Teacher

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others

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Read: Matthew 23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

Reflect:

As a teachers, I can imagine few greater professional criticisms than this one.

It’s like saying to a literacy educator, “You make it harder and more confusing for your students. You don’t read yourself, and you take books away from people trying to learn to read.” This criticism sounds extreme when translated to a modern parallel in this way. But that is the sort of complaint Jesus made against those who were meant to be teaching God’s Law.

Jesus told the Pharisees they were blocking the way to God’s kingdom when they should have been showing the way and leading the way. They weren’t just bad teachers, they were anti-teachers.

Alas! Jesus said their end will be desperate: “Look. Your house is left to you deflate.” (23:38) All their hypocrisy would leave the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, empty and deserted; a wasteland rather than a place of worship.

In contrast, I see Jesus, the perfect Rabbi, who led his disciples faithfully and humbly. How his heart must have ached to see such anti-teachers as these influencing God’s people.

crux:

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. Your Scriptures are the greatest revelation that has ever been given. Your Spirit is the greatest guide who ever led the way.

May I follow in Christ’s steps. May I be a teacher who opens doors, not shuts them. Please use my teaching at work to reduce recidivism. Please use my training to help people to gain the skills to work to support their own needs and those of their families. Please use my teaching to help men keep in contact in a positive way with the families from whom they are separated.

But LORD, I want so much more than that for my students. May they learn how to read and then choose to read your Word. May your Scriptures be plain before them so they know the glory of your grace for them in Jesus Christ. May they read their way to meeting you and entering your kingdom by the blood of your Son.

Thank you for your love to the “least of these”, LORD. Please bless them with an open door to become citizens of your kingdom by your mercy. Please grant them a future with you.

Amen.

Testing

Jesus was tested and came out on top

Read: Matthew 22

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. (Matthew 22:23)

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:46)

Reflect:

On Tuesday, we got the results of our youngest son’s scholarship test in the mail, telling us how his test results compared to the other 2500 smart kids who sat the same test. Turns out, he’s quite a bright kid, comparatively speaking. But none of his results mattered until we got the letter that told us whether or not he had a scholarship. For that, we had to wait until today. (He did! Yippee!)

The thing about today’s chapter is that it’s all about testing. Jesus was being tested by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, even the Herodians. Everyone wanted to see if they could trap Jesus. As ACER wrote of their scholarship tests, “These are difficult tests.” The Jewish religious leaders sent their best and brightest to offer their most difficult puzzles and conundrums for Jesus to solve, fully expecting him to fail.

But Jesus was able to solve every puzzle they set before him. Unlike his “expert” critics, Jesus knew both the Scriptures and the power of God. Jesus knew revelation both public (in the Scriptures) and personal (through experience of God’s power).

Whether or not we’ve done well raising an intellectually blessed son to succeed academically to this point, it must be a far more important duty for us to teach all of our children to know the Scriptures and to experience God’s power in their lives, through his Son and his Spirit.

crux:

Jesus was tested and came out on top.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You know I’m super excited about the results of S’s tests and his academic scholarship. Thank you for blessing him with such an awesome brain!

Please help Jeff and I to teach the kids about you as well as about school stuff. Please help us to show them how you are at work by your mighty power in our lives and in theirs.

And please help me to remember that no matter where I ‘rank’ myself as a mum, regardless of where my kids ‘rank’ socially or academically, your Son Jesus is the Be All and End All, the Alpha and Omega, the Supreme Sovereign Lord of All.

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.

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.

Unless

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour

Read: Matthew 3

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10)

Reflect:

John the Baptist, or John B. as I like to call him, is firm and direct with his audience of Pharisees and Sadducees. They are “religious” people who have come to hear a “spiritual” person and the message they get is this:

“It is not enough to say you’re sorry, you need to show you are sorry.”

This is the same message James gave in his epistle: Faith without works is not real faith; practice what you preach; don’t just talk about it, go and do it.

John B. told his religious auditors that their whole identity was in question: it was not enough to claim a genetic heritage as Israelites, in Abraham. Genes aren’t enough to connect a person into a true relationship with the true and living God. Being a Jew was not enough to save them then, just as it is not enough to save anyone now.

John B. uses fiery imagery to get across the point that the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees were risking their lives when they refused to “prepare the way for the Lord” (3:3) in their own hearts by repenting of their sins. Repentance from sin is necessary because until we despise our sin, we will never welcome our Saviour.

crux:

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please help me to hate my sin.

Show me how utterly despicable my sin is in your sight, so I may despise it as you do.

O LORD, I am scared as I pray this prayer. What might you make me suffer so I begin to hate my sin? What have I been clinging to that I will have to give up?

I know I’m forgiven: thank you for forgiving me by Christ’s sacrifice.
I know I’m justified: thank you for justifying me by Christ’s blood.
I know I am saved: thank you for saving me by Christ’s death.

I also know I am not yet fully sanctified: thank you for your promise to complete the work you have begun in me by your Spirit’s presence and counsel.

LORD, make me love righteousness. Help me think about noble, admirable, praiseworthy and excellent things. Keep me from evil; deliver me from temptation. Help me to flee from the devil and run to you. Make me fruitful in repentance.

Thank you for raising me up, a mere stone that you have transformed into a child of Abraham.

Amen.

Usurpers

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Read: John 11

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

Reflect:

Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. This is not just any “sign”, this is a giant neon broadway sign flashing “Messiah! Messiah! Come begin your Eternal Life Here!!!”

And yet, here are the Top 70 VIP Jews, the Sanhedrin, holding a committee meeting. This scene could have been right out of some present day professional development day (makes me think of that TV show, The Office…) where the HR rep tries to focus people’s attention: “What’s our vision? Are we on task and on track? What are we accomplishing here, people?”

The sad thing is, the chief priests have got their job roles and responsibilities completely mixed up. Instead of using their positions to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, like John the Baptist faithfully did, they’re worried about losing things that aren’t even theirs in the first place.

It’s not “our” temple, it’s the LORD’s, the place the LORD God chose as a dwelling place for his Name. (Check it out: Deuteronomy 12:3,5,11,21 etc and 1 Kings 5:5 and 8:29,35,43 etc.)

It’s not “our” nation, it is the nation the LORD made of Abraham’s descendants, a nation he chose to call his very own (Genesis 12:2, 18:18, 21:8, 46:3), a nation the LORD God calls “my people” over and over and over again (Exodus 3:7,10, 5:1, 7:4, 8:1,20-23, 9:1,13,17, 10:3 as well as Leviticus 26:12 and a gazillion other places).

Surely, what belongs to God cannot be lost by God’s people. Not to the Romans. Not to any pagan non-believers, no matter how strong they might seem in comparison to God’s people. My God is bigger, and he protects his own.

Crux:

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge and honour you as God Most High, Sovereign Ruler over all creation and over the nation of your people most especially.

You chose to make your Name dwell in the temple in Jerusalem for a time, and you chose to dwell among your people as Immanuel, God with us, for a time. Now you dwell in the hearts of your people by your Spirit, for all time. I honour you with your current temple, my body, and seek for you to be honoured by the body of all believers, the church.

You chose to make a nation of your very own from Abraham’s descendants, and to expand your nation to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This is your new nation, your eternal nation, the church, won with the blood shed by Christ.

LORD, make me (and we, your church) a people who know exactly whom we belong to and do not let us try to usurp your position of sovereign headship. Help me to be a good citizen of your kingdom and not to desire the nonsense of dual citizenship with the nations of earth. May I represent Jesus my King well as an ambassador to those who do not believe in Jesus.

Amen.

Skeptic

In order to either believe or deny Jesus, it is first necessary to know Jesus.

Read: John 7

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” (John 7:50-51)

Reflect:

Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus came to be a supporter and possibly even a follower of Jesus. At first, Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, in secret. But by the time of Jesus’ death, Nicodemus was confident enough to openly assist with Jesus’ burial.

So Nicodemus was not entirely unbiased when it came to Jesus. Yet his question for his fellow chief priests and Pharisees was valid, and remains so today.

Is it fair to judge Jesus without first hearing him or (in our case) reading his words, recorded by the gospel writers?

Is it just to draw conclusions about Jesus without first finding out what he did, by reading the gospel accounts?

Of course it is not fair or just! It would not be right for either a skeptic or a believer to make assumptions about Jesus without examining the evidence. That’s why I am reading John’s gospel. I want to hear Jesus’ words and find out what Jesus did, for myself. Only then can I be sure that my beliefs about Jesus are based  soundly in truth.

Crux:

In order to either believe or deny Jesus, it is first necessary to get to know Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are reasonable and orderly. Your law is just and sensible. You made it easy for people to believe in Jesus, yet some people find it very, very hard.

I admit that I was once a skeptic, refusing to believe that Jesus was indeed sent by you to save me from my sins. I didn’t even want to believe in the concept of sin itself. I made assumptions about Jesus. I listened to the allegations of atheists, skeptics, unbelievers and deniers. I didn’t go to the source texts, as a good scholar would. I was blind to the truth and rejected Jesus without giving his claims a fair trial.

So I thank you, LORD, for forgiving my my past rejection of Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes, softening my heart and drawing me into the kingdom of your Son.

Please keep me questioning, seeking, searching, asking. I need Jesus and I need to know him so much better than I do. Keep me looking for truth in all the right places. Guard my heart and renew my mind.

Amen.