Archive for June, 2011

The Bible Expert

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

When I read of the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Law, it is easy to say “Thank God, I am not like them.” But I often find myself much like them. I am a Bible Nazi. I speak with confidence about the Bible and God, but sometimes to the detriment of the listener. My tone is condescending, my actions self-righteous and my stance is pretentious. I speak as one with exclusive authority and knowledge, as if I was saved and no one else.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:”
Luke 18:9

Jesus had the habit of illustrating His answers to the Pharisees with parables (Luke 10:25-37, 14: 1-24, 15:1-16:18, 18:9-14). I imagine that if I were face to face with Jesus, He would tell me a parable of two, maybe even three. I may fool the world, but before Christ, it all comes to naught.

The Pharisees, Sadducees and the teachers of the law is a constant reminder to me.

  • To live with authentic faith (Matthew 23:25-28; Mark 7:6-9)
  • To teach and preach to myself first (Matthew 23:2-3)
  • To be accountable firstly before Christ and not people (Matthew 23:5; Luke 16:)
  • To be a humble servant (Matthew 23:4, 8-12; Luke 7-11)
  • To be incredibly generous (Luke 14:12-14, 16:14)
  • To not condemn but accept and love (Luke 15:1-31)
  • To see God as He is and not as I would like Him to be (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 8:11-13)

The greatest disciple of Christ is not one who understands the hardest passages of the bible, but one who practices the simplest passages.

Beyond money

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

What Jesus revealed about the Pharisees after the Parable of the Shrewd Manager is tragic but it teaches us some very important lessons.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.
Luke 16:14

The Pharisees response revealed a clear picture of what they valued and it certainly wasn’t Christ. They sneered at Jesus’ words because to them, He had no authority; they had the authority because they had the law and they were experts in the law. Why should they listen to a man telling them invest their money to gain “eternal dwellings”, when they saw themselves as already bound for “eternal dwellings”? This response echos Luke 14:15 where at a Pharisees’ house party, someone says to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 14:15) They believed in the literal physical “resurrection of the righteous” and that the they were invited into the Kingdom of God (to the exclusion of Gentiles).  It is easy to see that they viewed themselves as righteous and deserving because they obeyed the law. This man reflected the beliefs of the Pharisees – “We are blessed because we are already invited into God’s kingdom!”

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”
Luke 16:15

Jesus begins His offense on the Pharisees. He reveals why they see themselves as deserving of God’s Kingdom – they justify themselves by the Law. Instead of living in reverence to the Judge, they act as their own! They declared themselves righteous in their own eyes. They carefully craft this image of righteousness before others – “Everything they do is done for people to see” (Matthew 23:5). They elevate themselves by performing strict religious Law and using religious artifacts of the Law. But that wasn’t enough for them, they depress others by applying these laws on those who could not follow them (Matthew 23:4).  This was evident even in the early church (Acts 15:5-11). Jesus warns us “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:3) Their righteousness in the Law was all but a hoax.

Their hypocrisy fools man, but it doesn’t fool God. Jesus sees clearly in their hearts and says “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” What they valued was disgusting in God’s sight. They didn’t value it just a little, they valued it highly. They didn’t have a divided heart, they had a wholely devoted heart, but not to God behind the Law but to the observance of the Law before others (and to money)! What a tragedy.

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.
Luke 16:16

Continuing with the offence, Jesus declares that the era of the Law and Prophets was over. With His coming, the “good news of the kingdom of God” has come. The Law had found its fulfilment in the King, Jesus (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44; Romans 10:4). Not that the Law was abolished, but that it had no ability to save, no authority to impart righteousness (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:21). The job of the Law and the Prophets was prepare the world for the King, and it has served it’s purpose (Romans 3:20). Now, in this new era, the King has come and entry into the Kingdom is not by observance of the Law but by His word (John14:6; Luke 14:21,23). Righteousness is not self-declared or by observance of the Law but pronounced upon us by the King himself (Titus 3:4-7; Romans 5:1). The authority that the Pharisees had over the people are broken because righteousness lies not in the Law but in Christ (Romans 8:2-4).

But Jesus didn’t just stop there. He now states that that it was no longer exclusive to the Jews, but “everyone” was eligible. The Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus “welcomes sinners” (Luke 15:1-2) now comes to a close. Jesus welcomes sinners because the king says everyone is welcome (Luke 14:15-24)! We now see that the Parable of the Shrewd Manager was not just teaching for His disciples, but part of His response to the Pharisees. Perhaps Jesus was using the parable to stir them up to sneer at Him, so that He could launch this attack at them.

It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Luke 16:17-18

Now we might be tempted to say that the Law is totally abolished. But that is not what God wants us to think. Here Jesus affirms the Law, because it is on this Law that His authority stands. He has this authority because He is the fulfillment of the Law. The Law was a preparation for the promise of the saviour (Galatians 3:15-21). In the next verse, Jesus lays the foundation for understanding this coming Kingdom. His standard is not that we can run amok and do whatever we want. His decrees remain intact, just as marriage is to remain intact. For it is God who puts the Law together and God who holds the marriage together (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). The committments made before the God are to be honoured, and marriage still stands. Not that we live under Old Testament / Mosaic Law, but that we live under the rule of Christ.  The messasge here is simple: This new Kingdom does not mean that we can go about doing whatever we want, no, instead we live by the Law of Grace – bound to Christ our King.

At this point it is easy to see how the Pharisees obeyed the Law blindly without recognizing that the One that the Law pointed to. They were blind sighted by what they “value highly”. We are not so different. We often fall into the trap of looking at the things we’ve done as the benchmark of our righteousness, in effect becoming our own judge, justifying ourselves. When we do so, we have valued our righteous acts higher than Christ’s righteousness. A sobering thought indeed, that it is so easy to cast an idol. Instead God calls us to look at Christ and what He has done! Knowing that He has fulfilled the Law and we are righteous before God, we can then live our lives empowered.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”
Titus 2:11-12 (See also Romans 8:2-4)

Now and then

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Now

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Romans 5:17 (See also Revelation 5:10)

Then

If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
2 Timothy 2:12 (See also Revelation 3:21)

Money and eternity

Friday, June 17th, 2011

The Shrewd Manager

Jesus tells this parable while travelling to Jerusalem. We are told that “large crowds” (Luke 14:25) travelled with Him and he taught them along the way. He was teaching about counting the cost of following Him.

We know also that Jesus hung around “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 15:1). Somewhere along the line, the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticised Him, saying that He “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  That is when Jesus launches into the 3 famous parables – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son or prodigal’s son.

In these 3 famous parables, one thing is common. There is celebration and rejoicing on earth and in heaven over what was once lost and now is found (Luke 15:6-7, 15:9-10, 10:23-24). The message to the pharisees is crystal clear:

  • Those who followed Jesus are now found
  • His role on earth was to seek and save the lost (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17)
  • They should be happy that the lost are found (Luke 15:31-32)

However, we know that the pharisees did not see Jesus as God’s sent and rejected Him (Matthew 12), neither did they rejoice when the lost are found. In fact, just before this, Jesus was at a Pharisees’ house having a party and He critisized them (Luke 14:1-24). From there, we receive a picture of the Pharisees. They were a arrogant bunch who prided themselves as experts of the law. They sought positions of respect, recognition and honour. They applied onto others laws that they could follow but others couldn’t. They sought their own benefit.

With that in mind, this is when Jesus begins the parable.

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
Luke 16:1-2

Note firstly that He is speaking specifically to his disciples. It would seem that He had finished addressing the Pharisees’ criticism and is directing His attention back to teaching. Here in the parable, we have a manager about to be fired by his master because he was ineffective in his management, thereby wasting his master’s resources.

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
Luke 16:3-4

The manager considers his options very carefully. He is too weak for manual labour, too proud to beg on the streets. But he has a brilliant plan.

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
Luke 16:5-7

Next comes the tricky bit, he uses the master’s resources, which he has stewardship over to make friends with his master’s debtors. By using what he has to lower their debt, he places himself in a favourable position. After he gets the sack from his master, he can then go over to other businesses to get a job.

Note here that we know not how much of the debt was principle or interest. There is so far no inclination that the manager had been charging interest. His crime was wasting, not over charging. There is no place here to suggest that the manager had been violating the Mosaic Law by charging interest or hiding excessive profits into goods (Deuteronomy 23:19). We can pretty much rule out that possibility. I note this because many modern commentaries say that his crime was over charging interest.

Next comes the master’s bewildering response.

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
Luke 16:8

Here we see that the manager is now labeled dishonest. Why? Because he lowered the debtor’s loan, decreasing his master’s profits, but reaped the benefits from it. Effectively, by giving away what was not his own, he benefited himself. Dishonest indeed. But the master has the most ironic response. Rather than firing off at the manager for wasting more of his resources, he was commended for his shrewdness.

And here we have the explanation why, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” To understand this verse, let us go through the act that got the manager labelled shrewed. He used what was not his to benefit himself by giving it away.

To put this verse in my own words:

  • The dishonest pagan [people of this world]
  • was able to give to others what he did not own for his benefit [more shrewd in dealing with their own kind],
  • but believing people don’t practice this shrewdness [than are the people of the light]

We begin to see the allegory here. God is the master, who owns everything (Psalm 24:1; Deuteronomy 10:14). We are the stewards (managers) of everything that He owns (Genesis 2:15; Matthew 25:14-30). Even the money that we have is from God (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). We are the people of light, who need to understand that benefiting ourselves means giving unto others, because what we give doesn’t even belong to us. If a dishonest pagan can understand that, why can’t we?

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Luke 16:9

“I tell you” is often used at the end of a parable/teaching to emphasize the key point behind the passage. Somewhat of a moral of the story. Here He speaks directly to His disciples – “people of the light”, not in a parable but the teaching behind it. This is the moral of the story: our worldly wealth is for making friends. The result is that when the wealth is gone, we will be received into “eternal dwellings”. This gives us an understanding that the friends we are trying to make live in heavenly places.
Note that Jesus says here “for yourselves” – a reflection again of the shrewd manager’s self benefiting actions.

How then do we use our wordly wealth to befriend God?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:40

It all becomes clear when we look at similar things that Jesus has said:

“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”
Matthew 19:21

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
Luke 12:33

If we look back at Jesus’ rebuttal of the Pharisees’ criticism that He “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2), we see that perhaps His topic had not moved on. Instead, He has chosen to turn that defense into a teaching point and later into an offense.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
Luke 16:10-12

In these verses, we see an important principle in His kingdom and the way Jesus views our “worldly wealth”, compared to “true riches”:

  • If you are faithful with little (worldly wealth), you can be faithful with more (true riches).
  • If you are faithful with what you don’t have (worldly wealth), you can be faithful with what you have (true riches).

Worldly wealth is small and invaluable, and it doesn’t even belong to us. True riches is infinitely more valuable and is ours to own. They are direct opposites. Other passages in the bible show just how valuable this “true riches” is. But what is this “true riches”? Have a look at Romans 8:17 and 2 Timothy 2:12. We are inheriting the kingdom of heaven as heirs of Christ and we will reign with Him.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:44-46

What a way to view our rags on earth and our treasure that is in Christ!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Luke 16:13

It comes at no suprise that Jesus says this here. Worldly wealth and true riches are direct opposites (note: not mutually exclusive). If you hold on to one, you have to lose the other. It is inevitable.

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
Luke 16:14-15

Here we see Jesus’ flawless tactics in throwing the Pharisees off their feet. First, Jesus reveals that they don’t rejoice when someone is found in God (although they ought to). Second, He reveals that this is because they don’t value what it means to be found in God. Their hearts are devoted to something else – money (worldly wealth). They sought their own benefit by hoarding money. No wonder they don’t rejoice! Little do they know that the worldly wealth that they value is worth nothing in God’s sight. What good is having everything that amounts to nothing (Luke 17:33; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:36)?

Money and eternity, constantly tug at our hearts, demanding our devotion. They are so closely linked and we often don’t even realise it. The bible doesn’t say we need to be poor. On the contrary, we are told that we are enriched!

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:11

But we are rich for only one reason. How we handle our riches reveal what we are devoted to.

But first, the Word

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

It is an angled perspective that the wife of an aspiring preacher holds. She is part of the congregation, yet, acutely aware that she looks at the pulpit minister with a great deal of scrutiny in the interest of her husband’s dealings.

The weight of preaching the Word is so great, the depth of responsibility so severe, that one trembles to utter words lest they be a little less than truth. Imperatively, the truth must be preached at the cost of the preacher’s mind limitations- God must take the preacher beyond themselves into a depth of revelation they could never imagine but still desire unquenchingly.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1

Consider the severity of preaching to consist of the exultation of God, and to be careless in preaching to mean misrepresenting Him, His character, thoughts, purposes and ideas.

I urge you to dig deeper, unrelenting in your study and worship, that your sheep may receive solid food that you are unashamed to provide. That the ways in which they walk will reflect the truth you have strained to uphold.

Wir sein Bettler. Hoc est verum.

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matt 7:7-12

We are beggars. This is true – Luther’s last words at the end of his life, a testament to the position of mankind in the face of divinity. They are not harsh words, they are words written by a man so humbled by the sovereign majesty of God, that he understood that if one asks, one receives with gladness from a God who is willing to give.

While Luther’s heart has come peacefully to accept his position in the scheme of things, we as modern Christians find ourselves often in the onlooker position, feeling positively chuffed that such passionate forerunners have endorsed our brand of faith.

I am humbled to realise how lowly this response is, and revived to accept God’s redeeming grace in order to pursue Him and the glory of His name. I am sure God knows I will continue to work only as a flawed saint, and am comforted by His choice to use me in the sorry human state that I exist in. Whether through suffering, success or servitude, I wish to bend my will wholly to His desires.

As some areas of my life yield and others are yet stubborn, I look to God to view myself not as an internal hypocrite, but as a flawed being, continually seeking generous and gracious (and yes, undeserved) renewal because I’m in love with the God who is everlasting. My flesh breaks away day by day and my body ages, but my spirit is renewed by His and my happy mind takes no care to the separation mind and body will one day encounter.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:33

Therefore I implore you, to ask from God nothing but Himself, and if no such desire holds you, to ask from God the very desire to desire. For God is both the instigator and the culmination of our faith.

To be sure, the first deadweight shed in the entrance into eternity shall be, without choice, the flesh.

施洗约翰

Friday, June 10th, 2011

The burning question

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Matthew 11:2-3

John the Baptist’s question could not be more puzzling. This is Jesus’ forerunner, his older cousin, John. This was the John who went around telling people about Jesus! But John and Jesus could not be more different.

  • While both were prophesied in OT scripture, John was the prophesied forerunner (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:20-23), while Jesus was the prophesied Messiah.
  • John was dressed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6). This could have been woven fabric from rough camel’s hair or camel’s skin, as worn by some OT prophets (Zechariah 13:4; 2 Kings 1:8). This fit the symbolic cast of Elijah on John (Malachi 4:4-5; Matthew 11:12-15; Luke 1:16). Jesus wore a pretty normal seamless tunic (John 19:23-24) and sandals. Nothing fanciful.  
  • While John had a strict diet as a Nazarite and had an additional (perhaps self-imposed?) diet of locusts and wild honey – food that the poor ate (Numbers 6:1-21; Matthew 3:4). Jesus ate loads of other stuff, like roasted lamb with unleavened bread (Exodus 12:3-4; Numbers 9:10-13; Luke 22:7-8), broiled fish (Luke 24:42-43) and probably even had wine (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25).
  • John was a bit of a private person. He lived in the dessert wilderness (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:80), he was not known to socialise (Matthew 11:18 – some say “eating and drinking” meant socialising). Jesus was known for socialising with many (Matthew 11:19) and living amongst the people!
  • John didn’t perform signs and wonders (John 10:41), but Jesus had tons (Matthew 9:35,10:1,11:5).
  • While John sat in prison (Mark 1:15), for speaking up against ungodly authority (Matthew 11:2), Jesus was roaming around the countryside (having not said much about King Herod)!

You can well see why John would start wondering about Jesus. It looked like he was having a ball outside while His forerunner was suffering in prison. But the main push came from what he believed the Messiah looked like. John the Baptist was a prophet and as a prophet, he knew full well the prophecy relating to the Messiah (1 Peter 1:10-11).

He prophesied about the son of God who would be rejected by men and die sacrifically for our sins as the prophets in the OT did (Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Look at John’s wonderful testimony of Jesus:

  • John identified Jesus as one whose sandals he was not worthy to carry and whose sandals he was not worthy to untie (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; John 1:27). Showing John’s view of Jesus’ superiority.
  • John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). He foresaw that the passover lamb was symbolic of Jesus, who is slain for our sins.
  • John spoke of Jesus’ eternal nature (John 1:1) when he declared that “he (Jesus) was before me (John).” (1 John 1:15,27,30). He was older than Jesus by about 6 months (Luke 1:26), but Jesus surpassed him by being eternal.
  • John refused to baptise Jesus (Matthew 3:13-14) as his baptism was one of “forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). He recognized Jesus’ sinlessness and perfection as the lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19).
  • John’s testimony of Jesus is that He is “God’s Chosen One (God’s Son)” as he saw first hand the descending of Spirit on Jesus in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:33-34).

But wait, John didn’t just declare the coming of any kingdom. He prophesied that this kingdom would come with power and with the doom of the unrighteous. He used forceful words and strong analogies such as:

  • “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matthew 3:7)
  • “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10) 
  • “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)

He prophesied that the kingdom would come with God’s righteous judgement and condemn the unrighteous just as previous prophets in the OT prophesied (Psalm 2; Malachi 3:1-3). You could say that he was a dooms day, hell and brimstone kind of preacher. That was what he prophesied because that was what he believed and expected.

The great discrepancy

Jesus looked like a perfect match for the first bit, but where is the hell and brimstone? Where is the the forceful righteous zeal to condemn the unrighteous? Where is the glorious kingdom of God that the OT prophets spoke about? He was waiting for the kingdom to come in awesome power but Jesus went around preaching pretty much the same message as he did, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near!” (Matthew 3:2,4:17; Mark 1:15,6:12) More than that, he seemed to be having a ball of a time doing it!

Problem is he prophesied both Christ first coming and second coming together as if it were the same event. We begin to see how Jesus didn’t quite match up to John’s expected messiah image. We see this mismatch in the question raised by John’s disciples to Jesus as well (Matthew 9:14-17).

We know that prophets had limited knowledge of God’s redemption plan (1 Corinthians 13:9), but not the omniscient “my thoughts are higher than yours” knowledge of God (Isaiah 55:8-9). They prophesy in small bite sized parts, and understood the redemption plan with limited scope. With what John knew, he earnestly wanted to see this kingdom come in its fullness and wholly believed it was coming! You could say it was an honest mistake.

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.
Matthew 11:4-6

Jesus’ answer was straight forward. Well, not quite. The teachings and deeds that Jesus did were signs of the foretold Messiah (Isaiah 29:18-19, 61:1-3).  Jesus was basically saying that He is the prophesied Messiah that they have been waiting for, he meets the prophesied criteria – but this is only the first coming.

Jesus’ last words to John’s disciples encouraged John to not be offended because of Himself. Echoing what Isaiah had foretold in Isaiah 8:13-15. Christ says the same thing to us today. Don’t be offended when what He is doesn’t match up to what we believe Him to be or how we think He works. It is a problem that we all struggle with. Ever so often, we need a little correction about the little picture of God we have in our minds. We create God in our own image and imagine that we are the creator.

Steadfast affirmation

This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way before you.’”
Matthew 11:10

In front of his disciples who had overheard the question, Jesus affirms that John is the prophet that had been prophesied about by Malachi. This prophet that they travelled into the wilderness to listen to, this messenger that everyone had expected, this forerunner that heralds the coming of the King, that’s John the Baptist! That is the man right there! They didn’t go into the dessert for swaying political commentary or the latest men’s fashion, they went to the wilderness to listen to the true prophet, and the prophet John is (Matthew 11:7-9)! Even though John had his doubts about Jesus (and himself, John 1:21), Jesus had no doubts about John.

But wait, as grand as John is (being the last of the OT prophets), even the “least in the kingdom is greater than he” is (Matthew 11:11). What great news! If Jesus affirms John (who had doubt about the Messiah and himself) to be someone  great, what then does He affirm you and me to be? My imagination just runs wild with what He is saying about me!

Boiling violence

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.”
Matthew 11:12-13

Israel had awaited the messiah for such a long time till the Messianic atmosphere was just exploding! The nation was pregnant with expectation about the coming messiah! John came at a time when people were trying to bring about God’s kingdom politically and forcefully by their own means (Acts 5:33-39). There were others claiming to be the messiah, trying to reclaim Israel, only to be killed in revolt. Jesus himself experienced this during his ministry (John 6:14-15). Even His disciples expected that of Jesus (Luke 22:35-38; Matthew 26:50-54) and they had no qualms using force/violence. The expectations reflected the people. They were people who trusted in their own wisdom and works, who tried to forged their own version of God’s kingdom. They wanted their version of His kingdom so badly and they wanted their version of the Messiah.

“And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Matthew 11:14-15

Going further, Jesus affirms John to be the last and greatest of the OT prophets (Matthew 11:13). The cumulation of OT prophecy happened until the revelation of Jesus by John. It was like a tower built with bricks, stacking one on another, until John came along, the one who had all the bricks of revelation put together, and Jesus was finally revealed. John was this cumulation of prophesy. He was so significant that he is likened to Elijah! Jesus says, “if you agree with me…” because some don’t, but we should. Then Jesus says “Whoever has ears, let them hear”. This phrase is often used in the gospels after a parable (Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35) as if to say “think carefully about what I am saying to you and make the connections”. He points out a significant symbolic connection between John and Elijah and Himself and Elisha. He affirms again, not just John’s role and function, but His own role and function.
Read: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/meditating-scripture/

Generation assessment

Jesus has gone from city to city preaching the good news in powerful deeds and teaching. His 72 disciples have gone out (Matthew 11:1) with the same power and said “even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17-24). We know of crowds following Jesus and others rejecting him (Matthew 4:24-25; 7:28-29; 8:34; 9:1-17, 33-34). Now Jesus makes an assessment of this generation, the cities He has been to and the crowds that follow Him around. He makes an assessment of their belief in Him.

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.'”
Matthew 11: 16-17

The results weren’t pretty. Even though Jesus had crowds following Him, they didn’t follow Him for the right reasons. Their belief in Him wasn’t based on repentance (Matthew 11:20). He was popular, but that didn’t necessarily mean repentance. It seems to say that they followed Him expecting a violent and forceful political upheaval – the kind of Messiah they wanted. They were like children who complained that the Saviour didn’t dance to their tune.

Then Jesus makes a final connection between John the Baptist and himself. John was demonised and rejected for “neither eating nor drinking” (some say this meant fasting, others say this meant , perhaps both), Jesus was rejected for eating and drinking and with sinners (Matthew 11:18-19). This generation has rejected them both. This wasn’t a problem of the generation being fickle as fashion, but that they rejected them both simply because the picture of Messiah they had in their head weren’t met. To put it in Jesus’ terms, they stumbled on account of Him.

He then points out these cities, by name, that had been frequented most but yet rejected him and curses them (Matthew 11:21-24). You can almost feel the anger of God against these unrepenting people. This generation doesn’t seem that different from the generation then. Even now, Jesus has to jump through hoops of fire, juggle and tell a joke to be accepted as Saviour of the world (and of you and me). Even now, we have expectations of what a Messiah should look like, sounds like, behave like. Even now, people stumble because Jesus doesn’t fit their mould.

Sovereignty declared

Was Jesus’ mission a failure then? The huge crowds that followed all came for the wrong reasons! How can He allow entire cities to descend eternally to Hades? Even stranger was Jesus praising God for hiding His truth  from these people and being happy about it!

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Matthew 11:25-26 (see also Luke 10:21-24)

It seems to say that they couldn’t accept God because God didn’t enjoy revealing it to them. So God effectively condemned them just because He liked it. Well, thats exactly what it is saying here. Here we have a picture of Divine Election, perhaps the hardest pill to swallow in understanding God’s sovereignty. In His sovereignty, He chooses who to save. It is the ultimate demonstration of His sovereignty.

Jesus was praising God for His sovereignty, not for success or failure of Jesus’ ministry. Also, there are those who are elected and earnestly believe. What is in focus here is God’s sovereignty over man’s salvation. He does exactly as He pleases. His plan is a success, 100%.

Jesus the bridge

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:27-30

Matthew charts the rise in the demonstration of Jesus’ authority over all things. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus demonstrates his authority to heal the sick, cast out demons, control nature and raise the dead. In Matthew 9, Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. In Matthew 10, Jesus has the authority to call disciples and empower them. Now in Matthew 11, Jesus has the authority to choose who will believe in Him! Jesus has the authority to choose who will know the Father as He knows the Father and the Father knows Him. He gets to choose who to mediate.

Just when we think the sovereignty of God is a cruel thing, Jesus offers an invitation to Himself. Although He is sovereign over man’s salvation, we have the responsibility in making a choice as well. What Jesus offers is different from what others offer, He offers rest and not burdens (Matthew 23:4). A rest that can only come about knowing that our burden is carried by God, that our salvation is in the sovereign hands of Jesus and not yourself.

To a people who are heavily burdened under oppressive Roman rule, they longed for the kind of saviour who would free them. They imagined the violent political leader who would lead a revolt against their oppressors, for these were the kind of people this generation is. They were forceful. They wanted out by any means. Mostly their own means. They trusted in their own powers, their own works, their own wisdom for a saviour. But this invitation wasn’t to the forceful, powerful or self-righteous. This invitation was to the gentle and humble, those who realised that God’s kingdom wasn’t about to be birthed through their will or works. This was a different kind of freedom (Matthew 23:1-4), a freedom much more precious than political freedom or their version of spiritual freedom.

Sovereign

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, 
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; 
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Job 1:21

I have often taken this verse to mean so little when it speaks of so much. Job’s loss was not solely material possessions but abstract possessions as well. There were human lives lost, along with these were relationships that were built. There were servants he worked with and lived with, perhaps among them were some of his friends. There were sons and daughters, born to him by his own blood, raised by his own hands. He lost his stature and respect among the people as a rich man, his entitlements to the finer things in life, his authority over his (now defunct) household and his rights to natural fairness and justice as he kept his integrity. So much of himself to lose in just a few minutes!

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Job 2:10b

His response is so valuable and teaches us so much about suffering:

  • Suffering is not only handed out to the unrighteous but also to the righteous. We should not view our poverty, loss or suffering as God’s punishment. No one in this life is immune to valleys.
  • It is ok to lament, feel agony and sadness over suffering. Job did exactly that. God did create us with a full range of emotions at our disposal (Job 3:26). Jesus himself was familiar with sorrows and suffering (Isaiah 53:3).
  • Our response to God in times of suffering reveal something of our inner person and relationship with God. It is possible to graciously accepting suffering from God as Job did, and we should do so.
  • Whatever happens in our life, we can have assurance of one common denominator: death. However much suffering this life may bring, it is only temporal, for there will be nothing of it that we can bring into our next life other than ourselves and our relationship with Him (Romans 8:18).
  • Our God is sovereign over good times and bad. He is sovereign over suffering and happiness, our loss and gain, our poverty and prosperity. Notice the word “and”, not “or”. He is sovereign over them both. In His infinite wisdom and sovereignty, He does as He pleases, all for His purposes. Everything is within His control, and nothing goes on without His knowledge or supervision (Job 42:2).
  • In every circumstance, we can worship. Even in our loss, we can bring Him praise, because in all that God does, He deserves praise. We don’t worship Him because He brings us good, but because He intrinsically deserves worship.

Worldly riches are like nuts; many a tooth is broke in cracking them, but never is the stomach filled with eating them.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Job reads like a play, with the prologue (Job 1-2), monologue (Job 3), dialogue (Job 4-42:6) and epilogue (Job 42:7-17). He shows us that our questions regarding suffering are often inconsequential because once we have a correct view of the sovereignty of God, none of those questions need answering (Job 42:3-5). All we need to do is to focus on Him.

Sometimes I feel like God is toying with my life and I am no more than a pawn in a game of chess between God and Satan, but really Satan wasn’t playing chess with God. There was no competition at all, there is no question as to who is right, who has the final say, and who has the authority. Beyond that, who are we to dictate our own lives? We are simply trying to play God and equate ourselves to the Maker in that statement. The fact is: God is sovereign over us.

Now comes the important question: is this view of suffering still relevant in the New Testament, after the cross?

Yes it is.

Read:
http://au.christiantoday.com/article/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-one/9286.htm
http://au.christiantoday.com/article/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-two/9287.htm

One other strange reaction to suffering that I often hear is to “rebuke the devil for stealing away “. Saying that suffering comes from Satan and not from God offers no comfort and implies that Satan is in control. If Satan can do nothing without God’s permitting, we might as well be rebuking God. Perhaps instead of rebuking Satan, we need to focus on God. The New Testament passages about suffering point towards the work of God in our lives, not towards Satan.