Monday, June 30, 2014

The Wheat And Tares

Matthew 13:24-30

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.  But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this.

The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Jesus had told his disciples that there were people who would not understand what he was trying to explain, no matter how he explained it.  Rather than wasting time trying to make them understand, he used a parable or story that illustrated the principle.  Those who were capable of understanding the principles would learn from the story and ask questions.  Others would accept the story at face value and not waste his time.

Jesus is reiterating what he taught in Matthew 7:21-23.  ”Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?   And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

There are people who get into the church who are not saved.  Many of them are Satanically inspired and are there expressly to disrupt and contaminate what God intended.  The natural response is to try to eliminate them just as one pulls the weeds in their garden.  Frequently we misidentify what we are pulling out, while other times the roots are so intertwined that bulling the weeds also rips the wheat out of the ground.  Either way we destroyed the wheat crop, which was Satan’s purpose in the first place.

Instead, Jesus said to let them remain.   The wheat heads would form above the tare seed pods and could easily be harvested without collecting the tare seeds.   Once the wheat had been harvested, the field could be burned off to destroy the tares. 

Many pastors develop a series of church standards in and effort to eliminate unbelievers.  Unfortunately, they usually do more harm than leaving them alone would do.  I Corinthians 11 addresses this problem using the illustration of hair lengths of men and women, and how many would demand people meet a certain standard. 

 I Corinthians 11:16 states, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.  Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.  For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.   For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

Such standards were not from God, and godly men or godly churches would not insist on them.  That they were doing so implied they were not godly and was in fact causing conflict in the church, which as I Corinthians 3:3 makes clear, indicates an unspiritual condition.  “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”  Their efforts were actually hindering the work of God.  God does not need us to separate out the good from the bad because he has more effective ways and will separate them at the judgment.

This in no wise contradicts the teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 or I Corinthians 5 about dealing with those who are involved in overt sin.  A weed which is killing the good plants still needs to be removed.  The goal is to produce a crop, not just to kill the weeds. 

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Humans seem to believe that bigger is better.  As a result we focus on super churches and national organizations or movements to accomplish God’s plan.  Jesus points out that God uses a tiny seed to produce a giant plant in a single year.   Paul makes a similar point in I Corinthians 1:27-29.  “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.

Many times the big organizations or movements actually hinder God’s plan, sometimes because the bigger it is, the more room there is for tares.  Gideon was confronted with a multitude of Midianites that could not be counted.  He only had thirty thousand people show up to fight them.  Judges 7:2 says, “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” 

God would reduce the number from thirty thousand to three hundred men, just one percent of what originally showed up to fight, because he wanted them to know it was his power rather than their prowess that won the victory.  When it was finished they had killed a hundred twenty thousand of the Midianites, four times as many people as had shown up to fight. 

“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)

The story of the leaven or yeast in the flour taught the same principle as the story of the mustard seed in an effort to drive it home more firmly.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)

Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 78:2 by speaking in parables.  “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Sower And The Seed

Matthew 13:1-23

The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.   And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.  Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matthew 13:1-10)

When Jesus left the Pharisees, a large number of people followed him.  He went out in boaat just offshore where those on shore could easily see and hear him.  He began to teach them using stories, starting with a story about how a sower planted seed and it didn’t all produce the same results.    Some didn’t even sprout, some was not productive and some produced huge crops.  He said that anyone who understood should pay attention to the lesson.  The disciples asked him why he used stories that were so hard to understand.

“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.  For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:11-13)

Jesus said that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven were not for everyone to know.  I Corinthians 2:14-16 tells us, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.  For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 
A man I know has grown up around both Navajo and Spanish speaking people but has refused to learn either language.  He frequently gripes about not being able to understand when they talk to someone who doesn’t speak English but it is his own choice.   Over the years he has picked up some words, but often confuses them.  As a result he is sometimes confused by the little he knows of the language.

Those who don’t have the Holy Spirit to guide them are incapable of understanding some things and will only be confused by partial understanding, much like the man.   Those who have the Spirit to enable them are capable of understanding everything and can easily learn what Jesus means.  By putting the information in story form, even those who do not get the complete meaning can guess at the meaning and enjoy the story.  Jesus was polite enough not to leave them out completely.

“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:14-15)

The inability to understand by the people there was the result of their choice, just as it is for the man I mentioned.  They didn’t want to understand so didn’t bother to learn enough so they could.  As a result they did not receive all the benefits Christ had to offer.

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.  For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.  Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:16-18)

Because they were equipped to understand, the disciples were learning things the old prophets had not been able to understand.  Now he would explain the parable for their sake. 
“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.” (Matthew 13:19)

The message of salvation meant nothing to people who didn’t understand it and they soon forgot what they had heard.   Like the soil that had not been plowed, they were unprepared to receive the message.

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” (Matthew 13:20-21)

 Some people have a partial understanding and eagerly claim it before they fully understand what is involved, and never come to the point of full salvation.  When problems or conflicts arise they fall away because they were not prepared to make a full commitment to Christ.

“He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

The third group are people who have made the full commitment to Christ and been saved, but later concerns about surviving or building a career consume all their energy and they never produce much of anything.

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:23)

The good ground are those who have been prepared enough to completely understand and be saved and have learned to focus their energy on what pleases God.  As a result, they produce abundantly, although their output varies widely.

The impact of the gospel is very much affected by how well prepared a person is to receive it.  The less people know the more unlikely they are to receive the message.  To have much impact in a new area requires time preparing the people.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Human Intervention Produces Only Temporary Benefits

Matthew 12:43-50

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.  Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.  Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

Demons do not gain direct control ove r a person but influence his thinking.  As a result, most demon possession is diagnosed as a psychological problem.  Psychology, counseling, religious events, and medical treatments can result in the person not demonstrating the behavior for a time. 

Unfortunately, in most cases, they only treat the symptoms, changing the behavior without getting rid of the attitudes and manner of thinking that caused the behavior.  In essence they just temporarily displace the spirit.    As a result, once the treatment stops, the person reverts back to allowing the spirit that caused the attitude and consequent behavior back into their life.  With the former guilt and restraints gone, the person is far more open to suggestion by other demonic influences and actually becomes worse than before.  Most treatment programs require an ongoing commitment to meetings or drugs to prevent recurrence of the behavior.

When a person accepts Christ there will not need to be the ongoing support because the evil spirit is permanently replaced by the Holy Spirit as John 14:16-17 describes.  “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

As a result, II Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  The person is no longer an alcoholic, or psychopath or whatever else the evil spirit caused them to be.   They are a new person, with a completely new attitude and way of thinking.  External support can be helpful, but is not required.

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.  Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Many have held traditionally that Mary never had other children.  All four gospel records speak of his brothers and mother.  Matthew 13:55-56 names four brothers and mentions some sisters.  Clearly Jesus was not Mary’s only child. 

When Mary’s presence was announced. One of the women commented how great it was to have been his mother in Luke 11:27.  “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.”

 Jesus said she was no more special than any person who would listen to and obey the word of God in Luke 11:28.  “But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”   Every person who obeys God is as much his family as his physical mother and brothers were.  Mary is not to be worshipped or considered more special than other people, despite having given birth to Jesus.  She has no special powers or influence.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Importance of Attitude

Matthew 12:30-42

“He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.  Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.  Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” (Matthew 12:30-33)

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out demons by satanic power.  As Jesus pointed out that was an untenable position, both because it would have resulted in Satan’s defeat, and because if true, then their own efforts must also be satanic. 

Jesus then pointed out that one cannot be neutral about who Christ is.  Either you are on his side or you’re drifting farther away.  Inevitably those who try to serve God without seeking the fellowship of the church and Christ drift away.  It is why Hebrews 10:25 commands, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Many people distinguish between mortal or unforgiveable sins and venial or forgivable sins.   Jesus said there is only one sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will not be forgiven.   To blaspheme means ‘to vilify, to speak evil of, to falsely accuse.’  They could say whatever they wanted about even Jesus and still be forgiven, but when people begin to falsely accuse the Holy Spirit of doing evil or being satanic, it will never be forgiven. 

A tree only produces one kind of fruit.  They do not naturally produce more than one kind unless someone has grafted in other branches.  In the same way, the Holy Spirit only produces good results and Satan only produces evil ones.  The test whether something is good or evil is what its end result is, not in how good it appears along the way.   Some of the most deadly things are the most attractive in appearance.

“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:34-35)

A person’s speech and actions are the product of his core beliefs and attitudes that determine what a person is.   Sooner or later those attitudes and beliefs will spill out and reveal what the person is really like.  The Pharisees had focused on getting power since the time of Alexander the great.  There was no way they would recommend Jesus teaching when it challenged their practices.   What a person is really like inside shows in his actions and attitudes.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.  For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matthew  12:36-37)

God is keeping track of every word we say, and will judge us on those unguarded moments when we let our real feelings and attitudes come out because they show what is really in our hearts.  Literally our words will control whether we are rewarded or punished in the judgment.

“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

The entire discussion had arisen because Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day, that very day.  Now the scribes and Pharisees wanted him to do a special sign for them to prove he is from God.  Jesus refused.  He said that people who insist on constantly having signs to serve God are like a prostitute who will only relate to her man if he pays her fee.  They have no real commitment to God and God will not provide those signs just to keep them.

The only sign that they had to look forward to as proof that he was the Messiah was that of his death.  Just as Jonah had spent three days and nights in the giant fish’s belly, the Messiah would spend three days and nights in the tomb.  There would be no special signs to prove he was the Messiah.

“The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.  The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:41-42)

When Jonah went into Nineveh he just stated that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed, hoping they wouldn’t listen.  They acted on his words, repenting of their sin and were spared.  Unlike Jonah, Jesus had done miracles to try to get them to listen.  When Judgment came the Pharisees would be condemned because they had far more reason to believe Jesus than the people of Nineveh did to believe Jonah, but had refused.

The queen of Sheba had travel several hundred miles to learn from Solomon.  Jesus had shared more with them and had given more reason to listen than Solomon, yet they were not listening, and when Judgment came, the Queen of Sheba would point it out to show they had no excuse for not believing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

People Have To Choose What they Believe

Matthew 12:14-29

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.  But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles.

He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.  And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” (Matthew 12:14-21)

The Pharisees had attempted to establish supremacy over Jesus by challenging what he and his disciples were doing as being a violation of the law.  When he showed the fallacy of their charges they were angry and began to try to destroy his influence by more serious charges. 

Rather than staying and fighting it out, Jesus withdrew.   People still continued to come to him for healing and he healed them all.  He warned them not to let the authorities know where he was so the prophecy if Isaiah 42:1-4 could be fulfilled.  “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.  He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.   He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.”

Jesus would not cause confrontations by speaking publically or shouting to make his voice heard.  He would not aggravate the current political or economic issues or try to play them down.  Instead he would focus attention on what was right.  His approach would not change until the entire world came into compliance with God’s standard, and as a result, the Gentiles would turn to him, waiting for his victory.
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23)

 The people were aware of the prophecies that Messiah would be a descendant of David.  When Jesus cast out a demon that was making him unable to speak or see, they were convinced that he was the Messiah.  Isaiah 9:6-7 had promised, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. 

For about three hundred years the Pharisees had stood against the efforts of the Sadducees to introduce Greek culture to the Jews.  They were convinced they were the only ones who actually served God.  The idea that it was God who was empowering Jesus challenged their very core beliefs in their own righteousness.   

“But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” (Matthew 12:24)

Like many people today, the Pharisees didn’t consider the possibility that they were in the wrong.  Since Jesus didn’t do things the way they wanted, he had to be wrong and since they were sure they were obeying God, he had to be empowered by Satan. 

“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:  And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.” (Matthew 12:25-27)

As Jesus pointed out, their logic made no sense.  Any country, group or organization the begins fighting among themselves eventually destroys itself, however large or small it is.   Satan uses that fact to destroy churches and Christian organizations.  Knowing that, he would be foolish to fight against his own people.  His kingdom would have collapsed hundreds of years ago.   Furthermore, many of them claimed to cast out demons.  If Jesus was casting them out by Satanic power, it was probable that they were doing the same, implying they were from Satan as well.

“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.  Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.  He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matthew 12:28-30)

On the other hand, if Jesus was casting out demons by the power of God, it implied they were also from God and the promises of his kingdom were very close.  After all the only way to defeat a strong person was to somehow get something too strong for him to overcome to hold him back, and God is the only one strong enough to restrain Satan.  Trying to throw him out if he was free would not be humanly possible.  A person has to decide what he believes about Christ.   Either he is the Son of God, or he is a liar and cannot be a good man or a great teacher. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Pharisees Begin To Oppose Jesus

Matthew 12:1-14

“At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:1-2)

The word translated ears of corn means literally a head of grain rather than what we think of as an ear of corn in our day.  As the disciples passed through the fields of grain they hungry and picked some of the heads of grain to eat, in accordance with Deuteronomy 23:25, “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour's standing corn.”  They were not harvesting the grain or collecting any to take home.

Because they were doing this on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for what the disciples were doing, referring to the command in Exodus 20.9-11.  “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

 Because it did not refer specifically to the Sabbath day, they overlooked the exception in Exodus 12:16.  “And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.”  Feeding oneself was not to be considered work.  There were also exceptions for watering and feed livestock or rescuing trapped or injured animals.

“But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matthew 12:3-5)

Jesus pointed out that there were exceptions to the law.   When fleeing from Saul, David and his companions had eaten the showbread even though it was supposed to be eaten only by the priests because preserving life is more important than that rule.  In the same way, the every priest who offered a sacrifice on the Sabbath as required by the law violated that particular commandment, yet were not guilty of doing wrong.  The purpose of the law was to free them to remember and worship God, not to limit what they could do. 

“But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.  But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:6-8)

In their emphasis on following their religious customs the Pharisees had overlooked some things about God,  First, he was greater than the temple or their laws, having made them and was capable to setting them aside if he so chose.  Secondly, He was more concerned with how other people were treated than with whether a certain sacrifice was offered.  Had they understood that, they would not have been so quick to judge the disciples for something that actually wasn’t wrong.  God, and his son had the right to decide how the Sabbath was to be celebrated.  The Pharisees did not. 

A couple of years ago, a nationally known pastor wrote that it is the pastor’s duty to set the standards for his church.  Apparently he is making the same mistake the Pharisees made, overlooking the fact that God and not the pastor is the one who decides how god should be worshipped.  It is a problem for a lot of people.

“And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.” (Matthew 12:9-10)

Resentful that Jesus had said they didn’t know as much as they thought about God, and unable to prove him wrong, the Pharisees were looking for something they could use to discredit him, much like the negative ads we see in polkitical campaigns.  When they saw a man with a shriveled up and useless hand, the Pharisees asked if the law allowed for doing medical work on the Sabbath.  They were sure Jesus would heal the man, and also that the law made no specific provision for him to do so.

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

Jesus asked which of them would leave one of their sheep trapped in a pit because it was the Sabbath instead of pulling it out?  If they would not consider that wrong, why would they consider doing the same thing for a person wrong?  A person is more important than an animal to God.  Doing something good was just as acceptable on the Sabbath as on any other day.
“Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.” (Matthew 12:13)

Jesus then simply asked the man to stretch out his arm, which none of them would consider work.  When the man obeyed, his arm was restored to health.  Since Jesus had not visibly done any work, there was nothing the Pharisees could say, but their anger was not satisfied. 

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.” (Matthew 12:14)

The Pharisees began to plot how they could discredit or kill Jesus.  Like most political leaders, they were more concerned with keeping their power and prestige than with the welfare of the people or the country.  They will not stop until they have eliminated the opposition.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Human Wisdom Versus God’s Power

Matthew 11:20-30

“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-22)

Bethsaida was the home of Philip, Andrew and Peter.  Chorazin was only about three miles away, just north of the Sea of Galillee.  Tyre and Sidon were ancient Phoenician cities in present day Lebanon.  Baal worship had been their main religion for many years, yet Jesus said that if the same miracles had been done in Tyre and Sidon as had been done in Chorazin and Bethsaida, the people would have repented long before. 

“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matthew 11:23-24)

Capernaum had received perhaps more of Christ’s miracles than any other city, they flocked to bring him sick or crippled and demon possessed people but did not accept his message.  Jesus said that if the same things had been done in Sodom, the people there would have repented and the city never have been destroyed. 

Sadly, those who know least about God are often more ready to listen than those who know most.  Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and Egypt heeded Ezekiel’s warning to surrender to Babylon in 565 BC, when The Jews refused.  As a result, the prophesied destruction of Nineveh and Egypt did not occur, but the Jews were killed.   People today are no different, presuming on God’s love and ignoring his righteousness.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.  Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Matthew 11:25-26)

Jesus thanked God that he had made things so simple even the simplest could understand them, although those who were more sophisticated and better educated considered them too simple to be of value.    Those who consider themselves smarter or better than others seem to believe that if their inferiors can believe something it must be wrong.  God wanted everyone to be able to understand.  It is not his fault that some think they are too sophisticated to believe it. 

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)

Understanding of who God is or who Jesus is can come only from God.  God has revealed those things to Jesus, who reveals them to others as he sees fit.  In John 6:65, Jesus said, “…Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”  According to I Corinthians 2:14, humans are incapable of understanding these things without God’s intervention.  “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  As a result, John 6:44 says “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

No amount of human explanation or emotional or psychological appeals can produce understanding or salvation.  Paul was concerned that emphasis on these things would produce a false faith based on human wisdom.  In I Corinthians 2:4-5 he said, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  It is troubling that today so much emphasis is placed on college degrees and motivational speaking.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Fulfilling the standards of the Jewish law in order to please God was a burden no sinful human could ever meet, even when they modified the interpretations to suit themselves.  Human flesh could never consistently overcome the power of sin.  Fortunately God accounted for that as Romans 8:3-4 t3lls us.  “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” 

Christ has done all the hard work for us, and now he just asks us to believe him.   While we ought to live according to the standards God has set, our salvation does not depend on our success.  Much of the pressure has been removed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Importance of John the Baptist

Matthew 11:1-19

“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:1-3)

Matthew 3:13-17 describes Jesus coming to John for baptism.  In John 1:28-34, John explains how he knew Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized him.   He was quite positive in his statement to Andres and another man in John 1:35-36.  “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!”

Although multitudes flocked to hear Jesus, he seemed to be having little impact on the religious and political leadership of Israel.  When John was imprisoned for his preaching and no one intervened on his behalf, he began to wonder if he’d been premature in his announcement of Christ as the Messiah.  Perhaps Jesus was just another prophet like himself.  He sent some of his own disciples to make sure.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6)

Jesus essentially told them to look at the results or fruit of his ministry, rather than the activity.  The results were things only God could produce in individual lives.   Incurable diseases and injuries were cured, and dead people were restored to life.  Jesus message was not even being preached to the rich and powerful leaders, but to the poor and politically unconnected majority.   God’s blessings were reserved for those who didn’t get discouraged and quit because of the lack of immediate accomplishment.   

Meaningful long term change is effected by making changes in the most basic areas, rather than by imposing change from the top.  God wants meaningful and permanent change rather than just an illusion of change. 

“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?  But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” (Matthew 11:7-8)

The people knew who John’s disciples were and what their questions were.  After they left, Jesus began to explain a little about his relationship to John.  The people had taken John as having something serious to say, not as some mere interesting phenomena such as a reed shaking in the wind.  They were not attracted to him because of his fancy clothing or political connections,  Had that been their interest, they would have been better off to go to the political insiders.

“But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:9-11)

They had gone to hear John because they believed he was a prophet who could tell them what God wanted.  Jesus said he was more than an ordinary prophet.  He was the special messenger described in Malachi 3:1.  “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

Humanly speaking there had never been a greater naturally born man of God than John the Baptist, even including Moses, David, or Elijah.  At the same time, even the least important saved person is greater because they have been spiritually born and have the spirit of God in themselves.

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. Mt 11:14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:12-15)

Up until John began his ministry, all the prophets and the law had been speaking of something to come in the future.  John was speaking of things in that day, and he had been arrested and would soon be beheaded for his preaching.   Violent men would crucify Jesus and execute Christians in an effort to conquer and control the kingdom of heaven. 

John’s coming was a fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6.  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  They would be wise to heed John’s message.

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.  The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

Unfortunately, the children of Israel were like a group of little children who decide to make up their own rules and change them whenever they want in order to win the game.  After the Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks, the Jews had formed different schools of interpretation of the law.  They used these interpretations to discredit anyone they disagreed with. 

When John came, eating only locusts and wild honey and wearing camel’s hair and living out in the wilderness like a hermit, the religious leaders accused him of being demon possessed.   When Jesus lived and ate just like they did, and visited with ordinary people, they accused him of drunkenness and gluttony and of associating with unacceptable people.  As Solomon said in Proverbs 21:2, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes...”   They could always find some way of justifying even the most untenable position.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Not Peace, But Conflict

Matthew 10:34-42

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)

Many believe Christ came to produce peace on earth.  Jesus is very specific that he deliberately induced conflict between people, specifically within individual families.  Luke 12:51-53 says almost the same thing.  “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.  The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”  (Matthew 10:37-38)

Today there are a large number of people who want to live with their girl or boyfriend but not get married because they are not willing to leave their parents.  They don’t love their boy or girlfriend as much as they love their parents.  The marriage is almost certain to fail because they will never give themselves fully to make it work.  In the same way, anyone who is not willing to give up their relationship to their family doesn’t love the Lord enough to deserve him. 

Because of this, Luke 14:26-27 says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”  The conflict forces one to choose between God and one’s family.  If he is not willing to choose God over his family, he cannot be saved.  Just as a man or woman would be foolish to marry a person who refuses to leave their parents, God would be foolish to take someone who doesn’t think he is more important than his family but it goes beyond just his family.   

 Luke 14:33 says, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”  If there is anything else that matters more than God, the person cannot be saved either, whether it is a career, a sport or hobby, or an addiction.  He must choose which is more important to him.

”He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

The person who chooses the things he likes over God will ultimately lose everything in hell, but the person who chooses to give up those things will have eternal life, with all its attendant blessings.

God did promise peace, but it was not world peace.  It is individual peace to those who believe and obey him.  Romans 2:9-10 says, “Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”   Romans 15:13 promises that the peace will come through our faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.  He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)

Jesus had commanded his disciples to not provide extra clothing or food or money for their journey, but to trust God to supply for them.  Here he makes it clear God will reward those who meet the needs of those who are serving him.  They will receive the same reward as the person they help.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sheep In A Pack Of Wolves

Matthew 10:15-33

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.  But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

As he sent the twelve out, Jesus warned them that they would be in danger, like a sheep straying into a pack of hungry wolves.  If the sheep is to survive, it will be necessary not to get the wolves thinking about him as a meal.   To catch a meal, a snake moves very slowly and utilizes its protective coloration to avoid attracting unwanted attention and get within striking distance of its prey.   

Jesus said his disciples would need to exercise similar wisdom in reaching out to the world, but unlike the snake, they are not there to kill the target.   They were not to try to threaten their way like an old ram might, but like a dove, make it clear they intended no harm and posed no threat. 

They were to understand that because they were different people would consider them a threat, having them arrested and punishing them in an effort by religious groups to stop their message.  As a result of efforts to silence them, they would be brought before civil and political leaders as a demonstration of their rebellion against God.  Frequently we get discouraged, especially when we have little or no impact, forgetting that God already warned us most of them would not listen.

“But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.  For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

Rather than hiring lawyers and planning their defense when they were arrested, they were to depend on the Holy Spirit to speak through them, contrary to the advice most are giving today.  Unfortunately, most today are more concerned with preserving their lives and freedoms than they are that God’s power be seen.

“And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

Even family relationships will not serve to protect those who serve God in that day.  Often family members will be the first to take offense and betray believers to the authorities.  Frequently the hardest people to reach are those of your own family.  They often resent what they perceive as trying to make oneself appear better than they are.   Caving in to the pressure indicates a lack of commitment to God on our part.

“But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Matthew 10:23)

Part of being wise as a serpent is knowing when to retreat to avoid being killed.   Jesus in effect said there are too many who need to hear to waste much time or further antagonize those who refuse to listen.  We won’t have won everyone when the Lord returns, so we shouldn’t fail to tell some who might listen in our effort to reach people who aren’t interested.  Several times in the book of Acts, Paul left a city and went elsewhere to allow tensions to settle down.   It is what Jesus said to do.

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.  It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?  Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.” (Matthew 10:24-26)

Many today think that since we have been saved, God should protect us from having to deal with the problems others have faced.  God allowed his sinless and only naturally born son be mocked and accused of being from Satan.  Do we really believe we are so much better than Christ that we should be let off from being treated the same way?  We ought to expect similar treatment, knowing that God knows what is going on and will straighten it out at the proper time.

“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.  And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:27-31)

Christ’s disciples were to simply speak openly what God told them in private.  They were and are not to allow fear of repercussions stop them.  After all, the worst the world can co is to kill us.  Their accusations cannot take away our salvation, and as Paul says in II Corinthians 5:6-8, “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

As Jesus pointed out we are worth far more to God than a sparrow, and he takes notice when one of them is hurt.  He will do far more for us.

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.  But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

Jesus is not talking about a momentary yielding to fear such as Peter did at Jesus’ trial, when he denied the Lord three times and was still forgiven.  He’s talking about what we see in Hebrews 6: 4.  “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

Like Judas Iscariot, they have been actively involved with the Lord, seeing his power and knowing what he offers yet turn away, denying his sacrifice for them.    They have consciously chosen to reject Christ, and he will not overlook that choice.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sending The Twelve

Matthew 10:1-15

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” (Matthew 10:1)

Jesus gathered his twelve disciples or students, later known as Apostles or special messengers, and gave them special, miraculous powers.  In II Corinthians 12:12, Paul refers to these special powers as proof that they were God’s apostles.  “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds”.  They would need these gifts to accomplish the job he had given them.

I Corinthians 12:28-29 Makes it very clear that there are different positions in the church and not everyone has the same responsibilities.  “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.  Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?”

I Corinthians 12:7 is quite specific that those gifts are given as needed to accomplish the job God has given to each person, and None of those spiritual gifts are given to every Christian.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.  For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”  Who gets which gifts is determined by the Holy Spirit as he sees fit, to accomplish the purpose.

 “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” (Matthew 10:2-4)

Jesus had many disciples, but from them he picked twelve special ones for special training to be his apostles.  After Judas committed suicide, the apostles would choose a man to take his place in Acts 1.  The criteria were that it had to be a man who had been taught personally by Christ just as the others had.  Peter’s statement of what is required is found in Acts 1:21-22.  “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Seventy more of his disciples were sent out at a later date, but they were not called apostles.  Paul is the only one referred to as an apostle who did not come from that original group and he referred to himself as being born out of season in I Corinthians 15:8.  At one point his entire team was referred to as apostles in much the same way an evangelistic team might be referred to as evangelists, even though only one actually was the evangelist.  Modern day preachers or missionaries or evangelists are not apostles.

“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)

On their initial journey, the apostles were not to go to the Gentile districts, nor were they to go to the Samaritan communities, even though they worshipped God and were of Jewish descent.  The Jews had developed new standards of interpretation and practice and were ignoring many who clung with the older interpretation, much as we see many contemporary groups rejecting those who cling to traditional values today.  Initially, Jesus sent his apostles to reach out to those who clung to the old traditions and were isolated from the current religious clique, the lost sheep the Pharisees and scribes were ignoring as too old fashioned to mess with.

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7

Their message was to be that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, which the traditional Jews had sought for hundreds of years, as prophesied in Jeremiah 32:38-41.  And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.  Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.”  They were to focus especially on those who were already interested, performing the various healings and other miracles to convince them that they were from God.  They were to give as freely as it had been given to them.

“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.” (Matthew 10:9-10)

They were not to worry about raising money or provisions for their ministry, but were to depend on God to supply their needs.  After all God is a righteous God and will provide what his employees need and deserve.  There was little resemblance to most modern missions programs.

“And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.   And when ye come into an house, salute it.  And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10:11-13)

They were to seek out those with an established reputation for trying to obey God and ally themselves with them if they proved to have a sincere interest, or to move on to others if not. 

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.  Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

If they were not welcomed by a family or a community, they were not to waste time trying to convince them to change, but to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them and go elsewhere looking for those who were willing to listen.  The priority was to be reaching those who were already interested.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sheepherders Needed

Matthew 9:27-38

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.

And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this?

They said unto him, Yea, Lord.

 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.  And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.  But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.” (Matthew 9:27-31)

Jesus’ reputation was spreading, and the two blind men had heard about how he had healed others and raised the dead girl.  They publicly asked Jesus to consider their state and help them as well.  Inside the house Jesus asked them privately if they believed he could and they said they did.  Jesus said their healing would be according to their faith, and they were healed.

Mark 16:16 declares, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  It is the belief that saves or heals, and it is a private personal thing.  Even the act of being baptized is only a way of demonstrating that faith.  The same is true of confession in Romans 10:9-10.  The act of confessing is just a demonstration of that faith.  Far too many have placed the emphasis on the action of being baptized or of saying the right words rather than the faith which motivates the action.

Jesus then instructed them not to tell anyone what happened, but they were excited about being healed and couldn’t keep it to themselves.  I believe everyone who really gets saved will have a similar difficulty in keeping it quiet.  They won’t have to be told to witness.  It will just come out in their excitement.  Only those who have lost that first love find it hard to tell others about Christ.

“As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil.  And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.” (Matthew 9:32-33)

Just as the two formerly blind men left, they brought in a man who a demonic spirit had taken such control of his mind that he was unable to speak intelligibly.  When Jesus cast the devil out the man could speak clearly.  The people were amazed that such a thing were even possible.  No one else had ever been able to do such a thing.

“But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.” (Matthew 9:34)

The Pharisees were angered by the people’s comments that no one else, including Moses and Elijah had ever been able to do such things, taking it as an affront to their beliefs.  They said Jesus could only do it through Satanic power.   Mark 3:20-30  and Luke 11:14-20 record Jesus’ answer to their claim, that Satan would be pretty dumb to attack his own people and destroy his own efforts.

“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36)

Jesus went from city to city preaching and teaching, and healing every disease and sickness he found.  The more he observed the people the more concerned he became because, while they had a clearly established system that was to teach them to serve God, it was like they had no one.  The entire focus was on preserving their traditions rather than on serving God.  As a result they were discouraged and looking for someone to show them a better way.

 “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

As Jesus pointed out, there was and still is a tremendous need for those who will teach people the truth, but there is a shortage of people who are willing to take the responsibility to study and learn so they can share it.  Only God can give a person a desire to do that job.  Most people are not willing to take on the job of a sheepherder.  Like the Pharisees, they want to only deal with sheep who are all cleaned up for showing at the fair.  They don’t want to have to care for them day by day.