Thursday, December 31, 2020

Matthew 17 - Part 4


Read Matthew 17

Every fisherman has a story or two or two hundred.  Most involve one that got away.  Some stories are verified by the fish mounted and displayed for posterity.

My favorite fish story goes like this.  You can tune a piano but you can’t tuna fish. 

Peter had one to top them all, well, maybe except for Jonah. 

Someone came around to collect the temple tax and asked Peter if his Master paid the temple tax.  Of course he does, at least that’s what Peter thought.  Why wouldn’t he?

When Peter came to Jesus, Jesus already knew what had transpired in conversation so he asked Peter:  Do the kings of the earth tax their own children?

Of course not.  So why would you expect Jesus—the Son of God—to pay tax to a human authority?  The question goes unstated here but hold on a few more chapters.

Jesus does not desire to confront the poor guy in charge of collecting the temple tax.  This was likely a minimum wage employee unlike the general tax collectors who could profit significantly from their trade.  Jesus noted there was no reason to raise a stink here.

Jesus told Peter to go throw his line in the lake and to look in the mouth of the first fish that he caught.  There would be a 4 Drachma coin, just enough for Peter and his Master’s temple tax.

Evidently, even the fishermen who usually cast nets could also throw in a line.  We don’t get the story of the actual catch but can be certain that Peter caught his fish and paid the tax with the coin. 

It’s an interesting story.  It’s a fun story.  If you are about to miss a car payment, it might be the perfect excuse to go fishing.  You never know.

It’s a story of expectations.  Peter’s human expectations were that his Master would surely pay the tax even though he had recently professed him as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  If you truly believe that then you have no expectation that Jesus would pay any tax.

Jesus would pay a price for our sin but he was tax-exempt.  Peter couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that this person called Jesus was God in the flesh.  He was God with us. 

Peter was still governed by human expectations.

Despite the thought that ruled him, he was obedient.  Jesus told him to go fishing and to take the coin that was in the mouth of the first fish he caught and pay the tax so as not to cause offense that would distract from his mission in this world. 

His time had not yet come and declaring himself exempt as the Son of God might accelerate things faster than his Father planned. 

But Peter was obedient and the fisherman ended up with perhaps the second-best fish story of all time.

What do we do with this short account?  What’s our take home?

Some of you were content with you can tune a piano but you can’t tuna fish.

When the commanding officer of a Naval or a Marine unit comes aboard a ship, the duty officer rings them aboard.  The ship’s bell is sounded and the officer announced by his command.

Many times in the course of a six-month deployment that turned into seven months, I heard the captain of the ship announced.

Saipan, departing.

Saipan, arriving.

Sometimes, our colonel would be announced.

BLT 1/6, arriving.

One evening after making a port call somewhere in the Mediterranean, several officers returned to the ship.  The duty officer recognized us as company commanders and rang the bell for each of us.

H&S, arriving

Alpha Company, arriving

Weapons Company, arriving.

There were no extra perks, but being announced was something special. 

I wonder if it would have made a difference in the perceptions and expectations of the disciples, if they would have rung their Master aboard.

Son of God, arriving.

Messiah, departing.

Christ, Son of the living God, departing.

Would they have questioned him less if they thought about just who it was that said he would suffer and die and then be raised from the dead on the third day?

Would they have set their sights on the things of God and not the things of man if every time Jesus entered where they were someone would have rung a bell and announced, King of Kings?

What would it take for us to give up our own expectations and receive the expectations of God?

I’m thinking, I Am, arriving might get my attention.

The disciples knew that Jesus was the Son of God; yet, they sometimes acted as if he was just another Rabbi. 

Sometimes they were too focused on the journey of the day instead of with whom they shared the journey.

Jesus chastised Peter for dwelling on the things of men instead of the things of God and this was right after he professed him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus had told these few men not to tell others many of the things that they had witnessed.  It was not time for the world to know.  His time had not yet come, but just because the disciples were not to share everything that they knew is no reason not to live as people who were in the presence of God himself.

God with us sounds really cool.  It’s cool to be a Christian.  You can get tee shirts that say so.  But it’s overwhelming if you think about God actually with us. 

The Holy Spirit dwelling within us is some good Christian-speak right there.  That’s some more stuff that we put in the cool beans category, but what if we thought about what we said.

The Spirit of the Living God has made his dwelling within us.  God lives in us.

Last week I asked you to consider a simple resolution, to pursue the things of God.  When you think about it, it is a paradigm shift of great magnitude.

Most of the time we look at our life situations and try to see if doing things God’s way might actually be beneficial to us.  That leaves us within the world’s framework.  That puts us in Peter’s mindset.

Of course, my Master pays the temple tax.  That’s what’s expected.

But if my mind was firmly established that I kept company with God himself every day, the thought of God or his children paying such a tax would be absurd.

Instead of trying to figure out how to justify our decisions to the world, the world’s model would have no influence upon us.

Jesus didn’t want to offend the simple tax collector, so we get a good fish story out of this encounter, but our message continues to be—pursue the things of God.

Know with certainty that God is with us and within us and pursue the things of God.


Matthew 17 - Part 3


Read Matthew 17

The disciples headed back to the region of Galilee.  Jesus again told them that he would be handed over to men to be killed, but on the third day he would rise from the dead.

Again, the disciples must have been fixed only on the death part.  The man who stilled the waves and walked on water said he would rise from the dead and the disciples knew only grief.

He had told them what would happen before and each time they rejected God’s way for their own understanding.

Why did Jesus have to tell his disciples again and again?  Why do we need to read Proverbs 3:5-6 over and over?

Our own expectations are sometimes our biggest enemy.  Trust that God’s way is better.


Matthew 17 - Part 2


Read Matthew 17

The disciples did a great job feeding the multitudes at the direction of Jesus.   They had witnessed many miracles.  Peter had professed Jesus as the Christ and yet, they could not cast out a demon.  Jesus took care of the matter.

Later, the disciples wanted to know why they couldn’t do this.  Jesus said it was their lack of faith.  After all this time, they didn’t have enough faith.  Bummer.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

But surely, they had some faith.  Surely, they had a mustard seed’s worth of faith, didn’t they?

Perhaps the lesson is in the storm and the weeds.  Peter walked on top of the water until he noticed the storm.  In the Parable of the Sower, the weeds—the cares of the world—choke out some of the wheat. 

Perhaps, the disciples had a mustard seed’s worth of faith, then became consumed by how big the obstacles were.  What if having a mustard seed’s worth of faith meant having it, not occasionally dabbling in it.

Is this not our modern-day dilemma? We trust, obey, live by faith and then we don’t.  Something, anything, maybe nothing at all manages to trip us up and we are back to square one.

What if having a mustard seed’s worth of faith was a chronic condition.  We just can’t seem to shake it.  If that’s the case, we should expect God to do the impossible in our lives time and time again.


Matthew 17 - Part 1


Read Matthew 17

We left Jesus in the region of Caesarea Philippi.  That was almost a week ago by the timeline provided by scripture. That last chapter ended with an interesting verse.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Chew on that one for a moment.  First, the group identified was small, probably only the 12, and not all of the 12 but a subset—some who are standing here.

This small group will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.  Jesus had been preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand, but surely Jesus is talking about something else. 

What does it mean that they will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?

One possibility is that some in that small group of followers are still alive on this world, waiting for Jesus to come in this kingdom.  Think to Simeon who knew he would live to see the Christ born.    Could there still be men on the earth from the time that Jesus walked on land and water?

The problem is that we think we can account for the death of all of the disciples.  So, were there some straphangers not listed?

Another option is that Jesus came in this glory and we missed it.  Jesus came in his glory, in his kingdom, in his righteousness—King of Kings and Lord of Lords—and we missed it.

There was a new heaven and a new earth but we got left on the old one.  If you thought that you got the sorry end of the stick with that $600 stimulus, then you wait until you realize that Jesus came back and set up his kingdom and you got left in Burns Flat.

On a totally unrelated note, I will be taking a 3-month sabbatical to teach gender studies in Pakistan.  How hard can it be?  That’s a boy.  That’s a girl. That’s a boy.  That’s a girl.  Ooh!  Those kids lived too close to where they keep the nukes.

Back to reality.  Another possibility was that Jesus was talking about the 40 days that he walked the earth after his resurrection.  He would come again in much more glory, but this seems better than we missed the boat.

The hangnail here is that Jesus said that some who are standing here would witness what was to come before they died. All witnessed the resurrected Jesus.  Technically, all could be the prescribed subset described as some, but why would Jesus confuse his disciples who managed enough confusion on their own?

The most common interpretation is that what Jesus spoke of at the end of chapter 16, took place 6 days later in what we read as chapter 17.  Jesus, Peter, James, and John went with Jesus up a mountain and Jesus was transfigured before them.

It was as if light itself was emanating from Jesus.  The disciples did not note that they were blinded.  This was perhaps the light that we read about in Revelation. 

But is it the same to come in his kingdom and to be transfigured in his glory?

I told you that you would have something to chew on.  Consider this as you masticate.  The original word that Matthew used for Kingdom was basileia.  This word includes not only the physical landscape of a kingdom but sovereignty and royalty and glory of the king from which the kingdom is derived.

Of all the likely interpretations of what Jesus meant, this seems to be the simplest and most direct.  It requires the fewest assumptions.  Realize that this is a New Year and I might just be the first pastor on the planet to have used Occam's razor as an analogy in a sermon this year.

All things considered, I like this interpretation much better than we missed the boat!

Jesus wasn’t alone.  He was joined by Moses and Elijah.  Here’s the fun part.  How did the disciples know that these two men were Moses and Elijah?  It had been over 800 years since anyone had seen Elijah and Moses had never been seen before within the Promised Land.

How did they know?  Did someone have an old student ID?  Were there pictures in the textbooks of that day?

In any case, they knew.  Today, we generally equate Moses and Elijah to the law and the prophets.  This was more than a few disciples getting a glimpse of Jesus in his glory that would come.  It was a final coordination meeting. 

Jesus would not go to the cross and then find out at the after-action brief that 3 prophecies had not been fulfilled.  Before Jesus would cry out, it is finished, all would be finished.

Somehow, they knew and Peter thought they should do something special.  Erecting some shelter would be a good thing, right?

Peter didn’t get to follow through.  A bright cloud—shouldn’t that be an oxymoron—covered them and God spoke from heaven.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Those words should sound familiar from chapter 3. This time we see 3 more words. 

Listen to him!

 You think by this point the disciples would know to listen to their Master, but just in case, they got to hear it from a bright cloud.

I will cut to the chase on the remainder of this pericope.

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.”

The disciples can’t grasp this whole raised from the dead business because all the blocks have not been checked.  The prophet Elijah must come first before any thing like this can happen.

Long story short—Elijah did come in the person of John the Baptist. 

Transfigured into the glory that would come.

A high-level meeting with Elijah and Moses.

A voice from heaven.

An understanding that Elijah has come.

And finally, instructions not to speak of any of this until Jesus was raised from the dead.

I don’t have a single quip for you to chew on this week.  I gave you the whole section.  If your faith is strong and you like running down rabbit trails, it’s a good section to contemplate.

If you don’t like cleaning up loose ends, then just be happy to know that Jesus, Elijah and Moses made sure that all of the boxes had been checked so that Jesus could head to Jerusalem and the cross.

Just one tidbit to chew on…

When these men—Moses and Elijah were with Jesus—did Elijah look like John the Baptist?

There’s nothing here to impact your salvation or challenge your discipleship, but there is plenty to chew on.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Matthew 16 - Part 4


Read Matthew 16

Anyone have New Year’s Resolutions?  Or are you just seeing 2020 out the door and hoping for the best?

Resolutions—goals with some degree of commitment, at least in one’ mind—usually include things like losing weight, quitting smoking, getting a better job, finishing school, kicking foul language to the curb, and others that you might think of.

I know that some of you have New Year’s Resolutions that all include an essential oil or some LipSense or Scentsy product.  Yes, this is Oklahoma, so some resolutions may be all about John Deere.

I checked online to see what were popular resolutions for the year ahead.  Here’s one list.


Drink less alcohol.

Quit smoking.

Try a new diet.

Increase water consumption.

Join a gym.

Do more chores around the house.

Give yourself a new look.

Get more sleep.

Pack more healthy lunches.

These were not too far out there.  There were plenty of things we had seen before in one form or another.  But not all lists were the same.

Commit to only doing exercises that you like.

Hide yourself on Zoom.  We didn’t see that one in years gone by.

Examine your relationship with alcohol or marijuana or whatever you use to self-medicate.

Purge your social media feeds.  Get rid of the stuff that causes you to act impulsively.

Be more intentional about your food—where it comes from, how you cook it, how you eat.

Reduce the clutter in your email inbox.  Get rid of stuff you don’t need to see.

Implement the topless test.  Stop hanging out with people that you wouldn’t take your shirt of in front of.  This one is not for everyone.

Rearrange, declutter, decorate your workspace.  When I was in the Marine Corps, we called this painting rocks.

Start therapy.  Everyone needs to be in therapy.

These were not the New Year’s resolutions that I grew up with. 

I looked at others.  Didn’t find anything about saving money.  That’s a lost art.  In fact, you are probably a hater or a racist or just a bad person if you suggest such a thing these days.

Didn’t see a single resolution about getting closer to God, serving God more, reading the Bible more, or being known by your love. 

It’s 2020 about to be 2021.  The focus is on you.  Be selfish.  Be self-centered.  It’s all about you. 

Enough for New Year’s Resolutions.  Let’s get to chapter 16.

Jesus gave the Pharisees a dose of the chewing out that would come in a few more chapters.

Jesus warned his disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and how they could pervade the truth to which they should hold fast.

Peter professed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God!  On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

Things were coming together.  Things were looking up.

Jesus explained that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the religious hypocrites, and die.    Jesus didn’t do the sign of Jonah thing with his disciples.  He told them outright that he would rise from the dead.

That last part surely did not resonate with the disciples.  They heard suffer and die.

Peter, yes, the same Peter that Jesus said lived up to his name as the rock, interjected:  Not on my watch! OK, the translation of the original words goes more like this.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

I’m partial to my own rephrasing.  Not on my watch!

Remember John’s account of the foot washing of the disciples and Peter said:  Ain’t no way?  Again, that my rephrasing.  Peter was all in with Jesus but surely did not understand the mission of the Messiah, at least not yet.

The reply of Jesus to Peter probably rocked Peter’s world more than anything else he had heard to date.

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.”

Get behind me Satan!  That’s ouch.  Double ouch.  Triple ouch!

Venture into Peter’s mind for a moment.  But I’m Peter.  I got out of the boat and walked towards you.  I professed you as the Christ.  You were giving me the keys of the kingdom, remember?  I love it whenever you chew out the Pharisees, but now you look at me and address Satan.  What the…

Let’s retreat from Peter’s mind and return to the scripture.  Jesus chastised Peter for having the mind of man and not the mind of God.  How much more teaching and how many more miracles would it take for Peter and the others to see him and his mission from his Father’s perspective.

The Hebrew people wanted a Roman Relief Package but Jesus came with a total healing package.  The people wanted a military victory.  Jesus brought victory over sin and death.  The people wanted someone to sit on David’s throne and rule with justice.  Jesus would do that one day, but at this time he was headed to a Roman cross to atone for the sins of the world.

The disciples were still people of human hearts and minds.  They still had their own expectations.  Their feet followed Jesus, but their hearts and minds lagged behind.

They wanted to please their Master but they thought he could be gratified by the things of the world.  They still didn’t get it. 

“You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Try it this way.

Peter, if I listen to you, it would be the same as if I listened to Satan when he tempted me in the wilderness when my body was as weak as a human body can get.  Satan could not tempt me face-to-face.  I will surely not be tempted by your subtle entreaties through my disciple.

If you want to be my disciple then be my disciple.  Set aside your goals and expectations and follow me.  Don’t look where I am headed and see if you approve.  Follow me.

This is trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding stuff. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Did you catch those two words?  Deny yourself—that’s some stuff right there.  Our human nature is to gratify ourselves.  We want the basics and some nice things and an easy life and the same for our kids.

Jesus tells us that everything that we put ahead of him must go.  If he is not first in our lives, we are not following.  It’s not as if we will do without.  He told us that everything that we need that the godless seek after and make into their gods will be given to those who give up everything and seek the one true God. 

That giving up—denying ourselves—includes our human expectations.  That includes our control over what lies ahead.  That includes building our own towers of Babel, whatever they may look like in our modern world. 

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you followed through with all of your New Year’s Resolutions? What would happen if you accomplished everything that you set out to do?

What if you gained the whole world? Satan stood before Jesus and offered him the world if he would just bow down and worship him. 

What good is it to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?

Jesus had been tempted by the Tempter himself.  Jesus saw the Tempter subtly coming for him in the human mind of Peter. 

Jesus challenged his disciple to choose this day whom they serve.  He challenges us as well.  Will you seek the things of man or the things of God?

We have previously discussed how the expectations of the Hebrew people got in their way of seeing the Son of God performing miracles in their midst.  Do our own expectations get in the way of the things of God?

What if we got everything that we wanted but became disconnected from God?  What good is it to gain the whole world, yet lose your soul?

Do not let the things of man get in the way of following Jesus.  Do not let our own understanding get in the way of receiving and embracing and continuing in the way of God.

What if you lived up to every New Year’s Resolution that you ever made but lost touch with God?  Jesus told us that he would come in his glory and reward those who had produced good fruit—our deeds that bring glory to his name.  That day is coming but for now, we set aside our human desires and seek the things of God.

In this age in which we wait upon Jesus to return in all of his glory, claim his own, and establish his kingdom—the exact amount of time between those events makes for good discussion; we deny our selfish instincts and put his words into practice.  We take up our cross and follow him, even when our own understanding tells us otherwise.

We seek God first in an age that is tired of God.  We are known by our love in a time when the love of many has grown cold.   We wait for a time when we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but we are receptive to getting chewed out, even with the words, “Get behind me Satan!”

Nobody wants to hear that!  But it is better if God’s Spirit that lives within us chastises us early and as often as necessary if we become fixed on the things of man at the expense of the things of God.  Better a good chewing out now than to put some more miles behind us going the wrong way.

The proverb tells us:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,

    but whoever hates correction is stupid.

Try it this way with another familiar proverb:

The fear of the Lord

is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Sometimes the discipline of the Lord begins with a good chewing out.  The Lord disciplines those he loves.

Who despises the Lord’s discipline?  The fool.  The one who declares in his heart that there is no God.  The one set on his or her own objectives regardless of the way the Lord has prescribed.

We grow when we have a teachable spirit that listens to the Spirit of God.  We stay the course of following Jesus when we set aside our own expectations and receive the expectations of God and pursue them with passion.

Here is our New Year’s Resolution for the year to come.  It’s simple.  Some tasks are implied.  You don’t have to join a gym or eat only organic vegetables.  You don’t have to take off your shirt. Here it is.

We will pursue the things of God.

Write that on a piece of paper and stick it on your refrigerator.

Pursue the things of God.


Matthew 16 - Part 3


Read Matthew 16

Jesus and his disciples headed west to the region of Caesarea Philippi.  This is west of the Sea of Galilee and south of Mount Carmel.  It was here that Jesus asked his disciples an interesting question.

Who do people say that I am?

There was a variety of answers.  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or other prophets were being mentioned by the people when they talked about Jesus.

Jesus reframed the question.  Who do you say I am?

Peter spoke.  If there is one thing that we can say about Peter, he will get out of the boat.  Peter answers his Master.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus noted that Peter—Simon son of Jonah—didn’t figure this out on his own.  He marked this moment in these words.

“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.”

Peter—you are indeed what your name means—and on this rock I will build my church.  On this God-given profession, Jesus pronounced that he will have a church and it will not be overcome by the forces of evil. 

Jesus confirmed Peter’s revelation and further revealed that he would have many more disciples than these 12.  In his church, heaven and earth come together. 

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven would be manifest in the church.  The church would still stumble and require continual confession, but abundant life and eternal life would begin with the church.

After these revelations, Jesus instructed his disciples not to tell anyone.  That’s got to be a tough pill to swallow for these disciples that have followed Jesus all over the Promised Land.  Now that what they had suspected was confirmed by Jesus himself, they were instructed to keep that tidbit to themselves.

Put this in the his time had not yet come file.

Jesus promised the keys to the kingdom.  That’s a metaphor for all eternity.  The kingdom of heaven was opened to Peter and to us.  God with us had made a way for us to be with God for eternity. 

Do you remember how Jesus used the disciples in the miracles of feeding the 5000 and the 4000?  He used Peter and uses us to open the kingdom of heaven to all creation. 

Our commission is not just to save people from eternal darkness but to bring them into eternal light.  I’m stealing from John and preaching Matthew.  The kingdom of heaven was opened to us.  We might fully live.  We might live in accord with God’s purpose for us.

Not only could we seek his kingdom and his righteousness, we could live there.  We can live there.  We have begun living there.

And the gates of hell will not overcome it!

When it looks like the love of many has grown cold, remember the gates of hell will not overcome the church.

When people call evil good and good evil, remember the gates of hell will not overcome his church.

When the followers of Christ Jesus spend more time picking at other believers than they do sharing the love of God, remember, the gates of hell will not overcome this church.

So continue the work of the church.  We have unfinished business.  Don’t look at the darkness all around you.  Don’t covet what others have.  Don’t spend your best efforts criticizing how other believers live.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and trust in his promise that the gates of hell will not overcome his church.

And the gates of hell will not overcome it!


Matthew 16 - Part 2


Read Matthew 16

The confusion of the disciples can be your clarification.  Jesus warned his followers to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.  The disciples thought Jesus was indirectly goading them because they didn’t get any bread before they got in the boat and left the shore.

Jesus noted their confusion and reminded them of two recent events.  Don’t you remember when we fed more than 5000 with so little food?  Don’t you remember doing the same with the 4000?  We had substantial left-overs each time.

For us, that should solidify the fact that feeding the 5000 and the 4000 were two separate events, even though the disciples seemed to have forgotten the feeding of the first multitude when it was time to feed the second.

The message of Jesus to his disciples was to be on guard for the teaching of the Pharisees.  Their thoughts were all too human.  They embalmed the word of God and their own desires superseded what God had intended.

They were not good shepherds! 

We don’t see a lot of Pharisees today, or do we?  So many Christians want to split hairs and end up splitting the accord of believers.

So many proffer their deductions using the tools of the Father of Lies.  A slight twisting of scripture couldn’t hurt much, could it?

So what are our lessons for today?

1.     Be on the lookout for the Pharisees.  Don’t let their subtle teachings pervade the truth.

2.    Don’t be a Pharisee.


Matthew 16 - Part 1


Read Matthew 16

The Pharisees were getting frustrated.  Jesus had told his disciples to have nothing to do with the blind guides.  The Pharisees can’t best Jesus in their thinking or knowledge of God’s word, so they asked for a sign.

Realize that some of the Pharisees had seen the mighty acts of God delivered through Jesus and sometimes through Jesus and his disciples.  So why do they ask for a sign?

The Pharisees want Jesus to perform for them.  They want a miracle on demand.  They want Jesus to recognize their status and comply with their request for a sign.

Then Jesus dives into a nautical piece of wisdom.  Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  OK, the nautical saying came later surely in concert with the words of Jesus.

Jesus told these religious hypocrites that they understood the signs of the day, but not the signs of God.  The men who were to have known God more than everyone else, knew him the least.

Jesus noted that it was a sinful generation that sought a sign.  A sinful generation was blind to the mighty acts of God at work in the world and the Son of God standing before them.

Jesus has already noted that the Pharisees were the blind leading the blind.

There would be no sign except the sign of Jonah.  The Pharisees would get a real tongue lashing in a few more chapters, but for now, Jesus just walked away from them.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Matthew 15 - Part 3


Read Matthew 15

This pericope may be one of the most difficult to understand.  It sounds very much like the account from the previous chapter.

The geography is about the same.  Magadan, Capernaum, Gennesaret—they are all in the same locale.

The situation is about the same, except here Jesus noted that the people had been with him for 3 days.  If I am at a seminar for three days, I expect coffee and those fancy croissants on a table in the back of the room and mega snacks at happy hour. I’m talking roast beef, meatballs, sandwiches—not just some pimento cheese spread across a celery stick.

These folks had been with Jesus for 3 days.

There is some discussion over logistics.  Collectively the disciples asked Jesus, “Where could we get enough bread to feed all of these people?”

Jesus added that if they were sent away at this point, they might collapse along the way.  So, Jesus asked his disciples, “What do we have?”

In this account, the disciples inventoried 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish.  Evidently, somebody brought something to eat when this whole thing began, but it had been 3 days.

Here’s something familiar.  Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and sent his disciples out to feed the multitude.  Everyone ate and was satisfied.  The disciples collected 7 baskets worth of broken pieces.

Here is why I say this verse is difficult to understand.  Consider the response of the disciples when Jesus begins to talk about getting these people something to eat.

His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

Were these men not present in the previous chapter?

Did Jesus not perform a miracle feeding over 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish?

Were these same disciples not a part of that miracle?

Did they all get a case of Sometimers Disease?

Did none of them ask, “Hey!  Are you going to do that feed everybody when we don’t have much thing again?”

So, was this the same gathering or a separate one?  It was from the same gospel author, so the default setting here is that it was a second feeding of a slightly smaller multitude and not an editorial oversight.  The default interpretation was that this was a different multitude.

Don’t take Matthew’s word, visit Mark’s gospel where Jesus mentioned both miracles.

You think that somebody would have started a betting pool on how many baskets of left overs there would be when all was said and done?

There are a whole bunch of questions that have a whole bunch of speculative answers.  Here is the answer that I can give you with certainty.

Jesus fed a multitude with very little food.  This was a mighty act of God that Jesus performed through the disciples.  Everyone was satisfied.  There were even leftovers.

This was a mighty act of God done through the disciples.  We can apply the same lessons to ourselves in this instance as we did in the feeding of the 5000.

Trust in the Lord.

Do your part.

Let God’s mighty acts work through you.


Matthew 15 - Part 2


Read Matthew 15

It’s time for another faith story.  This time it is not from a Hebrew or Roman, but by people who were in the land before either.  The Canaanites were in the land that God promised to Abraham’s descendants.  They were not in the line of Abraham.  They were not all destroyed or run off when Joshua entered the land following slavery in Egypt and the death of Moses.

One woman, a Canaanite, came to Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter from demon possession.  Jesus did not reply to her.  The disciples wanted Jesus to send her away as she was making quite the scene.

Jesus told her that he had not come for her or her people, but to the lost sheep of Israel.  What was he saying?

Your time has not yet come.  Jesus came into the Promised Land and preached first to God’s Chosen People—a model for Paul after the resurrection of the Christ.  After his death and resurrection, Jesus would send his disciples to take the good news to the world.  For now, his sights were set on God’s Chosen People.

His mission between this point and the cross focused on God’s Chosen People.

The Jesus responded to the woman saying it was not right to give the bread designated for the children to the dogs.  In 2020, that statement would have gone viral as offensive.  The woman would have been required to be offended.

Instead, she stuck to the metaphor and noted that even the dogs get table scraps. 

Jesus saw her faith and healed her daughter.

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

Jesus came for the lost sheep of Israel, but so often the lost sheep did not know the voice of their Shepherd.  Some who were not expected to receive the Son of God, saw him and sought him ever more intently than those who should have.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.  All this woman had to make her case before the Lord was faith.  As it turned out, faith was more than enough.

Sometimes our best examples of faith come from the least expected places.



Matthew 15 - Part 1

 Read Matthew 15

This chapter begins with the COVID-19 police coming to see Jesus.  The Pharisees and some Teachers of the Law had come from Jerusalem to the region of Galilee to see what Jesus was up to that was causing all of the stir in the land.

What did they see?  The disciples of Jesus did not wash their hands before they ate.  It’s not that they did not wash them for 20 seconds with hot soapy water.  It wasn’t that they didn’t sing a verse of their favorite song while they washed their hands.  They ate without washing their hands.

I made a pit stop at Hutches in Clinton a couple weeks ago.  I walked past the sink area and picked out a urinal.  There is a male behavioral code for such selection if someone is there before you, but I was the only participant in that area and didn’t have to go through those calculations. As I began to do what I came for, the guy at the sink started counting down from 20. There was a privacy petition between where I was standing and the sinks so I couldn’t see him, but I was thinking that I would be really upset if there was a “Boom” at the end of this countdown.

There was no explosion.  The guy was just doing his due diligence for washing his hands and making sure everyone else knew that.  I was the only other person in the men’s room, so his countdown was surely for my benefit. If I would have had a stamp and a pad, I could have marked him COVID compliant.

I liked this hand-washing stuff better when the recommendation was to sing a song as you washed them.  We were in Oklahoma City near the beginning of the panicked pandemic and I was washing my hands in the retailer’s restroom and thought Stairway to Heaven would be a good song.  That sucker really ramps up towards the end.

I’m not allowed in Kohl’s anymore.

What has preceded has been for the purpose of analogy.  This is a bona fide rabbit trail.  Today the mantra is wash you hands and don’t touch your face.  When I was young, I was told to wash my face and hands. I think some of us old-timers were ahead of the game.

The disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.  That was surely 15 yards and loss of down.

By this point, the Pharisees had become a little bolder.  Now instead of just talking among themselves or questioning the disciples, they confronted Jesus directly.

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

 Normally, Jesus didn’t play this game, but this was an exception.  He said, “Back at ya!  Why do you supersede the law from God with your traditions?  The law says to honor your father and your mother but you tell people that if they give to you what they would have used to take care of their parents, it’s all good.”

Here is the executive summary—hypocrites!  You a bunch of hypocrites and the prophet Isaiah told us about you long ago.

These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

    their teachings are merely human rules.

Jesus then switched his target audience from the religious hypocrites to the crowd that had been gathered and wanted to hear what Jesus had to say.

Jesus said: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Now that’s some good news right there, especially with all of the Thanksgiving and Christmas special meals and snacks and cookies.  What you eat doesn’t defile you.  It can add 20 pounds to your end of the year figure, but it doesn’t defile you.

The disciples came to Jesus and said something that was just so 2020.  The Pharisees were offended by what you said.  They were offended.

Now, let’s be fair.  For most of their lives, the disciples were taught to listen to, honor, obey, and respect the Pharisees.  They were the smart guys who knew what God’s law said.  Now Jesus has called them snakes and hypocrites, and within this chapter, he will call them blind.

Jesus told his disciples to cut ties with these religious hypocrites.  If you follow them, you are the tail end of the blind leading the blind.  Leave them!  They don’t know the way and apparently, were not interested in knowing the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Back to this handwashing stuff and what we eat.  Peter asked Jesus to explain how what we eat or washing or not washing our hands before we eat impacts our relationship with God.

Visualize Jesus giving Peter “the look” before responding.  Jesus answered Peter saying, “Are you so dull?”  This was an insurance commercial parable.  It’s so easy to understand, even a fisherman can do it.  Apparently not!

Jesus delved into a brief physiology lesson and discussed the GI tract.  Food in.  Food digested.  Waste out.  We all know the process.

Paul would later remind us that our bodies are a temple for God.  The Holy Spirit dwells within them.  We should keep them pure and holy and set apart for service to the Lord.  Jesus did not contradict this.

Jesus said there is a basic human process by which material is metabolized and energy produced and waste expelled.  That really does not have much to do with having right relationship with God.

If you are careless in your intake, you could get a messed up GI tract, dysentery, or Montezuma’s revenge, but the condition of your heart determines whether what comes out of your mouth is good or evil.  What’s in your heart is a preexisting condition.

Good or evil is not a gastrointestinal byproduct.  Jesus is talking about the condition of our hearts, and Jesus noted that all of humankind has been tainted by sin.  Evil is what is likely to come out of our hearts. 

King David cried out to the Lord in psalm to create in him a clean heart.  David realized that even a man after God’s own heart had sin at work in his own heart.  Only God could create in him a clean heart.

Jesus is not telling us to stop all of this handwashing that is supposed to be one of our modern-day cure-alls.  He is telling us to clean ourselves from the inside and work outwards. 

What we eat is important.  What we do is important.  In fact, diet and exercise are as biblical as you can get.  Our sustenance is every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and our exercise plan is to put the words of Jesus into practice.  Diet and exercise will get us where washing your hands won’t. 

God’s word works from the inside out.  This discipleship stuff works from the inside out.  Our love works from the inside out.  Obedience to God works from the inside out.  Producing good fruit works from the inside out. Everything that we do to bring glory to God works from the inside out.

God sees the heart.

Perfunctory practices produce pedestrian platitudes but nothing that brings glory to God.  The Pharisees get a bigger dose of chastising in a few more chapters.  For now, understand that God is at work on us from the inside.

In my GI tract examples, I left out something important. Not only do we have intake and digestion and elimination, we have production.  What we consume produces energy that often produces matter.  When I was younger that matter showed up more in my biceps.  These days it’s likely to find my waistline.

You know the old saying, “You are what you eat?”  In many ways that’s true.  Everything gets broken down at a molecular level but it still becomes us in mass or energy.

So, our intake is important.  When we internalize his word, it becomes us.  We become more like the One who gave us his word.  What comes out of us is more like the One who set us apart for his purpose than the world that does not know him.

Keep washing your hands, not because of some tradition but because that’s what your mother taught you to do and you want to honor your father and mother.  It’s also the trend these days,

If you have to count, don’t do it out loud, at least if I’m in earshot. 

It’s not about washing our hands. Let’s frame our lesson in the context of Isaiah.

These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

    their teachings are merely human rules.

Let us honor God with our lips and our hearts.  Let there be no dissonance or duplicity.

Let us worship him in spirit and in truth and abide in his teachings.  Let word and deed be harmonious.

Let us digest every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and let it become us.  Let us put the words of our Master into practice.  Nobody wants to hear diet and exercise at the end of the year, but diet and exercise are important.

People have been beating up 2020 on a regular basis, but what if 2020 was the year we decided to live from the inside out.  What if instead of trying to follow rules, especially when people are watching, we let God rule in our hearts?

What if 2020 was the year that God ruled completely in our hearts and in our lives and in our love for one another?  If that’s not where you are today, you don’t have much year left.