Jesus is the Son of God, is certainly demonstrated here. There is another vital doctrine on display as well.

Jesus uses the plural when he says “the children are exempt.” And Jesus gives Peter instructions that will yield funds to pay both Jesus and Peter’s temple tax, “so that we may not cause offence.” These plurals and this inclusive speech is very important.

Peter has just seen Jesus Christ transfigured in glory (17:2). He has heard the voice of God the Father speak from his cloud of glory telling Peter, James and John to listen to God’s Son (17:5). And now, with his allegory and his instructions, Jesus is declaring that Peter, too, is an honoured child of God; that Peter, too, is eligible for the privileges of an heir to the kingdom of God. Jesus has, by his words, included Peter as a fellow child of God, a fellow heir of God.

This is inclusion at its most valuable: adoption into the very family of God.

crux:

Jesus, the Son of God, includes all who believe in him into the family of God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son Jesus Christ is indeed your one and only begotten Son.

By grace you have extended your family to include Simon Peter and millions of others, including me. Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for choosing me, calling me, for your welcome, your provision. Thank you for you mercy in including me, when you had every sovereign right to exclude me as I deserved. Thank you for adopting me as your own child.

Thank you for giving me a family of fellow heirs. Please help me to see my fellow believers as sisters and brothers in your great and glorious family. Help me to treat them as they deserve because of the honour they share with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Please help us to love each other with your love.

Amen.

Grief

Solitary prayer helps heal a grieving heart

Read: Matthew 14

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)

Reflect:

Jesus had just received word from John the Baptist’s disciples that their rabbi, Jesus’ relative, had died, having been murdered by Herod to please his dinner guests. Jesus’ heart must have ached as he mourned the first Christian martyr. Then with each sick person he healed, Jesus must have been confronted by the fact that he could not heal John B. – but also been sure of his heavenly Father’s plan for John B.’s ultimate redemption.

Jesus’ response to his grief was to withdraw on his own to pray. When his solitary time in prayer was interrupted, Jesus got back to it as soon as possible.

This has not always been my response to sadness. Sometimes my response has been quite the opposite – to assume my sad situation is evidence that God is mad at me and doesn’t want to hear from me.

But during the months when my 10-year-old niece was dying of a brain tumour, my solitary morning Bible & prayer walks sustained me by reminding me that God cared about my niece and he cared about me. I clung to God in that time and I will never forget how he responded so clearly in my daily Scripture readings to my tearful prayers.

crux:

Solitary prayer helps heal a grieving heart.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are indeed Almighty – the LORD both strong and mighty. You are able to do so much more than I could ask or imagine.

I know that some people believe that the existence of suffering in the world proves that you cannot be both loving and all-powerful. But I believe that the existence of suffering instead means that you have a plan for its use. I need to trust in your loving-kindness, in your strength and might, to solve my problems according to your plan.

May you be glorified in my suffering and in all of my life. Thank you for your precious encouragement to me as I cried out to you during the last months of Lisa’s earthly life.

Thank you for the bold example of John the Baptist, whose godly moral stance led to his martyrdom. Thank you for Jesus, who was also killed unjustly, he whose death achieved salvation and heavenly blessing for me and for all who believe in him.

Amen.

Treasure

Jesus’ teaching is treasure for his disciples, then and now

Read: Matthew 13

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:10-11)

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom is like the owner of a house who brings out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

Reflect:

At a certain point in his ministry, Jesus moved from teaching openly about how God’s people should live (eg Matthew 5-7), providing a rabbinical commentary on the Mosaic Law, to speaking in parables about the ways God’s people did live and would be judged, providing a commentary on the society in which he lived and their relationship to their God.

Jesus gave his closest followers, those he’d selected to be his disciples, enough explanation to understand his parables. But the mystery must have infuriated Jesus’ opponents. How could they openly rebuke him when admitting they understood his veiled criticisms applied to themselves meant admitting his criticisms were valid?

Jesus ensured his disciples understood his parables, and described his teaching as new treasure to supplement the old treasure of the rabbis’ teaching on the Tanak, the Old Testament.

crux:

Jesus’ teaching is treasure for his disciples, both then and now.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus Christ, the radiance of your glory, the ultimate rabbi. Thank you for his teaching, so faithfully recorded by Matthew and the other gospel writers.

Please help me to treasure Jesus’ teaching. Please help me to understand Jesus’ parables and see myself in them where you see me – where I truly am, not where I’d like to believe I am.

Please teach me through Jesus’ parables. Teach me to value money and possessions less, and your kingdom more. Teach me to pay attention to your word and to not allow lack of understanding, trouble and persecution, worries or wealth to prevent your word bearing fruit in my life. Teach me to allow your word and your ways to spread through my whole life like yeast through dough, until there is no part of my life not changed to be like your Son. Teach me to be shrewd, yet innocent, with regard to the “weeds” in my local “paddock”.

Amen.

Miraculous

The miracles of Jesus prove that he is the Messiah

Read: Matthew 11

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see.” (Matthew 11:2-4)

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20)

Reflect:

Having spoken to his twelve chosen disciples and completed their Basic Training (Matthew 10), Jesus now faces the responses of other people to his teaching and preaching.

Word had spread to John the Baptist, imprisoned for his own politically incorrect preaching. John, perhaps not unreasonably given his circumstances, had begun to doubt his own prophetic ministry. Had it all been a mistake to preach repentance and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ?

Jesus said John must not look to his own situation, but instead look to Jesus and see in Jesus the fulfilment of John’s prophetic message. As John found out more and more about the miraculous deeds Jesus was performing, he would stop questioning his own downfall and start appreciating Jesus’ glory. This is good advice for anyone who doubts God because of the issue of suffering: look instead to Jesus and you will find comfort.

On the other hand, Jesus condemned the people who had witnessed his miracles and yet had not put their faith in him. The more someone knows about Jesus, the more God will hold them accountable for their rejection of him. This doesn’t mean that people who haven’t heard the name of Jesus will be held guiltless – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But “woe” to those who have heard and seen, yet not repented nor believed. Their judgement will be even more dire.

It might seem harsh, but you, dear reader, need to know that this applies to you as you read this blog and see Jesus proclaimed here. It applies to anyone who has ever attended a church service, a Bible study, a Sunday School class, a Youth Group devotion time, a Scripture in School class, a Christmas Carols service. It applies to everyone who ever glanced at a Christian pamphlet handed to them in the street, or turned the other way when they caught the words of the street-corner preacher. It applies to people who grew up with Christian parents but went their own way when they left their parents’ home.

If you know even a smidgeon of the truth about Jesus and have chosen to reject him, then woe, indeed, to you.

crux:

The miracles of Jesus prove that he is the Messiah.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for making it plain and obvious that Jesus was your Son, your anointed King, the Messiah who was to come. Thank you for showing this truth to Matthew, to John the Baptist and his disciples, to the unrepentant towns of Bethsaida and Chorazin – and to me and to the readers of crux.live.

May your glory, the glory of Jesus the Messiah, be known through all the earth.

Please answer my doubts by your Word. Please calm my fears by your Counsellor. Please show me the sins of which I still need to repent.

Please keep my eyes on Jesus, so I will follow him as I marvel at his miracles. Please keep me faithful in my faith and unwavering in my belief, in my everyday ordinary life through all the hours, days, weeks and years until I die or Jesus returns.

Amen.

Likeness

A disciple of Christ manifests the likeness of Christ

Read: Matthew 10

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household.” (Matthew 10:24-25)

Reflect:

When I first became a Christian, I assumed it was blasphemous to seek to be like God. After all, isn’t that how the serpent tempted Eve when he told her, “when you eat from it … you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5)?

But then I was introduced to verses like these (10:24-25), where Jesus Christ clearly taught his disciples that they should be like him. Elsewhere, God directly says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (Six times in Leviticus and twice in 1 Peter.) Paul’s advice is to imitate him (Paul) as he imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1).

It is now apparent to me that where people seek, in their hubris, to make themselves like God through their own efforts (as Eve did), they sin. But where we respond to the call of Jesus to follow him, to follow his example, to be like our teacher and master Jesus Christ, to be holy as the LORD is holy… in this, there is no sin, only sanctification.

These verses and others like them are the reason part of my tagline at crux.live is live Christ.

In my character, I am to seek to live like Christ, with the Spirit’s help. In doing so, I should expect to be persecuted, just as my teacher and master was persecuted.

The wider the gulf between contemporary culture and Christ-like holiness, the more Christians will suffer persecution for their resemblance to Jesus. This is what is currently happening to Australian sportsman Israel Folau for his (biblically-based) social media comments. Persecuted Christians need to cling to Matthew 10:32, where Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

crux:

A disciple of Christ manifests the likeness of Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son was perfect and yet he was persecuted.
Jesus was sinless and still he was slandered.

May I give glory to Jesus Christ in my everyday ordinary Christian life. May I never be guilty of persecuting Christ, and never slander his name.

Please make me like Christ, my teacher and master. Make me compassionate and wise, confident and generous, merciful and hopeful. Make me shrewd and innocent. Help me to manifest Christ’s likeness in my everyday ordinary life.

Do not protect me from persecution, or else how will I know that I am like my teacher? But please, LORD, help me to endure whatever persecution comes and stand firm in my faith to the end. I pray this also for Israel Folau and for all who are criticised for their Christ-like holiness.

Amen.

Acknowledge

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God

Read: Matthew 9

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Reflect:

The Pharisees did not understand why Jesus had come. He was going about as a rabbi, calling people to be his disciples with the words, “Follow me” (9:9). Yet this Jesus was not selective, not discriminating in his choice of disciples as other rabbis must have been. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector – a greedy Roman collaborator, the Pharisees probably thought – to follow him. The crowds who heard Jesus preach and saw him heal were filled with awe (9:7). If Jesus was setting himself up as a Rabbi among rabbis, why was he choosing a tax collector to be his disciple, then eating with Matthew’s notorious, deplorable associates?

The answer lay in Jesus’ mission. Jesus was there to help, so he met with those needing his help.

In response to the criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Hosea, who prophesied to an unrepentant people, to show that God values mercy (help for the helpless) above religious artifice. But Jesus’ rebuke was even more pointed than the obvious point that the Pharisees were unmerciful and unrepentant and in need of his help. He told the Pharisees to go and study this passage from Hosea.

If the Pharisees had gone to the writings of Hosea, they would learn that the passage called God’s people to acknowledge him:

“Let us acknowledge the LORD;
Let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains.” (Hosea 6:3)

The LORD had appeared, he had come to them: like winter rain for a parched land, like a doctor to the desperately ill, like a rabbi to the untaught rabble. The LORD had come to offer mercy and the Pharisees were too self-righteous, too enmeshed in their interpretation of the Law to acknowledge the God who fulfilled that Law.

crux:

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge you. You are God. Father, Son and Spirit. You are the LORD, the I AM, Yahweh.

I acknowledge Jesus Christ. I accept he exists and admit he is true.

I also acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of Jesus to justify me.

Thank you that Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple. Thank you for calling me to be Jesus’ disciple also.

May I follow Jesus as I read, reflect on and respond to the words Matthew wrote about his rabbi. May I learn, as Matthew learned, to acknowledge my God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Saviour.

May I, like Matthew, open my house with hospitality so that others may come and meet Jesus and learn to acknowledge him as God.

Amen.