An Apostle’s Apprehension
Thursday, 20 January 2022
It’s difficult to admit, but I’m often at a loss trying to figure out Jesus. Yes, he is utterly incredible—what he says, what he does. But equally so, he’s nearly incomprehensible. He repeatedly blows me and the rest of the disciples away with ideas that boggle the mind.
Take the parable he told earlier today about the kingdom. Why on earth would a landowner pay his workers equal amounts regardless of how many hours they worked? Didn’t the hired hands have a legitimate reason to grumble about the perceived injustice? Or back up a few days to when he told a rich man—a young one at that—“Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor,” and then he shockingly stated, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:21, 24). Whoa!
But there’s more. One day not long ago some parents got the idea of bringing their children to Jesus, hoping he would lay hands on them and pray for them. We disciples thought that was certainly inappropriate. Children are basically irrelevant and insignificant in our culture until they grow up and become something. So we took it upon ourselves to rebuke the parents.
But Jesus turned things upside down and rebuked us, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19:14). Oops! I guess we should have known better, considering what Jesus had said earlier: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). But what sense does it make that we are supposed to become like children? And if we don’t?!
Frankly, Jesus is always talking about the kingdom, and that’s exciting, but it’s so different from anything we can imagine. It’s an ongoing puzzle. I remember so vividly the day that Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” and I replied, “You are the Messiah!”
That was an awesome moment. Except that Jesus then announced the most shocking news of all, that he was going to suffer and be killed! What?! Impossible! When I said he was the Messiah, I had in mind an anointed king who would establish a great kingdom. That kind of a messiah isn’t supposed to suffer and die. I was sure of that. And I boldly said so.
But Jesus declared that I was the one in the wrong, even referring to me as Satan and a stumblingblock! Dagger! And then he said that I was thinking about the things of men rather than of God (Matt 16:16-23). Ouch! I guess the lesson is that humanity has a long way to go to think the thoughts of divinity. God’s ways are inherently counterintuitive to ours, probably because he has all the facts and we don’t.
Yet I am uneasy about all this. What kind of a kingdom will it be? What kind of a king, especially if he is going to die? What of the subjects? Jesus said that suffering will be in our future too. Really? And the parable Jesus told today, what does that reveal about the kingdom?
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t know whether to hope for the best, or fear the worst—for Jesus and for us.
Life Application Questions
Children of Divorce
Watching the placements and emphases of Biblical stories can help disciples appreciate deep truths. Given society’s turbulence around marriage and family, we are well advised to seek the wisdom of Jesus.
Spiritual passion, physical expressions of love and money’s demand, each weave complexity around our hearts. Though it may be hard to hear during today’s turmoil, God sets into place the precepts of marriage. Jesus, in Matthew 19, quotes the words of Genesis 1 and 2, reminding disciples of every generation, this is God’s intention.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Soul’s tremble at the break-up and dissolution of a marriage. Sadness has her day as tears also flow from heaven’s court.
Many of us are children of those sad times. Yet, God has been active in our souls and brought healing with new life in Christ.
Jesus affirms the lofty goals of marriage. He confirms its spiritual dimension; of this there is no doubt. There is also an intriguing part of Scripture’s record found in Matthew 19.
The beautiful words of intrigue begin immediately after the speech on marriage truths. We ought not to miss the mercy of God which focuses our attention. Pregnancy and childbirth, with or without the benefit of marriage or the sadness of divorce, often brings children.
“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:13-15).
Do you find important truths communicated by Matthew19’s apparent intentional close grouping of these two teachings from our Lord?
When the sadness of divorce occurs what are some of the unintended consequences?
What are real-life applications for groups of disciples who believe Jesus welcomes all children?
How to be Great
Tuesday, 18 January, 2022
The disciples sought greatness, asking who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In Luke 22:24 we read there was a dispute among the disciples over who was the greatest. The sons of Zebedee also sought to be great in Jesus’ kingdom. Mrs. Zebedee even asked if her sons could sit on Jesus’ right hand and left hand in the kingdom. The other disciples objected to this request (Matthew 20:24).
Jesus’ example was completely opposite the expectation.
So, is it any wonder that Jesus exalts children in this passage of Matthew? Jesus taught the disciples to be child-like if they wanted to be great. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew18:4). Jesus placed a child among them instructing them to take a lowly position like a child. He said to welcome Him they should welcome children.
“Jesus explained that we can have four different attitudes toward the children and, consequently, toward true humility. We can seek to become like the children (Matt 18:3-4) in true humility, as to the Lord. Or, we can only receive them (Matt. 18:5) because Jesus told us to. If we are not careful, we will cause them to stumble (Matt 18:6) and even end up despising them (Matt.18:10).”
“It is a dangerous thing to look down on the children, because God values them highly. When we welcome a child (or a Christian believer), we welcome Christ (Matt.18:5). The Father cares for them and the angels watch over them (Matt.18:10). Like the good shepherd, God seeks the lost and saves them, and we must not cause them to perish. If the shepherd goes after an adult sheep, how much more important is it that he protects the lambs”! (Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Loyal, p.161)
Jesus spoke of Himself as humble and lowly of heart (Matthew 11:29). Philippians 2:1-11 describes what that looks like. This passage is referred to as the Kenosis passage. Kenosis refers to emptying out. To be great, we must model Christ. We are instructed to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility to consider others better than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
While Jesus was God, He made Himself nothing
He took the nature of a servant
Made in human likeness
Humbling Himself to be obedient to death – Even death on a cross.
But God chose to exalt Him to the name above every other name – the name Jesus.
At that name, every knee in heaven and on earth will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is LORD.
Life Application Questions
As a Christian, how can you be excellent/great while seeking humility? How does being a servant leader fit that model?
How do we achieve excellence while being childlike?
Pride interferes with our attempts to be childlike. How can we be excellent without pride?
January 17, 2022
The disciples were transfixed by Jesus’s glory, but were they transformed by God’s truth? This path of following Jesus was unexpected and the disciples did not completely grasp its significance. As Christ followers we can be transfixed by Jesus, but will we allow ourselves to be transformed as well? In Matthew we see that God was always fully God and fully man. He was not always perceived as such, even by his closest disciples. Again and again, Jesus’s divinity was affirmed.
The disciples have been sitting around the edges, watching and listening. Despite their closeness to Jesus, they experience, through their lives’ grids of experience, who they want Jesus to be. They were not transfixed by his divinity. When you first came to Jesus, why did you give your life to Him? What hopes, fears, and confusion surrounded your understanding of who Jesus was? What hopes and dreams did Jesus’s followers in Matthew bring with them as they followed Jesus? The disciples had knowledge of the scriptures (Matthew 17:10). They had eyewitness experiences, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16) Yet, we often find the disciples, and perhaps ourselves, not quite grasping who Jesus was and how to respond. “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Read Matthew 17:1-13, how did the disciples respond to this transfiguring moment? Were they blackberry pickers or the ones who take off their shoes?
Jesus restrained His full glory so he could move among men and obey His Father. Jesus was affirmed again as being fully divine in Matthew 17, when His Father says “This is my son”. The disciples were transfixed on the transfiguration of Jesus. This was not merely a change of outward appearance. It is a transformation, and so bright that it was difficult for the disciples to look at. “For Christ to be glorious was almost a lesser matter than for him to restrain or hide his glory…and for that, though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor.”(Spurgeon) The transfiguration served as a solemn inauguration of the history of the passion and final consummation of Christ’s work on earth. Jesus glory was not reflected but radiated from within. “The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” (Hebrews 1:3) Because of His finished work on the cross, He has received back His glory and now shares it with us. Will we live surrendered lives, with transformed minds,(Romans 12:1-2) or do we pick “blackberries” and miss the glory of God? “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory…” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
On Days of Sadness
Disciples of Jesus enjoy days of peace and gentleness. Being a disciple can be made to seem like a summer afternoon’s walk on a country lane.
However, sadness sometimes slices into the lives of disciples who against opponents persist in trusting Jesus, Messiah of God. Describing John, Matthew’s Gospel quotes Herod saying, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead!” (Matthew 14:2). Dead? John is dead? One day, John’s life was forfeit at a whim of political expedience.
John had chosen, or had been divinely prompted to comment on a sexual scandal rocking Judean politics. “Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her (Matthew 14:3-4).
To some disciples come such occasions of murderous anguish. Suffering a martyr’s attack, John’s head is hacked from his neck as a party favor. Scripture is brutally truthful in the reporting. “His head was brought in on a platter…” (Matthew 14:11).
There was no rescue for John. No band of angels appeared. The foul stench of Satan’s presence stretched throughout the palace as John’s blood soaked into Jerusalem’s soil.
Events like the martyr’s death of John continued to occur in the early years following Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Profoundly aware of such outcomes, some disciples alive in 2022, continue seeking faithfulness through what can be the horror of such times. On days of sadness we honor their deep and life-threatened commitments to the Christ.
Are you aware of others who have died as martyrs?
Why does God not choose to provide a divine rescue for John?
Can you compare the short term and long-term meanings of John’s death?
What are the appropriate prayers for individuals whose faithfulness as disciples caused their death?