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.

Echoes

The Jesus who appeared to his disciples after his death was the same Jesus who died

Read: John 21

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” (John 21:10)

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (John 21:13)

Again Jesus said, “Simon, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16)

Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:19b)

Reflect:

This final chapter of John’s gospel reads like a series of echoes of the events of Jesus’ ministry. It describes a third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. The disciples didn’t at first recognise Jesus, but the sequence of events on this occasion must have reminded them of all that had gone before.

Jesus met them on the shore after a long night of fishing. I wonder if they recalled the day Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19)

Jesus took bread and fish and gave it to them to eat. I suppose they must have remembered the day Jesus fed 5000 men and their families and later declared, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (John 6:35)

Jesus told Simon to feed and take care of his sheep. Simon must have thought of the day Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd… I lay down my life for my sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Jesus told Peter to follow him, and he must have remembered that day just a short time ago when Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Crux:

The Jesus who appeared to his disciples after his death was the same Jesus who died – and his message was the same good news message.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the same yesterday, today and into tomorrow. You are the Alpha and the Omega; the First and the Last; who was, who is and who is to come. Holy, holy, holy are you, my LORD God Almighty.

Jesus, you are IT. You are the crux of all creation, the true centre of the universe. And the message you came to teach is the same message that changed all and changes all.

You call me out of my old life, making me new. May I leave that life far behind.

You feed, sustain and nourish me. May I eat and be satisfied.

You call forth my love for you and command me to love your “sheep”. May I love well and dearly.

You are the One Way to the Father, and you call me to follow you. May I follow in your steps all the days of this eternal life you have granted to me.

Amen.