Matthew 22

caesar.jpgGreetings!

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

It was customary at that time to send two invitations to a wedding – one to request someone’s attendance and another to announce that it was ready.  In this story, there are three invitations sent.  Not only do the invitees ignore the extra invitation but they even kill the servants!  This was more than a great insult to the host. 

1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

 4“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

 5“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

 8“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

 13“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 14“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

So what is the application?  God is generous in his invitations to us, but one day the opportunities will be gone.  As Hebrews 4:7 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  You never know which day will be your last.

The wedding clothes were often provided to guests.  Refusing to wear them would be arrogant and rude.  In this parable, these people are trying to come to God on their terms (bad idea).

Paying Taxes to Caesar

Once again, the Pharisees are foiled in their attempt to trick Jesus.   

 15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

 18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

 21“Caesar’s,” they replied.
      Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

 22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Marriage at the Resurrection

 23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

 29Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

 33When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

The Sadducees were another ruling group of Jews along with the Pharisees.  Jesus showed the error of their thinking and He corrected their false doctrine about there not being a resurrection. 

Jesus did not say we’ll be angels in Heaven, just that we’ll be like them in the sense of not marrying.

The Greatest Commandment

 34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If people were expecting an easy shortcut as to which commands they really needed to follow then this answer must have disappointed them.  Saying to “Love the Lord with all your heart . . .” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” makes it harder, not easier.  Everything we do must be out of genuine love for God and others.  When you realize how hard it is do that perfectly for even 10 consecutive minutes it helps you realize how much you need Jesus’ sacrifice in your place.  Should we aim at keeping those commands?  Yes.  Do we have any hope of doing it?  No way.

Whose Son Is the Christ

 41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
      “The son of David,” they replied.

 43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
 44” ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ‘ 45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

This passage makes more sense when understanding that the word Lord is a term of deity in the original Hebrew.  Jesus was turning the tables and asking them questions now and they had no answers.  Also note how Jesus claims that David was speaking by the (Holy) Spirit when he wrote Psalm 110.

What passages stood out to you, and why?

Matthew 21

jerusalem-entry.jpg

Greetings,

The Triumphal Entry

 1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
 5“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
      ‘See, your king comes to you,
   gentle and riding on a donkey,
      on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
   “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
   “Hosanna in the highest!”

 10When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

 11The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

It was predicted hundreds of years before that Jesus would ride on a donkey.  Of course, this is one of those prophecies that one could fulfill on their own as if reading a script.  But there are so many other fulfilled prophecies that Jesus could not control – where He was born, how He died, the Romans gambling for his clothes, that his legs would not be broken during the crucifixion, etc.

Sometimes people note the fickle nature of the crowds who cheered him on Palm Sunday then yelled for his crucifixion the next Friday.  But it may not have been the same group of people.  Still, think about how our loyalties shift based on circumstances. 

Jesus at the Temple

 12Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13“It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'”

That was not the passive Jesus people are used to.  These money changers did big business with the visiting Jews who needed local currency for payments and/or animals for sacrifices.   His righteous anger resulted in animals being released and tables overturned.

 14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 16“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
      “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
   ” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

 17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

The Fig Tree Withers

 18Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

 20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

The fig tree looked good from a distance, but was barren.  I think Jesus was making a commentary on the Israelites.  There is also an application to us if our faith is superficial.

 21Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Much has been made of the “mountain moving” comment.  It sure sounds like hyperbole to me.   Jesus ministry wasn’t about moving things around in nature, it was about changing hearts and lives and eternal salvation.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned

 23Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

 24Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”

   They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

 27So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
      Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

Once again the Jewish leaders tried to trick Jesus, but He would have none of that. 

The Parable of the Two Sons

 28“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 29” ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

 30“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

 31“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
      “The first,” they answered.

   Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

“Repent and believe” is the simplest way to explain what is required for salvation.  Repent of your sins and believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised to life.  It isn’t magic words like, “I will, sir,” but true repentance. 

The Parable of the Tenants

 33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

 35“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

 38“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

 40“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

 41“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
   ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
   the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

 43“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. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Jesus used this parable to show the leaders that He knew what they were up to with their murderous plot.  Jesus isn’t soft on sin.  He offers mercy and forgiveness now, but one day He will deliver crushing judgment.  Too many preachers and “leaders” leave out that part of the Gospel message.

What passages stood out to you, and why?

Exploring Christianity – Part 5 – Interpreting the Bible or abusing it?

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See below to see the latest installment of my friend Nicholas’ interview with me about Christianity or click here for the whole thing.  

Nicholas wrote: Historically, the Bible has been used to justify some pretty atrocious actions.  I assume you believe there is one correct interpretation of the Bible and that any interpretation which allowed these actions was incorrect.  Do you believe that you are in possession of that one correct interpretation?

With respect to atrocities that were rationalized by using the Bible – and I’m pretty sure we agree on what those actions were and that they were indeed atrocious – I think it is possible to interpret the Bible clearly, just as it is possible to interpret it clearly on the essentials of the faith. 

Does the fact that people misinterpret or even abuse scripture mean the scripture itself isn’t reliable?  Of course not.  Otherwise anyone could disprove anything they wanted to by twisting the meanings  (You didn’t pose that question; I just assumed someone might be wondering about that possibility).  In fairness, we should apply this principle to other faiths as well.

In What about the Crusades?! And the Inquisition?! Etc.?! I pointed out that one shouldn’t judge an ideology based on the actions of those who violate its tenets.  But as you allude to, how can we be sure what the real tenets are?

I am probably more agitated at those who misinterpret the Bible for their own ends than you are, because it distracts people from the basic Gospel message and harms our ministries.  False teachers really bother me.  The Apostle Paul didn’t mind if people preached the Gospel with wrong motives as long as they got the message right.  He minded a lot if they got the message wrong, even if their motives were sincere.  The importance of sound, accurate teachings is a key element of Christianity. 

In general, I hold to this saying regarding church doctrines: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.  This means that if someone doesn’t hold to the essentials of the faith (Jesus is God, He is the one way to salvation, the Bible is authoritative and reliable, etc.) then he doesn’t meet the orthodox definition of a Christian.  But there are plenty of things we can charitably disagree on.

Having said that, there have been atrocious things done that were justified by misinterpreting the Bible.  These are exceptions to the saying above.  They may not have been in the “essentials” category in the sense of what defines a Christian, but that doesn’t mean the issues weren’t important or worth fighting over. 

As these examples will show, the solution is more and better Bible reading and study, not less.  The answers are there, but we have to be Biblically literate enough to point out false doctrines when they crop up.  People may come to these wrong beliefs by accident, lack of effort or because it furthers their agenda or fits their preconceived worldview.  Jeremiah 17:9 says The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

There are rules to use when interpreting the Bible, just as there are when reading any work of literature.  When in doubt, follow some basic Bible Study Tips: Reading passages in context is perhaps the most critical rule (see Never read a Bible verse).  You can also view multiple translations, go back to the original language, let the clear explain the unclear, read it in light of other scripture, etc.  This will solve most problems. 

This applies to the classic example of U.S.-style slavery.  I add the qualifier “U.S.-style” because it is quite different than the slavery acknowledged in the Bible.  Did people try to twist the Bible to justify their actions?  Yes.  But a thorough reading of the Bible, in context, crushes those arguments.  These people were obviously stolen from their homeland, and to say the slave owners didn’t love their neighbors (the slaves) as themselves is a massive understatement. 

Now let’s consider a more current example: Abortion.  Some Christians try to twist scripture to say that the Bible is supportive of abortion.  Their main point is often that “Jesus didn’t say anything about abortion.”  That is called an argument from silence, because there are many things that Jesus didn’t specifically mention (rape, pedophilia, drunk driving, etc.) that are clearly moral wrongs.  More importantly, He did say, “Do not murder.”

The main passage pro-choice Christians use to support their position is Exodus 21.  Click the link for a good overview of the controversy.  If people are after the larger meaning that hitting a pregnant woman is different than hitting a non-pregnant woman, then virtually any translation of that passage will suffice.  However, if someone wants to determine if there are implications to the abortion debate based on that passage then they will get mixed messages from different translations.  Some make it clear that the unborn is a distinct human being, while others make it appear that there is a lesser value.

So what is the solution?  Simple: Just go back to the original Hebrew.  As the link shows, that clears things right up. 

Another example is the Inquisition.  I’m not sure what verses, if any, they used to justify their actions, but they couldn’t have been more opposed to Biblical teachings if they tried.  Forcing someone to believe is simply not a Biblical motif.  Consider the story of the rich ruler.  The man didn’t like Jesus’ terms, so Jesus let him walk away sad.  Jesus did not run after him and tackle him or force him to believe, even though Jesus loved him. 

You can also watch some of the false teachers on TV and see how they twist scripture to make it look like God just wants you to be rich and healthy.   They are God’s middlemen, of course, and to get things started you need to send them money.  I keep trying to find that in the Bible, but I can’t. 

Twisting God’s Word is not a new development.  Satan did that in Genesis 3 (“Did God really say . . .”) and Matthew 4, for example.  Again, the answer is more scripture, or more accurate scripture readings, which is how Jesus responded. 

Let me know if you want to dive more deeply into any of these or if you have other examples you would like addressed.  I think the overall principles will apply to just about any controversy you can find.   

Matthew 20

vineyard.jpgGreetings!

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

 3“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went.

   “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

 7” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
      “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

 8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

 9“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

 13“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

 16“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

As a pro-capitalism CPA, this story initially confused me.  It just seemed unfair.  But keep in mind that parables typically have one or two key meanings and aren’t meant to work on too many levels.  This is not about rewards, it is about grace.  God freely gives it as He chooses.  We shouldn’t be jealous or critical about who He dispenses grace to; we should rejoice that we get it at all.

Jesus Again Predicts His Death

 17Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

A Mother’s Request

 20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

 21“What is it you want?” he asked.
      She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

 22“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
      “We can,” they answered.

 23Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

They thought they were asking for positions of prestige in an earthly kingdom.  After all, they had witnessed all the miracles Jesus had done.  Surely He would eventually take over soon.  But to be at his right and left would have meant crucifixion.  He told them several times He would be killed, but they were in denial.

 24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What a beautiful and outrageous concept: The God of the universe came to earth not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for you. 

Two Blind Men Receive Sight

 29As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

 31The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

 32Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

 33“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

 34Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

What passages stood out to you, and why?

Matthew 19

jesus-children.jpgGreetings!

Some people claim that Jesus was silent on homosexual behavior so it must be acceptable.  This is called arguing from silence, and it is poor reasoning because Jesus didn’t specifically mention other evils such as child sacrifice, drunk driving, pedophilia, etc. yet those are obviously wrong.  Also, Jesus is God, so He is the author of all scripture.  He also mentions several times that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.

Divorce

 1When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

 4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5and 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’? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

 7“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 8Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

 10The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Jesus’ teaching that divorcing a wife for other than adultery was so shocking to his disciples that they said it is better not to marry!  That shows how hard the hearts of that culture were.

The Little Children and Jesus

 13Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

The Rich Young Man

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

 18“Which ones?” the man inquired.

   Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

 20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

 21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

This story is told in Mark 10 and Luke 18 as well.  Mark also notes that Jesus loved the man. 

 23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

 26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

 28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The story of the rich young man is often misunderstood to say that we have to sell everything and give it away to follow Jesus.  But it is important to understand the dialogue between the man and Jesus and to keep reading to see what the context is.

First, note how Jesus started with the Commandments dealing with our relationships with others – don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, etc.  This man almost certainly broke those even though he thought he didn’t (think back to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus points out how unrighteous anger can be considered to break the law against murder and lust breaks the law of adultery).  But Jesus was pointing out that the young man’s real “god” was money.  Jesus wants us to put him first in life – well above family, job, money, etc.

Jesus went on to show how it is impossible for us to follow the Commandments on our own.  He was pointing to the fact that we need a Savior – him!  It is impossible on our own, but with God’s sacrifice of his Son it became possible to be reconciled to God.

Jesus gave the all-time best reasons for believing in the Gospel and portraying what it was really like, yet many people still refused to believe.  Keep that in mind if you share the Gospel and people reject it.  Just be loving, obedient and as accurate as possible and leave the rest to God.

What passages stood out to you, and why?

Matthew 18

lost-sheep-2.jpgGreetings!

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus’ disciples were very human – just like us.  They didn’t understand his real mission and were concerned with their own status and position. 

 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

 2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was not saying to think like children.  Christianity is a rational religion and we are taught to love God with our minds, to test things and to renew our minds.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, said, “Religion without reason is no religion at all.”

So what was Jesus saying?  The key phrase to me is “whoever humbles himself like this child . . .”  When Jesus said we need to become like children He meant that we needed that kind of humility. 

 5“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

When is the last time you heard a sermon with verse 6? 

 7“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Some skeptics like to point at verses 8-9 and the fact that we don’t cut out our eyes and cut off our hands.  Interestingly, critics of the Bible sometimes take verses far more literally than any fundamentalist preacher ever did.  Jesus was using hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration, of course.  But his broader point shouldn’t be missed: Sin is very serious, and Hell is real. 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

 10“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

 12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Shepherds were on the lowest rung of society in that culture, yet they would still look after their sheep with care.  How much more so will God go looking for you.  There is a fancy church phrase called “prevenient grace,” which in short means that God is chasing you with his grace.  You just need to turn around. 

A Brother Who Sins Against You

When people sin against us we can handle it the Biblical way or our way.  Sadly, I usually choose my way – either overreacting or ignoring it.  Jesus lays out a model that works, but it takes effort.   

 15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 18“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 19“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

This is a powerful parable about forgiveness.  God will forgives us for our countless sins against a perfect and holy creator.  The “ten thousand talents” would have been the equivalent of millions of dollars – something the man could never repay (especially since he would be in jail).  The one hundred denarii was the equivalent of worker’s daily wages.  Will we forgive others for much lesser offenses?

 21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 23“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

 26“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

 28“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

 29“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

 30“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

 32“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

 35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

What passages stood out to you, and why?

Matthew 17

transfiguration.jpgGreetings!

The Transfiguration

Chapter 16 ended with Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”  That verse sometimes  confounds people because they wonder why Jesus didn’t return before the disciples died.  The problem is solved by reading the passage in context.  This story is also told in Mark and in Luke, and every time it is followed by the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain (it was viewed by three of the Disciples).  That is most likely what He meant by saying that some of them would not taste death before seeing him coming in his kingdom.  Read on and see what I mean:

 1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

 4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

 6When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 10The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

 11Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

We can only imagine how magnificent the transfiguration was to view. 

Once again Jesus predicts his death, though the Disciples didn’t understand it until after the resurrection.  Denial is not a new defense mechanism. 

Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament.  Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt roughly 1,300 years earlier and wrote almost all of the first five books of the Bible.  Elisha was a great prophet of God who did many spectacular things around 900 years before this time.  Their appearance shows that we retain our individual nature upon death.

Peter, impulsive as he was, wanted to build shelters to make this event more permanent.  But this “mountain top experience” was meant for worship and revelation and not to be a permanent state. 

The Healing of a Boy With a Demon

 14When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

 17“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.

 19Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 20He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

V. 20 is always challenging to understand in context, because many prayers don’t get answered.  I may do a prayer series on the 4Simpsons blog sometime.  Some think that since Jesus was just speaking to his Disciples with verses like this and not to broader crowds that it wasn’t a universal statement on prayer.  Other passages on prayer make it clear that the key is to pray in accordance with God’s will.  The closer we get to him and know his will the more effective our prayers will be.  Also, He won’t answer prayers that would ultimately be bad for us.

 22When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

The Temple Tax

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

 25“Yes, he does,” he replied.
      When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

 26“From others,” Peter answered.

   “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27“But so that we may not offend them, 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.”

That is an interesting miracle.  Jesus is the King of the universe, so He owes taxes to no one.  But people didn’t understand that, so He didn’t avoid paying the tax.  Peter did have to do his part to get the money.

What passages stood out to you, and why?