Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Transfiguration Part 2 - Matthew 17:6-13

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Reflection: In part two of the Transfiguration story, Jesus "touches" the disciples, and they get up from the ground. Note when we get a glimpse of God's glory and power. it causes us to fall to our knees in worship and awe. Now it was time to come down the mountain. Note, there is always an end to our mountaintop experiences, and a time to go back to life as usual. But we go back having been changed having encountered the living God. Note, Peter would later remember and relate to his mountaintop experience in the letters he wrote to the early church.

The disciples are still struggling in spite of this experience to put it all together. Then, Jesus relates it to Elijah the prophet, and the role of John the Baptist to give them a point of reference, or "ladder of inference". The basic point Jesus is making is that if the prophets before him like Elijah, and by application John the Baptist, suffered at the hands of men, so would he. Even though the mountaintop experience would give them a vision of the glory he would one day have, they still were of and in this world where there would be troubles. And yet, as Paul tells us in Romans, "The sufferings of this present are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will one day be ours in Christ Jesus."

So Jesus took the three on the mountaintop not only to give them a glimpse what the glory of heaven would be like, but also to prepare them for what was ahead so that the vision and glimmer of heaven would sustain them in their trials here on earth. As we say the kingdom has come in Jesus, but not yet been fully consummated. We live in the in-between times. Jesus gives us glimpses of His kingdom coming here on earth as it is in heaven as a foretaste of the feast to come to sustain us in our pilgrimage here on earth.

Jesus take us to the mountaintop, as we pray, as we worship, as we commune with you; give us a foreshadowing of the glory that is reserved for the sons and daughters of God. As we struggle in this life, remind us that our citizenship is in heaven and is reserved for those loved by and called by you! Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Transfiguration - Matthew 17

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Reflection: As Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for his departure, he takes Peter, Jamea and John, his inner circle, on a mountaintop where he is transfigured. For a moment heaven's glory shines on Him, and not only do the disciples see Jesus in this state but, they are visited by two saints, Moses and Elijah. Interestingly both of them experienced God in powerful ways, as Moses shined with God's glory when he came down the mountain with the ten commandments. Elijah was taken up by chariots of fire into heaven in a whirlwind when God took him from this earth. Moses died on Mount Nebo and was apparently buried by God there. But one thing is for sure they are with Jesus in this scene with his beloved disciples. As such, Moses represented the Law, and Isaiah the prophets, and Jesus fulfilled both the Law and the Prophets.

Peter, always insistent at putting his foot in his mouth, suggests that he might build a tent for all of them. At which point they hear a voice from the cloud covering them saying, "This is my son in whom I am well pleased!" This is the same voice that was present and said the same thing at Jesus' baptism. In baptism Jesus was covered by God's Spirit for the ministry he would be about for the next three years. Now God was anointing him to finish the mission he sent him to accomplish.

Jesus knew there would be hard days ahead and this experience will help the disciples as they go through the week of Jesus' suffering and death. Mountaintop experiences don't happen all the time, but God can use them when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Just as Jesus was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses so are we. When we go through our hardest times we need to be reminded that we are God's sons and daughters, and God is pleased with us. And most importantly when we go through hard times, we don't have a Savior who is aloof to suffering, but he walks with us and is pleased with us as we listen to his still, small voice.

Jesus thank you for at times leading us to the mountaintop to experience your glory. But we also know you are with us in the valleys of life. Help us to continue to hear your voice as we seek to be faithful to you. Amen.

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.