Matthew Chapter 28

“He isn’t here. He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen” (v.6). The joy that fills my heart when thinking of the empty tomb moves me to worship Him as the women in verse nine. It is the resurrection that confirms Jesus as Savior. He rose from the dead just as He said He would. It is because of the resurrection, everything else He said can be believed. It's the reason we believe He frees us from sin and we can stand confidently before God -spotless. The reason we believe the promise of eternity with our Lord. It is also the reason we are to share the love of Jesus with others. In verse 18, Jesus gave us the great commission:

18  “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We are all charged with sharing the good news and helping people grow in their faith. For some of us, evangelism is an intimidating word, something we know we are to do but not quite sure how. I believe God has placed us right where we need be to introduce people to Him.

Reading Matthew 28 reminds me of how I came to know Jesus. God used several people through the years the witness to me. Some people were complete strangers who would say something like, “Have you heard Good News today?” or “Jesus loves you.” Then they would disappear, not literally, they would smile and walk away. Others were people I knew who would invite me to church or a Bible study. It was through interactions like these that enticed me to learn more about this Jesus. Finally, through a women’s bible study that I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

Since then I’ve had to ask myself how I was living out the great commission? If you know me, you know I’m relatively introverted.  I like spending time with people but the way I’m wired makes meeting new people challenging. I didn’t feel prompted to walk up to complete strangers. Through the years I’ve discovered my favorite way of sharing the Gospel is with children. I’ve volunteered in elementary schools after school and summer programs. These are wonderful opportunities to meet children who have never set foot in a church before. Through games, new relationships are formed that open the door to talk about Jesus. It brings me to tears when I tell children God loves them and it's the first time they have heard it. On Sundays, it is a joy to create activities and lessons to help kids grow in their faith, to make it fun and meaningful, for me, there is nothing better.

If you find yourself wondering what living out the great commission should look like in your life today. Pray that  God will reveal how he wants to use you. Chances are you are already where He wants you to be.  You have what you need. He’ll guide you to someone who desperately needs to know how much the God of the universe loves them.

Matthew Chapter 27

Betrayal, humiliation, and pain.  These are very raw emotions that all of us have or will endure in this life.  Jesus is no stranger.

Matthew chapter 27 paints all of these emotions on a graphic tapestry that lays bare the sad condition of the human heart.  The very men and women who saw Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead and received so much from his ministry, are the same people who sent him to the cross.

Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends.  He was humiliated in front of the masses as a notorious convict was declared released in his place, and the one man who could save Jesus, turned, washed his hands and handed the son of God over to the Roman soldiers.  The crucifixion bought with it the most unbearable shame, torture and humiliation that a man could endure.  All for a crime he didn’t commit!

I’m thankful that I know the ending of this story… chapter 28!  It gives me great hope that no matter what I go through in this life, I know with confidence that Jesus understands and is no stranger.  He has endured, He has overcome, and He has left us His presence in the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

In this life we are not guaranteed rescue from betrayal, humiliation and pain, but God does promise to be with us!  Take heart, be strong and look to heaven.  Next time you experience betrayal, humiliation or pain, be reminded that your hope is found in Jesus... and that Jesus is VICTORIOUS. 

Matthew Chapter 26

It was West Java in the mountain town of Bandung. It was a hot afternoon.  I was sitting with a good friend drinking coffee as hundreds of motorcycles and cars drove by on the busy street maybe 20 yards away.  We had been reading through the book of Matthew.  We would read it and then come together and talk about it.  We asked hard questions and wrestled through the text. 

The main question came down to the identity of Jesus. My friend had read ahead to this passage in Matthew 26:57, when Jesus appears before the High Council.  Until this point my friend, like many Muslims believed that Jesus was just a “good man” or a “prophet”, but not the Son of God. It was this passage that finally convinced him that Jesus did in fact believe that He was the Son of God.  

This passage is in many ways the boiling point before the death of Jesus.  There was a large crowd gathered angry about things that Jesus had been saying and doing up until this point.  The men of power were the angriest of all.  As the crowd gathered it seemed to grow even faster. Simple bystanders were attracted by the commotion.  It came down to a point in verse 62, 

“Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Well aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?’ But Jesus remains silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I demand in the name of the living God- tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus replied, ‘You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of Heaven.”  

This is the moment! Jesus is asked directly if He is the Son of God.  Jesus knows the consequences He will face.  He knows they are trying to have Him crucified.  In this moment facing death he does not deny His Identity as the Son of God and He says they will all see. 

For my Muslim friend at the coffee shop this realization was the turning point.  This is what proved to my friend that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.  He couldn’t be just a prophet because true prophets point people to God and if Jesus were not God, He would have been drawing people away from God towards Himself.  The light bulb finally went on and my friend chose to accept Christ as Lord. 

 Jesus is and knew who He was.  He is the Messiah.  He came and willingly died on the cross so that every single one of us could have payment for our sin should we accept the free gift.  Through the sacrifice Jesus made, our sins can be paid in full.  This is the Gospel. This is the Good News!

Matthew Chapter 25

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus folds back the fabric of this world to a sobering scene in heaven of the final judgment.  There, before God, all men and women are judged – and the criteria are clear:  I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…” And when the righteous question, “But Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink…?” Jesus answers, “‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

There’s a unique and profound point here – a mutual exchange.  There is something Jesus has to teach us in both the giving and the receiving…and I believe it is essential that we humbly experience both…over and over again.  Miraculously, and simultaneously, we become Jesus to those we serve, and they become Jesus to us. We find Him in unexpected places – both in our brokenness and the brokenness of others.

The late Henri J. Nouwen, (one of my favorite authors), was a renowned catholic priest, prolific author, distinguished professor, and respected theologian.  Despite his colleagues’ pleadings, he left his highly successful professional life to take care of 25-year-old Adam Arnett.  Adam was a quarapalegic whose constant seizures, inability to speak, and immobilization led to a painful life of obscurity.  But it was here, in the unglamorous and secluded days and nights as caregiver, that Henri’s giving became the conduit for receiving his clearest and most intimate encounters with Jesus.  As he recalls in his final book, Adam: God’s Beloved, giving his life to Adam had transformed into a final and precious gift in return:

 "I found myself beginning to understand a new language…Here is the man who more than anyone connected me with my inner self, my community, and my God. Here is the man I was asked to care for, but who took me into his life and into his heart in such an incredibly deep way. Adam was my teacher, my friend, my guide...he was the one who more than any book or professor led me to the person of Jesus. "

It is the place of meeting and serving others in their weakness and brokenness where Christ meets us in ours.  Look for Him in the unexpected people and places God calls you to serve.

Matthew Chapter 24

Matthew 24 is filled with both literal and figurative language.  Frankly much of it are things I don’t like to dwell on - wars, famines and earthquakes, hate, tribulation, death, betrayal, false prophets, The Abomination of Desolation (yikes!), a darkened sun and stars falling from the heaven.  My tendency when I read passages like this is to zoom through them.  However, as I read and re-read and re-read Matthew 24, God pointed out some things to me.

I tend to live very much in the present moment/day with God.  This is by intention as I find it helps curb my “being in charge by over planning” nature.  But Jesus spoke these words to his disciples about what to expect prior to his coming again and I don’t think he ever wasted his words.  I need to pay attention to what is going on in the world, to see the chaos within the parameters of Jesus’ words.  “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (verse 44).  The challenge to me is to be vigilant, to live expectantly.  Live each day anticipating God’s ultimate renewal of all things.  It means expending my vision from just today to the many tomorrows.

The Message paraphrases verse 13 this way, “Staying with it – that’s what God requires.  Stay with it to the end.”  After reading Jesus’ words, how do I “stay with it” in the face of what seems to be a confusing and chaotic future?  God promise’s that “although heaven and earth will pass away, my words will not pass away” (v36).  Jesus himself is the word enduring forever.  I aim to sink roots into Jesus like the tree described in Psalm 1.  Deeply rooted so that I can “stay with it” in expectant hope as each day unfolds.

 In the final chapter of Matthew Jesus promises his disciples that he will be with them – perpetually, regardless of circumstances and on every occasion.  That same promise is for me.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to reside within me. The Holy Spirit strengthens, guides and gives counsel as I pursue expectant Kingdom living.

Matthew Chapter 23

Jesus Criticizes the “Religious” Leaders

 As this chapter opens the first thing that comes to my mind for the briefest of moments is that I can just see the Pharisees catching a small break when Jesus tells the crowd to “do as the Pharisees say.” But then he drops the hammer back on them, “but do not do as they do.” I can just see their extra wide prayer boxes and robes with extra long tassels getting all twisted up in knots!

Three things stand out to me in this chapter.  The first is the way Jesus called out the hypocrisy of Religion and the false piety of the religious leaders.   They had no trouble adding excessive burdens onto the shoulders of the Jewish believers, but would not lift a finger to ease those burdens.  Jesus said: “For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” Yikes! One thing that I will never forget was when I gave my heart to Christ.   It felt like the weight of my “religious” background fell off of me like a ton of bricks!

The second thing that stood out is when Jesus described the Pharisees as whitewashed tombs.  Yeah! Give it to them Jesus! But the more I read Jesus’ words the more my soul was pierced.  Immediately I thought of Sunday mornings at church and how we are all on our best behavior, we look good, we smell good, we smile nice and big and say “everything is great” but on the inside for some and for me, it’s entirely different. My heart isn’t right, I’m not right with God, and I’m exactly like the Pharisees that Jesus was talking about. I thank the Lord that I have people around me that are real enough to be Jesus for me in that moment, where I don’t have to pretend or make like everything is perfect.

Finally, I noticed how the people of that day missed whom Jesus was/is. Of all people, these religious leaders were the ones that should have known that Jesus was exactly who he said he was.  They knew the scriptures inside and out, but they chose not to believe in the Messiah. 

Matthew Chapter 22

In Matthew 22 the Parable of the Wedding Banquet illustrates to me God’s expectations in what he calls the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. 
The king has some expectations of those attending, and they’re very personal. The first one is obvious, accept the invitation and come.  The second is be prepared. I see this expressed by wearing wedding day attire.  Do not disappoint the king for this wedding. Less you be ‘bounded, thrown outside in the dark where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 
Then Jesus says something quite haunting. “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  
To engage with the king is not good enough, there is some level of preparation for this wedding banquet.  The metaphor is clothes in this case.  The occasion of the son’s wedding is important to the Kingdom of Heaven.  This raises a question for me.  How does an invitee prepare for the wedding?
The next four dialogs Matthew tells us are intended to trap Jesus. Each questions asked reveals something true about relationships in the Kingdom of Heaven.
First, where does God fit relative to powerful people like Caesar, the political ruler of the day?  Is one over the other?  No, they are two separate realities. ‘Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 
The second dialog concerns marriage. Marriage does not exist in the Kingdom of Heaven! When I first read that sentence, many years ago, I remember being astounded, assuming marriage would be present. Especially since a healthy marriage is one of the greatest examples of intimacy, love, care and giving of oneself to someone else. This reality speaks to the primacy of our individual relationship to God above all other relationships.  
Thirdly, God has expectations of me personally as I live out my life.  Through a question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answers. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  Focusing on these two commands, and living with kind of outlook and actions this gets you close to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven”. In my observation this take’s a lifetime to become like that.
Jesus’s last question to the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”,  joins the parable and the three earlier questions into a tight and remarkable message. All of a sudden the main event in the parable, the celebration of the son’s wedding comes into focus.  If the son is the Messiah, then this is the Son of God.   
If those invitees represent people from the past, present, and future on earth, then it is a picture of most of the people ignoring God, and doing whatever they want.  This feels true with many people in the world today.  But for those who are drawn to the Kingdom of Heaven there is another way to live.  Accept God’s invitation to the wedding banquet, recognize your relationship with God is primary, then prepare for the wedding banquet. Seek the Kingdom of heaven. Focus on integrating into your life the greatest commandment to celebrate the Son of God.

Matthew Chapter 21

Through my readings of Matthew 21, I was drawn to the parable of the two sons.

A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Go out for the day and work in the vineyard.”

The son answered, “I don’t want to.” Later, he thought better of it and went.

Then, the father gave the same command to the second son. The second son replied, “Yes,” but never went.

Jesus used the parable to highlight that some people would hesitate to follow the Father, but would ultimately comply, while other people would say, “Yes” to the Father- but continue to do things their own way. Jesus said crooks and whores will precede you into Heaven (like the first son). John showed you the right road, but you turned your noses at him (like the second son).

This parable is a reminder of how people in my life can behave. As I try to witness and share the news of coming to Christ with some friends and associate, some listen intently in agreement, while others seem to listen but seem hesitant to act or believe in Him.

I especially look at this parable as a valuable lesson for myself. Am I being a light to others exhibiting love, grace, and kindness? Or am I quick to anger, judge, giving into material matters?

This parable is a good barometer to check if my actions are matching my words. 

Matthew Chapter 20

Life’s not fair, but God’s grace isn’t either.

Having read the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) many times in my lifetime, I can already anticipate my reaction before I get to the end of the passage.  It seems absurd that workers would get paid the same wage for a working a fraction of the time in the field.  How on earth could this be fair?  

Especially today, living in a culture that puts its ultimate fulfillment in achieving the “American Dream” by working hard and being rewarded with more wealth makes this concept even more counter intuitive to us. In corporate America, there are complete systems, methodologies, databases to figure out what is an equitable amount of pay in a certain region for a specific job role.  We even have websites that try to help you figure that out before you apply for a job so you know how to negotiate for a fair wage. We have companies and unions with positions dedicated to negotiating terms to find a fair compensation package. 

Pursuit of fairness is engrained in us at a very young age. Any family with kids is familiar with the phrase “that’s not fair”, because kids use it on a regular basis.  Although many of us think it, kids can’t help but let it out verbally when that is what they are thinking.  They use it when they believe a brother or sister got a better Christmas gift, feel they were assigned less difficult chores, got away with something they didn’t.

What if we asked God to be fair?  God has made it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” Romans 3:23, and that the “wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23.  Asking God to be fair is asking for death and complete separation from him.  However God extends his grace to us by the sacrifice his son Jesus on the cross, so we don’t receive what we deserve. Isn’t that even more absurd?

In the parable if I put myself in the position of the worker who worked the least, yet still received a full day’s wage, I imagine how grateful I would be for the unfairly generous wage that I had received.  When we look to our lives, should we not stop focusing on our earthly pursuit of fairness, and instead focus on the unfairly generous portion of grace that God has extended to us?

Matthew Chapter 19

Divorce. I get the chapter on divorce. Oi vey.

Seriously, this is an acutely painful subject for many of us. And Jesus’s words are so powerfully absolute here. What are we to do with them?

I’m not going to dig into the topic of divorce: there are better forums and better spiritual leaders out there. I will say this—Jesus didn’t come and do what he did; he didn’t plan from before the Word moved over the deep, didn’t step away from his throne and become man and endure a torturous death for us to have us continue to live in bondage. I remain unshakably certain of this. However, what the Spirit has for each of us, and what he calls us to remain faithful in and what he died to free us from is an acutely personal issue between each of us and Him.

What I do want to get into is those pesky Pharisees. Once again, we see them trying to trip up Jesus. They ask him a question, and sure enough, they immediately have a counterpoint—a bit of law from the mouth of Moses himself, to challenge Jesus with. Clearly, they’ve come prepared. And not prepared to hear, not prepared to be vulnerable, but prepared to argue, to debate, to score points and win.

What I see in my reading of this chapter this time around is myself.

How often am I more interested in debate? In “yeah, but” and not in hushing my mouth and listening? I can’t see his lamp unto my feet for the shadow cast by my own agenda.

My hope lays in that same savior. The one who knew me before I was and who loves and provides for me anyway. He wants me to come to him as a child: eager, unfettered by cares beyond the moment, unabashed by my strong feelings. I can focus on that—approaching him with frankness and honesty.