John 15:1-17 — Chosen to be fruitful

This is one of the most famous passages in the Gospels in which Jesus shows us a beautiful illustration of our relationship with God.

Here he calls himself the vine.  In the Old Testament, Israel was referred to as a vine.  They were to bear fruit for God so that the nations would see them, and be drawn to God.  But through their disobedience they bore only bad fruit, and as a result, God brought judgment upon them.  (Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21)

So now Jesus doesn’t just call himself the vine, but the “true” vine.  A vine whose fruit would not only draw people to God, but save them.

And Jesus tells us we are the branches to the vine.  He tells us in verse 16,

I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.  (16)

What does it mean to bear fruit?  I think the first thing it means is the fruit of a changed life.  Paul, after talking about the kind of sinful life life we once lived, tells us,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

In other words, if we are Christians, it should be evidenced in our lives.  Our lives should be different from what they once were.

And as our lives change, we’ll see fruit in that we’ll start to make an impact on the people around us.  People will see God himself in us, be drawn to him, and be saved.

That’s what God originally intended for Israel, and that’s what God intends for us now.  Peter puts it this way,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (I Peter 2:9)

You were chosen to be fruitful.  Are you?

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Luke 22:35-38 — Preparing to face a hostile world

As Jesus led his disciples out of the upper room, he asked them,

When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?  (35)

This is referring to the two times he sent out the disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel (Luke 9 and 10).  At those times, he told the disciples to bring no provisions with them, but to rely on the hospitality of those they were reaching out to.

And at that time, at the height of his popularity, that was perfectly fine.  Despite, hostility they might face, there would always be people to welcome them.  (Luke 22:35b)

But now, the situation would be changing.  Jesus would be “numbered among the transgressors,” (37-38) and they would face more hostility than ever.  People who once might have welcomed them would do so no longer.  So Jesus warned them, saying,

Now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  (36)

In short, “It’ll be even more dangerous for you out there than ever before because you follow me.  Be prudent.  Be careful.”

But Jesus’ disciples responded,

See, Lord, here are two swords.  (38)

as if to say, “Lord, don’t worry.  We’ll take anyone down that comes after us.”  Peter would later show that exact attitude in the garden of Gethsemane.

So Jesus curtly and perhaps exasperatedly told them,

That is enough.  (38)

Jesus’ point wasn’t that they should turn to violence against those who attacked them, but simply that they should be prepared to face a hostile world.

But Jesus’ words were not just for the disciples, they were for us.

As we’ll see later in John, Jesus specifically warns us that people will hate us on account of him.  There will be persecution.  And he basically tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised by this when it happens.

So while we are to love and reach out to those who are lost, we are also to be on our guard.  People will hate us.  People will betray us.  People will hurt us.  Even those we love.

Because of this, let us always remember the words of Jesus when he told his disciples,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men…  (Matthew 10:16-17)

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John 14:15-31 — Never alone

One thing my five year old daughter used to do quite often, and even does now from time to time is to crawl into my wife’s and my bed and snuggle in between us.  And when we ask why, she’ll say, “I was lonely.”

I think all of us can relate to that feeling sometimes.  And the disciples themselves were feeling lonely when Jesus said he was going away.

But Jesus told them,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (16-21, 23)

Here we see the Trinity in all its fullness.  And it tells us a very important truth.  God is with us.

Jesus said he would send a counselor to us, God the Holy Spirit.  And that the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us of the things that Jesus said.

Then Jesus said that he himself would come to us and that he would be in us.  That he would not abandon us as orphans.

Finally, he said that the Father himself would make his home in us.

The key?  We walk in obedience to him.  And that all comes down to what we talked about yesterday:  trust.  Do we trust God enough that we obey him?  That’s why Jesus said at the beginning of this chapter,

Trust in God; trust also in me.  (1)

It is impossible to have a relationship with God if we refuse to trust him.

Closely related to that is love.  Do we love God enough that we want to please him?  Do we love him enough that we avoid the things that hurt him, and do the things that bring a smile to his face?

If we love, trust, and obey him, then we’ll find that God is right there with us, through the good times and bad.  And because of that, we can find peace.

Jesus told his disciples,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (27)

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John 14:15-31 — If we truly love Jesus

This is one of those passages that would probably make many people turn their heads if they really thought about it.

Jesus says to start off,

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  (15)

Think about that a minute.  If your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend said to you, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” what would your response be?

Most probably, “I’m outta here.  Forget this relationship.”

I think there are certain things to keep in mind, however.  First, Jesus is not only our Savior, but our Lord.  Yet he’s not some tyrant looking to make our lives miserable just for his own pleasure.  Rather, he genuinely loves us and is looking out for our good.  More than that, he’s our creator, and he knows exactly how our lives were designed to work.

And so this idea of obedience is not so much a matter of, “Do what I say!”  Rather, Jesus is telling us, “Trust me.  If you really love me, trust me.  I truly know what is best for you, and I truly want was is best for you.”

Our problem is that we’ve seen so many people trying to order us around not because they’re looking out for our best, but because they’re looking out for their own interests.  And so when God tells us, “Trust me, I want what’s best for you,” we tend to look at him with a jaded eye.

This is not a new problem.  It goes all the way to the garden of Eden.  God told Adam and Eve, “Trust me, I want what’s best for you.  So stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Believe me, you don’t want to know what evil is.”

But Satan caused Eve to become jaded to God’s intention.  To start thinking, “God doesn’t really want what’s best for me.  He’s holding something back from me.”

And to this day, people hold that same way thinking.

The other thing to remember is that our sin really hurts God.  He is so pure, and righteous, he can’t even stand the sight of sin.  Do we really want to do something that hurts him?  Rather, wouldn’t we want to do things that please him?

If you love your wife or husband, for example, will you purposely do things that hurt them?  “Yes, I know it will hurt them, but I’ll do it anyway.”  Of course not.

Rather, we do things that we know will bring a smile to their faces.

And that’s what our relationship with God should look like.  We love him so much that we do the things that please him, and we stay away from the things that we know will hurt him.

Jesus modeled this with his own life while he was on earth.  He loved and trusted his Father so much, he always did what his Father said, even though it meant going to the cross.  Why?  Because he believed his Father knew what was best.

How about you?  What does your relationship with God look like?  Do you trust him enough to do what he says?

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John 14:12-14 — Powerful promises

Jesus made some pretty amazing promises here.  The type that make you say, “Really?  Are you serious?”

Jesus said,

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   (12)

Jesus did some amazing things.  He healed the sick.  Raised the dead.  Taught thousands, bringing the good news to those without hope.

And anyone who has faith in him will do these things too?  And even greater?

I suppose you could look at the church in the book of Acts, and say that Jesus was specifically talking about them.  And certainly, they did all that Jesus did and more.  Not only that, they did it on a larger scale, not only taking the gospel to Israel, but beyond Israel to the world.

But Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me.”  Anyone.  Not just the disciples.  Not just the people in the New Testament.  Anyone who has faith in Jesus will do what he did and even greater things.

How could Jesus say that?  Because he was going to the Father, and he would send his Holy Spirit to live in each one of us.  And through his power working in us, we can change the world around us.

Does that mean we’ll heal the sick and raise the dead like Jesus did?  I wonder sometimes how much we limit God by our lack of faith.  I have heard of cases in third world countries where such things actually happened because people were too “ignorant” of the realities of life, and simply took Jesus at his word, and God worked miracles as a result.

My former pastor in Kobe was dying of cancer, and to the shock of his doctor, refused to give up at his diagnosis of 6 months to live.  Now he is healthier than ever, and his doctor can only say, “Keep doing whatever you’re doing.”

Another woman in our church had a grandmother who received Christ recently, and though she had once been almost deaf, now she can hear clearly.

A part of me is skeptical.  How long will these things last?  Can it last?  I don’t know.  All I know is that God is working.  And he is working today.

Maybe we should take him more at his word when he says,

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (13-14)

This is not to say that Jesus will give us a sports car if we ask him for it in his name.  But if we ask things, seeking not our own glory but God’s, seeking that his will be done, and not ours, then we will see answers to prayer.  Answers beyond what we can even ask or imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20)

God wants to shape the world around us.  And he wants to use us to do it.  The only question is, do we believe that he can use us?  And will we surrender our prejudices, our skepticism, and our lack of faith to him, and simply say, “Your will be done.  Use me as you will.”

Lord, I have a hard time believing these words.  They seem…unbelievable.  Lord, increase my faith.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Fill your church with your Spirit.  This world is dying and you want to give it life.  So help us to give up our prejudices.  Give up our skepticism.  And truly surrender all to you so that you can use us for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 14:7-11 — To see and know God

How can we possibly know God?  How can we know what he is like?

Obviously, when we’re talking about an invisible God, there can only be one answer:  if he chooses to reveal himself.

God first revealed himself through direct contact, through visions, through dreams, through angels, and through prophets.

Then Jesus came.  And when he did, he was no mere man.  Rather, he was God himself, coming down and living among us.  That’s why he could say,

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.  (John 14:7)

And when Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus responded,

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.  (9-11)

This is not to say that the Father is Jesus, or Jesus is the Father.  But as Paul wrote,

The Son is the image of the invisible God.  (Colossians 1:15)

All that God is, we see in Christ.  When we hear Jesus speak, we hear the Father’s words.  When we see him react to situations, we see how the Father reacts.  So if we want to truly know the Father, all we need to do is look at Christ.

Let’s put it this way.  When people see my daughter, they say, “She looks just like you.”  And as she grows up, a lot of the way she thinks and acts will mirror the way I think and act.  You can learn a lot about me by looking at her.  It’s the way of fathers and their children.Yumi and I

But while she is an imperfect mirror of what I am like, Jesus is a perfect reflection of what the Father is like.

So what’s my point?  Do you want to know God?  Look at Jesus.  Do you want to know how God thinks?  Look at Jesus’ words.  Do you want to know how God responds to different situations?  Look at how Jesus responded.

We don’t have to guess any longer what God is like.  We can know because he came down to this earth and he became one of us.

So let us pursue a relationship with him.  And if we do, we will find him.

As James wrote,

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  (James 4:8)

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John 14:4-6 — The Way

This is the one passage that provides such a stumbling block to so many people in the world today.  Many people simply refuse to believe it because the implications of what Jesus said are so deep, and they are simply not willing to accept them.

What did Jesus say?

He had just told the disciples that he was going away to prepare a place for them and that they knew the way to where he was going.

Thomas, who had no idea what he was talking about, then asked the obvious question.

Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?  (John 14:5)

Jesus replied,

I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus didn’t say, “I will show you the way to the Father.”  He didn’t say, “I’ll show you the things you need to do to get to the Father.”  He said, “I AM the way to the Father.”  If you want to go to heaven and see the Father, you need to go through me.

That’s an amazing statement.  But let’s put it this way.  If you want to see the President of the United States, you can’t just walk into the White House and into the Oval Office.  Assuming you have an invitation, someone will meet you at the door and escort you in.  Without that escort, there’s no way you’re getting in to see the President.  That escort is your path to the President.

Well, Jesus is much more than an escort.  He is God’s Son.  And it is only because he paid the price for our sin by dying on the cross that we now can have access to the Father.  He takes us in before the Father and he intercedes for us as our high priest.  (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 10:19-22).  But without his sacrifice on the cross, and without him by our side, there is no way we’re ever going to heaven, no less see the Father.

Jesus also told Thomas, “I am the truth.”

Many people are looking for truth.  Others are convinced that truth really does not exist, particularly when it comes to spiritual matters.  But Jesus says, “I am truth.  My words are truth.  Truth is not relative.  All that I say is absolute truth.  And you will never find truth apart from me.”

More, Jesus said, “I am the life.”

So many people seek for the meaning of life.  They’re seeking a life that matters.  They’re seeking a life that’s worthwhile.  And ultimately, they seek life beyond the grave.

To that, Jesus says, “I am life.   Do you want the meaning of life?  It’s found in me.

“Do you want a life that matters?  A life worth living?  You can try finding life in money, possessions, power, marriage, children, sex, or a thousand different things.  But you will not find life in any of these things.  Ultimately, these things will leave you empty.  I’m the only one that makes life worth living.

“And if you want life beyond the grave, you won’t find it in Buddha, or Muhammad, or any other religious leader.  Only in me can your sins be forgiven, and you can find eternal life.”

But like I said, people don’t want to accept this.  The implications are too deep.  It means casting aside the things they value most highly.  It means that they can no longer simply live as they want to.  And so they say Jesus was a liar.  Or misguided.  Or misquoted.

But if you want to find true life, you can only find it in Jesus.  Truth is absolute and it is found in him.  And if you’re ever going to see heaven and meet the Father, you can only do so with Jesus by your side.

I can’t make you believe that.  You need to find that out for yourself.  And you will, one way or another.  So as Isaiah urged the Israelites, I urge you now.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  (Isaiah 55:6-7)

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John 14:1-3 — What’s waiting for us

As I said in my last blog, the disciples were both stunned and troubled by what Jesus had just told them.  First he told them he was leaving and they could not follow, and then he told them that they would all abandon him.  If that weren’t enough, he told them that Peter, who seemed the strongest of them all, was going to deny Jesus three times.

Jesus must have read their hearts, for he immediately tried to comfort them saying,

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  (1)

In other words, “Don’t worry.  I know these things sound awful.  I know you can’t imagine these things happening.  But God is still in control.  Trust him.  Trust me.”

He then gave them a glimpse of the future and why he had to go.  He said,

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (2-3)

Here we see three promises Jesus gives us.

First, he’s preparing a place for us.  If we have put our trust in him as our Savior, he is preparing a place for us in heaven.  I don’t know if it’s a “mansion” as translated in the King James Version, or if it’s a deluxe condo.  But whatever Jesus is preparing for us, I know it’s going to be glorious.  Jesus would make nothing less.

I love the sentiment of Keith Green who wrote in one of his songs,

In six days You created everything,
But You’ve been working on Heaven [for] two thousand years.

Jesus then promises that he will come back again.  The disciples were freaking out that he was leaving them.  But Jesus reassured them, it would not be for forever.  That he would come back.  First by sending his Spirit to dwell in them, but also, someday, by coming back literally in physical form.

And when he does, Jesus promises that he will take us to be where he is.  The apostle Paul writes about it this way,

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Think about this, though.  Jesus made these promises to a bunch of people who he knew would be unfaithful to him and would abandon him within hours.  How could he promise them these things?  Because he wasn’t finished with them yet.  And there was no way that he would ever give up on them.

And neither will Jesus ever give up on you.  Whatever struggles you may go through, however badly you may fail him, he is preparing a place for you.  So don’t get discouraged.  Keep getting up, and pressing on.

As an old song once put it,

So why should I worry?
Why should I fret?
‘Cause I’ve got a Mansion Builder
Who ain’t through with me yet.

-2nd Chapter of Acts

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Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38 — A God who knows our weakness, and accepts us anyway

When Jesus told the disciples that he was leaving for a place they could not follow, it must have really troubled them.  He was their teacher, and they couldn’t imagine life without him.

As usual, it was Peter who spoke out, saying,

Lord, where are you going…why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.  (John 13:36-37)

Jesus then stunned Peter and the rest of the disciples by saying,

Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!  (John 13:38)

He then said,

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift (all of) you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.  (Luke 22:31-32)

Again, Peter declared,

Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.  (Luke 22:33)

But again Jesus replied,

I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.  (Luke 22:34)

Perhaps, at that point, the other disciples thought that Peter was the betrayer that Jesus had talked about earlier.  Perhaps even Peter was wondering.

So Jesus said,

You will all fall away…for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  (Mark 14:27-28)

Still Peter continued to insist,

Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.  (Matthew 26:33)

So Jesus made his declaration even stronger and more specific saying,

I tell you the truth…today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.  (Mark 14:30)

Even then, Peter refused to believe it, and insisted with all the other disciples that he would never do such a thing, even if it meant death. (Mark 14:31)

In the end, of course, they all did as Jesus had predicted.  All of them ran away when Jesus was arrested, and Peter ended up denying Jesus three times.

What’s my point?  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows our weaknesses, even when we can’t see them ourselves.  And yet, he accepts us.

That’s the amazing thing of all of this.  He never condemned Peter.  Rather, he tried to encourage him saying, “I’ve been praying for you that your faith will not fail.  You will fall, but you will get up again.  And when you do, encourage the others.”

In the same way, Jesus knows our weakness.  Yet he doesn’t condemn us.  Rather, he, as our great high priest, prays for us daily.  He reaches out to pull us up when we fall down.  And when we get up again, he tells us to have mercy on the others we see around us who have fallen as well.

So in our weakness, in our failures, let us always remember,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

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John 13:31-35 — That the world may know

With Judas now gone, Jesus begins his final address to his disciples before the cross.  And to this bickering, prideful group, he said,

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (34-35)

This was the group that even up to a few hours before, were arguing about who was greatest among them.  Who were too proud to take the role of a servant to wash each other’s feet.

And so Jesus wanted to drive home what was really important to him:  that they love one another.

Notice he doesn’t say, “Love everyone around you,” although most certainly he wanted them to do that too.

He said, “Love each other.”

Why?

Because that’s how people will know we are truly his followers.

Yet even today, the church is so lacking in love.  We fight among ourselves, as prideful and bickering as the disciples were.  And when people walk into the church, they start to think, “Is this what followers of Jesus are like?  Is this what Jesus is like?  If so, I want nothing of it.”

I remember walking into a church once, and for some reason, the worship leader wasn’t leading worship.  Another guy, who was just a beginner, was up there struggling to lead the worship.  The worship leader, meanwhile, was just sitting in the back stone-faced.  And the tension in that room was utterly palpable.  I later found out that he had just had a falling out with one of the leaders just prior to my arrival.

The sad thing about it all?  A visitor came that day.  And I think she noticed it all.  She never did come back, so far as I know.

If we can’t learn to love the people in the church, how can we love the people outside of it?  And if we act just like the people outside of the church, how in the world are they ever going to see Jesus in us?

How about you?  You can’t change the other people inside of the church and make them more loving.  But you can shape your own attitude with God’s help.  How are you responding to those in church around you?

Are you looking down on others?  Sniping at others?  Tearing them down?  Grumbling about their shortcomings?  Or are you approaching them with the same love that Jesus approached you?

The next time you go to church, or even as you go to church today, think on these words.  Meditate on them.  And ask God to help you live them.

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (34-35)

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Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20 — Pictures of the cross

The Old Testament is rich with pictures of Christ.  And in this passage, we see the fulfillment of them in Christ.

The disciples were having the Passover meal, and after the first cup of wine, Jesus pulled out a piece of bread from a bag, a bread called matzah.  There were actually three pieces of bread in this bag, which were put into three different compartments.p1020-20matzah

Why three?  Some people said it represented Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others said it represented the priests, Levites, and the people.

During the meal, the second piece was pulled out and broken.  And for  the first time in any Passover meal, Jesus gave his disciples the true meaning of the bread.  He said,

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.  (Luke 22:19)

Jewish Christians tell us now that they believe the three pieces of bread represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But it was Jesus who came out and lived among us.  And in the matzah, we see what he was like.  Matzah was made without yeast.  In the Bible, yeast is always a picture of sin, and so the bread was a picture of Jesus’ sinless nature.  The bread was also pierced, so that the bread would stay unleavened during the cooking process.  In the same way, Jesus was pierced for our sins.  And then the bread was broken, just as Jesus’ body was on the cross.

Then Jesus took the cup, and the cup he took was what the Jews called the “Cup of Redemption.”  It was a reminder of how God had bought the Jews out of slavery to Egypt and set them free.

But Jesus, instead of pointing back to the past, pointed to the future, saying,

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

What did Jesus mean by new covenant?  Well, when God brought the Jews out of Egypt, he gave them a covenant.  An agreement.  That if they would obey his laws, he would be their God and they would be his people.  But there was a problem.  No one could keep those laws perfectly.

And so God promised in the book of Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant that would not depend on our effort.  He said,

I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all will know me from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

In this new covenant, God made several promises.  First he would change us from the inside, changing our hearts and minds so that we can obey him.  Second, we would have a new relationship with him.  We don’t need priests or pastors to stand between us and God.  We can have a close intimate relationship with God himself.  And third, all our sins would be wiped away.  He will remember our sins no more.

Now Jesus was saying, “The time for the new covenant has come.  My blood will be poured out for you so that your sins may be forgiven and you may find new life.”

So because of Jesus and what he did for us,

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  (Hebrews 10:22-23)

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Matthew 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:18-30 — Betrayal

As I’ve mentioned before, harmonizing these passages is a little tough.  One question is whether Judas participated in the first communion.  Luke seems to imply so, while the other gospel writers seem to say Judas didn’t.  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t believe Judas was there, and that Luke for whatever reason didn’t keep things in chronological order.

At any rate, in these passages, Jesus dealt with his betrayer Judas.  There are some interesting things to note here.  While it was John who sat on one side of Jesus (assuming that he is “the one Jesus loved,” there seems to be a good chance that it was Judas that was on Jesus’ other side.  It seems hard to believe that Jesus could say what he did to Judas without the others hearing unless this were so.  Unlike most pictures you see of the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples did not sit in chairs.  They sat on couches.  And when they reclined, they didn’t lean back, rather they leaned to the side, resting on their left elbow, right near the bosom of the person on their left.  Thus it seems John was on Jesus’ right, and Judas on Jesus’ left.

Like I said before, to be seated next to Jesus at the table was an honor to the people there.  And Jesus let Judas sit next to him.  In short, he honored Judas.

Yet despite all of this, Jesus never fooled himself concerning Judas’ true nature.  He told the disciples,

I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.  (John 13:21)

This of course, shocked all the disciples, and they started to ask Jesus one by one, “Is it I?”  Judas himself asked “Surely not I, Rabbi?”  (Matthew 26:25)

Perhaps Judas thought he had fooled Jesus.  But Jesus whispered to him, “Yes, it is you.”

Imagine the look of shock that must have come on Judas’ face.  He was totally exposed.  Perhaps he was afraid that Jesus would now denounce him before his disciples and have him killed.  At about that time, Peter nudged John and said, “Ask Jesus who he’s talking about.”  (John 13:24)

When John did, Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  (John 13:26)

He then (in the eyes of the other disciples watching) honored Judas once again by offering a morsel of bread to Judas.

To everyone except John, they must have been thinking, “Wow, Judas is more special than we thought!”

Judas himself must have been wondering at all this honor that Jesus was bestowing upon him.  Maybe he thought he had misunderstood Jesus.  Then Jesus told him,

What you are about to do, do quickly.  (John 13:27)

And Judas quickly realized that Jesus knew exactly what was in his heart.  And he went to betray Jesus.

What can we learn from this?  Two things.

There are people that will betray us.  That will hurt us.  And it is easy to get bitter against them.  To dishonor them as they have dishonored us.

But just as Jesus honored his betrayer, we are to show the same kind of honor and respect to them.

At the same time, however, we should know exactly what kind of person they are.  We should not deceive ourselves about what their nature.  And we should protect ourselves from them.

When you look at the life of Jesus, he always did this.  When people sought to kill him, he got out of there.  The only time he didn’t was with Judas, and that was because it was his whole purpose to die.  His time had finally come.

But God generally does not call us to submit to abuse from others if we don’t have to.  Stay away.  Keep your distance.  And if that’s not possible for some reason, keep your armor up around them.  The chances of them hurting you deeply is much less if you have not fooled yourself concerning their character.

That said, we are called to forgive them.  And even more, to treat them with respect and honor.  As Peter wrote,

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  (I Peter 3:9)

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John 13:6-11 — Getting our feet cleaned

One more point from this story before I go on.

As Jesus went to wash Peter’s feet, Peter exclaimed,

No…you shall never wash my feet.  (8)

When Jesus replied that Peter would have no part with him if he refused, Peter then went over the top as he usually did, and said,

Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!  (9)

But Jesus replied,

A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.  (10)

What was Jesus saying?  He was telling Peter, “Because you have put your faith in me, you are already clean.  Once you’ve been made clean from your past sins, the only thing that you need to deal with is the sin you accumulate as you walk through this life every day.”

The same is true with us.  When we come to Jesus and put our faith in his work on the cross, he washes completely clean from all the sins of our past.

But each day, as we go through life, we get stained by sin once again.  We do things that hurt God, hurt others, and hurt ourselves.  This does not mean that we are no longer Christians and need to be saved again.

But it does mean that every day we need to come to Jesus so that we can be cleansed once again.  Not for the sins of our past.  But for our sins of the day.

And John tells us in his first epistle that when we do, that

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:9)

I have to admit, I need to get my feet washed a lot more.  Too many times, I forget to look back on my day and confess my sins.   And that sin can put a barrier between me and God if  I let it go unconfessed.

So let us make it a daily practice to come to Jesus and get our feet washed.  To confess our sins, and to ask his forgiveness.  And if we do, he is faithful, and he will wash us clean.

 

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John 13:1-17 — The ultimate servant

The Bible is full of pictures concerning Jesus and his work on the cross, starting from God’s promise of someone to come stomp on the serpent’s head even while getting his heel struck in the process, to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, to the tabernacle sacrifices.  And this is not even including all the prophesies made by Isaiah, and the ones made by David in the Psalms.

And now, just before the cross, Jesus gave two more pictures.  One, of course, is communion which we’ll get to in a few blogs.  But the other is right here in this passage.  And because of the beauty of the picture Jesus painted, I would be remiss in not talking about it.

It says that Jesus got up from the meal, he took off his outer garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  What was this a picture of?  The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians chapter 2.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  (Philippians 2:5-7)

Jesus, though he was God, made himself nothing.  The NASB puts it this way, “He emptied himself.”  He took off the outer garments of his glory and became one of us.  But not only did he become one of us, he wrapped a towel around his waist, and in so doing, took the very nature of a servant.

Paul goes on to say,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  (8)

Just as Jesus humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples, so did he humble himself, going to the cross, that our sins might be washed away by his blood.

That’s why when Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, Jesus replied,

Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.  (John 13:8)

In other words, “Peter, you’re messing with my picture here.  Just as I am washing your feet, so will I need to wash away your sins.  And unless you allow me to wash away your sins, you will have no part with me.  You cannot have a relationship with me.”

After Jesus finished washing their feet, he then put his clothes back on and returned to his place at the head of the table.  And in the same way, Paul tells us,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

Now Jesus asks us the same thing that he asked his disciples.

Do you understand what I have done for you?  (John 13:12)

Do you?  Do you understand all that Jesus gave up and sacrificed for you so that your sins might be forgiven?  If you do, then Jesus tells you,

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (13-15, 17)

Jesus was the ultimate servant.  And he calls us to be like him.  Are you?

 

 

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Luke 22:24-30; John 13:1-17 — True leadership

Trying to harmonize the gospel accounts at this point is a little sticky.  I get the impression that things were not always told in chronological order and that there were little asides thrown in.  This passage in Luke, in my opinion, is one of them.

It says that at the meal that the disciples started arguing with each other about who among them was the greatest.  I don’t know how this argument started, but at a guess, it started when they were deciding the seating arrangements after arriving at the upper room to celebrate the Passover.  In their culture, the person sitting to the right of Jesus would be considered the most important, and the person sitting to his left would be second most.  And the further you sat away from Jesus, the less important you were considered.

And so they were probably arguing about who should sit next to Jesus.  Peter may have been saying, “Hey I’m the leader of all you guys.  I should sit there.”  John may have replied, “Yeah, but Jesus loves me more.”  Even Judas might have gotten into the act.  “Everyone knows I’m the most important.  I handle all the money.”

How long Jesus watched this, I don’t know, but perhaps after everyone finally settled down into their places, with some still grumbling about where they were sitting, Jesus did something that shocked them all.

It was customary in situations like this meal, that someone would wash the feet of the others.  With everyone wearing sandals on dirt roads, feet could get pretty filthy.  Usually a servant would do the washing, but in circumstances where a servant wasn’t present, typically it was the lowest person on the totem pole who would do this.  John, being the youngest, might have been expected to do so.  But he apparently somehow managed to weasel his way right next to Jesus (John 13:23) and was not about to give up his place to do a “servant’s job.”  And after this big blowup, none of the others were inclined to do so either.

Jesus could have rebuked them.  But instead, Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love.”  (John 13:1)

He got up, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, and started washing their feet and drying them.

How embarrassed the disciples must have been that Jesus was doing the job that one of them should have been doing.

After Jesus had finished, he sat down and asked them,

Do you understand what I have done for you…You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   (John 13:12-14)

He continued,

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  (Luke 22:25-27)

He then concluded,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (John 13:15-17)

What was Jesus telling them?  These were the men that Jesus had chosen to have great responsibility.  The day will come when they will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel.  They will have the privilege of sitting at Jesus’ table and eating and drinking with him.  (Luke 22:28-29)

But as he had pointed out earlier, leadership is not about lording it over people.  It’s about servanthood.  Jesus served them by washing their feet.  Jesus served them and all of us by dying for our sins.

So now he tells us that as leaders we are to do the same.  And Jesus tells us that the true blessing of leadership comes not from all the “privileges” we receive as leaders.  It comes not from exercising our authority over others and telling them what to do.  But rather it comes from serving as Jesus did.  That’s what leadership is all about.

How do you see leadership?  As being served?  Or as serving others?

 

 

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Matthew 26:1-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13 — Room for the master

Jesus’ final public appearances (of his own volition, anyway) are now over.  And he now knows that the time of his arrest and crucifixion is close at hand.  But before that happens, Jesus prepares to have one last meal with his disciples.

It’s kind of an unusual account that’s given concerning the preparations for the Passover meal.  Did Jesus supernaturally know that a man would be carrying a jar of water around (something only women generally did), or had he worked out an arrangement and a special signal ahead of time with the parents of John Mark (the author of the book of Mark)?

Whatever the case, when the disciples entered the house, they found the upper room furnished and ready for them.

It’s very interesting to me that at the time of Jesus’ birth, there was no room for him.  But now, just before his death, there was a room already prepared and ready for him.

How about your heart?  Is it always prepared and ready for whatever Jesus wants to do in it?

Or is it so cluttered with sin or your own desires that it’s impossible for him to make use of it?

Lord, may there always be room in my heart for you.  More, may my heart be cleared out from any clutter that would prevent you from doing what you want to accomplish in me and through me.  May my life always be used for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-11 — True love, false love

Here we see a stark contrast in love.  One person’s love came from the heart.  The other’s came only for what profited him.

Jesus was in Bethany having dinner at the house of a man named Simon.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all there, as were Jesus’ disciples.  And at the meal, Mary took some expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet and on his head.

Judas’ reaction was immediate.

Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.  (John 12:5)

And apparently, the other disciples chimed in with Judas.

John tells us, however, that Judas’ love and concern for the poor was not genuine.  Instead,

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  (John 12:6)

But of Mary, Jesus said,

Leave her alone…Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:6-9)

Judas’ reaction?  He went to the chief priests and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

We will always wonder why Judas decided to do this, but I don’t think it was simply because Jesus rebuked him in front of the disciples.  I think it went much deeper than that.  His love for Jesus (and for others) apparently didn’t go much further than what it benefited him.  As treasurer among the disciples, he was happy to give to the poor as long as he could help himself to some of the money himself.  And as a disciple, he was happy to follow Jesus as long as it seemed Jesus would become king.

But time and again, Jesus talked not about ruling as Messiah, but of his death.  Perhaps frustrated and fed up with this, Judas thought, “Fine, if you want to die, die.”  And he went to betray him.

Mary’s love, on the other hand,  came from her heart.  And unlike Judas, who followed Jesus for what he could get, she loved Jesus enough to give him what was precious to her.  I love what John said about what happened when she opened the bottle of perfume.  He said,

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  (John 12:3)

And that’s what our love for Jesus and others should be like.  It should permeate the world around us.  It should be so evident, that no one can miss it.  Some people, like Judas, will criticize us for it.  But to Jesus, it’s a sweet smelling aroma.

How about you?  Is your love selfish, only interested in what you can gain?  Or is it a sweet smelling aroma to Jesus and the world around you?

 

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Matthew 25:31-46 — How we treat others

Jesus finishes his dialogue on the end times with this last story.  And it talks about the final judgment following the tribulation.  At that time, God will judge the nations, separating the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Considering the context, it seems God will specifically judge the nations for how they treat his people Israel during the tribulation.  Some, who out of their love for God, work to help the Jews in their time of need will be blessed and welcomed into the kingdom.  But those who participate in their persecution, or who simply turn a blind eye to them will be condemned.

But there’s a broader application that we can get from this.  For as much as people will be judged for how they treat the Jews during that time, we will be judged for how we treat others here and now.

Jesus said,

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  (34-36)

And when these people asked when they did such a thing for him, the King will reply,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.  (40)

But to those who did not help others in their time of need, he will say,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  (45)

When we see others in need, how do we react?  Do we reach out to them in the love of God?  If we do, we do so to Christ.

But Jesus says that if we instead turn a blind eye to them, we are turning a blind eye to Christ and we will be held accountable for it.

John wrote,

This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (I John 3:16-18)

Jesus has given us so much.  He laid down his own life to give us life.  How then can we not do the same for others?

Let us turn a blind eye to Jesus no longer, but reach out and touch the lives of those he loved enough to die for.

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Matthew 25:14-30 — Being faithful

The second parable in this chapter goes to the point that Jesus brought up earlier.  That we need to be faithful, doing the things that God has called us to do until he returns.

In this story, Jesus talks about a man who gave money to three different servants to invest.  To one, he gave five talents (a talent was a measure of weight for precious metals, usually 58-80 pounds) of silver, to another 2 talents, and to the last servant he gave one.  And it says that he gave to them, each according to their ability.

In the same way, God has given us different talents (not money, but abilities) and resources.  He does not give them equally to us, but rather according to what we can handle.

And like the story, God requires us to use and invest what he has given us.  If we are faithful, doing what he’s asked us to do until he returns, then like the master in the story, he will tell us,

Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!  (21)

In the story, the master said this to two of his servants.  But there was a third servant, who instead of investing what his master had entrusted to him, buried it in the ground.  And when his master returned, he had nothing to show for what he had been entrusted.

Why?  Probably more than anything because he did not honor his master.  He saw his master as unfair, as a man who merely leached off the work of others.  And he feared that his master would be unfair in judging him were he to try to invest, but instead lose everything.

Many people look at God the same way.  They don’t truly honor him.  They see him as unfair.  They see him as too harsh.  They throw all kinds of criticisms his way.  And they use these criticisms as an excuse to live for themselves, instead of investing what God gave them and living for him.

This will especially happen in the last days when everything is falling apart.  Earthquakes, famines, wars, and plagues.  And people, even more than they do now, will throw criticisms God’s way, rather than turning from their sin and serving him.

But when Jesus comes back, they’ll find out that all their criticisms and excuses are empty.  They’ll realize that God is completely fair and just, and that it was they who were wrong.  It was they who were selfish, wicked, and lazy.  And they will be judged for that.

Part of faith is believing that God is good.  That though there is evil in this world, it is not God who is evil.  That though there is injustice in the world, it is not God who is unjust.  Rather it is we who have made a mess of things.  But as long as we fail to honor God and criticize him for the mess we made, we will make all kinds of excuses for why we need not be faithful with all he has given us.

How about you?  How do you see God?  Do you honor him enough to honor him with your life?  Do you honor him enough to be faithful and use what he’s given you to make a difference in this world as he has called you to?

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Matthew 25:1-13 — Being ready

In this chapter, we see two parables on what Jesus was just talking about, watching for his return and also doing the things he’s asked us to do until he comes.

In this first parable, I think it’s easy to try to over-interpret each facet of the parable, and I think we can get into trouble trying to do so.

The main point, again, is that we are to watch and be ready for when Jesus comes back, because he will come back when we don’t expect it.

That’s what happened with these bridesmaids.  The bridegroom had gone to the bride’s house and was due to return to his home for the wedding banquet, and so everyone was waiting for his return.  But for some reason, it took more time than they expected, and so when the bridegroom finally came, they were fast asleep.  Awakened from their slumber, the bridesmaids quickly realized that their lamps were going out, and needed more oil.  Five of the them were ready for such a situation, and quickly refilled their lamps.  The other five, however, were not ready and as a result, had to go out and buy more oil and by the time they came back, the doors were shut and they could not enter.

The point?  Some thought they were ready and were not, while others were truly ready for the bridesgroom’s return.  Those who were ready were able to join the banquet, while the rest were shut out.

Many Jews will be like this when Jesus finally returns.  They have been yearning for the Messiah for so long.  And some will be ready; they will have already acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, been filled with his Spirit, and be ready to enter the kingdom when Jesus comes.  But others, though they claim to be waiting for the Messiah, are not ready.  And they will find that out when Jesus returns.  That the Messiah they’d been waiting for had been Jesus all along.  But when they find out, it will be too late, and they will be locked out of his kingdom.

But the same can be said of the rest of us.  Many people claim to be Christians, but have never truly received him as Lord and Savior.  Rather, they merely have the “form of godliness but deny its power.” (II Timothy 3:5)  They claim to follow Christ, but in their hearts, merely live for themselves.  And when Jesus returns, they’ll realize that they are not ready for his return, and will find themselves locked out of his kingdom.

How about you?  Are you ready for when Jesus returns?  There is only one way.  The apostle Paul wrote,

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

Are you ready for our Lord’s return?

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Matthew 24:36-51; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:34-36 — Being ready whenever

There are a lot of people concerned about when Jesus will return.  And over the years, many people have predicted when he will come back.  I remember back in my high school days, a book came out called, “88 reasons why the rapture will happen in 1988.”

Needless to say, it never happened.  Not that it stopped the author from making more futile predictions.

For some reason, such people seem to ignore the words of Jesus who said,

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  (Mark 13:32)

God has his plans, and he hasn’t chosen to reveal to us when Jesus will return.  What he has given us is signs to look for, which we’ve already talked about.  And he’s given us an admonition that too few Christians follow today.  Watch, and be ready.

Jesus  said,

Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back — whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’  (Mark 13:33-37)

I know I mentioned this yesterday, but considering that Jesus repeats the same admonition 4 times in the same passage, I figure it can’t hurt to repeat it again.

A lot of Christians argue about when Jesus will rapture the church.  Will it be before the great tribulation?  Will it be in the middle?  Will it be after?  I’m not saying these things aren’t important.  What I am saying is that it’s not so important when Jesus is coming, but to be ready whenever he comes.  And if you are ready whenever he comes, you’ll never be caught by surprise.

That is the whole point of what Jesus is saying here.  So before you start arguing about pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, or premillenial, postmillenial, or amillenial, ask yourself one question.  If Jesus were to come today, am I ready?  Am I doing the things that he has asked me to do?  If he were come today, what would he say to me?

And if you have that question settled, everything else will work itself out.

So…are you ready?

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Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-38 — Until our Lord returns

The Lord talks a lot about the events that will occur before he returns.  And the thing that you get from all he says is that things will get worse before he returns.  A lot worse.  There will be wars, earthquakes, and famines.  And because of all these troubles, false prophets will arise, trying to bring hope, but instead deceiving many.  And if that weren’t bad enough, Antichrist will appear.

The result?  Persecution.   There will be a persecution of the Jews in particular, but also of any who follow Christ, leading to a great falling away from the faith.  You won’t see what you see today with many people claiming to be Christians, all the while living as they please.

And because of all the wickedness surrounding them, the love of most will grow cold.  Trust, I believe will be in short supply as well, as people will be turning on each other, especially on those who are following God.  And then celestial phenomena will start to occur that will further shake people’s hearts.  But just when things reach their worst, Jesus will appear and bring an end to these things, and his kingdom will finally come.

Having said all this, Jesus gives us warning and encouragement.

The first warning he gives is to be careful of false Christs.  When Christ comes, he’ll come from the sky and the whole world will see his coming.  So don’t waste your time running after rumors.  And though people may come with great signs and wonders, if they claim to be Christ, don’t believe them.  For that is exactly how the Antichrist will come, performing signs and wonders, deceiving many.  (2nd Thessalonians 2:3-9)

He then warns us and encourages not to lose hope through this time of trouble, but to be ever watchful doing what he has called us to do.  He says first,

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  (Luke 21:28)

In other words, don’t fret when these things happen.  Don’t get discouraged.  Don’t lose hope.  Because all these things mean that Jesus is truly coming soon.

But then he says,

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  (Luke 21:34)

It will be so easy in those days to fall into discouragement and depression from all the evil you see around you.  And so Jesus says to be careful not to let that happen to you.

He also warns us not to become jaded and cynical, and to start thinking that Jesus will never return because of all the evil we see.  Instead, we are to continue waiting in hope.  Waiting in terms of watching for his return.  But also waiting in terms of serving him, and doing the things he has asked of you.  And if we do, we’ll be rewarded.  If we don’t, we will be punished.  (Matthew 24:46-51)

I know that there are a lot of people thinking, “Well, this isn’t really for me.  I’ll be raptured by then.”

I certainly hope you’re right.  But if the day comes that you see the “abomination that makes desolate” standing in the temple (a mirroring of what Antiochus did when he sacrificed a pig on the altar of God and set up an idol in the temple), then know that these words are not only for the Jews.  They are not only for those who become Christians at that time.  They are for you.

And no matter what happens, no matter what trials we may go through, let us keep watching for our Lord, serving him faithfully until he returns.

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Matthew 24:1-35; Mark 13:1-31; Luke 21:5-33 — A sign of things to come

I mentioned in my last blog that this is one of the more difficult passages in scripture, and part of the difficulty comes in the harmonizing of it.  Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, and troubled by this revelation, the disciples asked when this would happen and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age.

I’m trying to think of this from their perspective.  At this point, it still had not sunk in that Jesus had to die and be raised to life.  It had never even crossed their minds that Jesus would ascend to heaven and depart from them.  So when they asked about his coming, they weren’t asking when he would come back from heaven.  They were probably asking when he would set up his kingdom.

They had heard all the prophesies of the “Day of the Lord” from the Old Testament.  A day of judgment for the nations, and a time when Israel would be restored.  But now Jesus was saying that this temple would be destroyed.  The Day of the Lord could not certainly happen before that.  And yet, this very week, they had heard the people in Jerusalem shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”

As a result, they were understandably confused.  What’s difficult about interpreting these passages is trying to harmonize them.  In particular, Luke, at a certain point, uses certain language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Matthew and Mark seem to use that very same language to describe something that is yet to come even in our day.

My guess is that as time went on, after Jesus had left and the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the disciples started to understand that Jesus’ words had relevance not only for what was to happen in the near future at the destruction of the temple, but what was to happen when Jesus returns again.

At any rate, in Luke’s account, Jesus talks about how in the future, there would be false Christs, wars, and disasters.  But he warned the disciples that before these things happened, they would be persecuted and even be put to death.  All this happened in the book of Acts.  We also see when they were put on trial, the Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak in such a way that their opponents couldn’t answer them, just as Jesus promised.

He then warned that when they saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, to get out of there because Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive.  And he talked about how terrible it would be for those women who would be pregnant or nursing at that time.  All this happened in AD 70, and most if not all the Christians at that time took Jesus’ warning and were not there when Jerusalem was destroyed, while many other Jews stayed in Jerusalem thinking it was their only hope for safety.

But Matthew and Mark seem to use the same, or at least similar language for what will happen in the future.  That there will be an abomination that causes desolation standing in the temple.  The book of Daniel refers to this event, and it was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an idol of Zeus in the temple, and then sacrificed a pig on the altar of God.  But there was no such event in Jerusalem when it fell in AD 70.  So it must be referring to something that happens in the future.

Here also, Jesus is seen as saying to flee Jerusalem and how horrible it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  But he goes on to say,

Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again.  (Mark 13:19)

It’s hard to say Jesus was talking about Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, when the future tribulation will be much worse.

So what am I saying?  All the things that happened in Jerusalem in AD 70 were a sign for what will happen in the future.  And indeed for what’s happening even now.  For even now, we see wars and rumors of wars.  We see famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.  We see false Christs popping up all over the place.  We see persecution.

And all this will not end until Jesus comes again.  And when he comes, all will know it because he will appear in the sky for all to see, and at that time he will call his elect to him.

I know that many people think that Jesus will rapture all Christians before Antichrist even comes.  I certainly hope so.  I’m willing to be convinced.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Whatever you believe, here’s the point I want you to remember:  Jesus’ words concerning Jerusalem came true, exactly as he had said.  We see his words coming true even today.  And so when he says he will come again, we can know it’s true.  Because he said so.  Jesus said,

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  (Luke 21:33)

So no matter what trouble we may suffer through, let us wait in hope, and be ready whenever he does come.

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Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6 — When our temple becomes corrupt

We now come to one of the more difficult passages in scripture.  I want to say straight off that if you’re hoping to get all the answers for what all this means, I don’t have them.  There are other people much more qualified to espouse their views on the matter of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, are correct and all that goes with it.

More than anything, as I have through my blogs, I want to stay with what’s clear and what things mean practically for us (although I’m sure all the pundits for the different positions will argue that the scriptures are clear about their positions).

Today, though, I want to look at what started this whole discourse.  After this final day of arguing with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus’ disciples said concerning the temple,

Look, Teacher!  What massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!  (Mark 13:1)

And indeed from the outside, the temple was beautiful indeed.  But Jesus quickly doused their enthusiasm by saying,

Do you see all these great buildings?  Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.  (Mark 13:2)

That was exactly what happened.  When the temple was attacked in A.D. 70, a fire started, and the gold from the roof melted into the cracks of the walls of the temple.  As a result, the commander of the attack ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone so as to retrieve all of the gold.

Why did this happen?  We saw the answer earlier.  While the temple looked beautiful on the outside, and though there were certainly some good things that happened on the inside, nevertheless, the corruption was so great that it could not stand.  There was greed (as seen in the cleansing of the temple), and even worse, a rejection of the very God they claimed to serve.  They couldn’t even recognize him when he stood right there among them.  Rather, they were determined to kill him.

All of us as Christians are God’s temples.   But how often have we seen high-profile Christians, particularly in ministry, fall because of corruption.  And not just fall, but fall utterly, with “not one stone left on another.”

But before we start judging others, we need to look at our own temples.  What is there?  Is there any hint of corruption?  Greed?  Hypocrisy?  Jealousy?  Pride?  These things in particular were in the temple of Jerusalem.  Are they in your temple?

What about other things that can corrupt a temple?  Lust?  Bitterness?  Unforgiveness?

And are there things that should be in your temple, but aren’t?  Things like love and mercy?

Our temples might look good to those who see us from the outside.  We might seem to be shining examples of what a Christian should be.  But if our temples are corrupt, eventually, they will utterly collapse and be exposed for what they really are.

What’s in your temple?

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Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4 — What God is looking for

After the blistering criticism Jesus gave the Pharisees, he settled back, and quietly started to watch the people walking past the place where offerings were put.

A number of rich people walked past, and with great ceremony dumped in large amounts of money.  And perhaps as they did, Jesus’ face twisted in consternation.  Person after person walked by, giving their offerings, but somehow, I imagine Jesus’ face only grew darker.

And then a poor widow walked by.  Unlike many of those who had dropped in their offerings, this woman only dropped in two coins.  There was no pride in it.  No seeking of attention.  I imagine there was only a heart filled with love and gratefulness toward God.

At this, Jesus’ face lit up.  And he quickly pointed her out to the disciples, telling them,

I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  (43)

The disciples must have thought Jesus was out of his mind.  And they probably said, “Jesus, what are you talking about?  You can barely buy anything with what that woman gave!”

But Jesus replied,

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.  (44)

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus pointed this woman out after all he had said about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  He had just scathed them for all their hypocrisy, because all of their righteousness was merely for show.

And so when he finally found the kind of person that God was really looking for, he said to his disciples, “This is what I’m talking about.  This is the kind of person God is looking for.”

What kind of person was that?  A person whose heart truly belonged to God.

A heart that didn’t worry about what others thought about her.  A heart that didn’t cling to what was hers.  But a heart that said, “Here I am.  Here’s what I have.  I give it to you.”

How about you?  Is that the kind of heart you have?  Can Jesus point to you and say, “Here is a person whose heart is mine?”

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Matthew 23:29-38 — When we reject those sent to us

Nobody likes to be rebuked.  To be told you’re wrong.  But how do you respond when you are?

The Pharisees followed the long line of their ancestors throughout Israel’s history.  Instead of listening and repenting when rebuked, they turned on those sent to them.  They turned on Jesus, murdering him, and they turned on his disciples, all the while claiming that they would never have murdered the prophets that their ancestors murdered long before.

And so Jesus said,

You snakes!  You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.  Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.  (33-36)

Jesus then wept, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’  (37-39)

And that’s what happened.  Within a generation of the people that murdered Christ, Israel fell, their beloved temple demolished until this very day.

What happens we reject those God sends to us to rebuke us?  Ultimately, our lives will fall apart.  And we will be judged.

God takes no pleasure in this.  He weeps over it.  But there can be no life, there can be peace until we acknowledge him as Lord over all in our lives.

Solomon wrote,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  Proverbs 27:6 (NASB)

The truth can hurt.  It can be painful to hear.  But if we take them to heart, they can bring healing.

What do you do when you are rebuked?

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Matthew 23:25-28 — Cleaning out the inside

Jesus continues his scathing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (25-28)

Scathing indeed.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were held up as so righteous by the people.  But Jesus exposes every filthy thing in their hearts, their greed, their self-indulgence, and their utter hypocrisy.  He called them whitewashed tombs which look so beautiful on the outside, but are filled with rotting bones on the inside.

How about you?  What would Jesus say about you if he saw you?  Would he call you a whitewashed tomb?  A cup that is clean on the outside and filthy on the inside?

It is so easy to put up a front.  In fact the word “hypocrite” originally came from the word for “actor.”  But God looks beyond your exterior to your heart.  And when he does, what does he see?

For that matter, what do you see?  Can you even see the areas in your heart that are ugly in the sight of God?  Or are you so blind that while you can see everyone else’s sin, you can’t even see your own?

I suppose the real test is this:  Do you feel compassion for those “sinners” around you because you know just how much mercy you yourself have received from God, and continue to receive day by day?  Or do you just feel utter contempt for them, thinking, “I would never do something like that!”

What is in your heart?  What needs to be cleaned out from your cup?

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Matthew 23:23-24 — Remembering what’s important

It’s really sad the reputation that a lot of Christians have in the world, particularly in the States.

Some of it is the natural response of the world to people who love the Lord.  Jesus did say that there would be people who hate us because of him.

But I wonder sometimes how often Christians get a bad reputation, not because they are following Jesus, but because they’ve forgotten what’s important.

Many of these Christians go to church every Sunday, perhaps go to a Bible study during the week as well, they read their Bibles and pray daily, and they are very loud in their championing of Christian values.  There was a group very similar to that in Jesus’ time:  The Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Yet Jesus said of them,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  (23-24)

Jesus adds another thing they neglected in Luke 11:42, “the love of God.”

Jesus said in another passage that the world would know that we are his disciples by the love that we have for one another.  (John 13:35)

I suppose the question I have, not just for you but for me, is this:  “Is my life marked by the love and mercy of God?  When people look at me, do they see these things flowing from me?  Do they know that I truly do care for them?  Do they see the compassion I have for them?  Or do they merely see a person who constantly condemns them and their lifestyle?

“When people see me at work, do they see a person of integrity, a person who does what is right even when it hurts me?  Do they see a person who is faithful at what he does, or someone who slacks off whenever he can?”

If people don’t see these things in our lives, the condemnation and criticism we receive from the world will be well deserved.  And sadly, they may never come to Christ because of it.  And while God will hold them accountable for the decisions they made, we also will be held accountable for giving them the opportunity to blaspheme God and to hold him in contempt.  (2 Samuel 12:14)

How about you?  What’s coming out of your life?  Love?  Mercy?  Justice?  Faithfulness?  These are what is important to God.

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Matthew 23:16-22 — Loopholes

I’ve mentioned before the different problems of legalism.  Here we see another problem.  People who are legalistic tend to try to find loopholes.  They may keep the letter of the law (as they see it), but try to find ways to avoid keeping its spirit.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were masters of this, and we see an example here that Jesus brings up.  The law said that you were to keep oaths that you made to God.  But then these men made all kinds of rules of what that actually meant.  If you said, “I swear by the temple,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by the gold of the temple,” you were required to keep it.  If you said, “I swear by God’s altar,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by this gift on the altar,” you were.

And Jesus points out the utter fallacy of this way of thinking.  It is the temple that makes the gold holy, not the reverse.  It is not the gift that makes the altar holy; rather, it’s the altar that makes the gift holy.  Lest the Pharisees try to squirm out from under that concept, he goes on to say that if you swear by the temple, you’re swearing by God who dwells there.  And if you swear by heaven, you swear by God’s throne and by God himself.

What was Jesus’ point?

Just do what’s right.  When God said, “Keep your oaths that you have made to me,” the point wasn’t that it it’s okay to break your oath if it isn’t made in God’s name.  While that is certainly important, the real point was that your word is important.  If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law focused on “oaths to God” rather than “keeping your oath.”  In so doing, they “strained the gnat,” in making rules on what “oaths to God” meant, and “swallowed the camel” by consistently breaking their other oaths.  (Matthew 23:24).

How about you?  Do you have a heart that truly wants to please God and do what’s right?  Or do you have a heart that only does so grudgingly, and is always looking for loopholes?

You cannot please God by claiming to find loopholes, and slipping through them in your daily life.  Do what’s right.  Do what you know in your heart God has told you to do.

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Matthew 23:13-15 — When those who teach are bad

For some reason, one of the English teachers in the Japanese high school I teach at was showing Karate Kid 2 to his students yesterday.  I can’t say much for the film, but the one character I really like is Mr. Miyagi, the mentor to Daniel who was his karate student.

What does Karate Kid 2 have to do with this blog.  Absolutely nothing.  But the original Karate Kid does.  In the original (and much better film), Daniel asked Mr. Miyagi why the karate students who bullied him acted the way they did.  Mr. Miyagi answered, “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.”

Now I don’t know that I completely agree with this statement, but there is some truth to it.  When a teacher is bad, then those who follow him or her will almost inevitably go down the same path.

That’s what you see in this passage.  Jesus continues his scathing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.  (13-15)

These teachers of the law and Pharisees had a lot of problems.  They were hypocritical, legalistic, and completely blind to what was truly important to God.  The result? All their students were the same way, and even worse.  You see this in Saul of Tarsus before his conversion.

What can we learn from this?

First, as a teacher, what are you like?  The apostle James wrote,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

While James is primarily talking about what we teach, he is also talking about our lives.  As teachers, we cannot be like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3).

So if you’re a teacher, are you living what you say?  Or are you hypocritical?   And as you teach and live your life, do you always keep in mind what is most important to God?  Justice.  Mercy.  And faithfulness.

For what we need to remember is that God will not only hold you responsible for what you teach and how you live, but to the degree that you are faithful to the position he put you in, he’ll hold you responsible for the kinds of students you produce as well.

The other question you need to ask is who is your teacher?  How is he living his life?  What kinds of things is he teaching?  Because if you are not wise in choosing your teacher, you’ll be going down the same road as they are, and that can be disastrous.

Who are you listening to at church?  Who are you listening to on podcasts?  Whose books are you reading?

Teachers are responsible for what they teach, but you are responsible for what you let in.  So as I’ve said before, I’ll say again,

Test everything.  Hold on to the good. (I Thessalonians 5:21)

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Matthew 23:1-12; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47 — A wrong view of leadership

What is leadership?  What is leadership not?

In a scathing criticism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus gives us insight into what true leadership is about.

He first warned the disciples and the crowds,

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  (Matthew 23:1-2)

Here, Jesus tells the people that though they were to respect the offices of authority, nevertheless they were not to do what the teachers of the law and Pharisees did because they didn’t practice what they preached.

Oh, they kept all the minor details of the laws, as well as the traditions of the elders, but when it came down to what was most important, justice, mercy, and faithfulness, they failed miserably.  And it showed in how they treated the people, and how they related to God.

It also showed in how they viewed leadership.  They saw it merely as telling the people what to do, not serving them.  Jesus said of them,

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  (Matthew 23:4)

These men poured out law upon law, rule upon rule on the people.  But when people started to crumble under the burden of guilt for not being able to keep all these things, they didn’t encourage them; they didn’t pray for them; they didn’t think how to help them.  Rather, they condemned them.

They also saw it as a point of pride to be in that position.  Their phylacteries (boxes that held writings of scripture in them) were wide and their tassels which also had scriptures written on them were long so that all the world would be impressed by their spirituality.

They then abused their position for financial gain.  Jesus said, “They devour widows’ houses,” probably meaning that they used the respect they gained from their position to get money from the widows.

They also gloried in being called “teacher” or “father” by those around them because it showed their high position among the people.  But Jesus said,

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.  (Matthew 23:8-10)

And that’s what a leader is to remember.  Titles are nice to have, but in reality, all of us are equal, and God is the only one who is truly above all.

Yet even God came down to earth as a servant.  He healed the sick, he brought good news to the poor and downtrodden, and then he died on a cross to take the punishment for all of our sins.  And that is the attitude that leaders are to take.

Jesus said,

The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  (Matthew 23:11-12)

True leaders are servants.  They don’t look for what they can gain in terms of respect, pride, or money.  Rather, they are willing to sacrifice all for the sake of the people around them.

What kind of leader are you?

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Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44 — Son of David, Son of God

Perhaps tiring of the hypocrisy of those questioning him, Jesus posed his own question to them that ultimately shut them up.  He said,

What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?  (Matthew 22:42a)

This was an easy question for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they immediately answered,

The son of David.  (Matthew 22:42b)

Then Jesus challenged their thinking of who the Christ, the Messiah really was.  He asked,

How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'”  If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son? (Matthew 22:43-45)

The answer is simple.  Jesus is not simply the Son of Man (namely David), he is also the Son of God.  He is, as Jesus would later say of himself, “the root and offspring of David.”  (Revelation 22:16)

But this was something the Pharisees and teachers of the law could not see.  Or perhaps did not want to see.

There are many people like that today.  They are willing to see Jesus as the son of man.  A good person.  A great teacher even.  But they are unwilling to acknowledge him as Son of God.

But Jesus is not simply a son of man.  He is the Son of God.  And as such, he is worthy of our honor, our trust, and obedience.  More, he is the only way to the Father.

How about you?  How do you see Jesus?

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Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34 — What we need to understand to enter the kingdom

Of all the people that had come to question Jesus, there was one that seemed to be impressed with what Jesus had to say.  And so he asked Jesus,

Of all the commandments, which is the most important?  (Mark 12:28)

Jesus answered,

The most important one…is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these…All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  (Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 22:40)

In other words, if you keep these two laws, to love God with everything you have and you love your neighbor as yourself, you will have kept all of the laws.  All of the laws are summed up in those two commands.

The man questioning Jesus answered,

Well said, teacher…You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  (Mark 12:32-33)

This man was unique among the other Pharisees and teachers of the law in that he understood that it was not enough to be ritually clean.  He understood that to please God meant going beyond the letter of the law to the spirit beneath it, to love God and to love others.  And if you don’t do these two things, all the “righteous” things you do are worthless.

When Jesus saw the man understood this, he said,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.  (Mark 12:34)

Notice he didn’t say, “Good job.  You are now part of the kingdom!”

Rather, he said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What was this man lacking?  He was lacking one further insight.  That none of us keep these two commandments perfectly.  And because of that, we need a Savior.  Once this man realized that and put his faith in Jesus, then Jesus could say, “Welcome to the kingdom.”

And that’s what all of us need to realize.  None of us are good enough to earn our way into heaven.  Because no matter how hard we may try, all of us fail in loving God or loving others in one way or another.

That’s why Jesus came.  He died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin.  He then rose again three days later, and if we will put our faith in him, then and only then will we be saved.

Have you done that?  If not, will you do it today?

Lord Jesus, I realize that I have sinned.  I have not loved you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself.  Instead, I have hurt you and others through my actions.  Forgive me.  Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin and taking my punishment.  Now come, and be Lord of my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40 — When we fail to understand the scriptures and the power of God

There’s a children’s song that humorously describes the Sadducees.  It says, “I don’t wanna be a Sadducee, ’cause a Sadducee is ‘sad, you see?'”

Yes, I know, a very bad joke.  :)

Nevertheless, they were a sad bunch of people because of one main thing.  They had no hope for a resurrection.  They thought this life was all we have.  And because of that, it shaped the way they saw God, the way they saw life, and the way they saw scripture.

They didn’t understand that God’s power, nor his desire for a lasting relationship with us.  They didn’t understand that life goes beyond the grave, and so they were more interested in the power and influence they had on earth, as well as their wealth.  As a result of these things, it also affected the way they saw scripture.  They only accepted the first five books of the Bible as scripture, and rejected everything else as divinely inspired.

They therefore came up to Jesus with a question that had apparently stumped the Pharisees who did believe in the resurrection of the dead.  It was essentially an asinine question, although one technically possible.  In Jewish culture, if a person’s brother died without having a son, they would have to marry that brother’s wife and have children through her so that their brother’s family line could continue.

So the Sadduccees asked Jesus if a man had 7 brothers, and this happened 6 times because the woman failed to have a son, whose wife would she be in the resurrection?  Like I said, an asinine question, on the level of asking, “Can God make a rock so big that he can’t move it?”

Jesus answered the Sadducees,

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.   At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  (Matthew 22:29-30)

Then he stuck the needle in using a passage from the book of Exodus that they had never really thought through (and most people don’t to this day).  He said,

But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living.  (Matthew 22:31-32)

In other words, God could have said, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  But he purposely said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Even now, I am their God.”

Meaning, of course, that they were still alive, not dead, utterly destroying the Sadducees argument, using the only possible passage they would accept as scripture.

What does this mean for us?  Let us not put God in a box that he has put himself in.  In the Sadducees case, they had boxed him in as a God that could not raise the dead because they did not understand his power.  And the reason they didn’t understand his power was because they did not understand scripture.

Let us not be like the Sadducees.  Let us thoroughly study God’s word, and seek to understand it.  And where it contradicts our ideas of God, let us not cast it aside as the Sadducees did.  Rather, let it transform the way we think about God and cause us to draw closer to him.

 

 

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Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26 — Giving to God what is his

I hate paying taxes.  When March rolls around (tax time in Japan), it’s not so bad in that I actually get money back (after the pain of filling out all the tax forms).  But when June rolls around, that’s when it really hurts because that’s when I have to pay property taxes as well as city and prefectural taxes.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but the Jews in Jesus’ day especially loathed it because they were paying it to their conquerors.

And so the Pharisees and Herodians thought they had come up with the perfect question to trap Jesus, saying,

Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?  (Luke 20:21-22)

If one one hand, Jesus said they shouldn’t pay taxes, the Herodians would have immediately reported Jesus to the Roman government accusing him of being an insurgent.

If on the other hand, Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would instantly lose popularity with the people.

Jesus, however, knew what they were trying to do.  And once again, he answered a question with a question.  After having them pull out a coin that they would use to pay their taxes, he asked,

Whose portrait and inscription are on it?  (24)

When they answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied,

Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.  (25)

What was Jesus saying?  First, “You are using Casear’s money, aren’t you?  If you are using Caesar’s money, then isn’t it really his?  Give to him what belongs to him.”

But he didn’t stop there.  He said, “But make sure you give to God what belongs to him.”

In one short sentence, he both tactfully attacked what Rome claimed, and taught the people a very important lesson.

The Romans claimed that Caesar was God, and such was written on the inscription of the coin the people showed Jesus.  But Jesus clearly draws a distinction between Caesar and God.  “Give to Caesar, the man, what is his.  But make sure you give the only true God what belongs to him.”

It is the second point Jesus was making, however, that I want to focus on.  Just as the Roman coins had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, so we too have God’s image and inscription upon us.

The Bible says we were made in the image of God.  And in II Corinthians 3:3, Paul tells us,

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

God has written his name upon our hearts, showing that we belong to him.  And though his image upon us has been marred by our sin, nevertheless, through Christ,

We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:18)

What am I saying?  That we belong to him.  And because we belong to him, we need to give to him what rightfully belongs to him.  Not just our money.  But our lives.

Are you giving to God what is rightfully his?

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Matthew 22:1-14 — Entering God’s kingdom on his terms

In this story, we see continued warnings from Jesus about rejecting him and the consequences of doing so.

He told the story of a king who invited people to his wedding banquet.  But when all was ready, the would-be guests refused to come.  Another translation puts it, “They were unwilling to come.”

And though time and again, the king sent messengers to plead with them to come, they “made light of it and went their ways.” (KJV)

More, they even turned violent, beating and killing those sent to them.

This was a picture of Israel as we’ve seen in the other parables, but it’s also a picture of how many respond to the gospel today.  God pleads with us to come into his kingdom.  He himself makes all the preparations; all we have to do is come.  But many people make light of his invitation and go their own way.  And some even abuse and persecute those who offer the invitation.

The result?  Judgment and death.

The king then sent invitations to all, both good and bad, a picture of how after Israel rejected the gospel, the gospel was then taken to the whole world.  And many who were invited responded and entered the kingdom.

But then we see a twist in the story.  As the king looked at those in the banquet, he noticed a person without wedding clothes.  He was simply dressed as he wanted to be with no regard for the host’s requirements.  The king went up to him and asked,

Friend…how did you get in here without wedding clothes?  (12)

The man had no answer and was cast out in the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (13)

In the same way, many people today hear God’s invitation to the kingdom, and they try to enter.  But they try to enter on their own terms with no regard for God’s requirements.  What is God’s requirement for entering the kingdom.  John tells us,

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (I John 5:11-12)

In other words, in order to enter the kingdom of God, we must be clothed with Jesus Christ.  Apart from him, there can be no entering the kingdom.

But many people do not want to enter on God’s terms.  They want to enter on their own, spitting on the very invitation God has sent them and the price Jesus paid on the cross that they might come.

We cannot do that.

You can either go to heaven on God’s terms or to hell on your own.  There is no in-between.

How about you?  Are you coming to God on his terms?  Or are you trying to come to him on your own?

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Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19 — When we reject the one on whom all things rest

After nailing the leaders for their unbelief, he then told a parable warning them of what would happen if they didn’t repent.

And the start of it is very similar to Isaiah 5 in which God describes a vineyard that he planted, the vineyard representing Israel and Judah.  And in both cases, we see that the owner does not receive the fruit he deserves from the vineyard.  The one difference is that Jesus places the blame specifically on the tenants who were put in charge of the vineyard.

The tenants, of course, were these very leaders that had rejected Jesus, and all those that had come before them.  They had been put in charge of the spiritual welfare of Israel that they might bear spiritual fruit for God.  But instead, they became corrupted and failed in the charge they had been given.

Why?  They failed to honor God, instead focusing on themselves.  They focused on money, power, and the praise of man.  Is it any wonder that Israel failed to produce fruit when its very leaders failed in their responsibilities?

And so God sent his servants.  Throughout Israel’s history, he sent prophet after prophet to warn and admonish the people.  But time and again, the leaders of Israel rejected the prophets, beating and/or killing them.

Finally, God sent his Son.  But now the leaders planned to kill the Son, hoping to take what rightfully belonged to him.

When Jesus asked the people what would happen to such people, the people replied,

[The owner] will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.  (Matthew 21:41)

Nevertheless, the people were astonished that such horrible people could exist, saying, “May this never be!”  (Luke 20:16)

Jesus answered,

Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be  crushed.”  (Matthew 21:42-44)

What was Jesus saying?  He was saying that he is the one on whom everything rests.  He is the cornerstone (probably a better translation than “capstone” here) of everything.  The cornerstone was always laid down first when constructing a building, and everything was built around it.

In the same way, Jesus is the one we are to build our lives and his kingdom around.  But the Jewish leaders rejected him, and so the kingdom of God would be given to those the leaders despised, the  tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Gentiles who would turn to Jesus and embrace him as Savior.  The leaders, meanwhile, would be judged and lose everything.

How about you?  How are you building your life?  Are you building it on money?  Possessions?  Power?  The things of this world?  Or are you building it around Jesus?  Is he the chief cornerstone of your life?

God has given you your life.  You and all you have ultimately belong to him, and he will demand that you produce fruit in your life for his kingdom.  But you cannot produce fruit if you are living for yourself.  And if you reject him who is the cornerstone, you, like the Jewish leaders will lose everything and be judged.

Who are you living for?

 

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Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8 — When you’re too proud to admit you’re wrong

It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong.  I know I struggle with it at times.  The reason?  Pride.  It takes a great deal of humility to simply say, “I was wrong.”

But if we want relationships that last, relationships with others and with God, we need that kind of humility.

This was exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not have.  Time and again, Jesus clearly showed them they were wrong, and they simply could not bring themselves to admit it.  We see this several times over this last week of Jesus’ ministry before he went to the cross.

It starts here, however.  The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders all came up to Jesus asking by what authority he had come to the temple and cleared it out.

Jesus, as was typical, answered their question with a question.

John’s baptism—where did it come from?  Was it from heaven, or of human origin?  (Matthew 21:25)

Immediately, these men were in a quandary.  If they said it was from heaven, then Jesus would say, “Why don’t you believe his words that I am the Messiah, then?  And if you do accept them, then you know exactly where my authority comes from.”

On the other hand, they didn’t want to say it was from men because everyone else in Israel believed John was a prophet, and would not stand for them denigrating him.

So, they answered, “We don’t know.”

And so Jesus said, “Fine.  You don’t answer my question, I won’t answer yours.”

Then he told them a parable of two sons.  One was asked by the father to do something, and he said “Sure,” but ended up doing nothing.  The other refused his father’s request at first, but later changed his mind and obeyed.

This of course was a contrast between these leaders and the “sinners” Jesus ministered to.

Outwardly, these leaders were “righteous.”  But in truth, they rebelled against God.

They saw John and immediately dismissed him as a kook.  But then they started to see the impact he was having, and all the lives that were changing because of John.  They had to know in their hearts that he really was from God, but in their pride, they rejected him anyway.

Then they saw Jesus, they saw all his miracles, and heard all his teaching.  Despite all this, they rejected Jesus too.  Even when he shredded all their arguments and left them speechless, they still clung to their old way of thinking.

On the other hand, these “sinners” the leaders despised had outwardly rebelled against God, ripping people off and selling their bodies for sex.  But then John and Jesus came, and as a result they repented of their sins.  They were humble enough to recognize their wrong, and so turned from their sins.

And so Jesus told these leaders,

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  (31)

How about you?  Are you so proud that you can’t admit when you’re wrong?  It’s bad enough when that pride tears apart your relationships with others.  It’s worse when it keeps you from a relationship with God.

So let us have hearts that are humble and soft to correction.  That can admit when we are wrong.  Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in the same position as these leaders.  Separated from others and separated from God.

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John 12:44-50 — When we see and hear Jesus

So many people say, “I believe in God,” but refuse to put their faith in Jesus.

But if you truly believe in God, that is exactly what you cannot do.  Jesus says here,

Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  (44-46)

Jesus is saying here that to believe in him is to believe in God.  To see him is to see God.

He then said,

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.   I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (49-50)

So to hear Jesus also means to hear God, because he speaks the very words of God.  And to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s words.  More, to reject Jesus means to reject God himself.

And Jesus says,

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  (48)

All of us will be held accountable for what we have heard Jesus say.  If you believe him, you will find light and life.  But if you reject him, you will find only judgment and darkness.  What will you choose?

 

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John 12:42-43 — From whom we seek praise

One of the saddest comments you’ll ever read in the Bible comes from these two verses.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.  But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Basically you see in this passage a bunch of undercover believers.  They had seen all that Jesus had done and had heard all his teaching, and they believed.  But they did not tell anyone because they feared being put out of the synagogue.  And to be put out of the synagogue was essentially to be cut off from society.  But what that showed was that they were more interested in what people thought of them rather than what God thought of them.

If Satan cannot prevent you from becoming a believer, the thing he wants to do most is to prevent you from sharing your faith.  And his best weapon in doing so is asking the question, “What will happen if others find out if you believe?”

For some, the answer is clear cut. It means rejection by their family, their friends, and those around them.  That’s what these leaders faced.  A certain excommunication from the synagogue and society.

For others, the answer is not so clear.  But they are ruled by the fear of what others might think of them.  I know I was that way all the way through my sophomore year in high school.  I didn’t tell anyone I was a Christian, not because I knew I would be rejected, but I because I feared I might be rejected.

But God does not want us to live that way.  He wants us to make a difference in this world for him, but we cannot as long as we are afraid of what others think.

Some people will reject us for our faith.  As one preacher put it, that is an occupational hazard of being a Christian.  Not everyone will like us.  As I’ve said before, Jesus was perfect, and people still hated him.  How can we expect to be any different from our master?

But what we’ll find is that if we share our faith, some will receive it and be saved.

So let’s not worry about being rejected because of our faith in Christ.  Let us proclaim it boldly and let the chips fall where they may.  For as Jesus said,

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

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John 12:27-41 — Before it’s too late

Sometime people put off following Christ thinking they can always do it later.  But in this passage, we see the danger of that.

Jesus in thinking about the cross and his determination to follow the Father’s plan cried out,

Father, glorify your name!  (28a)

In a voice that all could hear, the Father replied,

I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.  (28b)

Yet though all could hear the voice, it seemed that few if any actually heard it.  Some said it was thunder.  Others said it was an angel.  Why couldn’t they understand the Father’s words?  John later comments,

This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:  “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:  “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.”  Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.  (38-41)

I’ve explained this passage in another blog, and essentially what it comes down to is that the people couldn’t hear the voice because they had already hardened their hearts to Jesus.  Some hardened their hearts because his background as a carpenter from Nazareth was not what they expected from a Messiah.  Others rejected him because he exposed the hypocrisy of their religion.  Others rejected him because his teaching went against their religious rules and traditions.

And when Jesus performed miracles that proved who he was and the truth of his words, they tried to explain it away saying he did them by Satan’s power, or in this case, by trying to say it never really happened.  That they were just imagining things.

The problem was, the more they hardened their hearts, closing their eyes and ears to the truth, the more blind and deaf they became.

And so Jesus tried to warn them, saying,

You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.  The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.  (35-36)

In other words, “Your time is short.  If you don’t soften your hearts, you will become blind forever.  Put your trust in me and the light I bring while you still can.”

Jesus says the same thing to you.  He was lifted up on a cross that all people might be drawn to him and be saved.  But if you harden your heart to him, if you close your eyes and ears to what you know is true, the time will come when you can no longer recognize the truth though it’s right in front of you.  And then it will be too late.  As Paul wrote,

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (II Corinthians 6:2)

 

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John 12:20-26 — In order to serve

With all the buzz surrounding Jesus, both with his spectacular entry into Jerusalem, and his just as spectacular cleansing of the temple, it’s little wonder that first time visitors would wish to see him.  In this case, it was some Greek proselytes who became interested in who this Jesus was.  Perhaps it was because Phillip had a Greek name that these men approached him first.  And together with Andrew (someone who always seemed to be introducing others to Jesus), Phillip brought these men to Jesus.

Jesus responded by saying,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  (23-24)

In saying this, Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection.  As long as he was alive, his ministry would be limited to what he could do in Israel.  But after his death, through the Holy Spirit, his work would spread all over the world, touching not only the Greeks, but every tribe and nation.

But Jesus then said to his disciples,

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.  (25-26)

Here Jesus says both the blindingly obvious, and the paradoxical truth.   The blindingly obvious?  That whoever serves Jesus must follow him, and that wherever he is, his servant must be.

It’s very hard to serve a person when you’re never around him.  And if you really want to serve Jesus, you need to be in a place where you can see and hear what he wants.

But in order to be where Jesus is, you sometimes need to leave things behind, including things and people you love.  And that’s why he says something seemingly paradoxical:  Whoever loves his life will lose it, but anyone who hates his life will keep it for eternal life.

This doesn’t mean that we should hate everything and every moment of our lives.  But the things and people we love in this world need to take second place to Jesus.  If for example, Jesus leads you to leave your country in order to serve him in another, then you need to follow him there.  Or if Jesus says, “Leave your high-paying job so you can serve me better,” then you need to be willing to do so for the sake of his kingdom.

Sometimes following Jesus means change.  Sometimes it means sacrifice.  But we can’t serve Jesus if we’re not where he is.  And while the change or sacrifice might seem painful at the time, in the end, we’ll find it was all worth it.

I found that out coming to Japan.  I never dreamed that I’d ever leave Hawaii.  But when I came to Japan, I found out that I was happier here than I ever was in Hawaii.  I found life by leaving what I loved in Hawaii in order to follow Jesus.

And so will you.

How about you?  Are you where Jesus is?

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Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-25 — How much faith do I have?

Faith.  It’s something I must admit I struggle with, particularly in prayer.  When I pray, do I pray in faith?  And what does it mean?

When the tree Jesus withered, the disciples were amazed and asked how it could wither so quickly.  Jesus answered,

Have faith in God.  (Mark 11:22)

Have faith in God.  What does that mean?  What are we believing about God?

We’re believing first that he is a good God.  That he is a loving Father that only gives good gifts.  That if we ask him for bread, he will not give us a stone.  Or if we ask for a fish, he will not give us a serpent.

We’re believing that he hears us.  That even the tiniest prayer we breathe, he hears.  No matter how big, or how insignificant our problem may be, he sees and hears our cries.

We’re believing that he has the power to do what we ask.  That no thing we ask is too big for him.

We’re believing that he wants to bless us.  That he won’t withhold what is good from us for no good reason.

We believe that he has an overriding plan for our lives.  And that plan is good.

With all this in mind, Jesus then says,

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)

Some people take this verse to mean that whatever we ask God for, he must give it to us.

But sometimes we ask for something thinking it’s bread, thinking it’s fish, when in reality it is a stone or a serpent.  We pray, for example, to marry that girl or guy at school and ten years later, we are thanking God he didn’t give them to us.

Or sometimes we pray for something good, but God has something even better planned for us.  For example, we pray for a certain job, only to have God give us an even better one.

So to just pray believing God will give us whatever we want does not guarantee we will get what we ask for.

My problem, however, is not in these areas.  My prayer is in the other areas.  Do I believe that God really wants to bless me?  Do I really believe he has the power to do as I ask?

I think about my current job that I just got back in April.  It is in almost every way much better than my previous jobs over the past 8 years.  Yet because of all the difficulties I faced in getting the job, I was wracked with doubt as to whether God would give it to me.  I suppose it didn’t help that I had applied for that very job a few years back and didn’t get it.  So many times I had prayed for things, and was disappointed.  I suppose it’s a testimony to the grace of God that I got the job anyway.

Another friend I know is facing terminal cancer.  It looked hopeless.  The doctors said it was hopeless.  My friend asked for prayer.  I prayed, but with little hope.  Certainly not praying, “believing I have received it.”  Do I believe that God has the power to heal?  Certainly.  I guess it’s just that I saw him choose not to heal another friend of cancer (she passed away a year ago) that makes me doubt.  And yet, God does seem to be healing my friend now.

What am I trying to say?  First, God certainly responds to faith, and is pleased by it, but he is not restricted by how strong our faith is.

But second, I should pray with more hope.  With more confidence.  Because God can and will answer prayer.

As one man once said, “Lord, I believe.  Lord increase my faith.”

 

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Matthew 21:12-22; Mark 11:11-25; Luke 19:45-48 — Fruitless

This is a story where it is a little hard to understand the actions of Jesus.  Why would he curse a tree that wasn’t bearing fruit though it was not even the season for it?

There does tend to be disagreement on the answer.  One idea is that that during the time of the Passover, fig trees in Palestine usually produced crops of small edible buds.  These buds were often eaten by local peasants, and it was perhaps this that Jesus was looking for.  But if there were no buds growing at that time, it was a sign that there would be no fruit at all from the tree.

I don’t know if this is the answer, but it seems as reasonable as any other explanation I’ve heard.

At any rate, sandwiched around the cleansing of the temple as it is in Mark, it seems Jesus was making a point.  That just as judgment came upon that fig tree for not bearing fruit, so judgment was coming upon Israel for not bearing spiritual fruit.  This was clearly seen in the temple and the people running it.

Early in his ministry, Jesus had cleansed the temple, casting out the merchants and money changers from the court of the Gentiles.  As I mentioned before, this was the only area where the foreigners could come and worship God within the temple courts.  But the priests had turned it into a market, and not only that, a “den of thieves” where people who came there were cheated of their money.  And this was the temple.  The very center of Israelite worship.

All of their religious acts, all of their zeal, was proven to be corrupt by what was happening in their temple.  Particularly in the fact that they not only rejected Jesus as Messiah, but plotted to kill him.  And because of that, judgment came when Titus tore down the temple for the final time.  To this day, it has not been rebuilt.  Why?  Because for all the time and love God poured into Israel, ultimately, they proved to be fruitless.

But none of God’s actions are fruitless.  Through the Jews’ rejection of Christ, the gospel spread to the world.  And in time, the Jews too will come to Christ.  (Romans 11)

The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is what fruit is coming out of our lives?  The Bible calls our lives the temple of God.  As his temples, are we bearing fruit?  Are we making a difference in the lives around us?  Or have we let ourselves become corrupted by the world?  By a love of money as the priests had, or by other things?  If so, then we will stop bearing fruit and all that we “accomplish” or “achieve” will eventually be burned.

Let us not be fruitless, but fruitful.  Filled with God’s Spirit, and touching the lives of all he puts in our path.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19 — What would bring us peace

Lots going on in these passages, and as you look at all four gospels, you really get an idea of the frenzy going on due to Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem.  People are shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David!” 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  (Matthew 21:9)

And,

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)

And again,

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!  (Luke 19:38)

And ultimately,

Blessed is the king of Israel!  (John 12:13)

Because of the frenzy some people were asking, “What’s going on?  Who is this guy?”  And others replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  (Matthew 21:11)

We see from John that one of the reasons for all this frenzy was that people were still talking about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18)

At first, the Pharisees tried to stop all of this, even trying to get Jesus to stop his disciple from crying out all these words of praise.  But when Jesus refused, they muttered to themselves,

This is getting us nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after him!  (John 12:19)

But for all the frenzy surrounding Jesus’ coming the most poignant moment comes just before Jesus enters the city.  In the midst of all the cries of joy from the people, Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, saying,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  (Luke 19:42-44)

And that’s exactly what happened in AD 70 when Titus came and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.

Why did this happen?  Because they, “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” to them.  And because of that, they missed the peace that could have been theirs.  Peace within themselves.  But more importantly, peace with God.

The same is true with us.  God comes to each of us at some time in our lives.  According to Romans chapter 1, even the one who has never heard of God has that opportunity.  When they gaze into the sky or see all the nature around them, the Spirit speaks to them saying, “This cannot be an accident.  This was designed.  You were designed.  Seek the Designer.”

For others, the call is much more direct.  It comes at church or through a friend telling them about Christ.

And at that point people reach a crossroad.  What will they do with this call?  Will they listen and follow?  Or will they reject it?  To follow is to find peace with God and eternal life.  To reject it means judgment and eternal death.

How about you?  If you are reading this, God is calling you now.  Now is the day of salvation.  Won’t you receive him today?  All you need to do is pray.

Lord Jesus, I have sinned.  I’ve been living my own way, and in doing so I’ve hurt you, I’ve hurt the people I love, and I’ve hurt myself.  Forgive me.  I believe you died on the cross for my sins and rose again.  Thank you for that kind of love.  Now come into my life and save me.   Be my King.  Be my Lord.  I want to follow you from now on.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16 — The Lord needs it

We have now reached the home stretch of the life of Jesus, his final week.

As I read this passage, one phrase struck me.  Jesus was instructing his disciples to do something very unusual, to go into the village, and just take a colt and donkey that they found there.  And if anyone challenged them, they were to simply say, “The Lord needs it.”

The disciples did as they were told, and when the owners saw this, they immediately asked,

Why are you untying the colt? (Luke 19:33)

The disciples responded as Jesus had commanded, and immediately the owners acquiesced.

The question that came to my mind was, “When the Lord says to me of something, ‘I need this,’ how do I respond?”

If Jesus, for example, were to say, “I need you to give some money to this person.  They are in need.”  Would I immediately say, “Yes Lord?”

Or if were headed somewhere, and I happen to run into someone, and Jesus were to say, “I need some of your time.  Stop and talk to this person,” would I do so?

Or if God were to tell me, “It’s time to leave Nishinomiya.  I need you elsewhere for another work,” would I say yes?

Or would I instead cling to what is mine?

Honestly, I don’t know, and probably too often, the Lord has told me, “I need this from you,” and for whatever reason, I said no.

“I’m too busy.”

Or,

“I need that money for other things.”

The disciples brought the colt to Jesus, set him on it, and honored him as king.  And we need to do the same.  When Jesus says to us, “I need this,” we need to bring it to Jesus, setting him above it, and honoring him as our king over all.

Do I?  Do you?

Lord, forgive me for the times that you said to me, “I need this,” and I didn’t give it to you.  My time especially.  Lord, help me to set you as king over my time, my money, and my life.  Help me to rearrange my priorities and to truly honor you as Lord over all things in my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Luke 19:28; John 11:55-57 — A cleansing that goes beyond the surface

Right after Jesus’ parable about those who were determined to reject him as king, we see the actual people whom Jesus was speaking of.

Jesus was fast approaching Jerusalem, and a lot of people were already there to celebrate the Passover. And everyone was asking,

What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all? (John 11:56)

But the Pharisees and chief priests had already given orders that anyone who found Jesus should report him to them so that they could arrest him.  The irony of all this?

Before celebrating the Passover, people had to purify themselves, that is to have a ceremonial cleansing (John 11:55).  But while these priests and Pharisees may have been outwardly clean, their hearts were full of murder.

What can we learn from all this?  A spiritual cleansing goes beyond ritual.  It goes beyond doing a lot of good things.  A spiritual cleansing starts by receiving Jesus as your King.  It starts by saying, “I can’t cleanse myself.  All my efforts, all the religious rituals that I do can’t cleanse me.  Lord Jesus, help me.”

John tells us in his first letter that in the end, it is,

the blood of Jesus, [God's] Son, [that] purifies us from all sin.  (I John 1:7)

There is no other way for us to become right in the sight of God.  We must come to the cross of Christ and accept the work he did for our salvation.  Only by putting our faith in him will we truly become clean in the eyes of God.

How about you?  Are you truly clean before God?

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Luke 19:11-28 — If we are determined to reject Christ

There is another point to this story that Jesus told that we didn’t get to touch on yesterday.

It says in verses 12-15,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return….But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’  He was made king, however, and returned home.

This was actually based on a true story.  When Herod the Great died, one of his sons Archelaus had to go to Rome to have his kingship ratified since they were the true power in Israel at that time.  The Jews, however, sent an embassy to Caesar Augustus basically saying that they didn’t want him as king.  Ultimately, Archelaus received charge over Judea, but did not receive the title of king.

In the same way, Jesus is awaiting his Father’s “ratification” of his kingdom.  But to this day, there are people who hate him and say, “We don’t want this Jesus as our king.”  But whether they want him as king or not, Jesus will be king someday.  And if these people continue in their rejection of him, they will be judged and condemned as the people in Jesus’ story were.

How about you?  Have you made Jesus king in your life?  He will be king whether you want him to or not.  Would it not be better to turn over your life to him willingly, rather than to fight it and be condemned for all eternity?

I don’t mean to try to “scare the hell out of you.”  I’d much rather talk about God’s love and grace.  And God does truly love you.  He sent his Son to die on a cross so that your sins could be forgiven and you could have peace with him.  But if you spit on that peace offering, and are determined to reject Jesus as king, then only judgment remains.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (John 3:18)

The choice is yours.  What will you choose?

 

 

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Luke 19:11-27 — While we are waiting

It says that Jesus told this next parable because,

He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  (11)

In other words, there was an idea that he wanted to dispel from their minds, but there was another idea that he wanted to plant.  And so he said,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.  So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.  ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’  (12-13)

The idea that Jesus wanted to dispel?  That his kingdom was imminent.

Before becoming king, he had to first die on the cross to deal with the problem with sin.  And when he did so, he ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s side.  And now the Bible says,

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… (Hebrews 10:13).

And to this day we await our Lord’s return.

So until that day, what are we to do?

We are to serve him until he returns.  That’s the idea he wanted to plant in their minds.  That there is still much work to be done.

In the story, the king-to-be called ten of his servants in and gave them each an equal amount of money and said, “Put this to work until I come back.”

What is Jesus talking about here?  I believe he’s talking about the salvation we have received.  Notice that these men didn’t work to obtain the money.  They were simply given it.  But they were to invest what they were given.

In the same way, we never worked for our salvation, rather we received it by God’s grace.  But we are to take what we’ve been given from God, and put it to work.

Paul puts it this way,

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

What does it mean to invest this salvation we have been given?  It means to take this salvation we have received and invest it in the lives of others.  To not hoard this salvation we have received to ourselves, but to share it with others.  To pray for them.  To minister to them.  And to be the mouth, ears, and hands of Jesus in their lives.  And we are to do this until Jesus returns.

If we do, we will be rewarded.  How?  By being given more responsibilities in his kingdom.  So many people want to do great things for God.  But if they fail in the task of sharing this salvation they’ve been given, can they expect God to give them more responsibilities?

What’s more, if they fail to invest in the kingdom, as the last man in the story did, all they can expect is rebuke from Jesus when he returns.

.Paul says of such people,

He will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  (I Corinthians 3:15)

How about you?  What are you doing with this gift of salvation you have received?

 

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Luke 19:1-10 — Because of us

This is a very famous story in the Bible, and it’s one I’ve heard (and sang) since I was a kid.  But as I looked at it today, verse 3 struck me.

[Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

Zacchaeus, of course, was a tax collector.  In our day and age that would be bad enough.  In the Jews day and age it was worse, because as I’ve mentioned before, they were basically considered collaborators with the Roman government, not to mention crooks.  As a result, they were utterly despised by their fellow Jews.

And yet, he wanted to see Jesus.  Why?  Probably because though he had all the money he could possibly want, he still felt empty inside.  And in Jesus, he saw something different.  He saw life and hope.

But because of the crowd, he couldn’t see them.  This was a crowd, that if you had asked them, would probably have said that they were very religious.  That they loved God.  And yet because of them, Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.

Part of this was because he was short, of course, and because of the sheer number of people.  But I think there’s also a chance that Zacchaeus knew what would happen if he tried to push through to draw near to Jesus.  That being who he was, the crowd would not be inclined to let him through.

And so he climbed a tree in order to see Jesus.  When Jesus saw him, however, he said,

Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.  (5)

If there had been any doubt at what the people’s reaction to Zacchaeus would be, it was quickly dispelled as the people grumbled,

[Jesus] has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’

But touched by the love of Jesus, Zacchaeus became a changed man, and he said,

Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.  (8)

What can we get from this?  How often are like that crowd?  We say we love God.  We say that we even follow Jesus.  But because of us, people can’t see him.  They can’t see him because we fail to tell them about him.  Or even worse, because we look down on them and even push them away.

But let us always remember Jesus’ reaction to Zacchaeus.  He longs for a relationship with them.   That’s why he went to the cross.  Not just for you and me.  But for those around us.  Even the despised.  So let us not despise those around us.  And let us not block others off from him.  Rather let us remember these words of Jesus and live them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (10)

 

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