Archive for January, 2016

Matthew 17:24-27 (Part 3)
The Temple Tax

Today, we conclude our look at “the Temple Tax passage,” Matthew 17:24-27. When I think of the final part of our look at this passage, I think about one of my own mighty struggles in life – my dissatisfaction with my weight. I am not morbidly obese or anything and am in generally good health. But I hate my weight. I want to  lose about 30 lbs of my current weight. Many people that I know now in this phase of my life did not know me prior to 5 ½ years ago. Many of them do not know that I was once a much slimmer man of 180 lbs. a mere 10 0r so years ago. A combination of age, slower metabolism, and eating like I am still in my 20’s has combined to make me a man of 228 lbs. now. In the last 2 years, I have come to realize and desire that I need to lose weight. I have begun to exercise most weekday mornings – walking on the treadmill from 30 to 60 minutes each morning and lift weights from 15 minutes to 30 minutes each day. The only time that I have time to do this is by getting up early enough that I am on the treadmill by 5am. It is tough to get up 4:45am, I will tell ya particularly in the wintertime. However, for all the exercising that I have done these past 24 months, I may be only maintaining my weight and not losing weight. Outside of my limited exercise routine, I have not changed any of my eating habits. It is the calorie intake that is the problem. I am not burning enough calories to offset my calorie intake. I enjoy eating good food and my wife, Elena, is an awesome cook. Our dinners are tasty treats and I love ‘em. Also, because of the way meats and vegetables and such are packaged these days, it is often more than two people can eat wisely. We end up have multiple serviings of the food Elena prepares. And, then, there’s what Elena and I call our 10:00pm grazing. Even if we eat a light at dinner, we have gotten into the habit of eating snacks around 10pm. Then, we stay up too late – never going to be before 11pm each night. We want to lose weight. I want to lose weight but we are not doing the things we need to do to make that happen. I cannot stand what I call “frew-frew food” that is healthy for me. I should food with less calories and eat less food.

It is a struggle of mighty proportions. I talk a good game but my execution is way off. I talk a good game about the need and the desire to lose weight but when it comes down to changing my lifestyle and my habits to make that happen, I fail. I do not do what it takes to make it happen. I don’t want to be overweight. I desperately want to get back to the weight I had as late as when I was in my mid-forties. Back then, I was a confident man with a much better bodily physique. I looked good in my clothes and prided myself in how handsome I was. But now when I look in the mirror, I see the younger me in my mind but the reality of the reflection is displeasing. Yet, I struggle with the necessary disciplines to make the weight go away. It is depressing. I want desperate to get 30 lbs. off my frame, but am I willing to quit eating the way that I do? It’s like running on a treadmill while eating a candy bar. There is a relationship to my weight loss desire but failed execution and something we see in this passage of Matthew 17:24-27. So, let’s re-read the passage:
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

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

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Why did the Lord put it on my heart to share my struggles with getting this weight off my body and this passage? I think it has to do with the fact that the point He wants me to make this morning is that The Lord will provide for us but we must participate in the process.

Notice in this passage that Jesus did not miraculously make a coin appear right in the middle of the conversation with Peter as to whether the tax should be paid or not. To obtain the coin, Peter had to leave his house and go fishing. Peter had to put himself out to go get the coin. Peter not only had to leave the house but he had to work. He not only had to work he had to work in a specific way – using a fishing pole and a hook rather than the nets for catching multiple fish that Peter used normally. Peter had to participate in the process of gaining God’s provision. Just as if I am ever going to lose these extra 30 or 40 lbs., I must really change the way I do things, not just talk about it. I must do what is necessary to be done to lose this weight. Peter likewise was required to participate in the process by doing what his Master told him to do. It would be too easy for me to lose weight by liposuction without changing my behavior. Many of us expect God to give us liposuction miracles but we are not willing to do the hard work of participating in the miracle. We want a miracle but we don’t want to change our life. We want a miracle but we do not want to step out of our comfort zone.

Do you want better finances and beg the Lord to help you get there? But do you make the fundamental changes in your spending that bring about change. Do you want fundamental change in your marriage but are not willing to change anything about yourself? Do you want to change careers but are not willing to put in the effort to make the changes? Are you like a teenager who thinks they are entitled to their parent’s lifestyle but yet are not willing to put in the lifetime of hard work that their parents have put in to make that lifestyle possible? Do you want healing from your drug addiction but yet still do nothing to change your lifestyle or the people you hang around with. We must make the fundamental changes. We must take steps to change. God cannot give us miracles when we are not in position to receive them.

If we expect God to provide us with miracles in our finances, we must do the things that God tells us to do. Just like my weight issues did not just magically appear overnight, our financial struggles took a while for us to get into. Years of bad spending and not saving and living beyond our means often cause to get into a financial jam where we beg God for a miracle. In order for God to give us a way out of our financial jungle we must begin by taking care of business. Instead of taking a vacation with our tax refund, we pay off debt. Instead of continuing to spend the way we used to, we must begin to spend less. Stay home for dinner instead of going out. Restraining our impulse buys and thinking of our goal of financial freedom. Do you want to tithe to the Lord each Sunday? How can you when you live off of 104% of what you make and you buy cars that are beyond your means and houses that are more than you can afford? We must get our spending under control and slowly pay off those debts and begin to live more modestly. We take steps to spend less. And then the miracle happens, when we do what needs to be done. We get to the point that we can start being obedient to the Lord in our giving. That’s the miracle is learning obedience and learning self-discipline. Many of us want to tithe but we are not willing to make the lifestyle changes in our spending to make that happen.

Some of us out there want better marriages and complain that our spouses don’t meet our needs. Yet, are we willing to put ourselves out to make the marriage better. Are we willing to examine ourselves and see where we could be better spouses? We would rather complain or give up and blame our spouse for our marital problems. We beg God for a miracle in our marriage but we are not willing to change ourselves, not willing to examine ourselves and see where we are being selfish, not willing to do what is necessary. We want the marriage to come to us instead of us coming to the marriage – making self-sacrifices to make the marriage better. How many of us out there are like that?

How many of us out there reading this right now want God to deliver them from drugs or alcohol but are not willing to change playgrounds and playmates? Are you continuing to put yourself into positions where you will continue to abuse drugs or alcohol? Do you still enjoy that party lifestyle and are not really willing to do anything to change. Do you think that God is going to provide the miracle if you are not willing to walk away from that lifestyle? God wants us to make changes in our lives sometimes so that we can have the miracle we desire.

I am not talking about performance for grace here. Please don’t walk away from reading this and think that is what I am espousing here. We do not earn grace. It is a free gift given to us by God that we do not deserve and can never do enough to earn. What I am talking about here is participating in the miracles that God gives us. We must be able to make fundamental changes in our lives sometimes to be able to receive the miracles we desire. That is the miracle more so than the miracle given. When we are obedient to the Lord, that is the miracle. Sometimes, we have made such a mess of our lives that we have to make radical changes to get back in line with God’s will for our lives. That’s the miracle. The acts of obedience and trust in the Lord is the miracle. Peter would have never found the coin if he did not go fishing. When we have made a mess of our lives because of our self-centeredness, God expects us to do the hard work to clean up the mess. He will bless us when we are obedient but we have to do the hard work of cleaning up our lives sometimes. We made our beds that we lie in and we must make changes. God could zap and zing and bam we have our miracle but sometimes He wants us to learn some life lessons along the away. He wants us to see that our own self-centeredness caused our problems. He wants us to struggle to clean up our life messes so that we can see the value of obedience. Sometimes, we let our own children learn the consequences of bad decisions so that they will learn not to make those same mistakes in the future. We could fix it for ‘em sure! But what would they learn the next time around. God wants us to participate in the miracles that He provides us and sometimes the participation is the miracle. We learn obedience to Him and that’s the miracle.

Peter would have never gotten the coin if he had said, “Jesus I will get to it later!” or “Jesus I just want to chill out here at the house, can you just make a coin appear right here, right now?” Are you willing to do what it takes to participate in the miracle that you seek from God? Are you willing to make the fundamental changes in your life to enjoy the miracle that you seek? We must listen and obey our Lord and in the obedience we find the miracle.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:24-27 (Part 2)
The Temple Tax

There are stories that I hear from fellow church members through the years how the Lord has provided for them financially at just the right time and in just the right moment, when we are obedient in our giving to honor Him – when we tithe. My friend, Candice Brevard, going on her first mission trip is given a gift of money to finish paying for her trip as they were loading up the church van to head to the airport. When I was trying to clean up my credit of some bad debts seven years ago, I was able to negotiate lowered payoffs for these debts and all of it worked out to be exactly the amount of annual bonus at work less my tithe. My friend, Anthony Weston, has his story of how a neighbor made it possible for his mission trip without the neighbor directly giving toward his mission trip. There are people who have had no idea how they were going to follow God’s call to full time ministry or to full time mission work, but God always makes a way for them. There are many other stories out there about God being on time in the nick of time in just the right amount for those who are obedient to Him with their lives and with their finances. The thing is that most of us do not trust God with our finances and do not trust that when we follow Him obediently that He will make a way for us. So, let’s re-read the passage:
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

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

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

How much do you trust Jesus? Apparently, Peter did. We do not read anything after this about Peter balking at what Jesus said. We hear nothing else from this scene. So, two things happened by deductive reasoning since the scene ends here. Peter did what Jesus told him to do and the tax was paid. Peter was obedient and there was provision. Jesus recognized the need and made provision. Jesus knew the need was an honorable one and He made a way for the obligation to be satisfied.

That’s the thing that I think we need to chew on today. Many of us do not really trust God with our lives and we definitely don’t trust Him with our money. First, let’s talk about trusting Him with our lives. Many of us trust God up to a point in this area. However, have you really trusted God with your future? Sometimes, God calls us to do the unusual, the out of the ordinary. Sometimes, He may call us to open a soup kitchen and make that our life’s work and walk away from a good paying job to do it. He may call us to move 800 miles away to plant a church in a spiritual dark part of the country where only 2% of people attend church regularly. He may call you to leave a cushy job and leave your sons or daughters behind when you do that. He may call you to full time ministry when you have built a career in a different vocation for many years. He may call you to move to another continent to work to free young girls from the sex slavery trade even though you have never had exposure to that type of thing before in your life. He may call you simply to go on a one-week mission trip to Africa, Central America, South America, or Asia. How much do you trust Him? Do you believe He will provide a way? Do you really trust God? Do you trust Him enough not to listen to friends who want you to stay in your comfort zone and theirs? Do you use excuses for why it can be done instead of trusting that it will be done. Do you find reasons for not doing what God called you to do because it is just easier not to. It is easier to do the easy thing. John F. Kennedy once said,

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (from speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962).
God does not call us to the easy. He calls us to the challenges that need to be faced in the name of Jesus. He calls to do the difficult things because they need doing. He calls not to the easy things but to the hard things. He called Moses to free his people from the mightiest empire on earth at that time, the Egyptian Empire. It was not easy. It was hard. It took 10 plagues and leaving in the middle of the night. It took miracles. Through it all Moses trusted in the Lord. Sure, he had his times of doubt but He always bottom line trusted in the Lord. God calls us to serve our fellow man not because it is easy but because it is hard and because it needs doing. Through serving our fellow man we get to tell them of Jesus. When we do what seems impossibly tough, we learn too to depend on the provision of God. Isn’t that what He really wants from us is to fully depend on Him. When we step out of our comfort zones where we are king and into the unknown we learn to put God first because He is the only way that we are going to accomplish what He called us to do. The story in this passage abruptly ends because Peter obeyed even though it sounded far-fetched and beyond reason. But because of Peter’s obedience, the provision was there. God orchestrated someone losing a coin near the shore. God orchestrated the fish finding and swallowing the coin. God orchestrated the timing of Peter’s line in the water at the same time the fish with coin was swimming by. He made the moment happen. He created the intersection. He will make provision for us as well when we trust Him with our lives. He will make a way for us when we fully trust Him and follow His calling on our lives.

We also have to learn to trust Him with our finances as well. So many of us get it backwards from the beginning. We learn to spend, spend, spend. We never learn to put God first in our finances. From the beginning we place our needs over our obedience to the Lord. We go to church and we hear about how we should be obedient to the Lord in our finances. We give our $20 that we have left over from the weekend in our wallet and we call that tithing. That is not tithing unless you make $200 or less per pay period. We give God our leftovers. We do not trust to live the tithing lifestyle. We want more toys. We are taught that whoever has the most toys in the end wins. We spend more than we make in most cases. Then, our obedience to the Lord in our giving becomes a far off concept. We pat ourselves on the backs when we actually do give instead of most weeks where we do not. Why did we not learn at an earlier age that spending less and saving more is God-ordained. Why did we not learn to live off of 90% or less of what we make? Man, I have my first grandchild due in July of this year. From the beginning, I am going to teach this blessedly awaited child to save and to tithe. I want her (notice I said her – trusting the Lord on that one!) to learn that just because you make it does not mean you spend it. I want to grow up learning the blessings of obediently tithing from the beginning so that she does not have to suffer with the consequences of disobedience in our lives. I want her to make the right choice to learn to live on 90% or less than what she makes from the beginning. I don’t want her to have to carve out the painful overspending so that she can get to a place where she can honor God with the first 10% or more of her money. There is a peace in the obedience to the Lord in our finances. When Elena and I decided to quit running the rat race of having more and more and newer and newer and started paying off all our debts there is a peace that comes. You learn that newer and newer is not always better and better. You learn satisifaction with what you have. You learn that the Lord will honor and bless your obedience when you are not so caught up in having the next greatest thing. It’s all just toys. It’s all just temporary. Honoring God with our finances is a path to peace and a path to understanding the eternal ways of God. He will provide for us. We don’t need newer, better, faster, if we have our relationship in order with God. There is no more of a deep core way to start your path to living a life that is God honoring that to begin with your finances. It is the basic thing of life – how we spend our money. If as children we learn to set aside 10% or more to honor God, man, how much easier our life will be and how more of a basic way to make God honoring a part of your daily life than that! Let us commit as adults to teach our children this. Let us commit as adults to begin to arrange our lives in this way so that we can work our way to honoring God with the first 10% or more of our income. When we learn to honor God with our finances, He gives us peace and He blesses our understanding of the fact that we honor Him. I know there are those who make honoring God with your money about this investment-payback scenario but the real payback is not in financial blessings that He gives us but rather is not being a slave to our money and seeing our money as a way to honor God. We must trust God on this one. The blessings are not always financial but rather in the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of knowing you are honoring your Creator. We must trust Him. We must be like Peter. We hear the command and we obey. The scene ends. No other information is needed. We trust. We obey. We depend on the provision of God…with finances, with our very lives, and our life’s work.

There is an old hymn that says it best. It was written by John Sammis in 1887 and part of it goes like this:

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.

Trust and obey is what Peter did. The coin was there. May we do the same with our lives and with our finances. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:24-27 (Part 1)
The Temple Tax

We all complain about taxes. I just finished mine day before yesterday and have filed both my Federal and South Carolina income tax returns for 2015. It bothers me that in just income taxes withholding during 2015, I had more withheld on my wages this past year that I made in wages in 1986. And to boot, I only got a refund of my state and Federal withholding equivalent to 31% of what was withheld. Do I deserve more money in my pocket? Do I agree with everything that the government spends money on? We often treat the government as they? Many Christians talk about how God-less our government has become and complain about 400 dollar screwdrivers. Many Christians complain that the government does not represent us. We complain about our taxes and our government who spends it as if we are victims in a slave system. We act as if we are separate from the society in which we live. We act as if we are commentators on society and not players in it. We can debate the failure of Christians to vote at all. We can debate the failure of Christians to vote for people whose positions most resemble our Christian values. And we can debate the complete and utter failure of Christian men and women to take up the torch and run for office so that real change can be made at a later date. However, one thing is for certain, it is right in an organized society for the government to raise and collect taxes. It is necessary for the common defense and to provide needed social services and infrastructure for our society. Again, we can debate when government goes beyond what is reasonable and right at another time, but we would be foolish to say that there is no right of government to collect taxes from its citizens if we expect to have an orderly society.

Taxation has a biblical basis ordained by God. Say what? Mark, you’ve got to be kidding. One of the first things that God does when organizing His people into clans and prescribes the orderly organization of society and the building of the Tabernacle was to institute the temple tax. Just look in Exodus 30:11-16. It’s right there. Taxation to supply the tabernacle (later the Temple) with the needed funds for its operation. It was levied on all males 20 years of age and older. Everyone benefited from and participated in the temple activities and it was necessary for the orderly running of the Israelite society that there be a way to spread the cost of the temple operations among all the people. That is the background here, so now, let’s read the passage:

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

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

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

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

 
So, what do we make of this passage? I think that there are three things that we must consider. First, Jesus is saying that He is the King’s Son and we are His children but we learn that He set aside His glory to live among us and to accomplish a mission. Second, Jesus recognizing our obligations and will make provision for us when we humbly follow Him. Third and finally, Jesus expects us to participate in the process. Today, we will deal with the first thing that we see in this passage is the discussion about whether Jesus pays the temple tax or not.

When Jesus asks Peter about how taxes are done secularly in the first century world. Peter replies that Kings do not tax themselves or their own children. The royal families were always exempt from taxes that kings or emperors levied on their own people or the lands that they conquered. This is and has always been the case throughout history when you have a royal form of government where power is vested in a king. The king and his family simply do not pay taxes for it is to the king that they taxes are due. In this case, the temple tax was instituted by God Himself. When Jesus says the children are exempt. He is claiming that He is the Son of the King. In Temple terms, He is saying that He is the Son of God the Most High. He is God in the flesh. So, technically, the tax does not apply to Him. Jesus could have asserted this claim but it would have alienated the temple tax collectors and the temple administration and led to his arrest. Why then does Jesus submit to the tax? Is He compromising the truth of who He is just to avoid conflict? Is He using situational ethics here? What do we learn from this moment of submission to an earthly rule instituted by God (of which Jesus is part of the trinity of the Godhead).

Jesus came to earth. He set aside His glory to live among us. He came to experience everything that we experience. Even paying the temple tax. He could have asserted His glory. He could have raised a stink about being God in the flesh and demonstrated that by calling down the wrath of heaven, but He didn’t. He simply paid the tax because He was God living among us. He submitted Himself to the tax because that was part of being a Jew in the first century. He was submitting to His Father in heaven. In our lives, we may think that things are sometimes unfair to us personally. For example, my children are grown now so technically the school taxes I pay do not really apply to me. I don’t get anything personally out of paying those taxes for the support of schools in Spartanburg Country District 5. However, it is good for our District, our county, our state, and our nation for me, without kids in school, to share in the burden of educating our young people. I guess I could make a stink about it and be selfish and start of revolution but the public good is met when I along with others without children pay to support our schools. Sometimes the mission is more important than personal preferences. Jesus was saying that His freedom not to pay taxes was less important than the need to meet the mission that He came to accomplish. There are hills to die on and hills not to die on. This was a valid tax on anyone who was a Jew. It was instituted by God in Exodus. Jesus was though God in the flesh. It was to Him the taxes were due. However, to dispute the issue at this moment would have short-circuited the mission that He was on. He was on His way to Jerusalem to do what has been the plan since the first sin in the garden was committed. The mission was greater than the moment. As Spock would say, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Jesus could have asserted His kingly exemption here and would have been right in His divinity to do so. But, the mission was more important than exerting His own rights. He had to go to the hill that was worth dying on, Calvary.

Does this mean we compromise truth just to avoid conflict? Do we deny Christ just to survive? Do we water down the gospel to make it palatable to the culture? Do we have situational ethics? No, that is not what Jesus is doing here. He is saying that just because we have a right does not mean we have to exercise it. Do I have the right to dominate my wife and make her feel like a slave because I am the sole wage-earner in my family? Maybe. Do I? No. My wife does so many things for me that I cannot even count because she does not work in an office or factory somewhere. She takes care of me. Could I according to worldly standards treat her without respect? Sure. Just because I have a right does not mean that I exercise it. The essence of being a Christian is placing the needs of others over my personal desires. To see the good that comes from me not being selfish in demanding what is rightfully mine. Just because we have the right to do something does not mean we exercise that right. To see the greater good that comes from me not exercising my salient right to do something is a mark of Christian maturity. Certainly, there are times though that we must draw the line. There are times where we must speak up. If we are being required to deny our faith in Jesus Christ, if we are being required to do something that we know is morally wrong, and against the very nature of God, yes we stand. Jesus had those moments too and expects us to do no less. However, in this situation is showing us restraint in exercising our rights. He is showing us that humility sometimes means seeing the greater good that comes from restraining the exercise of our rights for the greater good. Did He have to pay the tax? No. Would his restraining His right give Him an opportunity to speak the gospel to the tax collectors? Yes. Would his restraining of His rights allow Him to continue on with the greater mission? Yes.

May we always be seeking the greater mission in all we do and that is to glorify God and in so doing give us opportunities to share the gospel. May we see that exercising our personal rights to something or some act is not always what is called for when seeking to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. May we always submit our need for having our rights fulfilled to the needs of the kingdom of God.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:22-23
Jesus Predicts His Death A Second Time

There are those people that we meet that seem to have it all together. No matter what, they seem to have direction and purpose to their lives and they are undeterred in pursuing their goals. For many of us, it seems that life is a bunch of stuff that we have to deal with and we bounce around like pinballs in a pinball machine. There are those though who seem from an early age, they have an idea of who they want to be and how they are going to get there. My dad is an example. If there had been a senior superlative for Most Likely To Be A Preacher, he would have won it. His nickname in high school was Preacher. He knew from a early age that he was going to be a preacher. He lived it out too. He became a full-time preacher when he was 19 years old. When I look back at 19, I was still a kid having a hard time just getting through college and my own life problems much less leading a flock of believers. There are those too that become Christ followers when they are in single digits in age like my friend Luke Brower. Others of us were full grown adults before we came to our senses and accepted Christ as our Savior.

Jesus was in a sense like my dad and Luke. He knew what His purpose in life was. Jesus was like the Blue Brothers when they said, “We are on a mission from God!” In his humanness, he knew from the time He had his first cogent thought in His human body what His purpose in life was. No matter the trails his human life took, He knew what He was born to do. In His divinity, He knew from the beginning of time what was to happen when He came to earth to live among us. Here in this passage, we see Him express this singleness of purpose to his disciples in Matthew 17:22-23:

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

 
What can we learn from this passage that we can apply to our lives today? I think the first thing that we can learn is that there was a singleness of purpose to Jesus’ earthly existence and it was not some random accident that He ended up on the cross. The second thing that we must understand is that the resurrection is as important as the cross.

Jesus predicted his death here in this passage for a second time. He had done it one previous time in Matthew 16, a chapter earlier from where we stand right now. Jesus knew from before the beginning of time that this three years was necessary. Every part of it was necessary. It was necessary for Him to come to earth as a babe born of a virgin. He had to come to live among us and to live the sinless life that He lived. He knew that He had to disciple these men to become the genesis of the church that lives on through the centuries and carries the gospel to each and every succeeding generation of humanity until it is His time to return and wrap things up at the end of time. He knew that He had to go to the cross and suffer as predicted throughout the Old Testament. He knew that He had to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. He knew that God had instituted a plan for periodically reconciling man to Himself through the heartfelt sacrifices of lambs for sin by His chosen people. He know that He was to be the completion of this system because He was the perfect sacrifice. The animal sacrifices were imperfect and had to be repeated because they were created things just as we men are created things. He knew that since He was God in the flesh that His sacrifice on the cross was the completion of the system. He was perfect. He was not created so He could be perfect. He is God in the flesh. He knew that through Him we could know God and He knew that He had to walk among us. He knew that everything that He did pointed to the cross. It was necessary. It was the plan from the time Adam and Eve committed the first sin. The crosss stands at the cross roads of the Bible. Everything before it in the Bible points to it. Everything in the Bible after it is the result of it. Jesus had to die on the cross as the innocent perfect sacrifice for us. He took God’s wrath against all sin of all time on the cross and He knew that was what He was born to do. Nothing deterred Him from accomplishing what He came to earth to do. On the cross, He cries out “It is finished.” It is not that He is just commenting on His physical death but He is also signifying to the Father that their unison task is complete. He has done what He came to do. The goal of giving us a way to be reconciled to the Father in a permanent way. We have a way to shed the consequences of our sin nature through His sacrificial death on the cross. It is finished. Goal accomplished. Singleness of purpose. Undeterred. The necessary and inevitable purpose has been accomplished.

Jesus also predicts His resurrection here. Let us not forgot that though we need the cross, the resurrection is what we need too. The resurrection is as important as the death on the cross. We sometimes get hung up on the theology of the cross. And we must really understand that theology of what He did on the cross but let us not get so caught up in what Jesus’ death on the cross means that we forget the joy of the resurrection. The disciples could not hear past Jesus saying He was going to die that they could not hear or could not believe what He said about the resurrection. The cross is necessary for the resurrection. The resurrection does not happen without the cross. The cross is necessary but the resurrection is the reward. Many people who refuse to accept Christ as their Savior forget about the resurrection of their lives. They think that life is over if they accept the cross. What they do not realize is that a new life begins after the cross. A new and different life. Yes, the life we had before is over and it is sometimes painful to go through the growing up we do after the cross, but the life we live after the cross is a different, changed life. It is not the old life. In the same way, when we do not see past the theology of the cross, we do not see Jesus come out the other side in resurrected form. His resurrection is what gives us hope of a new life for ourselves through Him. He conquered death just as through Him we conquer our sin selves. His death on the cross is necessary to reconcile us to God for God sees Jesus’ death on the cross as the payment that we owe for our sins. Jesus is the lamb that is slain at His altar for the sins that we have committed that make us unworthy in God’s sight. But the story is not over. It is just the beginning. We are new beings with a new life through the resurrection. We as Christ followers sometimes beat ourselves up for the sinners that we know that we are and that make the cross absolutely necessary. But sometimes we forget, and like the disciples not hearing, about the resurrection and what it means to us. It means everything. It is not over at the cross. We have new life through Jesus Christ. We are resurrected beings living new lives. The old life killed at the cross and left in the grave and the new life begins as we leave the tomb as resurrected beings. The joy of our salvation comes in the resurrection. Jesus proves that He is the conqueror of death and sin with His own resurrection. In that we know that we have new life. In His resurrection we know that He is God and not just a dead prophet we believe in. He gives us assurance that there is eternal life in heaven. He gives us assurance that this life is not all there is. We not only live new lives after we meet Him but we have assurance that death is not the end and that we will be with Him in eternity. Hear about the resurrection. Have joy in the resurrection. The cross is necessary but the resurrection is the reward and it is the assurance.

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:21
The Missing Verse

A verse is missing. A verse is missing! A verse is missiiiiiing! This morning we are going to have to take a break from the train of thought that Matthew is developing in his gospel – preaching to the Jews (and us) that Jesus really is the long-awaited Messiah. Everything Matthew does in his gospel is to tie together Jesus with the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Matthew is screaming out, Jesus is the real deal folks. We have to take a break because I am perplexed and worried. A verse is missing.

I have never noticed it before. Have you? When reading the New Living Translation (NLT) in my favorite Bible from which I have been writing my blogs for these past few years, The Chronological Life Application Study Bible, I found that Matthew 17:21 is missing. This Bible is chronological rather than book by book. For example, the gospels are not presented as individual books but rather are presented in the chronology of Jesus’ life (just as the rest of this Bible is done). Thus, you have the events of Jesus’ life presented together from all four gospel perspectives. You can be reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all within the same couple of pages. So, at first, I thought that this was the problem. I thought that maybe in the complexity of presenting the same segments of Jesus’ life from all four gospels together in chronological order that the publishers of this Bible simply made a small hidden mistake of omission that no one would notice unless a person was following a single gospel through this chronologically based Bible. But that is not the case. In some manuscripts the verse is there. In some manuscripts the verse reads, “”But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” And thus would be a continuation of the passage, Matthew 17:14-20 and not the beginning of Matthew 17:22-23.

What happened to make this verse be in some manuscripts of the Bible and not others? The passage is not in several Bibles. Here are some of them: New Century Version (NCV), New International Version (NIV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Living Translation (NLT). The verse is not included in the newer Bibles because the older and better manuscripts of Matthew do not include it. The translators of the older Bibles were not as careful in the manuscripts they used. Apparently in the process of copying the manuscripts, someone at a much later date copied the verse from the Gospel of Mark and added it to the Matthew account. Here is the Mark account. And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (NASB) Mark 9:29. The only difference is that “fasting” is left out of the Mark text.

This is a list of Bible verses in the New Testament that are present in the King James Version (KJV) but absent from some Bible translations completed after the publication of The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881 and the later Novum Testamentum Graece (first published in 1898 and revised many times since that date).
Matthew 17:21
Matthew 18:11
Matthew 23:14
Mark 7:16
Mark 9:44/Mark 9:46
Mark 11:26
Mark 15:28
Mark 16:9–20
Luke 17:36
Luke 23:17
John 5:3–4
John 7:53-8:11
Acts 8:37
Acts 15:34
Acts 24:6b–7
Acts 28:29
Romans 16:24
These editions of the Greek text took into account early manuscripts of the New Testament which had not been available to translators before the 19th century. Most modern textual scholars consider these verses interpolations, or additions by later authors, but exceptions include advocates of the Byzantine or Majority Text and of the Received Text. When a verse is omitted, later ones in the same chapter retain their traditional numbering.

I was expecting to write about Jesus’ second prediction of His own death this morning but this came about. I am inquisitive if nothing else and this was bugging me. I could not move on. I had to find out what the heck was going on. The first thing that was bothering me was my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. How could something be added to Scripture in medieval times and still be Scripture? I was troubled. However, two things have come to light in my mind that we can take away from this missing verse. I believe that we can learn something that in the nothing there is something. Typically, according to logic, in the absence of something there is nothing. However, in God’s design, there is something that comes from the nothing.

The first thing that I think we can learn from this nothing is that sometimes when we leave religion in the hands of man, we have a tendency to add things to a simple faith. There is really no harm in having borrowed Mark 9:29 and adding it as what had become Matthew 17:21. However, it is an uninspired addition to God’s Word. It is man saying this is incomplete; something needs to be added. We have so many traditions that have been added to Christianity over the centuries, particularly by the Catholic Church. We have shrines built over places the church “believes” that Jesus was born, but were really based on the best available evidence at the time. Yet, the Roman Catholic church will never admit that the evidence against suppositions made a thousand years ago were wrong. We have our traditions in protestant Christianity as well. Hymns written in the 1850s that appropriated bar tunes of the day are now considered sacred texts. John and Charles Wesley made these songs widely popular by in some cases borrowing bar tunes from the publican houses of the day. However, now, one would think that these tunes were in existence when Jesus was alive on earth and that He had a pipe organ and a piano with Him. Traditional churches of today take these things as sacred texts and are aghast when modern churches write “new fangled” songs that require drums and guitars. Even more ghastly is to modernize these traditional hymns. Before we modern church folk get too smug, we have developed our traditions too. Must have chairs, not pews. Must have worship pastor with a skull cap. Must have scruffy beards. Must have fog and lights and so on. Anything less than these standards is not true modern church. We add things. Before we get aghast at some medieval dude for borrowing a line from the Gospel of Mark and adding it to the Gospel of Matthew, we too can innocently and maybe even with good intentions add things to Christianity that are not based in Scripture but we take them as if they are. Let us make sure that the traditions that we develop and take solace in are just that, traditions. And let us make sure that our traditions have some scriptural basis.

The second thing that I think that we can learn from the something is that God is truly sovereign and that He protects His Word. The amazing thing here to me is that like the great detective stories that we see on TV and in the movies, the truth comes out. God has protected his Word through the centuries. The more we learn through research of biblical scholars, the more manuscripts that we discover that are ever and ever closer in history to the original manuscripts, the more we learn that God’s Word is amazingly intact. It has traveled through the centuries will little if any alteration. When we discover new manuscripts, God helps us ferret out the mistakes that entered into His text through copying errors of scribes and discoveries of inadvertent and innocent additions such as this one. Even though there was this borrowing here from one gospel to another, the text has survived pretty much unscathed. The care at which many of the manuscripts have been copied over the centuries is astounding when you consider the technology available in the early centuries. The other amazing thing is that with our greater technology today that we are discovering earlier and earlier manuscripts that will ferret out the outliers, the unwarranted additions to texts. With the technology of preservation that we have today, we will be able to ensure that the texts continue to stay pure and scholars today are willing to go to any length to ensure the purity of the text – to the point of leaving a verse space holder blank in Matthew 17:21 when it was learned that the earliest texts that we can find do not contain this statement that became Matthew 17:21. That, to me, is God working through the Holy Spirit to ensure that His Word remains pure. God is sovereign and His Word is sovereign and He will lead us to discover when texts have been borrowed or added or where a scribes margin notes mistakenly become part of the next copying of a manuscript. The truth comes out and will be discovered. Never have any of this mistaken additions changed the meaning of any text. What the first century Christians read and understood is what we read and understand today. And there is a whole line of 21st century biblical scholars who love God’s Word and it is there intent and purpose to ensure that we have the pure word of God and it is their life’s task, honor and duty to protect the purity of God’s Word. In that I have faith. I trust that God has preserved the meaning of His Word and will always do so through these men. They stand guard. They are the detectives who continually are working us back ever and ever closer to the original manuscripts. In some cases we are as close as 100 years after the original manuscripts of certain parts of the Bible. God guides. God ensures that His Word is pure and will guide us to ferret out impurities. God has ensure that the meaning of His Word has never been altered or changed. He has ensured its consistency throughout human history. On that I can rely. The story of God’s redemptive plan that begins with the first sin in the garden of Eden in Genesis and ends with the restoration of Eden in Revelation is consistent and it all hinges on the person and work of Jesus Christ. That story has never been changed and will never change under the Sovereign Watch of My God.

Thank you Lord for challenges to my faith. Thank you for making me wonder about things. Thank you for revealing to me what the answers are and in so doing increases my faith in You and Sovereign Lord. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:14-20
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy

As we approach Super Bowl 50 in less than 2 weeks now, we must drift back to the one Super Bowl that ensured its continued existence. You have to go back to the Super Bowl that followed the 1968 pro football season, Super Bowl III. In the previous two Super Bowls, the mighty Green Bay Packers from the National Football League (NFL) had embarrassed the best the upstart American Football League (AFL) had to offer, the 1966 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1967 Oakland Raiders. After those two Super Bowls, there was talk of Super Bowl III being the last one. The first two games were not competitive and the NFL hierarchy saw no benefit for its teams playing in this game. Along come the 1968 New York Jets and there brash, young, good looking, single, debonair quarterback, Joe Namath. He was the symbol of the AFL, young, brash and a lot of talk. He was cocky and confident. He went as far as “guaranteeing” a win against the mighty Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis). The 1968 Colts, coached by Don Shula, was a bruising football team. They were a complete team. They had a great offense led by aging by still effective Johnny Unitas (although he was injured in the middle of the season and Earl Morrall led the team through the second of the season, the playoffs and started most of the Super Bowl) and were averaging 28.75 points per game coming into the Super Bowl and were giving up only 9.88 points per game. The offensive production was very good even by today’s less defensive football. But can you imagine a team today only giving up less than 10 points a game in the NFL. No one gave the Jets a chance. Everyone thought that Joe Namath was just giving himself false hope and using the occasion to make headlines for himself. The disbelief in the Jets was major. They were 18 point underdogs coming into the game. In betting circles, that’s a huge differential. It was truly considered a David & Goliath game. The Jets reaching the Super Bowl was even considered a major coup for them in their own league. The Oakland Raiders were the class of the league and the Jets upset them in the AFL championship game the week before. No one outside the Jets locker room gave the Jets a chance.

How did that game turn out? It was the biggest upset in sports history up to that point. It saved the Super Bowl. The Jets won 16-7. The thing that Joe Namath knew and counted on was the team speed of the Jets compared to that of the Colts. The Jets held the vaunted Colts offense to one late touchdown after the game was virtually out of reach. The Jets did not beat the Colts with Joe’s arm but with amazingly their running game and their defense. It was strength and speed. Many of the Jets players have since said that they did not mind Joe’s brash prediction because they all felt that way. The Colts were slow and they were predictable. Without that victory, the Super Bowl would have died. The NFL and AFL would not have merged. And pro football would not be the behometh money making enterprise that it is now with enough money to pay players huge salaries and make team owners even richer. Several of the most valuable sports enterprises in all of sports worldwide are NFL football teams. It changed things for players too. Bench warmers make more in the NFL in 2016 than some of the superstars of the 1968 Jets and Colts. One game. It changed everything. The faith of one football team in themselves saved an upstart league from being the minor leagues of pro football and propelled the NFL into the dominating pro sport in the United States and maybe even the world. The faith of one team changed everything.

Faith is the subject of today’s passage, we are talking about faith in God and not faith in the 1968 Jets but the idea is the same. We must trust God even when we think we cannot do something and it seems highly impossible. Sometimes, sports teaches us life lessons about our relationship with God that we need to know. Let’s read the passage, Matthew 17:14-20 together. Here goes…

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” 17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Why is it that we lack faith in God? We know that He is the Creator. We know that He made this intricate and interrelated and interdependent earth that we live in. We see evidence of His greatness each day even in the simplest things. I was just noting that yesterday at lunch with my wife. She has a flower that she is trying to nurture into a full fledged plant in a cup of dirt on the dining area window sill. I don’t know what the process is called that makes plants turn themselves toward the sun but it is there and it is evident as you check on the plant during the course of the day. Is that not evidence of our Creator’s grand design. Plants have no mind. No cogent thoughts. But their Creator gave their cells this imprint that causes them to move toward the sun to maximize the life and the processes of the plant itself. It blows your mind when you think about it. But yet we have little faith when it comes to God doing the miraculous in this day and age. I am not different.

I often times discount the worth of prayer. I know it makes me a Christian in need of maturity. My prayer life is weak because I have not matured enough in this area. I do pray frequently. I pray for others. I pray public prayers. But do I really have faith in its worth. I will often hedge my bets when I pray. Playing both sides of the street on prayed-for outcomes. If it is your will Lord…That is my prayer for healing. If it is your will Lord. Why do I not pray bold prayers? I am not recommending that we pray for a car to stop when we are standing like idiots in the middle of busy highway. God did give us a brain not to do such things and expect to live. He created our brain to be smart enough to not do stupid stuff to test Him. However, I do think many of us are like me. We don’t take prayer and faith seriously enough. We may say all the right things in prayers but do we really believe in the power of them. Do we really believe in miracles? Is our faith deep enough to pray for a young dad of three small children to be cured of the cancer that is going to take him away from his family too early. Do I really believe that God will respond? Or do I hedge my bets by saying that it’s God’s will that this dad will speak loudly through this dad as he shows his Christian faith as he deals with his cancer. Should I not be angry that we live in a sin-filled world that has brought disease and death into this world and beg for our Creator to demonstrate His mighty power in the healing of this dad. Not because I am selfish and want this but because I want God to be glorified for the victor over sin and death that He is. Do I have faith to pray to God in this way? Do I have faith to pray bold prayers of expectancy? Do I have that my God is bigger than anything that I encounter? Maybe it is His will that someone speak loudly of their faith through an illness that will ultimately take their life, but we pray for God’s great power to be demonstrated. There is a difference between selfish prayers to keep a loved on around and praying for and believing in God’s mighty power to be displayed in someone’s life who is dying of cancer. I think of Janet Kennedy. One dear friend she is to me. She has lost her husband and daughter to cancer and struggles with it herself. Her ordeal with her own cancer gives me strength through the grace and beauty with which she does not let it defeat and define her. How should I pray for her? I should pray bold prayers for this wonderful Christ follower. I should pray for God’s mighty power to be displayed through her and fully believe that God will do just that! Oh, Lord, give faith to trust what You say and leap into believing that my God can do anything for He is my Sovereign God!

Often times, we write-off following God’s call on our lives because we lack faith in His provision. I have ignored the call to ministry for many years and used many excuses. I am now part-time in ministry. But do I have the guts to make the full-time commitment to being a pastor? I say that I am following God’s calling on my life by serving as part-time administrative pastor at my church in a town we are comfortable in, in a church we are comfortable in, in group of friends that we are comfortable in, in a secular job that pays me well and allows me to contribute to my church and other causes well. Do I have the faith to go into full-time ministry? Am I just playing it safe at LifeSong and saying that I am learning under leadership? Do I really have the faith to step out and do the full-time ministry that God has called me to? Am I blinding myself to what He is calling me to because I lack the faith to trust in His provision. Am I blinding myself to see the opportunities when they come? Will I see the intersection where I need to turn into the unknown and completely trust that He will provide for me and my wife? I feel right now that He has not made it clear yet and I trust that He will when the time comes what my path should be. He is a God that will make our path clear and known. He will make me uncomfortable in my comfort zone. He will let me know when it is time to leave the filling station that I am at now presently. However, when that time comes (and trust and have faith that it has not come yet), will I have the faith to step out of what I know so well in my life at LifeSong and the people that I serve with and the people that I serve there and step out into the unknown where all Elena and I have is our faith in the provision of God? Will I have the faith to keep going when things seem bleakest? Will we have the faith to know that it is time to leave all the things that we love about where we are right now and make the jump! How big is my God. How much faith do I really have in Him. Do I trust Him enough to walk away from my comfort zone? How much faith do I really have? Jesus says that if we have just a little faith by His standards (a big faith by ours) that God will do mighty things through us and for us? Oh, Lord, give me faith to trust and leap into the unknown holding on only to your Hand.

Let me have that 1968 Jets’ team faith that they would defeat the Colts when NO ONE else believed them, not even their own fans. Give me that faith. Give me the faith to believe that anything is possible and nothing is impossible with my God. Give me the faith to really, really, really deep down in my soul believe in that God – the God of the impossible. That God that has my back in all situations. Help me to really, really, really believe that. Help me to see you as mighty regardless of the situation and circumstance. For You are God. You are mighty. Amen and amen.

Matthew 17:1-13 (Part 6, Final)
The Transfiguration

Today, we conclude our look at the meaty passage known as The Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13. As we take this final look at this passage, we are drawn to the question as to why was it important for Matthew to include this conversation about Elijah coming again. This conversation reminds me of conversations with my dad when I was younger about history. My dad is a history buff. Even though he has a pastorally related master and doctoral degrees, he was a history major for his undergraduate degree. He loves history and how all things interrelate with one another. He loves how the outcomes of certain periods of history affect future periods of history and how sometimes history repeats itself in the actions of men. So, it was always interesting to bring questions about history to him and listen to him explain the back story of events and how those back stories influenced people’s decisions that made history. My dad has an unique way to make history interesting and understandable. I guess that is why in his younger days as a preacher, he would often teach history as a substitute teacher. Making history understandable. That is kind of what I see here. The disciples were asking about the future, but it was Jesus that explained to them that the future is already here. He gave them a history lesson on how we came to the present. There is an old saying that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. I think that applies here as well. Let’s read this passage together one more time today before we move on:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
As to be background here, we ask the question as to why Matthew chose to include this conversation in his text about the Transfiguration. We must remember that the primary audience to whom Matthew was writing his gospel was to his Jewish brethren. His whole intent and purpose of writing his gospel was to demonstrate to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. In verse 10 of this passage, the disciples make reference to Malachi 4:5-6, which says,

 

5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

 

Therefore, from Malachi, the first century Jews believed that Elijah must appear before the Messiah would appear. Jesus informs them that John the Baptist had fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s precursing return. He says that they killed him instead of recognizing the role that he was playing in God’s prophetic plan for the appearance of the Messiah. Why is this important? Why is it important? I struggled with this question until we consider what Matthew is doing here. Matthew is telling his Jewish audience that all has been fulfilled. Jesus is the Messiah of biblical prophecy. He is not the conquering political hero that the Jews had made up in their minds. He is saying that Jesus is the what the Bible predicted and prophecied. His purpose what to get his own people to read their Bibles again instead of thinking up what they wanted the Messiah to be. He is saying Jesus fulfilled all Old Testament prophecy. Open your eyes, read your Bible, and understand, Jesus is the One.

What is the point of this discussion then to us here twenty centuries later? What can we learn from Matthew’s purpose of this conversation? Are we not battling the same thing today both within and without the church? We are having the same arguments among Christians themselves as to who this Jesus really is. We are having the same conversations with non-believers. Who is this Jesus?

Within the church, we are increasingly a biblical illiterate collection of believers. In a 2012 study by LifeWay Research, they found from a survey of 2,900 Protestant churchgoers that only 19% actually read their Bible as a daily routine. No wonder there is so much misinformation out there about what we are supposed to believe and what we believe Jesus is and what He said. Although most Christians desire to honor God with their lives, when it comes to reading the Bible most are like the kid that does not want read his history homework assignment so he doesn’t, so he fails his tests, and so does not learn the interrelatedness of historical events. When we fail to engage God’s Word on a daily, routine basis, we are destined to repeat what Matthew was trying to change. The Jews had forgotten all the prophecies and firmly believed in a desired conquering military hero Messiah not the suffering servant Messiah that the Old Testament prophecies predict. He is saying to them to go back compare what I have said to the real Old Testament prophecies not the ones that you have made up in your mind. Are we not the same today? Look at the success of the prosperity gospel movement out there. Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and others like them have created this Messiah that demonstrates his approval of our behavior through financial blessings. Our financial status is an indication of how God is pleased with us. Others have convinced themselves that Jesus is a self-help guru that has great suggestions on how to live a positive life. They ignore the calls that he makes to help the poor. They ignore the call to live according to God’s Word in its entirety. They ignore the call to evangelize the world beginning at our doorstep. Jesus is a personal thing. Jesus is my self help guru. Others see Jesus as accepting of all things and all behaviors because Jesus is peace-love-dove 1960’s commune. Jesus has no judgment in him. He accepts me for who I am and it does not matter that I am continuing to revel in my sin because Jesus loves me and never would judge me. Therefore, with biblical literacy, we as collection of believers who do not regularly read the Bible, we do not really understand who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Without reading the Bible, we do not fully understand why the cross redeems us. We do not understand that it is the culmination of God’s redemptive plan for man. We do not understand that the cross is the correction for our sin problem. We do not understand our tainted sin nature that cannot be erased by good deeds. We do not understand the full nature of God’s judgment against us and equally His love for us. We do not understand the overarching story of redemption that begins and ends in the Garden. We do not understand the need for evangelism and discipleship if we do not read the very basis of our faith.

Non-believers also make Jesus out to what they want Him to be as well. Jesus is just a menu option on the vending machine of eternity. He is one of the buttons we can push. They believe that in the name of tolerance all faiths are equal. Other religions respond to Jesus but do not see Him. It is all a big mess. We are not unlike the pre-flood world. We are a world chasing after our own desires. We believe in what makes us feel good and what makes sense to us. We worship idols of our own making. There are faiths that couch nationalism in religion and murder people in that religion’s name to further advance their nationalism. We have a world where also religion as seen as outdated and antiquated and see people who believe in any kind of faith as complete idiots. We pride ourselves in our humanism. We discard the Bible as some hokum of the past. We are a world on a train running full speed toward a cliff but yet have blinded ourselves to the cliff because we are all in the party car of the train and no one is at the controls of the locomotive. This world needs to know who Jesus is but, as the commander of Apollo 13 said, “Houston, we have a problem.”

You see the perplexing problem we have? We have a world in desperate need of knowing who Jesus is but we have 80% of American Christians who do not know how to explain it to them because they themselves do not read God’s Word on a regular basis, if at all. Matthew had a similar problem. The Jews had created their own Messiah. He pointed them to God’s Word and said Jesus is the Messiah. He fulfills all the prophecies of old, every one of them. Grasp it and understand it and come to Him and seek Him and ask Him to be the Lord and Savior of your life, my fellow first century Jews! He says the same thing to us today, sadly. Jesus is not the Jesus of popular culture. Read your Bible. See that Jesus is the suffering servant who died on the cross to give us access to the forgiveness of God through His sacrifice on our behalf, but He is also one who will return one day to judge us for whether we accepted Him as our Savior and Lord or not. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to tell the world who He really is. Matthew cries out to us to read our Bibles to understand the real Messiah, the real Jesus. How can we understand the depth and beauty and urgency and need for the real Jesus if we do not know God’s Word rightly. There was a line from the movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, that applies here, “Read it. Learn it. Live it.” How else are we and the world around us ever going to understand the real Messiah if we do not read and understand. Let us not be the kid who comes to class on Monday who forgot to study for the big test. Let us be prepared. Let us know our Bibles. Let us know the real Jesus. Let us pass the test. Dust off the Bible. Read it. Learn it. Live it.

Amen and Amen.