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Showing posts from May, 2013

Hypothetically speaking....

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How many times has someone said to you, “I know it’s a stupid question but....” At times we are tempted to say, “Yes, it IS a stupid question, so why are you wasting my time asking it?”

Jesus must have been asked a lot of stupid questions and Matthew 22 records one of them. The Sadducees came calling, hoping to stump the Lord with a question on the resurrection. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, the question was an odd one for them to ask. I suppose they couldn’t come up with anything better.

The law said that if a man died without a son to carry on his name, his widow was to marry another brother and have a child who would then inherit the dead man’s name and his possessions. The question, a hypothetical one, was about a woman who married seven brothers, all of who died without producing the required heir. So, whose wife would the woman be in heaven?

Nobody’s wife, since there is no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30), was the Lord’s answer.

End of discussion.

Well, not rea…

Giving God His Due

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Honeyed words hid a sharp barb. But Jesus didn’t fall into the trap.

The Pharisees knew that Jesus would recognize them for what they were, so they sent some of their followers to the Lord to try and trick Him into saying something that would get Him into trouble. First they flattered Him. They told the truth but they didn’t believe the truth they told (Matthew 22:16). That made them hypocrites, which was precisely what the Lord called them (22:18).

The question was whether or not the Jews should pay the taxes imposed on them by their overlords, the Romans (22:17). Jesus asked for a coin, and using it to turn the question back on them, Jesus asked whose face was on that coin (22:20). Of course it was Caesar’s face. Then He said: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (22:21).

It sounded like a fairly uncomplicated answer until you ask yourself the question: “What belongs to God?”

Everything.

Caesar only wants his tax money. But if we are to give back to Go…

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Most of us have a healthy respect for what people think of us. We might not need positive reinforcement from others to maintain our self-esteem, but we’d like to be well-thought of by our peers. For the believer it’s a good thing to have a good reputation. But sometimes taking a stand, no matter what the cost, is a better option than trying to keep everyone happy with us.

The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day illustrate the problem. Twice in Matthew 21 we find them caught on the horns of a dilemma. In Matthew 21:23 to 27, they question by whose authority Jesus speaks. When He returns the favour by asking them whether or not John’s baptism was heaven-sent or a clever fraud, they don't know how to answer.

The Pharisees decide that whichever answer they give would get them into trouble with someone, so they decide to sit on the fence and make no statement at all.

At the end of Matthew 21 a similar situation arises. The religious leaders are quite annoyed at Jesus. The para…

Lessons From a Fig Tree

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One of the favourite questions people ask is why Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). I dug up the notes from the Life of Christ class I took in seminary many years ago, hunted up the section having to do with the fig tree and had a “duh” moment.

Context is vitally important—no less so in this famous story. Jesus approaches the fig tree because He is hungry, only to discover that there is nothing by leaves on the tree, And we know the rest. But we seldom focus on the answer Jesus gave to Peter when he asked why the fig tree had withered so quickly (Mark 11:19-25).

In the story in Mark, the writer records that Jesus’ first words in response to the question were, “Have faith in God.” Jesus’ message was that only faith in God could do the impossible: like wither a fig tree, or move a mountain. Jesus says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). I’m sure the Lord wasn't expecting the disciples to go around moving mountains or blasting…

Following the Herd

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A sharp contrast—two crowds. One followed Jesus, throwing their cloaks on the ground in front of Him, waving palm branches, singing His praise. The other was busy using His house as a marketplace.

One called out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). The other questioned His authority (21:23).

Unhappily the first crowd would bow to the will of the second and clamor for His death just a short time later. The praises would turn into something else; something evil rather than exalting. That often happens where there is no personal conviction. Where there is no personal conviction, whoever shouts the loudest turns the rest to do his will.

For the believer, personal conviction is cultivated in the rich soil of an intimate relationship with the Lord. Time spent with Him, coming to know Him through prayer and through His Word, is never wasted. When that personal conviction has matured, there is strength to resist…

Interrupting the Program

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“We interrupt this program to bring you....”

Don’t you just hate it when someone butts in on your your favourite TV series or sports event to tell you something you probably didn’t really want to know?

The crowds following Jesus had their own agendas as the Lord and His disciples were leaving Jericho one day (Matthew 20:29).

Hearing the hubbub, two blind men sitting by the side of the road, somehow discovered that the Healer they had heard so much about was passing right by them. It was an opportunity that they could not afford to miss.

So they started to yell in the hopes that their voices would be heard over the crowd. But the crowd had its own agenda and didn’t want its “program” interrupted. The people tried to shush the blind men up.

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’” (20:31).

Of course, Jesus heard them and responded to their needs.

As I read this story I wondered about how many times we ignore t…

Give it All to Have it All

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She could never have imagined what she was asking.

In Matthew 20:20-28 we read the story of an ambitious mother (is there any other kind?) trying to pave the path to success for her sons. The mother of James and John (who, by temperament where perfectly able to plead their own case) asked Jesus if He would allow her boys to occupy the seats of honour beside the Lord when He established His kingdom (20:21). Obviously she didn’t really have a clear picture of what kingdom she was actually referring to, but hey...!

James and John were right there to answer the first question on the application form: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (20:22). Either they were hopelessly starry-eyed, as we often are when we are asked to be brave without actually being faced with a situation that requires us to BE brave, or they simply had not made the connection between the kingdom and the death of their Master, announced earlier (20:17-19)—for the third time!

But there was a bigger issue here tha…

All are Precious...and Equal...in His Sight

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Been there, done that—to my shame!

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These 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’” (Matthew 20:11, 12).

The parable from which these verses come was told by Jesus on the heels of His explanation to the disciples about the reward awaiting those who followed Him. After having assured His disciples that whatever they gave up for the sake of the Kingdom would be returned with interest, Jesus then proceeded to tell the story of the workers.

Some had begun early in the day, contracted for a particular sum of money to put in a days’ labour. During the course of the day, other workers were hired, some coming in during the last hour of the workday. When they lined up to get their pay, those who had come during the last hour received exactly the same as those who had come in early in the morning. That didn’t sit too we…

Unfortunately, Too Well-"Grounded"

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Oh, Peter, is getting stuff the only thing you can think of?

We don’t have all the conversation recorded for us so I am speculating as to what Jesus might really have been thinking when Peter said: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27).

It wasn’t even the topic of conversation. The rich young man had just left, disappointed that Jesus had asked him to give up the one thing he wasn’t willing to part with. That incident had turned into a discussion about how difficult it was for rich people, dependent on their own resources, to get into heaven. The disciples wondered how it was possible for anyone to be saved and Jesus had told them that all things were possible for God. The subject was an eternal one.

Peter might have been thinking eternally, but I suspect his mind was still on what Jesus had asked the young man to give up in order to follow the Lord. You’d almost think this was a “Judas” question since the treasurer of the group was us…

Just One Little Thing

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If you want to be perfect...” (Matthew 19:21).

Oh how I wish I had been a fly buzzing around Jesus’ head when he said this. I would have loved to have heard the inflection of His voice and seen the look on His face. Obviously He was not serious because He was the only perfect man who ever walked this planet.

The scene was the appearance of a man who wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life (19:16). Like many, he believed that salvation is the result of doing enough good stuff in life to outweigh the bad stuff that we inevitably do. Obviously this man didn’t feel as though he had arrived at that point where the scale tipped in his favour.

It would also appear that He wasn’t quite willing to give up all the doubtful things that he enjoyed. He simply wanted to make sure he did enough of the right things to make sure his eternal future was secure. When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he asked. “Which ones?” (19:18)—a sure sign his words didn’t match his heart.  Mind y…

It's A Commitment Either Way

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The question was divorce. What prompted it was something that had likely been niggling in the minds of Jesus’ critics since his famous sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:31, 32). During that message that Lord had been very clear about the question. Now, the Pharisees raise the question again. This time the Lord answers the question in detail (19:1-9) ending with “it’s only because your hearts are hard that you look for a way to dump your spouse.”

The answer seems to stun Jesus’ disciples. If it is so hard to get rid of the woman then perhaps it is better not to get entangled in a marriage relationship  at all (19:10)! Their comments lead to yet another discussion, this one about staying unmarried.

Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to who it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one …

Eat and Be Eaten

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Jesus told the parable of a servant who owed his master a huge amount of money (Matthew 18:23-35). He was about to lose everything, including his freedom, when his master graciously forgave the debt.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded" (Matthew 18:28). Did he just not make the connection in his mind, or was he simply too humiliated because he’d had to beg for his freedom, that the servant went out and threw another man into jail because he couldn’t pay a much smaller debt? Did it make him feel bigger to abuse someone after his master had made him feel smaller by being generous?

We all know people (and perhaps ARE those people) who act as though everyone else is stupid and they’re smart, or everyone else is wrong and they’re right. We all know people who seem to delight in pointing out the “weaknesses” or sins of others.…