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.

Who

The most important question I will ever answer is: “Who do I say Jesus is?”

Read: Matthew 16

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)

Reflect:

Verse 15 is the hinge upon which Matthew’s gospel turns. Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” was addressed to his disciples. Yet Matthew places it at the narrative core of his gospel so that Jesus effectively asks Matthew’s readers as well: “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter was ready and bold with his answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Simon knew that Jesus was God’s anointed king, the Messiah (in Greek, the Christ),  but he clearly had no idea that God’s king was to ascend to his throne via his own death and resurrection.

Simon said Jesus was the Christ, but at this time he did not know what it would mean for Jesus to be God’s Christ. Matthew spends the rest of his gospel revealing exactly what this means. But here, Matthew leaves me with Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

I say Jesus is my King, God’s Son, my Saviour and Redeemer, my Lord and my God.

crux:

The most important question I will ever answer is: “Who do I say Jesus is?”

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I say, Jesus is the Christ-King.
I say, Jesus is the one and only begotten Son of God.
I say, Jesus is my Saviour, who saved me from your wrath by his death.
I say, Jesus is my Redeemer, who bought me out of slavery to sin and death.
I say, Jesus is my Brother, through his blood shed so that you, my heavenly Father, may adopt me.
I say, Jesus is my Head, the authority and source of all spiritual blessing and experience.
I say, Jesus is my Rabbi, the one who teaches me all things because he is your Word.
I say, Jesus is my Righteousness, the source of all that is good within me.
I say, Jesus is the Lamb, the sacrifice which paid the price for my sins.
I say, Jesus is the Lion, the great and mighty King of all God’s people.
I say, Jesus is my Lord, sovereign in authority over me.
I say, Jesus is my God, the one and only True God.

I say these things, not only think them or write them. I declare them to be true.

May I always say them confidently, for your everlasting glory.

Amen.

Culture

The standards of culture must be submitted to the commands of Jesus

Read: Matthew 15

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3)

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
‘These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.'” (Matthew 15:7-9)

Respond:

Jesus did bring new ways of doing things to his culture (11:19) and he did provide new teaching for his students (“new treasure,” 13:52). This “new wine” did not fit into the Pharisee’s “old wineskins” (9:17).

If I accept – as I do – that Jesus is the Christ (God’s anointed king) and that Jesus is God’s Son (God’s essence and representative to mankind) then I must accept Jesus’ new ways and new teachings as God’s ways, God’s teaching. Which leads me to ask myself, in what ways am I like the Pharisees? What parts of Jesus’ teaching am I inclined to reject or gloss over because I favour my tradition, my human rules?

The very next story in Matthew’s gospel, for one. I do not like that Jesus refers to the Canaanite woman as a “dog”, albeit metaphorically. But is my objection mainly based upon my cultural interpretation of this as offensive name-calling? I think it probably is.

Is my tradition, therefore, getting in the way of me accepting that Jesus knew to whom he was sent (the Jews, not Gentiles, for the purpose of his earthly teaching and healing ministry) and that Jesus chose to obey his Father’s mandate? The Canaanite woman, it seems, took no offence, so neither should I.

The truth is, Jesus extended grace to this woman, and to her daughter, and to all he healed. Thanks be to God!

crux:

The standards of my culture must be submitted to the commands of Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus, who shows me the right way to live. May I submit to him and his ways and not conform to the pattern of this age.

Please help me to be wise and discerning enough to distinguish between useful, helpful, biblical teaching and mere human rules. Help me to know the difference between opinion and truth, no matter how loud and strident the voice is that proclaims it.

May my worship of you always be honouring to you.

May I be appalled by the things in my culture that appall you. May I despise the things that you despise. May I be disgusted by the things that disgust you. And then, please help me to do something about it – may I speak up, may I act up, may I submit to the commands of God.

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.

Religion

Jewish religion is fulfilled by Jesus, God with us

Read: Matthew 12

“I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would have not condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:6-8)

Reflect:

Jesus is greater than the temple. Up until this time, the temple was the symbolic dwelling place of God, the ritual meeting place of God with his people. But now: Immanuel! God was with his people in person.

Again, Jesus hints at his identity with a reference to Hosea 6:6, which calls God’s people to acknowledge him. It is God whose presence makes the temple great, not the other way around.

Jesus is greater than the Sabbath. He is Lord of the Sabbath, in authority over it. At this time, the Sabbath had become not so much a designated period of rest but a time to be cautious of all that was forbidden on that day. But now: Immanuel! God, who instituted the Sabbath at the time of creation, was with his people.

Jesus was able to establish “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:12). If the Pharisees acknowledged God as Hosea and Jesus admonished them to, they would not condemn people innocent of wrongdoing, people who did good on the Sabbath. They too would find their rest and peace in Jesus.

crux:

Jewish religion (both place and practice) is fulfilled by Jesus, God with us.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You designed the temple and provided the materials and the skilful, Spirit-filled workers to build it. You ensured the tabernacle erected in Moses’ time would be replaced by the temple Solomon caused to be built. You brought Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Joshua and Zerubbabel back from exile to rebuild a temple for your glorious name. You even used Herod, an ungodly Idumean, to redecorate your temple and make it shine with gold.

Yet all this was just building up to the time when your Son Jesus Christ would dwell in the Promised Land, when he would talk face-to-face with your chosen people, when he would bring joy and healing with his very presence.

LORD, help me to feel this same joy. You know I am tired today, but my physical weakness has no bearing on my spiritual strength.

Help me to focus on Jesus and all he has done and won for me: my election and regeneration, my justification and adoption, the indwelling of the Spirit within me and my new life in Christ, my sanctification and the glorification for which I look forward with hope. These are true treasures, far greater than the temple.

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.