The Christian way
Matthew 18: If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.
We Christians claim to be followers of Jesus but we tend to overlook some of the inconvenient things he teaches. Jesus says that if there’s something going on between me and you that my first order of business is to go to you and explain to you how I’ve been hurt. If that doesn’t work out there are further steps I’m to take in seeking reconciliation with you. The thing is we Christians seldom follow these clear instructions. We go around with a chip on our shoulder, talk about people (otherwise known as gossip), start lining up our allies and identifying our enemies and, in general, toss aside this teaching of our Lord and Master. When that’s done, a rift in the church is formed that draws people into the fight and drives people out of the church. Energies that should be spent in winning the lost are wasted in attempts to win the fight. Still, for those of us who can’t imagine dealing with a broken relationship like Jesus says, I’m going to offer an alternative approach. Just forget it. Stop being hurt, stop “remembering,” stop talking, and forgive from the depths of your heart. Apologize to Jesus for being so shallow as to be hurt about whatever it is and ask him to forgive you as you’re forgiving them. This alternative is almost implied by the rest of this passage in which Jesus talks about the unforgiving servant. So, when I’m hurt and upset about something, as a follower of Jesus, I have a couple of options. I can go to you and begin the reconciliation process Jesus described or I can stop being so sensitive and let it go, forgiving as I’ve been forgiven. Responding to hurts in these ways is how Christians do things.
Take Away: A Christian with a chip on his or her shoulder isn’t behaving like a Christian at all.
Intentionally or not, the disciples did the right thing
Matthew 17: His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face.
To some extent I don’t think the Church has ever fully grasped the Person of Jesus. It took hundreds of years for the doctrine of the Trinity to be established and it’s been “official” now for over 1600 years. Still, if you talk to some people they’re still back in the early years of Christian theology and not convinced at all that the Trinity doctrine has it right. When we think about the Person of Jesus there’s always a tug a war between “he’s God” and “he’s man.” In the pages of the Gospels we watch Jesus, the man. He grows weary and sleeps, he gets thirsty, and he bleeds. We also watch Jesus, the Lord. He forgives sins and tells his disciples that he and the Father are one. In this passage, as Jesus takes three disciples up on the mountain, the humanity of Jesus is overwhelmed by this divinity. The disciples see it as light that pours out of him. This isn’t the Jesus they ate supper with last light. This isn’t the Jesus who slept through the storm. This is God. Peter, James, and John don’t know what to say or do as they experience this Jesus. Still, maybe by instinct, they do the right thing: they fall flat on their faces in reverence and awe. Know what? This radiant-light-pouring-out-of-his-face Jesus is just as much Jesus as the hungry, sleepy, dying-on-the-cross Jesus. Falling down in worship before him is an excellent response.
Take Away: We may struggle with the person of Jesus, but worshiping him is always the right response.
A lesson from the bakery
Matthew 16: Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.
I wonder what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There’s a clue just a few lines earlier. These people want Jesus to prove himself to them, probably by performing some miracle. Jesus dismisses them by saying that they’re going to get proof alright, the powerful proof of life out of death when, as Jonah returned from the deep, he, himself, will return from the grave. At that point Jesus turns his back on them and walks away. Later he warns his disciples to beware of their “yeast.” Those who bake bread know about yeast. A little is worked into the dough so it will rise, becoming soft and tasty. Jesus says that there’s “yeast” that can work its way into every part of our lives, bringing not good results, but bad. It’s the insistence on God doing things our way, having to prove himself to us before we’ll believe. In the encounters of the Pharisees and Sadducees with Jesus there’s always a tug of war concerning who’s in charge and what Jesus has to do to satisfy them. Jesus warns his disciples to not fall into that trap. Before we know it this approach will work its way into our lives. When God doesn’t do things our way and in our time, we’ll begin to doubt him and his goodness. Later in this same passage, Peter first declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Later on though, we see the yeast of the Pharisees when he argues against Jesus proceeding God’s way, thinking he knows better. If Peter, in basically the same conversation can go from a great statement of faith to one of “my way is better” I’d better take warning. This yeast can work its way into my life before I even know it.
Take Away: The idea that I always know just what God should do and how he should do it can sneak into my thinking and take root there.
Matthew 15: I hurt for these people.
I don’t think the stories of the response of Jesus to the Pharisees and his response to the hungry people out in the wilderness are necessarily intentionally placed as they are, but they do provide an interesting study in contrasts. For three days Jesus has ministered to people in a “deserted place.” Near the conclusion, the physical hunger of the people is obvious to Jesus, who has had his own intense hunger experience at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus remarks to the disciples that he hurts for them and then performs the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand. Earlier, though, Jesus has an encounter with the Pharisees and religion scholars who travel all the way from Jerusalem to check out his ministry. They immediately complain that the disciples don’t properly follow the rules concerning religious practice that they’ve set up. Jesus, in just a few words, puts them in their place and the disciples are somewhat concerned that Jesus has upset these powerful people. In this case, Jesus just shrugs his shoulders and says in so many words that what these people say or think doesn’t matter. Here’s our Lord dealing with different sets of people. Some, he says aren’t worth our time. Their words and opinions will be “pulled up by their roots” so we might as well just “forget them.” Others though are people who are hurting. They may not be important in the eyes of society, but they matter to God and should matter to us. In Jesus’ day, his priorities are upside down as far as the world is concerned. They still are. I’m a follower of Jesus and I want my priorities to reflect that. God help me to brush off that which isn’t worth a hill of beans and to figure out what really matters.
Take Away: Some things that others worry about aren’t worth our time and effort. Some things no one else worries about are.
A wonderful faith experiment
Matthew 14: When he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve.
This is such a neat story! Out on the sea in rough, windy conditions Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the water. Peter asks for permission to join Jesus out on the waves and Jesus tells him to “come.” Peter does it! He climbs out of the boat and steps out onto the water. Can’t you imagine Jesus and Peter laughing together as they do the impossible! However, this is no glassy pond on a summer afternoon. Instead, they’re in the dark in a wind storm and the waves are high. For Jesus and Peter it must be quite a ride, bobbing up and down, being sprayed by the driven waves. It’s at that point that euphoria drains from Peter. The water’s very real and in no way capable of supporting him. As he begins to sink he looks up to Jesus who remains confidently on top of the water. “Save me!” Peter cries. Without a second’s hesitation, Jesus reaches out and pulls him back on top, now carrying the weight of both of them. Jesus calls Peter “faint heart” but I think he’s quietly pleased that Peter joined him in this wonderful experiment of faith. I know this is a unique situation: a moment in history. Still, I can’t help but be impressed by the power of faith in very real, impossible situations. I’m also glad to note that Peter didn’t have to cry out but one time. Jesus may have called Peter a “faint heart” but he saved him first.
Take Away: God responds to our faith in wonderful, sometimes unexpected ways.
Teaching on teaching
Matthew 13: Are you starting to get a handle on all this?
In this chapter Matthew gives us several examples of Jesus teaching. We hear about the sower and the seed, a series of stories about how, in the Judgment, the division of the human race will take place and stories that illustrate the growth of the Kingdom of God. Of course, each story is true and helps us better understand spiritual reality. However, the overall purpose of the stories is to teach the disciples how to teach kingdom truths. Jesus explains that the reason he tells stories is to “create readiness.” If he begins his teachings at the high school level, all those who are at the elementary level are left out. Therefore, he starts with stories that pry open some new small comprehension that wasn’t there before. As he concludes this “teaching on teaching” Jesus asks his disciples if they get it. I think “getting it” doesn’t necessarily mean that we Sunday preachers are supposed to always build our sermons around stories (although it’s not a bad idea). Instead, “getting it” means that we remember to start our preaching at the level of our listeners. Seasoned students of the Word tend to forget that things we take for granted are new territory for others. We also like “church words” and freely sprinkle them into our sermons. On one hand, we don’t want to show disrespect for people by talking down to them. On the other hand, we don’t want to be so “above and beyond” that the average person is untouched by truths that could transform their lives.
Take Away: We need to minister to people at their level of understanding.
The way to forgiveness
Matthew 12: If Satan banishes Satan is there any Satan left?
It’s really about the Sabbath. The religious leaders have taken “Remember the Sabbath day” and turned it into a heavy burden laid on the backs of the people. Even picking a piece of fruit to eat is considered to be a transgression. Jesus responds with examples from their own law and history proving that they’re wrong. He goes on healing people, even on the Sabbath. When a demon-afflicted woman is set free the critics of Jesus sputter that he must be in cahoots with the devil. Our Lord responds that if they say that about him what do they say about their own exorcists? Beyond that, it’s a silly contention anyway. If Satan casts out Satan there wouldn’t be anything of Satan left. He then deals with the opposite side of the same coin. If the Holy Spirit is the One who forgives sins and we cast the Holy Spirit out of lives, how can we ever expect to be forgiven our sins? Its serious business isn’t it. We’re sinners in need of forgiveness. There’s one who forgives. Throw him out and we’re left without hope. Stated differently, there’s one road to forgiveness, if I refuse to travel that road, there’s no way I can ever arrive at forgiveness. The way to God is abundant and grace-filled, offering hope to the worst sinner. Still, it’s the only way. I can take it or leave it, but if I leave it, I’m left with nothing.
Take Away: We have, in Christ, hope abundant, but aside from Christ we have no hope at all.
The sweetest invitation
Matthew 11: Come to me.
There’s no sweeter invitation than what we hear from the Lord: “Come to me.” This invitation is directed to people who are weary and beaten down by life. It’s for people who’ve tried to find satisfaction in sometimes self-destructive ways and, in the end, realize that all they have is a handful of sand. Specifically, this invitation is for people who’ve tried religion and been hurt, maybe even abused, there. To all who are hurting, disappointed, tired, and empty Jesus says, “Come to me.” It’s not about church rituals and rules; although such things have been found by many to be helpful. It’s not about turning over a new leaf, making a New Year’s resolution, or simply trying harder; although there’s room here for self-improvement. Beyond all that, though, is Jesus. I respond to his sweet invitation by giving up my own claims to righteousness and reordering all other relationships to something less than number one. In response to this invitation to “come” I turn my attention to Jesus and lay all else, including myself, at his feet. From that point on, I walk with him and learn from him, how to really live.
Take Away: Jesus is the only one who can truly make this offer, and he does make it to all who will come.
Matthew 10: It’s best to start small.
Jesus now settles on twelve men to be his core team. They don’t know it yet, but they (with one exception) will become Apostles who will lead the infant church. He sends them out on a mission to spread word of Kingdom come. Interestingly, he spends as much time telling them what not to do as he does telling them what they are to do. For instance, he tells them not to head off for distant places. Rather, they’re to stay local. He tells them that they don’t need to take a lot of stuff with them. Their changed lives are the best “show and tell” imaginable. They’re to stay in modest places, to be gentle and not argumentative with those they encounter, and to leave a place rather than stay for a fight. They aren’t to worry about what they will say but, instead, to trust the Lord to give them the right words at the right times. He tells them not to be afraid or intimidated. His example of Kingdom ministry is offering “a cup of water to someone who’s thirsty.” It occurs to me that I tend to make complicated what the Lord made simple. Maybe instead of spiritualizing all this stuff I need to do something simple like buying some bottled water to give out to anyone who looks like they might be thirsty.
Take Away: Let’s not complicate simple matters…if we keep it simple, we’ll find an abundance of ministry opportunities.
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Matthew 9: A lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.
Matthew’s job of collecting taxes makes him one of the most disliked people in the community. His dealing with the Romans is unsavory in the eyes of most people and tax collectors are viewed as being dishonest, taking advantage of others. We don’t know if there’s more to the story, but his transition from collecting taxes to following Jesus happens in one sentence here in the book of the Bible that bears Matthew’s name. Jesus invites and Matthew stands up and follows. Later on, Matthew throws a party in honor of our Lord. Having followed Jesus for less than a day poor Matthew doesn’t have any “insider” friends. All he has is “outsider” friends; others who are looked down on by the “right” sort of people. Matthew invites them all to come to this event where they, too, can meet Jesus. The religious leaders can’t believe their eyes. All their suspicions about Jesus are confirmed. He can’t tell the difference between good and bad people. In fact, he’s too at home with the wrong sort of people. Know what? Jesus is right at home with them. However, the question to ask is, “Why are we followers of Jesus so uncomfortable around sinners?” Jesus loved them, enjoyed their company, and offered them a better way. I fear that we church people have more in common with the religious leaders than we do with Jesus. We isolate and insulate ourselves inside our church buildings. We read our Christian books and go to our Christian movies and listen to our Christian radio stations. We have Christian softball and bowling leagues. When the pastor urges us to bring our unsaved friends to church we shrug our shoulders and declare that we don’t have any. Maybe the church world needs to add “befriend a sinner” week to our busy church calendars.
Take Away: We can’t bring light to the world if we spend all our time hidden behind closed church doors.