Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jesus Predicts His Death - Matthew 16:21-28

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Reflection: Now that the disciples knew Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, he begins to reveal to them the full extent and purpose of His mission. His death and resurrection, which we remember and celebrate this week, will finalize what he has come to earth to do. The disciples would not have been ready for this information earlier, but now they were. Peter, thinking he is speaking on behalf of the other disciples, vehemently tries to dissuade him. But Jesus quickly rebukes him, using words similar to what he said to Satan himself in the garden. Whereas Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah, a minute later he has become a stumbling block. A good reminder that when we are closest to Jesus, we are also vulnerable to temptation.

Then, Jesus offers a huge challenge to his disciples, and by application to anyone who would call themselves a follower of Christ. He says that anyone who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Notice the order: deny ourselves, take up our cross, and then follow him. Peter wanted Jesus to have an easier way, and Jesus knew there was only one way to the cross. And Jesus says there is quite a bit riding on this decision. For to take the easy way is to win the world but lose our soul.

And what can we give in exchange for our soul? Nothing. Our soul is everything we possess that is not body or material. It is our personality, our thoughts our experiences. It is everything that makes us unique and made in the image of God. Our soul is what Jesus died for on the cross. This is not to say the body is not important. As the scripture teaches us the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And just as Jesus was resurrected in a body, so we will too one day.

I don't know about you but this is a huge challenge for me. Why? Because it is so easy for me to take the easy way. It is much easier to give in to myself than to deny myself. But I must remember it is not denial for denial sake, but denial so that I might take up my cross and follow Jesus. It would seem from the language here that each of us have unique ways in which we take up and bear our own cross. My cross is not your cross. But if we are going to be a Christ follower cross bearing is not optional. Where is Jesus calling you to lay down your life and pick up your cross and follow him? While we remembered Jesus' death yesterday and will celebrate His resurrection tomorrow, the passage reminds us that one day He will return. And to those who have followed him, he promises great reward.

Jesus we hear your challenge today of picking up our cross and following you. Thank you that you set an example do us to follow when you willingly laid down your life for us that we might might have eternal life. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Peter Calls Jesus the Messiah - Matthew 16:13-20

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Reflection: As Jesus begins to draw near to his ultimate destination, the cross, which we contemplate today on Good Friday, he wants to see if the disciples understand his true identity. While others think he is a good prophet in the line of John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah, he pointedly asks them, "Who do you say that I am?" It is the moment of truth and Peter replies, "You are the Messiah/Christ, the Son of the living God!" Finally Peter gets it right, and at just the right time. Jesus calls Peter blessed, and let's him know this was not his own doing but the gift and revelation from God.

Further he calls Peter, the rock, upon which he will build the church, and nothing including hell will stand against it. You have probably heard that Peter's name means little rock, and there are all kinds of fun word plays to explain how Peter the rock is now the foundation of the Church. Importantly Jesus gives Peter a calling and directive. He tells him, and by association the rest of the apostles, that they have been given the keys to the kingdom and the decisions they make on earth will open doors in heaven and shut doors in heaven. Their power is not a secular one such as civil leaders are given, but bringing in God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven through the church. The church is the instrument for calling people to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, by preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. And through these means of grace, Jesus will build His Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are lots of debates over just what is the "rock" upon which the Church is built. Is it Peter himself, his confession of faith or the Church? The context cries out to say it is the confession of Jesus as the Messiah given as a gift to Peter and the rest of the apostles. In 1 Peter 2:4-5, the letter attributed to the apostle Peter, it says that as we come to Jesus we are the living stones built into a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus. The foundation of the Church is the confession of faith, as revealed by God that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

The last question to address is just what does this authority the Church has been given through the keys of the kingdom look like. In its purest essence it is the authority to announce the forgiveness of sins to those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Only Jesus can forgive sins, but the Church has been given the power and authority to proclaim this to those who believe and are repentant. Secondly, as we will later discover in other teachings in the New Testament, the Church at times needs to judge on matters of life and practice. For instance in the early church Peter declared that all things (like certain kinds of meat) were clean and could be eaten with a clean conscience. The apostle Paul declared that new male, Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised. The church sometimes had to exercise discipline with members who were sexually immoral and deny them fellowship in their gatherings. And there is Paul's instruction on who is fit to receive Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians and how to discern this. (By the way this passage is and has been often grossly misunderstood).

So you can see there is a wide range of subjects the early church chose to exercise their power of the keys with. And we can certainly see how that has differed greatly among denominations over the years. I.e. Catholic Church and Protestant Church. The Reformation was in essence all about the power and authority the church should have as compared to the power and authority of the Word. Pastors and leaders of churches need lots of prayer as they not only proclaim the Gospel through Word and Sacrament, but govern their churches justly in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus you came to build your church upon the confession of faith in you as the Messiah. Your death on the cross on Good Friday reconciled us to the Father. Your resurrection on Easter morning proved You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. We know that as we continue to live out our calling as your people you will build your church on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for the great gift of faith that calls us into the Church and this faith will lead us home to be with You one day. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees - Matthew 16:5-12

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Reflection: After his discourse with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus sets out with the disciples to the other side of the lake. But they forget the provision of the bread. When Jesus warns them to watch out against the yeast of these two religious groups, the disciples immediately think he is referring to their mental lapse. As they fret over this, Jesus intervenes and mildly rebukes them, "Really guys do you think I am worried about bread when we just fed 4,000 and 5,000 people on two different occasions on a few loaves. Do you think I am worried about a bread problem?"

So what is he worried about? A different kind of bread problem. What the Pharisees and Sadducees are feeding the people. Remember again the Pharisees were legalists, they had taken the basic Ten Commandments and added hundreds of additional laws in their need to control. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the modern day theists or Gnostics, who sought truth on their own terms and believed in no absolutes. They would say there are no absolutes, but in saying this they violated their own rule.

And Jesus compares this doctrinal threat to yeast. Why? Because yeast starts small, keeps getting worked though the dough, and eventually causes the bread to rise taking a different form. And this is usually how false doctrine starts corrupting the church. It starts small in this little corner and eventually can affect the whole flock. Legalism can start subtle enough with comments like, "if you were a real Christian you would ----". What happens is people have a strong experience of God and start legislating that everyone else has to have this same experience if they are a real Christian.

For a while, as the Charismatic Movement began to take root on American soil, some branches of that movement said "unless you speak in tongues you haven't really experienced they filling of the Holy Spirit" The problem with this teaching is that there is nowhere in the bible it teaches that every Christian must speak in tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit. Was the gift of speaking in tongues a powerful gift God used in the first century? Yes. Could God give someone that gift today? Yes. But the problem is that we start making religious experience normative for all. We like to be in control, and even in matters of God.

On the flipside we have the Sadducees, who also like control of a different kind. They wanted to control doctrine so that they could rule out anything they could not explain. That is why they ruled out the resurrection of the dead, because they couldn't explain it. But the bottom line as Jesus would soon show, is that the greatest sign Jesus would show is not only raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, but then himself rising after three days from the tomb. You can only explain that in one way. God. The only explanation for someone rising from the dead is the One who gave life and can take it away. The Sadducees couldn't concede that point, because it would be to give up control. They mistakenly thought they had to be arbiters of what could and could not happen.

So you see in both camps there is the issue of control. And the very nature of the Christian life is one of saying Jesus I trust in you. I trust in what you did for me on the cross and I believe you rose from the dead. And now I trust that you can run my life better than I can, so I surrender again today to you. Your will not mine be done. So what camp do you fall in? There is a little Sadducee and Pharisee in all of us, and like the yeast it can sprout up at any time. But Jesus says come follow me and I will show you life and life abundantly.

Jesus thank you for making us aware of our tendency to be like the Pharisee and the Sadducee. But you are the bread of life. You offer a life where we can make a difference in this world, as we are the good leaven that works through the whole dough in the power of Your Holy Spirit and in Your name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Demand for a Sign - Matthew 16

The Demand for a Sign

16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Reflection: As we begin chapter 16, there are no more miracles in this chapter, but it begins with the Pharisees testing Jesus by demanding a sign from heaven. What is curious about this is that Jesus has already done plenty of signs, and yet the Pharisees and Sadducees have rejected all of them. After all, feeding thousands on a few fish and loaves would be pretty convincing. Or, giving sight to the blind and healing the lame might be pretty good evidence. But the Pharisees could not see past their rule books. And the Sadducees could not see past their worldview that didn't have any room for the supernatural. Sort of like the modern era in the church where supposedly smart people tried to explain away everything that couldn't be proved.

The fact of the matter is no matter what Jesus did, there was only a small chance it would lead to belief. There are certain people who will come in with a mindset of unbelief and unless there is a movement of the Spirit, there is unlikely to be spiritual re-birth. As we will soon discover even Jesus rising from the dead, the sign he refers to as the sign of Jonah (for Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale a foreshadowing of the resurrection), would not lead them to belief. The problem with the "we are looking for a sign mentality" is that it not based on faith but sight. And the bible teaches us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Why is faith so important? Because faith is about trust, and God wants us to trust Him. Jesus has come into the world as a sign of God's great love but it is faith that trusts in the promises of God as revealed by Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

So bringing it forward, where are you tempted to demand a sign? Where do you have the mindset, "Unless you show me a sign God I will not believe!"? As the Pharisees tested Jesus, our adversary is always testing us saying to us, "Do you really believe in Jesus, what has He done for you lately?" As our faith matures we should be less dependent on signs and more reliant on the chief sign we will celebrate this Holy Week when we cry, "Christ is Risen!" Then as we live by faith in the Risen One, our lives will become a sign to those who don't believe of Jesus' resurrection power!

Jesus this week we remember your death, what you did on the cross for us. We contemplate what it meant for you as the Son of God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. And then we rejoice in your victory over death when you rose from the dead. A sign for those of us who believe that death is not the end of the story, only the beginning. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand - Matthew 15:29-38

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” 33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

Reflection: This is the second instance of Jesus feeding a multitude on a few fish and loaves. The numbers and provision differ slightly, but the principles remain the same. Jesus after spending time in Tyre and Sidon where there was little response to his ministry, went by the Sea of Galilee. And rather than having time to rest, he attracted the multitudes to his side. All types of diseases, from all types of people were brought before him, and he healed them all. And the result: they all praised God! This is right and good that the supernatural healing led to praise of God. But since they had been with him 3 days (the first 3 day healing conference), they were naturally hungry. Jesus could have sent them away, but he had compassion or pity upon them. Meaning he felt badly they were hungry, and wanted to make sure they ate before they went away.

We see Jesus cared for the whole person, not just the spiritual or the physical. But the disciples wondered again how they were going to do it, even though Jesus had just fed 5,000 recently (how soon we forget!). He calmly asked them, "Well what do you have?" And when they offered what they had as meager as it was, when offered in thanks to God, it was distributed amongst them. And guess what? Everybody ate, everybody was satisfied, and there were even leftovers!

What might this mean for us? I don't know about you but nothing causes me more stress than when I wonder how am I going to do all the things I have to do for all the different people in my life with limited time and resources. This causes me to stop having compassion on others and start worrying more about how am I going to get it all done. My focus has gone from seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, to worrying about my own. Notice Jesus doesn't lay the burden on the disciples, but only asks them to offer what they have. He doesn't say you are going to have to feed all these people on your own power with your own resources! Jesus did two things. He had compassion on them and then gathered what was available and gave it to God for multiplication. And they all ate and were satisfied.

Now I realize we can not be overly simplistic here, but the fact is everyday we face needs that none of us can meet in our power and resources. So the temptation is to think, I can't do anything, so why care? And Jesus says to us today, "You give them something to eat! Offer what you have as meager as it may seem and let me do the rest!"

Jesus as we go about our day today, help us be open to the people you would have compassion on if you were us. And as we are able, help us to offer what we have, give thanks to You, and let You do the rest. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Great Faith of the Canaanite Woman - Matthew 15:21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Reflection: Since faith is such an important word, probably the single most important word from the 16th century Protestant Reformation, we should look into what Jesus here calls "great faith". We have today the story of the Canaanite (Gentile) woman's great faith. Her daughter is possessed by a demon and suffers quite badly. So she comes to Jesus and earnestly pleads with him to heal her. Notice she calls him, "Lord, son of David". She is acknowledging that He is the Messiah, unlike many of the Jews who Jesus first came to. Jesus at first does not pay attention to her, reasoning that he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (the Jews).

One could either say he was being true to his calling, or one could reason he was only testing her faith to see how sincere it was. In either case she does not give up, but continues to plead in earnest for mercy. Jesus says it is not right to give the children's food to the dogs, again affirming his primary mission. But she wisely interjects that even the dogs get the food from their Master's table. Note she continues to call Jesus "master", which means Lord! It is then that Jesus declares her to be of great faith, and heals her daughter instantly, despite not being near her. Jesus shows he is lord, even over space and time.

So what made her faith so great? We can see her humility and persistence for sure, and it is driven by a deep sense that Jesus is really her Lord, and the only one who could truly help her. She is a woman, and a Canaanite, approaching a Jewish male rabbi. We can almost not fathom how much courage this took to approach Jesus let alone continue to pleas for his mercy, when he seemingly rejected her not once but twice. But her faith was unwavering because it was centered on Jesus and who he really was, the Messiah. Therefore she could not easily be offended because it was not about her, but about her daughter and the one who could heal her daughter who suffered horribly.

So where do you need great faith as we start another week together? Where is Jesus not answering your prayer yet? Where is your faith being tested? My faith gets tested when things get hard and are not as easy as I hoped. I somehow make the assumption Jesus wants me to have an easy life. But faith is only tested when we are challenged to see where Jesus really is in our present circumstances, and we need to be like the woman and cry out, "Lord have mercy on me!" Our faith is tested when we continue to sin and have to cry out, "Lord have mercy on me!" When we have to keep praying for that person who pushes our buttons, "Lord have mercy on me!" I think most importantly though despite her great trial, the Canaanite woman kept her eyes locked on the Messiah, her Lord. And Jesus says to her, "Woman you have great faith!"

Jesus we know faith is a gift from you. May we have great faith today, as we keep our eyes on you and trust you even if it means just getting a crumb off our Master's table, amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

When To Take Offense! - Matthew 15:12-20

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Reflection: The disciples take Jesus aside to say, "Hey Jesus it didn't go over too well with those Pharisees when you confronted their hypocrisy!" Jesus isn't surprised by their offense, nor does it deter him. He calls them "blind guides", meaning they didn't really know what they were teaching, because they didn't really know God. They were teaching man made rules to uphold their positions of authority. Then he goes deeper to say they have no root. And when there is no root their is no fruit.

Today's teaching re-defines what it means to be offensive. In a politically-correct world, we are always reminded of what is offensive and what could be a slight to someone. And while generally is it is good to not try to offend people or be rude or insensitive, the worst edge of the politically correct movement is when no one has any business correcting anyone for fear of being offensive. Sometimes people need to be offended when they have offended God. Now the caveat here is to make sure you pull the beam out of your own eye, before you pull the splinter out of somebody else's.

And as an individual it is a good trait not to be easily offended by anyone. If we are easily offended it is a good sign that our goal is to seek the approval of others. Or, we want to be liked by everyone. I think the question for us to ponder today is when do we offend God? And are we offended by the cross when the Son of God came down from heaven and died a brutal death for sinners like you me? Jesus died for something he didn't do. If anybody had reason to be offended it was Jesus, after all he was God and got treated pretty badly. But the scripture says "He took no offense at them!"

Jesus help us not to be easily offended by the things of this world. Help us be more offended by the things you take offense to. Plant us deeply in Your Word and our relationship with you Jesus, so that by abiding in you we might bear fruit out of a heart that has been changed by your great and deep love for us! Amen.