A Lamb – the Symbol of Power.

“I am”, is here with you – The one who ‘was from the beginning is now and will be for ever’. I want you to consider that fact. ‘I am” became as a lamb – the originator, the Creator of the universe, who holds the power of 1000 million atom bombs – became as a lamb the most docile and dependent of all the animals. I became a lamb and willingly submitted to being slaughtered on a cross shaped altar. I did it for you and all else in creation who come to me for redemption. Think how incongruous that is – the mightiest figure – becomes the weakest – on your behalf. So that you can benefit and receive My power from on high. The lion becomes the lamb. Consider this picture because it underpins the whole of my relationship with the world. It has a direct effect on you and all others of the “Way” – because to receive and live in My power – you too must become like a lamb. That is why I have said the last will be first in the kingdom.”

Back to Matthew. At the end of ch 20 we have a story of Jesus and two blind men. In Vs 33 they ask Jesus, “Open our eyes” and He does that. This small description of a miracle of sight rounds off a theme in Matthew which has started in ch 18 already, where the disciples are pictured as arguing over who is the greatest. This background theme is essential to understanding our Christian faith, our attitude towards God and towards one another.

The theme follows Jesus reply in 18:4; “Whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom”. The next three chapters show how this attitude plays out in real life for the Christian. I don’t quite know how to say it but Jesus is showing that everything about Christianity is directly opposite to what we would expect in real life. There are a number of different stories which illustrate how this attitude affects our lives as Christians.

It is summarized in 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first last“. That statement leads then directly to Jesus’ comprehensive prediction of His coming death in vv 17- 19. Immediately after that, we gasp as the mother of Zebedee’s sons asks Jesus to promise her, that these two sons be chosen to sit at Jesus right and left hand in paradise. Has she heard nothing? We should not be too hard on her though since this merely reminds us of what our normal worldly attitude is. The disciples merely reflected this. They had clearly not understood a word of what Jesus has been teaching.

Matthew puts Jesus’ great mission statement, right after this, ending with vv 26-28. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life – a ransom for many”.

This must have been a profoundly difficult concept for the disciples to understand, no wonder they struggled with it. Even today, when we have heard this many times, it goes against the whole grain of our lives. That is why the story of the blind men is crucial. To really understand this upside down concept, we need our eyes to be opened supernaturally. Not only once but continuously. We are faced daily with the need for us to live this way in every situation.

This week, I have been pondering how I should practically internalize this teaching. The leader must start at the bottom, not demand obedience as the gentiles do. To lead by becoming the least and by serving demands two things. Firstly a grasp of how this plays out in our lives in every situation. Then, secondly we need God’s Spirit to remind us and empower us. Why not make this a basis of your prayers, not only for yourself but for others as you pray for them. In that way the Kingdom will truly be spread.

Perfection, God’s Requirement.

“Nearer my God to thee.”

“My Focus on you has been and is and will continue to be on fulfilling the desire which you expressed in that song. Through all of the good and the bad in your life there is one golden thread – My love, drawing and wooing you to come nearer to Me. I understand you better than you could ever imagine – I understand your emotions which sometimes lift you high and other times drag you down as you take your eyes off me. Throughout all this, My love is constant and powerfully active and has as a central purpose drawing you near to Me so that you can see Me more clearly to be able to appreciate Me in all My glory. So continue to hunger and thirst for Me as a deer pants for water and I will continue to draw you nearer and nearer to Me.”

Now to Matthew again. Chapter 19:13 ff. Jesus is once again shown as pointing to the need to become, “as little children”, if we are to enter the Kingdom. Remember at the beginning of this section in 18:1, the attitude of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?” Jesus turned that around to telling them rather to becoming as a little child (18:3). So here Matthew returns to this theme to highlight the next story, by contrast. The well-known story of the rich young ruler.

Let us look again at it, to hear what Jesus is saying to us today. I think the key phrase is in vs 21, “If you want to be perfect.” The word used here for perfect is “teleios”, which describes the completion of a work. eg: Luke 18:31 “Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished (teleios).” So Matthew has already said in 5:48 that the purpose of God for each one is perfection. “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This is the standard required if you wish to enter the kingdom on your own merit. So the question the young man is asking Jesus is actually “How can I attain perfection”.

Rather than enter into a theological debate with him, Jesus simply points to his greatest love which he needs to repent from if he wants to reach perfection, his money. As he slinks away Jesus’ hyperbolic comment to demonstrate the impossibility of attaining your own perfection, the camel and the needle, draws exactly the response He wants from each one of us. If it is so difficult to enter the kingdom, who then can ever be saved? (19:25)

His reply is so profound yet so simple that many miss it. vs 26 (my paraphrase) “No amount of trying to be perfect will ever get you to heaven, it is a work that only God can do”.

This discussion, if wrongly interpreted can have drastic consequences. Someone who is a smoker or maybe drinks too much, someone who is living in a wrong type of relationship etc, thinks that they first have to deal with their sin before God will accept them. I have seen people struggle for years with this idea. A number of times I’ve heard , “I can’t become a Christian until I have managed to give up smoking”. Instead, our recognition of our impotence to deal effectively with our sin is the starting point of casting ourselves on Jesus for His help, to rescue us. Jesus was the only one who could achieve a perfect life. This places Him alone in the position that He can present His life on your behalf to the Father as a substitute according to which you will be accepted.

So, “What about repentance?” You ask me. Repentance is the starting point where we realize what I have just told you. The point at which you turn from trusting in your own ability to achieve the perfect life and and place your trust in Jesus instead. The gospel message is just that. We recognize our impotence to live the perfect Christian life and turn to Jesus to give us the strength. Our acceptance by Him does not depend on how well we are doing in giving up certain sins or actively doing the good He asks us to do. Our acceptance depends rather in or placing our trust in Him and what He has done on our behalf.

Can possessions be an idol in your life? Absolutely! It is one of the most common idols. As we struggle with, “Going out and selling all our belongings and giving them to the poor” 19:21, if that is your idol, Jesus will slowly empower you to do what you need to do to get the right result.

The message to me this week is again: “Become as a little child before Jesus again. Depend on Him to empower me to live the true gospel life. When I fail, I must confess and come to Him again”. Never get tired of this simple gospel message because it is the most powerful and releasing way to live with Jesus. That is authentic Christianity.

Humility and Harmony.

I stand at the foot of the mountain and look up – I see a light, a light like burnished bronze shining above and behind the Mountain, growing in power – whiter and whiter – almost blinding.

“I am the Light – The light of the world – I have been the source of light from the beginning – My light is stronger than 1000 Suns – when I sent My Son to the earth I had to subdue the light around Him otherwise it would have blinded everything around Him. He held the light in Him, but humbled Himself so that it would not blind those around Him, that is why the darkness that followed his death on the cross was so significant – it represented, in the most graphic way My absence – My withdrawal from him. Yet when He rose again the light rose in Him – a new dawn – which would provide enough light for all eternity. That source of light would move through the world as my love was spread to illuminate every dark corner. You are sustained by it – receive it and live in it – because in it you are in Me.”

Against the background of the prediction of Jesus’ humiliation and death in the previous chapters, we are astounded at the lack of perception and arrogance the disciples display at the beginning of Ch 18. “Who is the greatest?” But stand back a moment. Is that not innate in every one of us? The desire to be appreciated? The desire to be seen as significant? We do all sorts of things which basically are saying look at me, am I not great?

Now as we enter the teaching of this chapter we can see what effect that attitude can have on the community of believers. The achievement of unity among believers is perhaps one of the most underrated intentions of Jesus. In John 13:34,35, He expresses the cardinal sign of true discipleship: “I give you a new command; love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”. Unity can only be achieved through the gospel and the levelling work of Jesus. The sign of unity among a large group of people in a world of self importance is a powerful sign of His work. One of the big failures of the visible church has been that they have not carried out this command consequently. Why? It seems that underlying all the breakdown and rifts in the church lies this striving to prove who is the greatest. A driving desire to assert self.

The great counter to this is to understand the importance of humility for every member of the kingdom. 18:4. Placing others before you as in Phil 2. We are to approach others with the attitude of a little child. Recognize the huge responsibility we have towards the health and growth of all the other little children. 18:6-9. Any sin that causes others harm (to stumble), needs to be dealt with a surgeon’s knife.

Read what Paul says in Ephesians 4:3; “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…..” How? “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient bearing with one another in love”. 4:2 That is the beginning of his application of all the doctrine that has come in the first 3 chapters.

Further down from 18:15 the refrain is taken up again as we are admonished not to just refrain from sinning against one another, but that we have a responsibility to seek to restore a brother/sister who has sinned against you. It begins with forgiveness but that needs to be demonstrated by a determined effort to restore the love bond that is necessary in the congregation. Friends this is big. Notice who needs to take the initiative? “If a brother sins against you,” don’t wait for him to come to you to seek reconciliation. You go to him/her and seek it. Difficult to do? Especially if someone has really hurt you? That is why it is such a sign of the authenticity of the gospel. Impossible without the power of the gospel.

That is why it is so important to understand the whole question of forgiveness. 18:21ff That Jesus tells a whole parable to demonstrate how our forgiving others is linked and flows from His forgiveness of our sins against Him which were far greater than what anyone could ever do against us.

Ultimately it goes a full circle and comes back to humility. To make sure that the reader understands the importance of all this talk on humility, there is the beautiful story of the lost sheep. That is what Jesus is seeking to do. To seek and find every lost sheep and our interaction as believers is a huge part of the potential attraction to the outsider. Yet time and again over the years the church has lost its way. Infighting, creating pressure groups, causing rifts, seeking to gather followers, has spoiled the view that the world has perceived of God’s kingdom.

What must i do about this? How do I apply this passage? The onus is on me to seek every means to contribute to unity. It all starts with humility. “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God” is a refrain that has been going over and over in my mind lately. That seems to be the starting point for me every day.

How to Meet the Messiah, Repentance and Faith.

I see a picture of a beautiful flower – on its petal is a drop of dew – perfectly formed – clear as crystal – sparkling in the Sun.

“ This is a picture of My sustenance of the world – in billions of ways I am feeding and sustaining the whole of My creation – most of this goes unnoticed, but I give it freely. Just think of the air you breathe – the oxygen is vital for you life, as are all the other gases and substances – it is free – most people take it for granted until it is threatened by pollution. All over the world people are fighting over what I have given freely – as if it belongs to them. Recognize this, I don’t expect you to jump through a lot of hoops to receive from me – I give – all I seek is that you humble yourself under My mighty hand, look up to me and rejoice and be glad in Me – appreciate Me – that is how I am glorified and that is when I enjoy you the most“.

As we continue now with the exciting story of the disciples’ recognition of Jesus as Messiah in ch 16 (Matthew), there is a huge amount to learn. I just want to pick up on one or two points, which really struck me as I soaked myself in this passage this week.

The words of Jesus in 16:24 are the clearest depiction of what repentance means. Can you see the full depths of what He is saying? Taking up your cross means putting to death your old life, and then obeying His call to go in a new direction as you follow Him. Repentance is a vital part of our walk with God. We cannot follow our own path and God’s path at the same time. So we are called initially to repent when we start following Jesus, but we are also called to continue repenting daily, as this battle of following our own way rages within us. Now the point that struck me this week was; to be told to repent and follow Jesus in a vacuum would just result in a legalistic self-focused action. We see here the vital link in the chain, however. It is when they see Jesus for who He really is, that it becomes a natural action to want to turn and follow Him. His glory and beauty are the focus that causes them to be prepared to put their old life behind them and to follow Him unreservedly.

The key then to true repentance lies in the revelation, understanding and appreciating of Jesus for who He is and what He has done. At this stage the disciples still have to find out what the last part of that sentence was going to mean to Jesus and to them and therefore their repentance was not complete yet, as they followed a Saviour who they were still going to have to discover much more about, His humility and the road to victory.

What about faith? Last time I showed how important faith is in the very understanding of who Jesus was/is. Faith continues to be the vital link between ourselves and Jesus/God. The ingredient which makes all this come alive. Now here is the second point I realized this week. That is the point of the parable Jesus tells while they descend from the mountain after the transfiguration

Explanations of the meaning of the story of the mustard seed and the mountain have never really satisfied me in the past. So I sat at Jesus’ feet and said I am listening Lord, what is the point of that parable? What is the story of wanting to move a mountain? Then it came to me -look at vs 20 of Ch 17 with me. The key word in that vs is the word “size“, not the word mountain. Jesus tells the parable following His observation/rebuke earlier in that vs, “because of your little faith”. It was their lack of faith that had been the cause of their failure to drive out the demon from the little boy. It is to explain what He meant by that statement that He tells the parable. To show how powerful faith is He compares the size of faith needed – maybe a mm or two, to the size of a mountain, several thousand meters high. Typical Jesus hyperbole to make His point.

Can you see the point now? It is not actually your faith that moves the mountain, it is the One you have faith in. The question is, “in whom are you putting your faith”? You see Jesus/God has infinite power and can move a mountain with no effort, if He should please. It does not depend on how much faith we can generate, it depends on the One you are trusting in. Faith, as little as a mustard seed is all that is required from us. The question is who are you trusting in? Are you perhaps trusting in yourself to generate enough faith to get the result? Are you hedging your bets with some other solution? Are you prepared to get out of the boat to walk on the water, or is your one foot still in the boat, just in case?

Can you trust Jesus no matter how big the mountain before you is? Well, up to now in this gospel, Jesus has demonstrated His almighty power with one amazing miracle after the other and that is just the beginning. We have so much more history to look back on.

Faith is the essential ingredient of our relationship with Jesus, however we must not focus on our faith We must keep our eyes on the one whom we have faith in. Learn to know Him better and see Him in the light of His glory and repentance and faith will flow from that as surely as water flows from a bubbling fountain.

Is this not hugely releasing? Focus rather on Jesus and the Father and get to know them better through the Spirit and the word. When the mountain is in the way turn then and face the One you have come to know better and better over time. Be completely comfortable with the fact that He has a far better grasp of your situation than you could ever have. Faith as small as a mustard seed in the One bigger than he universe. Stop being double-minded. Focus your trust in Him alone.

The Messiah, revealed to Some.

I sit in complete quietness and stillness – just imbibing and enjoying Gods presence here with me. My spiritual eye wanders over the words, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, I see that figure on the cross. The whole world? I am just a speck in His creation, yet He has died for me!

“ You are right, in size you are just a speck against the background of the entire creation – but in My heart you are as important as any other person I have ever created. My love is vast; no eye has seen nor ear has heard of how vast My love is – for you and for every person I have created. My death covers all those, but it is intimately personal – for each person who wishes to receive my love it is freely available – and you stand central in that love of mine. You cannot really grasped the full extent and significance of that, because My way is vastly higher than yours and so just accept what I am telling you, by faith – and it will be real to you.”

Chapter 16 is a turning point in the gospel story. Up till now Jesus has been showing in many ways who He was. As the disciples found their eyes opened to who He really was, He would then need to show them, what sort of Messiah He was/is. A king who would humble Himself and die for His subjects to place Himself on the ultimate throne.

To highlight the importance of this confession, Matthew contrasts their reaction to the reaction of the religious leaders. This is the second time that the Pharisees have demanded a sign cf 12:38. However they were blind to the many signs that Jesus had already given. The many healings and exorcisms, but especially the feeding miracles. Notice their demand comes immediately after the description of the feeding of the 4000 in ch 15. See also how Jesus emphasizes the feeding miracles in 16:8-10. So what is the yeast, the central sin of these people? The answer is right there in vs 8, do you see it? “Oh you of little faith”. Faith is believing what you cannot see. They wanted to see before they would believe. Ever felt like that?

And the disciples? Were they so good and clever? Jesus puts the question in vs 13 to them all, “Who do the people say I am?” They give Him all the versions going around. Then He fingers them personally, “But you, who do you say I am?” Wow! At last they seem to have grasped it, but have they? And even then, Jesus reminds them that they had not worked this out on their own, it was a revelation from God which had opened their minds. But there is an important ingredient in this opening of their understanding. Remember the yeast of the Pharisees? Well in vs 20 Jesus had again highlighted this important ingredient for the disciples’ enlightenment. Can you see it? Yes, there is that little word faith.

How does faith interplay with God’s revelation? Well this seems to be a bit of a mystery. Faith is the bed in which Jesus can open their understanding. But even that is a gift from God, according to Ephesians 2:8. Nevertheless we are shown how important our responsibility is to exercise it, if we are to hear Jesus speak to us.

Now this confession of Peter, on which the whole church would be built is nevertheless just a step towards true understanding of the Messiah’s mission. That is the next message which starts immediately after Peter’s confession and is the main subject of the remainder of the gospel.. Lets follow that next week.

What is Jesus saying to me from this passage? If I am “Listening”, then it means I need to be exercising faith by expecting Jesus to speak to me and then to open my eyes and ears to His voice. The sign that I am exercising faith is my willingness to respond and obey what Jesus has to say to me.