Saturday, November 28

First Steps

 December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in reference to “summer soldiers” who fought well in Spring and Summer but gave up and went home in the cold. It was a statement read to the Colonial army at Valley Forge before they crossed the Delaware River and attacked the British.

Let me paraphrase this for the Body of Christ. These are still the times that try the human soul. The ‘fair-weather believer’ will, in 2020, shrink from the service of their Lord. Unsettled, uncertain, and unprecedented describe the last year.

This was the second Thanksgiving Phyllis and I had alone. The first being 1980 when we moved to Abilene Texas. I couldn’t sneak pieces of turkey to John as I carved it. There were no kids begging to watch their shows. In some ways it was empty.

There have been other eras in which times seemed empty and without hope. I came across a meme the last week or so.

“It’s important to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas: ghosts terrorizing rich people in the middle of the night until they agree to pay their employees more”

In fact, Charles Dickins wrote A Christmas Carol because he’d read of girls seeing dresses six days a week for 16 hours a day and of “8-year-old children who dragged coal carts through tiny subterranean passages over a standard 11-hour workday (Broich).” We have laws that protect children, but such unprecedented times are still the reality for some in our world.  Remember the controversy of Nike and Adidas and the use of sweatshops and child workers?

I want you to know that God’s people are not free from ‘fair weather’ christians. I’ve known more than a few from pastors to people with a seemingly unshakable faith. Something happens and they fold up their tent and fade away into the mists. We cannot force them to believe. But we can work in our own lives so that we don’t run the risk of becoming just one more ‘church drop out’.

I want to suggest that Mark 1:1 is our starting place.  Let me suggest we return to something that is elementary to us, God’s Son, Jesus.  

The Beginning

Mark 1:1 reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." With Mar there is no Mary or Joseph. We don’t hear of Herod or a census nor are there angels, or shepherds. It is as if Jesus just fell into history at a point and Mark started the story. The lack of no nativity doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means Mark wasn’t led to tell the stories he’d heard from others.

The beginning may be temporal having to do with the time of Jesus’ coming. Yet the word has other senses. Remember axioms in geometry or algebra? They are rules that ‘just are’ you can’t prove them, but they are believed as a grounded starting place for math.

“Beginning”, as Mark uses it, "can also denote the 'first things,' 'elementary principles or the 'rudimentary elements' (Guelich 8)." In verses, 2-3 Mark reaches back into the lives of Isaiah and Malachi in order to show how Jesus fulfills their prophecy. This “’ beginning’ is not just a moment in time, it is a step-in eternity (McKenna and Ogilvie 24).” This truth doesn’t start in zero AD but before the world was formed. John writes the same thing, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God” Jn. 1:1

Jesus and his calling that starts off Mark. Jesus and His purpose for coming to us are equally ‘set in stone’ facts with which people have to deal each day. Thus, the object of this beginning is the gospel.

The Gospel

It is not a gospel, like one among many, but “the gospel”. And uses it “in the absolute sense (Guelich 8).” The clearest translation for the term Gospel is Good News. It is the “’ reward for good news’… the good tidings of God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ (Bratcher and Nida 2)." This gospel is the starting place for Advent. Todd Outcalt writes,

"Advent begins—and in fact, the entirety of the Christian journey begins—at the point where we accept Jesus as our Guide and begin to walk with his calm assurances in the midst of our fears (Outcalt)."

Keep this in mind as we continue through the next few months. Science can fail us, but Christ does not. Political wins and losses may elate or discourage us, but Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings.

It can be very tempting to become ‘fair-weather followers’ and walk away when the world is in such turmoil. Such people are not ‘bad’, but they have just not been grasped by the gospel and held captive. God takes the initiative of wrestling with us and holding tight to those who He saves because the good news, takes place only through His son, Jesus.

Jesus Christ

For Mark Jesus is not just a name. He is The Messiah or the Christ. He isn’t the ruler who wanted to ‘Make Israel Great Again’. He was about as far removed from the expected military and political leader as you get. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

2He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

    and no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,

    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

He transforms lives. He raises the dead. He restores withered hands. He touches lepers and lets a woman touch him. He breaks the social rules of His day. He eats with those who are hated. He teaches those who are unlearned. He feeds throngs and blesses children. Jesus is not the hero comes to put things right. This time.

You noticed that, didn’t you? This time… He is coming back and, as Mark 13:32 says about the timing “no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. We are to remain on guard and stay awake. Why? So, when he does return, we are ready for Him, and not caught unawares.

Is anyone tired of wearing masks and the various closures and lockdowns? What you’re feeling is called “COVID fatigue”. The attitude that says “we've been doing this a long time, I thought it was a short-term situation, it's going on and on and on and I'm getting tired of it, and I'm tired of wearing a mask, and I'm tired of putting my life on hold (Cuomo).” Such fatigue wears on us till we forget about a mask once then twice etc. Then when we can’t breathe, or our child or parent can’t breathe we get back with the program. But it’s too late. The saddest situations are the 30-year-old who went to a COVID party thinking it was a hoax. His nurse reported he told her,

‘You know, I think I made a mistake.' And this young man went to a COVID party,” she said. “He didn’t really believe. He thought the disease was a hoax. He thought he was young and invincible and wouldn’t get affected by the disease (NBC News).”

To remain alert and awake today means masks and social distancing. Spiritually it involves knowing the times in which we live. Is the return of Christ right around the corner? I don’t know. A great many situations and tragedies have given rise to speculation on Jesus’ return.

We, his people who wait for our Lord’s return need to do this Let us pray.

 

 Works Cited

Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. New York: United Bible Societies, 1993. Print. UBS Handbook Series. p2

Guelich, Robert A. Mark 1–8:26. Vol. 34A. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

McKenna, David L., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Mark. Vol. 25. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

NBC News. "‘I Think I Made a Mistake’: Young Man from Texas Dies After Attending COVID-19 Party." https://www.nbc12.com.2020. Web. 25 Nov. 2020.

Outcalt, Todd. Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem: Daily Devotions for Advent and Christmas. Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.

Paine, Thomas. "Thomas Paine: American Crisis." Ushistory.org. Web. 26 Nov. 2020.

Saturday, October 10

Choices and Chances

Did you ever miss a get together only to find out that it was the party of the year?   About 47 years ago in an accounting class at Cal State Hayward, Dr. Zambetti told us how much he hated one particular movie. He stayed home to watch it while his roommate went to the party at which the host handed out shares of a stock that had just gone public. I can’t remember the company but missing that party made Zambetti sick every time he saw that movie come on TV.

I can only imagine how much one would miss if they said ‘no’ to a royal wedding because that’s what Jesus describes in this parable. The King’s son was being wed and all the stops were pulled out for this wedding. An obvious first invitation had already gone out. It would be like our ‘save the date’ announcements. Now, it was time to present the second invitation is sent to these previously invited.

The response is unbelievable. It is unthinkable. After all, this was the King whose party they ignored. Matthew says they “paid no attention”, the only use of this Greek word in the Gospels (Hagner). In their place are those on the streets. Not high society but bad and good. Gentiles, others who couldn’t keep the law, normal, every day, people.

The Guests

The first group who had received the servant’s news that the feast was ready, were God’s own people. The Jews, children of Abraham, and the people of the Covenant those to whom God had saved from Egypt and Assyria. Their reaction is “they didn’t care (Blomberg 327).” When they scorned the provision and protection of their God and King another group was invited. They are too interested in business and land. “Their response is just conceivable at the literal level of the story as treason and revolution (ibid.).” Thursday night we were watching Celebrity Family Feud in which two sets of football greats were playing for charity. In the lighting round the question was asked, “’On a level from 1 to 10 how important is the almighty dollar?’ to which the first contestant, with little hesitation, said ‘10’(Celebrity Family Feud).” The number one action from the surveyed audience was, in fact, 10.

Granted it was the result of 100 people but how much does this reality resonate in our reality. The leadership and people of Israel “are preoccupied with their own affairs and are actively rebellious (Wilkins 178).”

Those on the streets were the equivalent of the “tax collectors, and sinners” (Mt 9:10-11) with whom Jesus had eaten and entertained. The bible does not soft-pedal failure. Those coming into the King’s part includes bad and good people. Like the parable of the Wheat and Tares there comes a time to separate them. But that time is in God’s hand, not ours.

God’s Judgment

There are two experiences of judgment in this passage. The first is against those who had been invited and refused. Verse 7 reads, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Our Lord pronounces what would happen to Jerusalem and the temple in a few short decades. Josephus writes,

“One of the soldiers, neither awaiting orders nor filled with horror of so dread an undertaking, but moved by some supernatural impulse, snatched a brand from the blazing timber and, hoisted up by one of his fellow soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window.… When the flame arose, a scream, as poignant as the tragedy, went up from the Jews … now that the object which before they had guarded so closely was going to ruin” (VI.250–253 quoted in Hendriksen and Kistemaker).”

Why would he do such a thing? It was because such a refusal on the part of those invited shamed and deliberately insulted the host. I was not just a breach of social etiquette, it was “an act of rebellion (Keener).” Couple the concerted refusal with the murder of those whom the King had sent was “explicitly revolutionary act (ibid.).”

The second episode of judgment comes against a man at the wedding feast who had not dressed appropriately. "The wedding garment is symbolic of a totally new mode of existence. This man sat at the wedding banquet, but his heart was not there (Augsburger and Ogilvie)." There is conjecture about how these people would have found or purchased such clothes when invited. But the point Jesus makes is that not everyone who was sitting at the table was meant to be at that table.

A far more feasible scenario would be the servants of the King would offer festal robes to those who respond in obedience to the King’s summons. Apparently, all but this one man accepted the robe.

This one man, however, had looked at his own robe, had perhaps lightly brushed it off with his hand, and had then told the attendant, ‘My own robe is good enough. I don’t need the one you’re offering me.’ Then, in an attitude of self-satisfaction and defiance, he had marched to the table, where he was presently reclining; or from which, when the king entered, he, along with the other guests, had just now arisen (Hendriksen and Kistemaker 797)."

He is summarily grabbed, bound up, and thrown out of the feast into Hell.

Our Salvation

The good news is found in the last phrase in verse 14, “Everyone is invited, not all are chosen” God’s nation—Israel—was among the called, the invited ones. Next come the people on the streets. Some may have come from the destroyed city itself. Most came from the surrounding areas around the town like that we provide people which is calming as well as surprising.

Here redemption and election rear its head. The old question we have before us is that is the man chosen to be a bad example or does he testifies to our reaching for what we need, instead of letting the King's gracious love gives us our true need. Righteousness is our decision, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Remember the passage from Isaiah 25? It is the picture of God’s feast “for all people”. It isn’t just the food that is offered to us who are there but God. “He will swallow up death for eternity.” Tears are wiped away and the blame and finger-pointing by the world, reproach, is taken away as well.

The promise of this passage in Matthew like that in Isaiah is in the future. It is a certainty for those prepared for the wedding feast. But it is also the promise that those who do not belong will not be allowed to remain. Our job is to invite all people to come in for God’s calling is for all people. However, God’s election, or salvation, is reserved for those whom God has chosen. Let’s pray.

 

Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Celebrity Family Feud. Steve Harvey. October: 2020

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. Matthew. Vol. 1. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997. Print. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. 



Works Consulted

AP. "Everett Bride Calls Off Wedding, Throws Party For The Homeless." The Seattle Times 2005. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Beehler, John. "A Yugo and a BB Gun." Sermon Central. 2002. Web. 6 Oct. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Celebrity Family Feud. Steve Harvey. October: 2020

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. Matthew. Vol. 1. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997. Print. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

McLaughlin, Rebecca. Confronting Christianity. Crossway, 2019. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B.

Pink, Daniel. "What Happened To Your Parachute?." Fast Company. 1999. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.  

Friday, September 18

Generosity in a stingy time

Matthew is the only gospel that includes this story and it expands on helps explain the previous chapter in which a rich man walks away from Christ and the disciples, who had “left everything and followed” Christ asks, “What will we have?” v. 27. Jesus tells them that they will judge Israel and that anything they have lost—houses, brother, sister, parents, children, or land “for my name's sake” will inherit eternal life and an overabundance of what has been lost. Jesus summarizes this teaching in 19:30 and 20:16. They aren’t exactly the same but their similarity tie them to one another; “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” and “So the last will be first, and the first last”.

The story that leads off chapter 20 is as normal to life in the first century as commuting is for us. A vineyard owner, quite possibly during harvest, makes repeated trips to a common area where people gathered for work. He offers to pay the going rate of a ‘denarius’ for each man’s work. Later, at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and as late as 5 pm hiring people with the agreement in verse 4 “whatever is right I will give you.”.

At closing time, the owner pays all the workers the same wage—one denarius. The ones that worked one hour as well as the ones that worked a 12-hour day earned the same. Those who worked all day were upset. They expected to get more because of the time they’d work. It wasn’t fair to their way of seeing things. They were upset that their boss would equate their value with that of men who only worked an hour.

The Begrudging Spirit

Those who felt cheated had accepted the world’s way of negotiating their pay which, “is part of the value system or the world…a system [that] uses productivity to determine wages (Baeta).” Our Lord’s Kingdom doesn’t work the way the world does. It is a different value system in which God treats us “not according to our works but according to His compassion and mercy (ibid.).”

The first workers, when confronted with apparent unfairness responded in terms of self-interest. “He was only thinking about himself, not about the generosity and intervention of the landowner or the fortune of the other laborers (Wilkins 665)." Like those hired earlier the landowner pays them a fair amount (Blomberg 302).

Don’t be shocked by this for it is evident in the lives of others in Gods’ Word. In Exodus 16 The grumbling of the people is repeated 15 times in these short verses. They aim their grumbling at Moses and Aaron, but Aaron informs the people, “in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against the Lord” v7. At the end of Jonah’s ministry, the prophet is left alone and unhappy because God forgave the Ninevites. Jonah is angry over a plant God allowed to grow and then destroyed. When asked by God in verse 9, “God said to Jonah, ‘Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?’ and Jonah said, ‘Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!’.” If you have never read Jonah it ends with him sulking on a hillside overlooking the city that had received the gracious mercy of God.

The Grace of God

The landowner—God answers his workers and us by reminding us that he will do what he wants with his resources. Jesus’ response to one of the grumblers, ‘Friend’ is not friendly. It appears two other places in this gospel “and in each case the person is in the wrong (Augsburger and Ogilvie).” Both are in Matthew 22 and one identifies an invitee to a wedding feast who couldn’t bother to dress for it. The other instance is Jesus’ response to Judas’ kiss.

God’s generosity is at work here in these stories. It will come to fruition in less than a few months when Jesus is nailed to a cross and executed. The grace of God speaks to our culture today here in the U.S. when it comes to race and poverty. The teaching of this story is not meant to promote economic equality or a higher minimum wage, unlike the statement, “This theme of economic and political reversal is a red thread throughout Jesus’s teaching (DeCort).” No! Jesus’ point is that God is gracious, more gracious than the world could fathom.

"In the kingdom where grace reigns supreme, the equality of saints is significantly conditioned only by the priority of the last. The sovereignty of grace relegates the doctrine of rewards to a position of lesser importance (Hagner 573)."

What we ‘get out of’ being saved is not as important to God as ‘being real in loving’ others. When we question God’s grace or ‘begrudge’ in verse 15 ponhro,s is to judge someone as evil, wicked, sinful, and even the Evil One (Wilkins 665).”

We need to be on our toes when it comes to this because some of us have been following Christ for many years. They run the risk of thinking they’re more important because they know where the bodies are buried. Some have belonged long enough they seem to be long-timers. Such need to guard against making their desires normative for all Christ-followers. New believers also have to become grounded so that they do not believe that ‘finally the church can know what it needs to do.’

If you watched the news this week you saw a great human example of God’s graciousness when Lisa and Joe Waldner who offered the use of their travel trailer Pikkaart to Lee and Church Borgia who evacuated their home and ended up in their van in the Oregon State Fairgrounds. The Waldner’s settled the couple and their pets in the trailer.

Although a bit hesitant to loan out his trailer Joe Waldner says, “He has regretted it for a moment (Orti).” Ellen Donovan, a Red Cross volunteer described this couple’s generous nature,

"He went and bought a generator for them because there are no hookups over there, and every 12 hours he drives over there and he fills the generator with gas and just does a general check-up, nobody asked this man to do this, he and his wife did this on their own (Orti)."

This is a  human example of living a generous life. I do not know the spiritual nature of the couple, but I have to say they are a wonderful reflection of God’s graciousness toward each of us. Let us pray.


Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?." Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Works Consulted

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Barclay, Newman M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 : Print.

Baeta, William. "Don't Begrudge God's Generosity." Sermon Central. 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Bernhard, Toni. "20 Quotations on Generosity: A Profound Act Of Kindness." Psychology Today 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

DeCort, Andrew. "Jesus: A New Beginning For Christian Politics-- Was Jesus Political?" Andrew DeCort. 2018. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Nikolic, Isabella. "Pensioner Is Arrested for Making 24,000 Complaint Calls To Telephone Company In Japan." MSN. 2019. Web. 15 Sept. 2020.

Orti, Camila. "Strangers Lend RV To Displaced Couple Sleeping In Van At Oregon State Fairgrounds." KPTV.com. 2020. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Pikkaart, Curry. "Can You Live with Grace?" Sermon Central. 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

 

Saturday, September 12

Count to 100

 Ernest Hemingway begins his story, “Capital of the World” by describing a joke in Madrid in which

“A father who came to Madrid and inserted and advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: ‘PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTATA NOON TUESDAY ALL IF FORGIVENG PAPA, and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement (Hemingway 44).”

The legend may have struck Hemingway as funny but there may well be no greater need for everyone than to hear all is forgiven. That is the truth of following Jesus. I could not believe God loved me and there are times even today I cannot fathom that truth. But it is absolutely, 100%, true. And the release from our past mistakes, crimes, sins, and errors may be the number one need we all face in this life.

Peter doesn’t ask his question about how many times in order to find a way to get back at someone. He knows that God graciously set up sacrifices that were the means of making atonement. And the teaching in Judaism “is that three times was enough to show a forgiving spirit (Wilkins 622).” Peter is going above and beyond the law’s requirement but for those who have been confronted with the reality of God’s Kingdom and Jesus. That encounter changes everything. Thus, Jesus tells Peter “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” v.23. Most of us have read seventy times seven, but the most common Greek reading is seventy-seven (Blomberg 282).

It doesn’t really matter because Jesus’ point is that there is no top end to how many times we forgive. “One is to keep on forgiving far beyond the point where one has lost count of the wrongs (Nolland 755).” The forgiveness that we are to extend is based “squarely on the foundation of God’s forgiveness of the disciple (Hagner 537)” or us.” The reason for such a mindful forgiving is because of the scope of sin which God forgives through His Son on the cross.

God’s Forgiveness

The parable or story Jesus presents to His disciples is unbelievable. Assume a talent of silver equaled 6000 drachmas we’re talking about one of these paying for a whole year for 24 people at our current 40-work week. A talent is not a monetary denomination but a measure. This may well be “more than all the actual coinage in circulation in Egypt at the time (Keener).”

The point wasn’t the amount the servant owed but the ludicrous claim that he would pay it back. We may see selling a person and their family into slavery as barbaric but to do that in order to pay off debts was “extremely common (Blomberg 283)” This man went before the King with nothing to bargain with but he emerges burden free. It is not an exaggeration to say, “is life has been transformed (Nolland 758).”

The king takes pity on this servant. It is the word used for Jesus having compassion on the crowds who followed and sought Him. It is also used of the pity with which Jesus is moved to heal the blind lepers in Matthew 20 in which Jesus heals two blind men. “Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back (Lamott).”

Forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be separated and that is what makes offering grace so difficult. We fail at this, but God does it perfectly. “To forgive means that one genuinely loves, and this love can move beyond the issue to the person and that one cares more about the person than about what he or she has done (Augsburger).” What makes God’s forgiveness so overwhelming for many of us is that any forgiveness given by God is activated only within a relationship with God.

Our Forgiving

The contrast in Jesus’ story is how unforgiving this same servant is as he searches out someone who owes him a paltry sum of money. I love how Keener in his commentary writes, “apparently the forgiven slave, instead of internalizing the principle of grace, had decided to become ruthlessly efficient in his exacting of debts (Keener)."  

“Forgiveness is never easy; it is hard. It is the most difficult thing in the universe. Forgiveness means that the forgiving person as the innocent one resolves his own wrath over the sin of the guilty one and lets the guilty one go free. To forgive means that one genuinely loves… Forgiveness frees the person for the options of living. Our refusal to forgive is a power play that limits the offender, that holds the guilty “under one’s thumb,” or power. But such forgiveness is always in relationship, hence the condition of repentance. It is not a package that one accepts and runs away with. It is only known in reconciliation (Augsburger).”

Jesus’ point is that when we, the hugely indebted servant, come across someone who has a relatively small amount to pay off, the second servant, God is watching. Jesus summarizes His story, by saying, “And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” Vv.34-35.

Have you ever told your kid to tell another kid, “your sorry”? Were they sorry? Maybe when they are three but try that with a 12-year-old you may hear words and even see a general acknowledgment of the other person. But odds are you won’t get compliance with what you wanted. “From your hearts” calls for sincerity, not just appearances (Hagner 540).  

If we are going to accept the forgiveness of the great burden of sin which nailed Jesus to a cross we had better realize that to not forgive “each other for sins that remain trivial in comparison (Deidun 219)" to our own debt owed to God. I want to end by addressing the worry that we’re being too permissive about God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t worried about giving people permission to sin.

He wasn't afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He's angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue--that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: "Cut that out! We're not playing good boys and bad boys anymore. Your brother was dead and he's alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping (Capon)."

We’ve known people who can’t see past God as a bookkeeper with credits and debits listed in the columns of our lives. But in truth,
the column that contains the red-inked entries of our liabilities can’t be read because they are covered with the blood of Jesus, our Savior. We are forgiven because of Jesus. We are forgiven because of God’s love. We are forgiven and reminded of it by the Holy Spirit that lives within us. Let us pray.

 

Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Capon, Robert Farrar. "Between Noon and Three." Christianity Today. Web. 12 Sept. 2020.

Deidun, T. "The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Mt. 18:23–35)." BTB 6 (1976): 219. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Riverhead Trade, 2006. Print.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

 Works consulted

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Capon, Robert Farrar. "Between Noon and Three." Christianity Today. Web. 12 Sept. 2020.

Deidun, T. "The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant (Mt. 18:23–35)." BTB 6 (1976): 219. Print.

Lamott, Anne. Plan B: Further Thoughts om Faith. Riverhead Trade, 2006. Print.

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 : n. pag. Print.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.

Liddell, H.G. A lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon 1996 : n. pag. Print.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

Story, Norm. "Waiting for Someone To Say Grace." Sermon Central. 2004. Web. 7 Sept. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Saturday, August 29

Fish or get out of the boat

Our two passages before us today couldn’t be more different. One is a story of Peter, once more, getting it wrong. Paul’s letter to the Romans is almost a laundry list of living for Jesus. I propose they are more related than we think. Matthew paints a bold background of what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus uses a ‘roller’ as He plasters dark reds and brown on the canvas before us. Painted with His blood, the ESV uses 20 words to define Christ’s calling, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself and take up their cross and follow me” v 24. Jesus makes it so clear because moments earlier Peter had tried to tell Jesus what was best for him.

Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to die but Peter thought that was a horrible idea and told Jesus so. I’m pleased to hear Jesus does not give in to Peter but called him to account, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance” v23. This is because Jesus’ call is for us to follow Him to death—Yes, eternal life. But death nonetheless because that is the very meaning of ‘taking up a cross’.

Four hundred years before Christ the Persians came upon the Greek city-state and came to a pass called Thermopylae. Here 300 Spartans faced off against Xerxes. Observers went forward in the pass and found the Greeks “brushing their long hair and doing calisthenics and other such things (McGuiggan)” which Xerxes was told, was in preparation for their death. Herodias reports that Xerxes sought out Demaratus, a former Spartan king, in camp with him who said,

“O, king. Hear then now also: these men have come to fight with us for the passage, and this is it that they are preparing to do; for they have a custom which is as follows: whenever they are about to put their lives in peril, they attend to the arrangement of their hair (Herodias 7.209)".

These 300 went on this mission aware that they were not going to survive. They walked away from their families and sons knowing they’d never see them again. They left the homes and lives they’d made never to see them again. And these were pagans.

This is the call of God on our lives. This is the command of Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is our commission to bear up, trudge forward, in the bold attempt to be like our Lord—Jesus.

Ever-present Sin

What keeps us from doing this is the fact that we are sinners. Sin is part of our DNA at birth and we affirm our desire to sin daily as we commit acts of sin and refuse to do acts of love. Theologically they are sins of commission and sins of omission.

Our sin impedes our willingness to follow Christ not Christ’s command to pick up the cross and follow. In the world most people, a huge majority never think about sin at all. Doing what is wrong brings ‘shame’ upon their family. Misbehavior is labeled as non-patriotic, giving in to bad influences, or denying the political will of those in power. This is true of many here in the U.S. as well, as fewer and fewer people have any religious knowledge

We who use that sin often deal with it by denial, pointing fingers at others or the world around us, or comparing our sin to other’s sin. What is different is that we should be aware of the pain our sin causes our Lord. I the Bible, Moses is sheltered by God’s hand as YHWH walks by and although alive, his face glowed, so as to scare the rest of the Israelites. Isaiah is facedown before the throne of YHWH and says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6:5. And Elijah seeking God is confronted with the creator in a whispering small voice. Hearing this 1 Kings 19:13 says, “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

When we area confronted with that life-changing moment instead of humbling ourselves and admitting our situation we are like those who try to grab their carryon baggage while the plane is on fire around them. That happened when a British Airways plane caught fire on the ground in Las Vegas. Photos showed people coming from the smoke “holding purses, flip-flop sandals, rolling bags and shoulder bags (Gold).” Weiss, an aircraft safety person summed it up well saying, “We put more value in possessions than common sense and the reality of what happens (ibid).”

Ever-present God

Being a sinner is a fact but the gospel, literally ‘good news’ is that God present as well and, in His presence, He offers us a chance to live as His people. Confession is our admission that God is correct—about us, our world, our future, our past, and everything else. God is right and correct and we are not. Thus, when Moses is sheltered by God’s hand as He passes, and an angel brings a coal to touch Isaiah’s lips we see God’s provision for sinfulness. How much greater is that seen in Jesus, carrying His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to the hill, outside the gates where He is executed.  

Along with confession we often hear the word ‘repentance’. The most common definition is to literally ‘turn around and go the way you were going’. In today’s language, you might use, ‘recalculating’. It becomes real, life-changing and world-shaking when we live the life Paul describes in our Romans 12 passage. Repentance has an inherent danger in becoming a source of pride and therefore ‘works.’ We run a risk when we make ‘changing our life’ all about us changing our life when we didn’t have the power to turn to Christ in the first place.

Romans 12:9-21gives us a laundry list of what a life that confesses one’s sin and Christ’s Lordship looks like. I believe “Let love be genuine” v.9 is the general command of Paul to the Roman church. It fits with Jesus’ greatest commandment. What follows is a list of what genuine love looks like. I came up with 19 positive actions in the ESV. Let me give you my top three failures—"be patient in tribulation” v. 12. “never avenge yourself” v. 19. And my favorite, “live in harmony” v.16. Do I have the others down? Not at all. But these three are ones that seem to float to the top of the scum pond of my life.

Let me offer some general thoughts on living with an ever-present God. First, admit you are a screw-up and that God loves you still. Part of this is recognizing that our sin is what killed Jesus. Our sin is what is shown in the scars from the thorns shoved down on His head and in the torn flesh of His back.

Second, be reminded, by coming to Christ, and admitting there is little you can do and even want to do to change. Apart from the Power of the Holy Spirit. You might take stock of your life and see what leads you to fall into sin but, except in very small, rare situations we will never overcome sin by our own willingness.

Third is that we are to rely on God’s love because it is His love, demonstrated on the cross by God’s Son, Jesus, who dwells in our hearts as the Holy Spirit who destroys the outcome of sin for eternity. Sometimes we think that all we need to know is “Jesus loves me, this I know…” but Christ’s love involves carrying a cross toward death. His love doesn’t comfort us like a warm fuzzy blanket. It’s an AED, a defibrillator, an epi shot, or Narcan designed to keep us alive, bring us back from the dead, and give us a life worth living. May we discover His power to grab hold our cross and follow after our Lord, lets pray.

Works Cited

Gold, Ashley. "The Fury Over 'Hand Luggage' Plane Evacuees." BBC News. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.

Herodotus. Herodotus, Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

McGuiggan, Jim. God of the Towel. New York: Howard Books, 2014. Print.

Works Consulted

Benedict. Great Christian Thinkers. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011. Print.

Gold, Ashley. "The Fury Over 'Hand Luggage' Plane Evacuees." BBC News. 2015. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.

Herodotus. Herodotus, Histories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

Heuertz, Christopher L. Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God In A Broken World. IVP, 2009. Print.

Hoffman, Michael. Emperor's Club. Universal Pictures, 2002. film.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Walker & Co., 1987. Print.

McGuiggan, Jim. God of the Towel. New York: Howard Books, 2014. Print.

Vassallo, Wanda. "Little Boy Just Wants to Go Home." Preaching Today. Web. 28 Aug. 2020.

 

Saturday, August 15

Rules and Worship

 When reading scripture, it is important to know the context in which the verses take place. What we learn in verses 10-28 flow from the Pharisees complaining to Jesus about the disciples breaking of the “tradition of the elders” v2. In answer, Jesus shows them their own ‘law-breaking’ in order to further their greed.

Connected stories

From here Jesus address the people who have gathered to hear Him. These two stories—what defiles a person and the healing of the Gentile’s daughter are connected.

Those of Israel, the Pharisee, and everyday Jews had been raised on the logic that “ceremony=rightness with God”. Keep the Sabbath and its rules and God blesses you. Bring the proper sacrifice at the right time and God accepts you, forgives your sin, etc. Do ritual washing and don’t touch non-Kosher food and you will stay healthy.

“But” Jesus does here what he did earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. There Christ said, “You have heard… BUT I say”. He doesn’t offer an expansion on the practice, Jesus advocate something “radically new” (Morris 395). To become defiled isn’t a casual brushing up against something that is unclean. “It is something that affects the person at the root of his or her being. (Morris 395).”

The people expected the Pharisees to understand and make sense of God’s law. Their purpose was to help the people interpret what it looked like to be part of God’s chosen people. Jesus points out to the people and the Pharisees that they had missed the point on clean and unclean. Uncleanliness doesn’t reside in not fulfilling a rule. Uncleanliness resides in what comes forth from the heart. Paul explained this in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.

The Pharisees had clung to their traditions so tight that when they are confronted with the Kingdom of God—Jesus they miss Him. But they go beyond self-deception and “have misled the people with their traditions, so Jesus gives due warning to the crowd (Wilkins 536)."

For those in the crowd hearing Jesus, this was an earth-shattering reality. The rules by which they had kept themselves ‘clean’ had been overturned by Jesus.

The woman is connected to these Pharisees by what she wasn’t. She is not part of God’s people she’s a Gentile. She’s female, heathen, enemy of Israel, and interrupting our time with Jesus. The disciples complain “she is crying out after us (v. 23) but she’s calling to Jesus. How like the disciples to make it about them when they aren’t even been addressed.

The same Jesus is present for the crowd, including the Pharisees, and this woman. Those who should have recognized Messiah didn’t. It’s a Gentile woman yelling out, “O Lord, Son of David”. She calls Him Messiah. She recognizes His status and knows He can help her.

Differing Fates

The difference between the crowd and their spiritual leaders and this woman is their faith and their fate. The Pharisees armed with their rules have no notion who Jesus is. This woman comes in with an exposed, faith in, and belief of God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells his disciples that the Pharisees weren’t part of God’s planting. They would be uprooted and destroyed. Leon Morris writes,

Jesus makes clear his contempt for the teachers who so confidently claimed to know the ways of God, but who had not been “planted” by the God to whom they so brazenly appealed. So far from being reliable expositors of the kingdom of God, the Pharisees were not even in the kingdom (Morris 396)."

What’s more, Jesus then tells the disciples to pay them no mind. They are like blind men leading a line of blind people toward a pit. And the proof is seen in the words that the Pharisees spew forth.

It’s Peter who asks on behalf of the disciples for clarification. We know this because Jesus says, “you all” in His response, “Are you also still without understanding?” v. 16. Jesus explains the hypocrisy of the Pharisees “to their own inner impurity…lead the people astray because they can’t see the truth of God’s will (Wilkins 537).”

I wish I were able to see the dialogue between this Canaanite woman and Jesus. I’d love to have seen the look on their faces, the body language, and inflection as they spoke.

The only thing he says, and it appears to be to the disciples is “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” v. 24. Then this Gentile woman knees before Jesus and speak with a Jewish Rabbi. I don’t know how to describe how unheard of this would have been in the ancient world.

Women didn’t approach men in the streets. Men and women didn’t talk to one another in public unless they were married. And a Jew, a Rabbi nonetheless, doesn’t engage a Gentile. The Jewish morning blessing, Birkot Hashachar included “Blessed are you God, Sovereign of the universe who did not make me a Gentile” and another that “God did not make me a woman” (Axelrod).” Yet, here is Jesus speaking to both in public.

She kneels before Jesus undeservedly. She has not earned the right to be heard. She has not kept the law perfectly. She is a simple woman with a simple request she simply seeks mercy for her terribly demonized daughter.

Jesus tells her we don’t give food meant for our children to the guard dogs. To which she counters, yes but the dogs that sleep with the family are free to eat even small scraps that fall from the table. Have you seen the Bounty ad where the dog is thinking “Yessss!” as the dropped food slides toward the table? I love Jesus’ answer. “O woman, great is your faith” (v.28).

He hadn’t found this faith among the Pharisees or those blindly caught up in following the rules in an attempt to be reconciled. He finds in among the pagan who knew her need. John Hamm who starred on Mad Men did a stint in rehab and when interviewed about it said, “. It’s not a weak move to say, ‘I need help.’ In the long run, it’s way better because you have to fix it (Bagley).”

 Application

I believe the truth in this passage is extremely important for us. Like the Pharisees and the religious crowd who looked to them for truth it becomes easy to become performance-driven. This happens when we measure the spiritual faithfulness by some outward measure. It can be simply whether the person goes to church. It can revolve around the way they talk in public. It used to be based on how a person dressed on Sunday morning.

Pharisees put the emphasis on keeping the law and they had good reason because they believed that the exile into Babylon was caused by the people not keeping the law. In the centuries since it had become something less.

As we follow Jesus today, in the midst of a world gone crazy, who do we listen to in order to hear what is true, critical, right, pure, and of God? You and I are tempted to let Facebook and YouTube define the way we live rather than looking into God’s Word. We are tempted to let our view of legislation and politicians influence what we pronounce as ‘good’ rather than listen to Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As we continue toward a hotly contested election and the current pandemic It is more important than ever to humbly submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ.  Anything other than Christ (as revealed in Gods' Written Word) is a blind guide.

 

Works Cited

Axelrod (Cantor), Matt. "Birkot Hashachar: Giving Thanks Each Morning | My Jewish Learning." My Jewish Learning. Web. 15 Aug. 2020.

Bagley, Christopher. "Jon Hamm On Life After Mad Men and Why Being Single "Sucks"." InStyle. 2017. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

Works Consulted

Axelrod (Cantor), Matt. "Birkot Hashachar: Giving Thanks Each Morning | My Jewish Learning." My Jewish Learning. Web. 15 Aug. 2020.

Bagley, Christopher. "Jon Hamm On Life After Mad Men and Why Being Single "Sucks"." InStyle. 2017. Web. 14 Aug. 2020.

Bonnard, Pierre. L’Evangile Selon Saint Matthieu, 2nd ed. (Neuchâtel, 1970) p.229

Bornkamm, G., Barth, G., and Held, H. J. Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (London, 1963)

Bullock, Ian. "Why Are We Offended? - Sermon for Proper 15 - Year A." Sermon Central. 2020. Web. 13 Aug. 2020.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Liddell, H.G. A lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon 1996 : n. pag. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Newman, Barclay M., Jr. A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament. 1993 Print.

Robinson, Haddon. "To Illustrate." Leadership Journal 1983: n. pag. Print.

Smillie, “‘Even the Dogs’: Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew,” 73–97

Snyder, Benjamin J. “Clean and Unclean.” Ed. Douglas Mangum et al. Lexham Theological Wordbook 2014 : Print. Lexham Bible Reference Series.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, August 7

I Got You!

 A universal truth in life is that we will have stress.  Acute’ stress is short-lived, situational, but can be earth-shattering—death of a friend, stuck in traffic, argument with a spouse, child, or boss. Acute stress passes. Following an experiment demonstrating  how acute stress can increase mental acuity one doctor wrote, “I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” she said (Sanders)

Chronic stress is just nasty, it increases risks like “chronic obesity, heart disease and depression (Sanders)." Chronic stress can come from the constant presence of acute stressors partnered with no way to escape. There is no control over those things that bring chronic stress into our lives.

The biggest contribution to date by atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins (IMHO), is gifting the world with the word ‘meme’. They are important because they allow us to deal with some of the stressors we face in our world on a daily basis. ‘Memes have become a very common part of social media culture (Cole-Black).” These photos, quips, and the like summarize what we have been thinking for too long. The purpose run the gamut from pure entertainment to “how we record our history through our lens (Cole-Black)” commented a 20-year-old. “Memes have become a common way of processing fear and tragedy through humor (Al-Heeti)." Our laughter does help with acute and chronic stress.

COVID-19, international political issues, and even killer wasps are just a few of the stressors in our life—acute and chronic. Couple these with the normal stresses we face—kids, work, homes, and the rest and it becomes very desirable to find a place free from stress. You might recall the old commercial “Calgon take me away”, but UC Berkeley did a study in which an amoeba, living in a stress-free situation didn’t thrive, but died (Ortberg 47).

If we are going to face stress and we need stress to continue to live how can we manage what happens so as to honor God? First, when God appears in the midst of our stressed lives, He will demand a response from us. Often, what God calls us to isn’t simple, clear-cut, or easy.

Jesus, walking on the water is in all the gospels except Luke. Only Matthew tells us of Peter walking on the lake. We’ve seen this story in our minds a million times. A storm on Galilee, seasoned fishermen trying to row. A mysterious person walking toward the boat. And in a moment of faith Peter calls to Jesus and the Lord invites Peter to join him. Peter becomes fearful, sinks and Jesus grabs him.

The fact is there is no storm. They are rowing into the wind which is difficult.  John alone says the “sea rose” which could be a rough chop to large swells. Four of those, at least, fished for a living. They knew what they were doing out on Galilee. They’d rowed and sailed that lake almost daily. This trip wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as fearful as when the woke Jesus up certain they were going to die.

It was about 3 a.m. and these men had been rowing and covered about three or four miles by 3 a.m. They weren’t afraid of the wind or the weather but when they saw someone “walking on the sea” and “they were terrified.”  It wasn’t the weather but an apparent ghost coming toward them.

Jesus knows they’re afraid and identifies Himself. Peter exhibits some faith when he “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter climbs over the side and starts to walk toward Jesus. We don’t know how far he got but we do know is that the wind was easier to notice than Jesus and so he sank shouting for Jesus who grabs Peter, saves him, and calms the winds. Question Peter’s faith all you want but how many of us would have even stepped over the side?

Peter recognizes Jesus

What gives Peter the guts to do the unthinkable is that Peter recognized Jesus. He’s afraid, like the rest, but he’s also sure that if this really is Jesus everything will be okay. It is John 21 in which Peter recognizes Jesus and plunges into the lake to swim to shore.

If we’re waiting for God and God shows up it’s a good thing to be able to recognize Him. I wonder how many people have missed God’s call and purpose by failing to recognize Him and His call. Lois Prater, in 1991 at 76 years-old she sold her Seattle-area home and most of her belonging and became a full time missionary into orphans in the Philippines. She started an orphanage there and in the 13 years she was there she

“suffered a broken leg, been hospitalized with pneumonia and tuberculosis, and has been ill with intestinal worms during her tenure in the Philippines. The hot weather, the spicy food and the distance from her family add to her hardships… My only regret is I didn’t start earlier when I was young (Wood).’’

Had she recognized Christ early on can you imagine what might have happened. You know those who have recognized Jesus’ claim on their lives. Some step out in faith and others reason themselves out of it.

Acting on what Jesus says

Peter doesn’t question Jesus’ intent when he says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Read ‘if’ as ‘since’ and you understand that Peter is confessing his belief in Jesus.

Those who recognize Jesus have to ask if we believe that He knows what’s best?  When Jesus tells us to not be afraid do, we believe Him and throw our leg over the side of the boat? I wish I could shout, “Of course, here I come Jesus” or do we talk ourselves out of it.

In obedience to Jesus and with a faith in Christ’s word Peter walked to Jesus and sank. This happened because Peter focused on his situation and not the savior. Peter was distracted by the wind so that he lost sight Jesus.

Today, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic where is God? What does He call us to do? I haven’t received a vision of God’s wishes, but I can tell you that it is easy to get swamped by the details and the destructive power of the stress and lose sight or our Lord.

Let me offer us some guidance from God’s Word as we go through this time of stress. Approach any and all answers, truth, stories, and even your own feelings with a humble attitude. Being humble doesn’t mean we believe everything we hear and read but that we, like Mary that first Christmas, “pondered all these things” 

Secondly, remember that God is in charge. The “devil may be in the details” but the real, life changing power is in Christ. In the 1978 movie, Superman there is a scene in which Lois falls off the Daily Planet and, of course she is caught by Superman who says,

           Easy, miss. I've got you.

           You - you've got me? Who's got you (Donner)?”

We will sink from time to time. We can fall into thinking we know best. We can even believe we’re doing what God wants us to do when we know it goes against Jesus teaching. Even in the midst of such things we’ve been ‘got’ by Jesus. One last thought—as safe as staying on board may seem, it was not where Peter belonged. No matter how ‘safe’ your life is. No matter how safe and secure you want it to be. No matter how uneventful you desire to live your life. Jesus has other plans for us. I pray we will not be so afraid of abandoning ship that we abandon our first love instead. Let’s pray.



Works Cited

Al-Heeti, Abrar. "Coronavirus Memes Help an Isolated World Cope With 'Existential Dread'." CNET. 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Cole-Black, Ameena. "The Purpose of Memes." BEACON. 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Donner, Richard. Superman. Hollywood: Warner Bros., 1978. film.

Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of The Boat. [S.I.]: Zondervan, 2008. Print.

Sanders, Robert. "Researchers Find Out Why Some Stress is Good for You." Berkeley News. 2013. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Wood, Gail. "Lois Prater's Childhood Missionary Dream Is Fulfilled--At Age 76." Charisma Magazine. 2002. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Works Consulted

Al-Heeti, Abrar. "Coronavirus Memes Help an Isolated World Cope With 'Existential Dread'." CNET. 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Cole-Black, Ameena. "The Purpose of Memes." BEACON. 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Donner, Richard. Superman. Hollywood: Warner Bros., 1978. film.

Ortberg, John. If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of The Boat. [S.I.]: Zondervan, 2008. Print.

Sanders, Robert. "Researchers Find Out Why Some Stress is Good for You." Berkeley News. 2013. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Wells, Madeline. "Funny Quarantine Memes to Help You De-Stress." SFGate. 2020. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Wood, Gail. "Lois Prater's Childhood Missionary Dream Is Fulfilled--At Age 76." Charisma Magazine. 2002. Web. 7 Aug. 2020.

Saturday, August 1

What did you eat today?

Matthew 14:13-21 is one of the few experiences shared in each of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in many places, but it must have been a special reason for John to record it. 

John, like the others, is concerned with showing his readers and the world who Jesus is. John records the intent of the people, to take Jesus and make Him King. Soon afterward in John 6: 26ff, Jesus confronts the crowd,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” which leads to verse 35 where Jesus reveals “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Jesus and God

At the center of God’s creation is Jesus. The tipping point for all life is found in Jesus. Nothing is grander, more life-changing, fulfilling, earth-shattering, or joyous than Jesus. Jesus is the Gospel and if we miss this, we miss everything, everything!

I owe a lot in this discussion to the work of Dr. Thomas Torrance, systematic theologian and Presbyterian with an unwavering belief and trust in Jesus. His approach to every passage of scripture was to ask, “Who does this passage say Jesus is (Bester)?” Pastor Garrett Dawson wrote of Torrance, “What is at stake here is the belief that who we see God to be for us in Jesus Christ is who God is antecedently and eternally in himself (Dawson).” In other words, Jesus the perfect, human/divine reality of God who created heaven and earth. There is no other God than whom God reveals Himself to be in Jesus.

Torrance served as a stretcher-bearer in World War 2. He wrote of coming across a mortally wounded soldier who asked,

“‘Padre, is God really like Jesus?’ I assured him that he was the only God that there is, the God who had come to us in Jesus, has shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Savior. As I prayed and commended him to the Lord Jesus, he passed away (Torrance 15).”

Torrance continues to write of the impression this had made on him and said,

“I kept wondering afterward what modern theology and the Churches had done to drive some kind of wedge between God and Jesus. There is no hidden God... no God behind the back of the Lord Jesus, but only the one Lord God who became incarnate in him. 2 Truly, when we try to look into the face of God, it is the face of Jesus Christ revealed in the gospels that comes before us (ibid.).”

Our sin divided us at Babel and God calls us together at Pentecost. We broke ourselves into Greeks and Jews; free and slave; male and female; yet the Kingdom of Christ finds us together as a great multitude of which the Apostle John writes:

I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-10

Division is the outcome of sin; reconciling--uniting is God’s work through Jesus.

God Cares

In Matthew’s account of this miracle, something amazing takes place. Jesus comes ashore and finds a large group of people who had followed Him, and three things happen. Jesus saw the people, had compassion on the people, and healed their sick. Jesus didn’t just ‘feel for the people’. The word translated ‘compassion’ means to have a sense of concern that flows from the deepest place in which soul-wrenching pain, love, and hurt burn with a life of their own.

Verse 20 gives us Matthew’s view of what took place, “And they all ate and were satisfied.” This speaks directly to the physical hunger they had felt after a day of walking and listening to Christ, but I think there is a deeper satisfaction that comes from having Jesus feel compassion for us.

As I pointed out, Jesus knew that there were selfish people who wanted a King who could keep them fed, as in John 6. But there were also those who, perhaps for the first time, felt okay.

I read Isaiah 55:1-5 today and it is Jesus who invites and fulfills God’s call,

“Come, everyone who thirsts,

    come to the waters;

and he who has no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without price.

If we are honest with ourselves it is easy to be like those described in verse 2.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

The reason for such forgetfulness, rebellion, or silliness is that we believe we know best. We don’t seek the way of Christ. I read of a pastor who went to see a speech therapist who was also a psychologist. Two of his children started having issues with stuttering. He shared how the doctor cursed him out for being at the root of the problem. The doctor asked when we’d taken a vacation. The pastor tried to get around the question by saying

 “I was too busy to take time with my family. I remember I used to say that the Devil never takes a vacation, so why should I?—And I never stopped to think that the Devil wasn’t to be my example (Bayly and Bayly)."

Who is our example? Who is our role model?

God’s in Charge

The disciples were consumed with assumptions. As the day grew longer “neither Jesus nor the crowd was preparing to bring things to an end, so they took the initiative (Morris 377).” How like us. We know that “God helps those who help themselves” right. No! He doesn’t. Those who help themselves end up worshipping a golden calf, murmuring against God and betray Jesus, so he might become who Judas wanted Him to be.

Verses 16-18 each begin with the word ‘but’. “But Jesus said…” and then commands them to feed the people. The nature of this command is seen in that Jesus uses the pronoun “you” which, unneeded in Greek, when used makes it even more emphatic—think of it in terms of Jesus using your middle name when He calls you.

The disciples wanted the people to go away. This was how they handled people who they felt were too inconvenient to see Jesus. They tried to protect Jesus from parents who wanted their children blessed. They believed tried to manage Jesus. They saw themselves as the Messianic Chief of Staff who was to plan Jesus’ agenda and take care of those who, they thought, He didn’t have time to deal with. 

So, when Jesus issues His command to the disciples they are rocked on their heels. He doesn’t give them the means to do what He commanded. He doesn't even offer a hint.

 “But…we only have five loaves…” Jesus listens with the intent to do what He had already planned to do. What He teaches us is to turns ours and their attention away from the hopelessness of the situation and the easy solution and invites them and us to think how they and us could help (Morris 377-378).”

Once again Jesus speaks beginning with “but bring them here to me” the sack lunch they had found. Not only does Jesus ‘satisfy’ the hunger of the people but he demonstrates before 5,000 the fulfillment of manna given from God to the people. He shows His compassion is not reserved for those who bring perfect lambs to the temple but all who are far off.

Let me close, reminding us to remember who and whose we are. I was blessed to have Dr. Abd-al-Malik teach Hebrew at Fuller. I didn’t learn much Hebrew, but I became acquainted with a man who lived a life he described as “teaching is my spiritual child (Barber).” Among the things I learned was to “Trust Allah and believe” by the way Allah simply means God in Arabic and probably flows from the ancient term El for God in Job and elsewhere.

The other thing I remember is his humility. When someone would say, “Dr. Malik” he would often stop us and explain “it’s Abd-al-Malik, the servant of the King I am not the King, that is Jesus.” May we remember we are the servant of God and not speak and ask as if we are a god… Let’s pray.


 Works Cited

Bayly, Joseph, and Timothy Bayly. Out Of My Mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1993. Print.

Barber, Mary. "Everybody's 'Favorite Teacher' At Cal State L.A. Doesn't Intend to Become History Just Yet." Los Angeles Times. 1985. Web. 31 July 2020.

Bester, Joco. "More Than A Miracle." Sermon Central. 2013. Web. 29 July 2020.

Dawson, Gerrit Scott. "Recovering the Ascension For The Transformation of the Church." Theology Matters 2001: 1ff. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Thomas F. Torrance, A Passion for Christ, Lenoir: PLC Publications, 1999, p. 15

 Works Consulted

Amenyah, Ivy Drafor. "Feeding the Five Thousand." Sermon Central. 2017. Web. 29 July 2020.

Bayly, Joseph, and Timothy Bayly. Out Of My Mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1993. Print.

Barber, Mary. "Everybody's 'Favorite Teacher' At Cal State L.A. Doesn't Intend to Become History Just Yet." Los Angeles Times. 1985. Web. 31 July 2020.

Bester, Joco. "More Than A Miracle." Sermon Central. 2013. Web. 29 July 2020.

Dawson, Gerrit Scott. "Recovering the Ascension For The Transformation of the Church." Theology Matters 2001: 1ff. Print.

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Jackson. "Facebook Post Inspires Michigan Mail Carrier to Give Kidney To Stranger." MLive. 2019. Web. 1 Aug. 2020.

Köster, Helmut. “Σπλάγχνον, Σπλαγχνίζομαι, Εὔσπλαγχνος, Πολύσπλαγχνος, Ἄσπλαγχνος.” Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological dictionary of the New Testament 1964– : 548–559. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.

Rushford, Greg. "What Is The Role Of The White House Chief Of Staff? - Dummies." dummies. 2012. Web. 1 Aug. 2020.

Thomas F. Torrance, A Passion for Christ, Lenoir: PLC Publications, 1999, p. 15