Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. What is coming is a sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. We are now in the last week of Jesus’ life. His entry into Jerusalem, his final instructions to the crowds and to the disciples, and the courage to face the cross contrary to his will but in obedience to the heavenly Father.
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, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For 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. Matthew 21:28-32.
Understanding the True Nature of Repentance. In this paragraph of the two sons, a number of misconceptions about faith, the kingdom, and repentance are addressed:
First, repentance comes from one who has failed, has recognized their failures, and has turned to a different way to follow Jesus. Do you see this? God honors one who starts in the wrong direction but CHANGES HIS OR HER MIND. The pilgrim who stumbles and falls but gets up, gets his or her bearing toward the Kingdom and commits to that course.
Second, repentance is never counted to one who with a good start, turns a different direction and does not follow through. The true measure of faith is a life that follows. One of my favorite verses in this regard: 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19. There are at least two applications to this verse, but for sure, confession, repentance should lead to a life that does not turn back, that is marked out as different, as honoring to God.
Third, the Kingdom of God is marked out by the poor, the outcast, the marginal in our society, the ones who have not, but have learned of their need, have repented, and turned to Jesus. The tax-gatherer, the prostitute. Heaven will never be marked out and attended by the "who’s who" as we know them in our world.
This passage is primarily about discipleship, about honor in the Kingdom, about "who is first," to follow the context of the Zebedee family and their request. Do you see Jesus word? "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." Greatness in the Kingdom is for the least, the lowest, the most humble, the child, the unworthy, and unfit who have in faith reached out to Jesus. What an honorable message at the beginning of this Passion week, and the message of grace and mercy at the cross. This theme is continued next week with the message of the church – Jesus who was rejected by Israel has now brought us in, the Gentiles, and He will say, ‘it is marvelous in our eyes. Matt 21:42. Best to you this week.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. A sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. What is the main point of the cross? A ransom paid, the freeing of a slave, in this case, the slavery of sin and condemnation.
1. The Great Example. ‘Just as the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve’. This is the beginning, middle and end of the gospel message. The purpose of Jesus life, following the instruction to the Zebedee boys and mother wannabes, was ‘whoever wants to be first shall be your slave’. From he instruction that the last shall be first, and the greatest shall be the slave of all, the text moves seamlessly into the work of the cross – Jesus as the example of greatness, looking not to be served, to serve, by his life and death for mankind. This humiliation in the place of, and for the benefit of, his people, must be their example and motivation.
2. The Great Payment - A Ransom Price Paid. ‘and to give his life as a ransom’. A ransom is a price paid to free a slave, common fare and knowledge in the first century. In fact, 70% of the first century church were converted slaves, and this message had to resonate with great joy to the early believers. Because even while physical slavery and bondage continued, they were released from the bondage and condemnation of sin, and restored as children of God and able to follow in the example of Jesus. This was the purpose and climax of the Great Incarnation.
3. The Great Exchange. ‘in the place of many’. And the substitutionary atonement of the cross had as its purpose the standing in the place of the condemned. With great poignancy, Jesus was crucified between two condemned criminals. Jesus lived and died for others, for the many who both had and would believe in Him as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
But we live in a post-Christian era, if ever it was Christian. Our country has gone a long way baby, and the trajectory is down. We have had our basic constitutional tenants, our freedoms, our democratic way of life, our status as the country standing for a beacon for others – all challenged in the last 50 years, and the last year this freefall has escalated exponentially. The photograph above was taken on Easter Sunday, 1956, in Manhattan, New York City. America was a different place, back then.
May God give us the grace and wisdom to live with grace and truth in our communities and countries, to speak the truth in love to others, and to never recover from the Kingdom message as siin during this season, and in Jesus.
Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. A sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. What is the main point of the cross? Redemption and a ransom paid, death for life, is now the message.
25 Jesus 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. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:15-18
1. The Competition Continues – First a Request Prefaced with Faith. Having missed most of the message of Jesus and the cross, even to the disciples, mama now comes for her sons Zebedee and asserts a request for greatness in the Kingdom for her sons, just short of God Himself! Another gospel accounts confirms this is ALSO the request of the two sons (Mark 10:35-41). This request is twofold: first, it is asked respectfully, and we understand with faith. Meaning that this woman and her sons believed what they ask could be granted by Jesus. This alone acknowledges their understanding of who Jesus was, even if they were not clear as to what He was shortly to encounter in the passion week.
2. Second, a Request Exchanging Earthly Status for Heavenly Gain. Even so, this woman and her sons, asserting a request that would supersede even the predicted status of Peter as the Rock upon whom the Church would be built, now requests high standing before the throne of God. Hendrickson notes that ‘[this woman] was guilty of confusing earthly realities with heavenly, as if what is generally happens on earth, when men who, after a tremendous struggle, have finally reached the top, will then from their lofty perch look down upon and hold down all those below them, also applied in the kingdom of heaven. Of course, this woman is 180 degrees wrong and misdirected. This misses Jesus repeated teaching that the last shall be first, the least shall be the greatest, the servant shall be lifted up, and certainly, that death will be swallowed up in victory in the short distance left to the cross and empty tomb.
3. A Ransom Paid. What it Was and How it is Applied. Again, Jesus teaches about the ultimate purpose of his life and work, and the plan of the heavenly Father, to sacrificially send his Son as a payment for sin. A payment of a ransom is redemption, of being ‘bought back’, the idea of deliverance or liberation from a state of bondage and captivity by the payment of a price. It is the exchange of God’s righteousness, in the blood of Jesus, for our unrighteousness, our rightful condemnation before God. Following from the teaching and imagery of the Old Testament, and the Exodus following the Passover in Israel, it is payment of a price and liberation from slavery, in this case slavery to sin and condemnation to death separate from God. The Passover led to the Exodus. The payment of sacrificial blood redeemed or paid the ransom for Israel. Such was Isaiah’s powerful message:
The Suffering and Glory of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) – ‘A Man of Suffering and Familiar with Pain.’ ‘For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’
13 See, my servant will act wisely[a]; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him[b]—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. 53 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression[d] and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.[e 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes[f] his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[g] and be satisfied[h]; by his knowledge[i] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[j] and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[k]because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
John Stott has said: ‘the emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state – indeed our captivity – in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary.
For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sins, guilt, judgement and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.’
Such is our Easter season. Can we spend time prayerfully thanking God for this incredible gift of grace and mercy to us through Jesus, and for all who believe in His name and receive Him? Who can you pray for that God will draw to Himself also in redemption? I have my daily prayer list. Join me in the same. Best to you this week.
- John Moore
GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE
Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently, he has been warning about money and wealth – and how it captures the heart and mind to the loss of eternal perspective and the obstacle to considered redemption. We have learned that the love of money, as illustrated by the instruction to give it away, exposes the heart and a refusal to follow Jesus. The measurement of the Kingdom is according to the hearts and minds of its followers. Now again, the prediction of Christ’s death and resurrection. What is the main point of the cross?
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Matthew 20:17-19.
1. The Context: ‘So the last will be first and the first shall be last’. Tied tightly to the context, the soon-coming crucifixion and death of Jesus would illustrate this principle in the Kingdom, as Jesus ‘of the least of the last, of the One humiliated in death’. And the last shall be first, that His crucifixion would lead to His resurrection, of life over death, of ‘the last shall be first’. The context is critical for this message of the cross.
2. The Third and Final Prediction of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Following from Matthew 16:21 and 17:22-23, now this third and last prediction, in context, teachings now only about Jesus but about the Kingdom of God. Jesus as the ‘Son of Man’ emphasizes His place was both from the humble origin of a man and from the beginning was glorious and God Himself (cf 8:20). The Twin Adversaries: (1) the religious elite and experts, all of whom twisted the Law and the Old Testament for their benefit and power – the Sanhedrin or Supreme Court, indicating that there would be a trial, and (2) Pilate and the Romans, who would carry out the sentence with cruelty, leading to the cross.
3. On the Third Day He will be Raised: This is the capstone of the gospel. Without the empty tomb we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 4). The resurrection is the core of the Christian message. It is life over death, the verification of Jesus and His message and redemption work, purchasing our salvation, and establishing the hope that we will see Him again, and that He is coming back as promised, to judge and rule the world.
So what is the cross? It is not a symbol of life, but of death, not of decoration, but a symbol of God’s plan to use the least among us to be raised to the greatest. And with the resurrection comes a message of hope, of power, of life after death, of ‘absent in the body is present with the Lord’.
Ray Stedman wrote: We must understand that resurrection power is like no other power on earth. It is unique and has no possible rival. For one thing, it is the kind of power that operates in the midst of death. It works when everything around it is dull, dead and barren. It works best in the midst of a cemetery, for that is where it was first demonstrated. When Jesus Christ was resurrected he came out from among the dead. Therefore, if you learn to live by resurrection power you can be alive and vital when everything and everyone around you is dead and lifeless.
Resurrection power is also irresistible. It cannot be thwarted or turned aside. It takes absolutely no account of any obstacles thrown in its path, except to use them for further opportunities to advance its cause. When Jesus came bursting from the grave, he paid not the slightest attention to the obstacles man had placed in his way. There was a large stone in front of his tomb; he passed through it. He himself was wrapped in yard after yard of linen cloth; he left the graveclothes undisturbed behind him. There were Roman guards in front of his tomb; he ignored them. He took not the slightest notice of the decrees of Caesar or the orders of Pilate or the fulminations of the Jewish priests.
Furthermore, resurrection power makes no noise. Other kinds of power that we know usually make some kind of sound: they pound, pulsate, throb, hum, buzz, explode, or roar. But resurrection power is quite silent. Without any display or ostentation, it quietly accomplishes its purpose though there is nothing audible or visible to mark it. When a Christian is living by resurrection power he does not advertise it or seek to dazzle others by its display. His effect upon others is quiet and unobserved at first, but soon there are evident changes that mark the inevitable effect of resurrection power at work: the return of life, vitality, excitement and joy to an individual or situation.
So this is EASTER. Prepare your mind for a great season of worship this year. Stay well.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently, he has been warning about money and wealth – and how it captures the heart and mind to the loss of eternal perspective and the obstacle to considered redemption. Last week, we learned that the love of money, as illustrated by the instruction to give it away, exposes the heart and a refusal to follow Jesus. Now the subject is expanded to priorities – to leaving everything in following Jesus. Now Jesus strikes at the core question of justice – what if life is perceived as unfair? How does that rate in the Kingdom?
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’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.” Matthew 20:13-16.
1. How do we deal with the unfairness of life? Clearly, both in the common ground of life, in our work and families, in communities, in our station give at birth, in where we live and who our family is. Life can be unfair. And if God graded on the curve, based on our merit or lack of the same, we might have a beef. But now the parable of the labors in the vineyard, and the master of the vineyard paying the same wages for different hours worked during the day, raised both the protest of the workers and the explanation of the master. The first point: Life will be unfair. And if we look at our human affairs, we will always get tripped up about understanding the kingdom of God.
2. But with God we get what we were promised, not what we think we deserve! And good for us that we do. If we got what was fair, we would all be condemned to an eternity apart from God because of our heritage in Adam and our acts of sin and rejection of the message of the gospel and the revelation of God. What we really want is not what we deserve, but mercy, grace, receiving what we did not deserve, and could not earn on our own!
3. Again, those who are least as the measure of greatness in the Kingdom. So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:1-5
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:10-13.
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3
News flash for eternity! Understanding our life requires that we come to grips with the twin truths. First, life as we want to naturally measure it always has a cacophony of unfairness – of getting less than my neighbor, to whom I want to constantly compare myself. Second, we can’t chase fairness, not only because it does not exist in our world, but because it is antithetical to the gospel message:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.. Ephesians 2:8-10.
Next week - As we approach Easter, we see in our developing narrative Jesus predicting his death, and continuing negotiations for spiritual standing from the disciples, despite the repeated death narrative mixed together.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has been warning about money and wealth – and how it captures the heart and mind to the loss of eternal perspective and the obstacle to considered redemption. Last week we learned that the love of money, as illustrated by the instruction to give it away, exposes the heart and a refusal to follow Jesus. Now the subject is expanded to priorities – to leaving everything in following Jesus.
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, 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. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matthew 19:27-30.
1. Standards for Salvation and Discipleship. Now we see both great biblical themes addressed in Jesus’ teaching. The issue of salvation – the rich, young ruler – exposed his heart as seeking worldly issues and not eternity. Though he was a good man, God does not grade on the curve for salvation. It is believing in and receiving Jesus as a recognition of our need for redemption. After all, in earthly standards alone, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – i.e. totally impossible – than for a rich man (relying on those merits and standards) to enter the kingdom.
2. Impossible Standards Made Possible by God. And the disciples were shocked by this teaching. They had been steeped in the rabbinic school that wealth is a blessing from God and, therefore, an indication of right standing with God. Not true. Quite the opposite. It is maybe the greatest obstacle to considering salvation and devotion to God. But in the middle of the disciples' shock –they were astonished and asked, ‘then who can be saved?’ – Jesus' assurance is – with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. This is again bringing the disciples back to the standards of the Kingdon of God and eternal vs. earthly values and priorities.
3. Cost of Discipleship. Again, greatness in the Kingdon is from the last, not the first, from the child, not the one is high standing, from one who has given away what he or she has, not one who has gathered and collected wealth and riches. And less we miss the point, many who are first shall be last, and many who are last will be first.
Even so, this is a passage not of condemnation or impossibility but of encouragement and a way out! It is salvation as through Jesus, and following Him that we guarantee standing and greatness in the kingdom. The reassurance is there will be justice and rewards in heaven – just based on eternal price tags, not standards we see around us. The first and last references here are as to disciples, rewards in the kingdom, saved but lesser rewards based on life conduct of the disciples who are following Jesus.
(in the Context of David fearing for Saul who would kill him ) But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. These standards are straight out of heaven and from the throne of God, and by which real wealth and standing in the Kingdom is realized.
God’s best to you this week. The theme of reward for work in the Kingdom is continued next week.
Have a great week,
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. From instruction on forgiveness, marriage and divorce, and OT instructions, the ultimate question is now addressed: How am I saved? How do I gain eternal life? What are the standards or obstacles to eternal glory with God? No question could be larger, nor Jesus answer any more direct.
1. Asking the Right Questions about Eternity – Understanding What We Don’t Have. This rich young ruler seemingly had it all - wealth, young, standing in the community. But he at least understood – and was likely restless about – that he did not yet have an assurance of eternal life, of redemption, of his salvation. That is a good start, from whatever vantage point. The first step to redemption is understanding our need, the fact that we lack the righteous standing before God. And his life was commendable from virtually every external standard.
2. Eternity Measures our Lives By Heart Issues. But this man’s core issue remained. He had displaced, he loved money rather than God. The test: give everything away! Strip away anything competing for following God and the message of Jesus. And to that test, this remarkable but worldly young man failed, declined Jesus’ advice, and went away sad. Rich in this world, a pauper in matters of eternity. It was wealth that crowded out God for this man, in the core of his being, in his mind and heart.
3. Understanding Competition for Eternal Issues in Our World. This point cannot be overemphasized in our affluent world. Money and wealth compete for, and crowd out, our devotion to God. Better it be given away then we end up outside the kingdom, or least in the kingdom, following the instructions to a childlike faith.
So what do we do? I grew up very poor, in a single-parent home. I now have a net worth by most standards considered wealthy. Do I give it all away? Maybe. Don’t dismiss that as an option. Do I ramp up my giving and commitment to those who are my neighbors, whose need I see and whose need I can meet? For sure. Jesus commands his disciples not to lay up treasures on earth (Mt. 6:19). Instead, sell treasured possessions, give to the poor, and have treasure in heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mt. 6:20-21; Lk. 12:33-34). The only rich follower who did that in the Gospels was Zacchaeus, who gave half of his goods to the poor and repaid four times as much as what he had gotten from fraud (Lk. 19:1-8).
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:19-24.
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Cor 9:6
God give us grace and wisdom as we face these issues straight on, asking how to conduct my life in my brief years on this planet in a matter that pleases God. Next week, the commitment to follow Jesus as a disciple follows directly from this instruction on the dangers of wealth and money. Stay well.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. The religious charlatans, understanding their power was slipping, came to Jesus with a theological test: if marriage is a divine ordinance – and it is – then what about conflicting instruction from Moses allowing for divorce. How can both be true? Jesus now begins to instruct on the obstacles to faith and living in an honorable way in the Kingdom.
3 Some 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,’[a] 5 and 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’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6.
1. Marriage: The Biblical Model. From the beginning of creation, the model is clear – we are made for relationships. Men and women are made for each other. They meet a need for each other not otherwise met within our design. Adam’s delight in Eve was immediate and was blessed by God. From that ordinance, in the garden of Eden, all of the human race – sons of Adam and daughters of Eve - came. And in marriage, God intended for the greatest of joy and fulfillment to be something of heaven on earth – joys of family and generations, marked out as examples of the grace and mercy of God. So what happened?
2. Divorce: The Demise of God’s Plan. But, as with sin in the garden, that plan was and is not followed. As such, Moses allowed an exception. Moses (aka God) permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. God’s provision for marriage and family was broken by sin. The fallout led to broken relationships, divided families, and disputes that tore apart Israel and now the church.
3. Divorce Now: A Narrow Exception. Lest we misconstrue the Mosaic exception, Jesus brings his listeners back to the heavenly model: anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another, commits adultery. This exception, porneia in the original language, is sexual infidelity. It has a broader application to other abuses in marriage and the family but is not broad and is not lighthearted. In other words, for someone to contemplate divorce, it should only be applied after serious and prolonged consideration. It is not unusual in my practice that a client only seeks out legal advice on this subject after years of consideration and attempts at counseling and reconciliation.
4. How Narrow is the Exception? Really, really narrow. The Rabbinic teaching was simply that if a man did not approve of his wife, he merely clapped his hands three times, exclaiming "I divorce you" and it was done. The disciples clearly understood how narrow was this exception, such that the person who never married both avoided this prospect of eventual adultery and set him or herself apart for Kingdom work remaining single.
This subject is personal to me twofold: first, because I have been divorced and remarried, without the above biblical exception, meaning my remarriage was sinful and not honorable, and secondly, because of my work as a family law attorney, attending now to hundreds of divorces over my 30-year career. For the first, I have been forgiven as to my remarriage but recognize the continuing consequences of divorce in relationships and in the family. In that, I am responsible for those consequences and pray daily for grace and mercy among my family and people. And to the second, as a Christian attorney, I am obligated to provide not only the legal standards for divorce but, when asked, remind my clients of the biblical instructions of this and other related passages. This is not an easy subject, and the humility of being a child in the Kingdom while seeking wisdom is always our fallback.
This, then, is the human model and dilemma. We know what is right, we often do not do what is right, and the only further damage is to apply self-deception to refuse to own up to our sin and seek available remedies. Of course, no one is without sin. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2), and to even look on a woman with lust is adultery – 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 . The issue is not sinners vs. non-sinners. The issue is understanding God’s standard, being reminded of our need for redemption and grace, and staying at the feet of Jesus in our pilgrimage and walk. Next week, another obstacle to spiritual growth – riches and wealth. Stay well.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom by the life of a child – he who wants to be great should be least, have the humility of a child, and that the delight of God is for salvation to come to all without one lost. This love necessarily includes forgiveness. Forgiveness includes two parties – the offender and the offended. Now Jesus is tested at a legalistic level - how often should I forgive? The answer is unexpected.
21 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?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a] Matthew 18:21-22.
1. Forgiveness: Measured by the Heart. You have to love Peter. Fumbling through confusion with the message of Jesus, right answers and affirmations at times, and testing the limits of the Kingdom as taught by Jesus. The Rabbinical teaching was forgiving 6 times. Peter ups his game and questions and suggests 7 times. Jesus answer: if you are counting, you are not forgiving. It is a matter of the heart, not of calculation. It is to be without limits.
2. Parable of Non-Forgiveness. To emphasize His point, Jesus give a parable of the unmerciful servant. Having been forgiven by his master of a massive debt, with the plea of mercy and patience, he immediately went out and demanded repayment of lesser debt from another, after receiving the same follow up plea from this new debtor for patience. In other words, the encouragement for forgiveness is from the forgiveness we have received from others – or in this case, from God.
3. Warning for Those Who Refuse to Forgive. And to emphasize His point, Jesus warns that for those unwilling to forgive, in the same measure in which they have been forgiven, the life consequences are severe. This point could not have been missed by the disciples and would be increasingly applicable as they moved into the realm of the enemies of Jesus and the cross and persecution of the church.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13.
Important note: Forgiveness does not erase consequences, nor does it require that we forget offenses. Often that is impossible. Rather, it means you continue to extend out the love of God to those who do not deserve it. Remember, neither did we!
There is a broad path to the values of the world, and a narrow path for the pilgrim following Jesus. Blessing on you as you apply these forgiveness, mercy and love principles…even when others don’t deserve it. Next week: Instruction of divorce, which follows directly form instruction on forgiveness. Stay well.
- John Moore, Owner/Proprietor
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom by the life of a child. This love necessarily includes forgiveness. Forgiveness includes two parties – the offender and the offended. The following instruction is to be the common and regular practice of the church, though in our day it is virtually non-existent, at least at the corporate level.
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17.
1. The Preamble. Humility. Context is critical in this passage. The hard work of humble confrontation, of explaining sin and its offense or being corrected as to a misunderstanding, takes courage, wisdom and humility. It starts with childlike humility. 1 Corinthians 10:12: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! James 3:2: 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. The last thing needed is for one who has been offended by the sin of another to come as if they are above a similar sin or more self-righteous than the one confronted.
2. The Process. 4 Steps: 1. Go and show him his fault. 2. Go a second time with one or two others. 3. Tell it to the church. 4. Treat him as a pagan or tax gatherer. Between each step, the wayward pilgrim has rejected the request for confession and repentance; hence, the levels and accountability and consequences are increased. The backdrop assumed in this process is that disciples enjoy a common fellowship and relationship in the church, having taken Jesus and His message seriously, and committed to an honest life in the church. James 1:26-27 26Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
3. The Product. The remarkable promise is that Christians that follow this process should expect a spiritual power and impact on those around them: ‘bound on earth is bound in heaven, loosed on earth is loosed in heaven, agree on what is asked for and it will be done. Matthew 18:20: 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In other words, spiritual integrity among Christians and the church results in spiritual impact and results for those around us. Amazing promise.
Sadly, at least in my experience, this process is lacking. While individual confrontation can and likely does happen with some regularity, for the wayward saint who refuses to repent, the third and fourth level – the gathering of the church to pray for and plead for repentance – I have only seen and been a part of twice in the church. Interestingly, both times were successful with the individual saint turning from their sin and beginning the restoration process with those he or she has damaged. Again, this process is not to condemn or embarrass as an end in itself but to plead for repentance for an individual turning from his or her sin which will only lead to spiritual disaster.
There is a secular banner that I like – and use with some regularity. It is: Take what we do seriously, but do not take ourselves with the same seriousness. On the one hand, we all have feet of clay, are prone to stumble, struggle with sin, and need the gentle encouragement of others for spiritual living. On the other hand, what we do, and how we live, is critically important and is the path to individual and community spirituality that unleashes the power of heaven toward us and those around us. Again, amazing. Stay well. Next week - What happens to those who refuse to act with grace and mercy.
- John Moore