Responding to His Call.

Singing, “Let the weight of Your glory fall on me.” Would I be able to take that from you? The weight of your glory? Feels it would crush me.

“Every moment you spend with Me is precious. It is precious to you because that is the closest you can come to all that is Good. But it is precious to Me as well. Every child of mine who receives My word and hears Me his precious to me. That is what I am working towards. That you first listen – with no preconceived agenda, no attention focused on how you should respond. Just waiting on Me and with Me. If you seek Me you will find Me – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. That is the sound beginning of our relationship every day – leading to a life which is totally fulfilling. ‘If you believe – you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer’.“

In Ch 22 of Matthew, we see the continuing fencing between the Pharisees and the teachers of the law with Jesus, as they go on trying to discredit and trap Him. There is a lot of information in this section but underlying it remains the main theme, “Who is this Man?”, climaxing in the last paragraph with the revelation of the Messiah. And secondly, “How should we respond to Him?”

These religious men have clearly made up their minds that Jesus is an imposter and needs to be taken out, at all costs. There appears nothing He can do or say that will cause them to change their minds. Time and again they come back at Him to test Him eg v18, Their attitude is not one of genuinely seeking the truth, but of trying to prove Jesus is wrong.

Stop there now and think. How much of the world’s attitude today towards Jesus is made from a position of pre-judgement, for whatever reason. This holds for the total pagan who has written Jesus off to the modern religious leaders, who often have their own agendas and preconceived ideas. Beware for you and me, if we have prejudged and predicted in our own minds what Jesus is saying, you may not hear what He is really saying to you. Passages you know well may actually be holding much more for you if you don’t immediately apply your previous understanding to them instead of standing back and listening from scratch.

The parable of the wedding banquet is a deep well. Clearly Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees’ belief that they were the prime members of the real Israel. However they had not understood the nature and urgency of God’s invitation, preferring to do it their way rather than Jesus’ way. How many people believe that they will be part of His banquet without responding in the correct way to God’s call? Ignoring Him at first and later wanting to come on their own terms, without the wedding clothes of true repentance. This is of course, a beautiful view of God’s universal call and His effectual call. Everyone in the world is called, “God so loved the world“. However there are many who will not listen, the call is wasted on them.

The chapter and indeed the whole gospel almost reaches a climax in vv 34 – 39. Way back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already set God’s standard. 5:48 “Be perfect therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. Echoes of the first of the 10 commandments: “You shall have no other God’s before me”. That command always seemed to say to me, “Don’t go and carve a little effigy and worship it”. However it is actually saying that you may not love and desire anything else in creation more than Yahweh himself. You are expected to give Him all your heart, soul and mind.

The positioning of this reminder just before Jesus’ crucifixion, should shine a bright light on that event, as we understand that His death came specifically because we cannot fulfil this in our own strength, as the whole of the Old Testament has shown us.

While one may be struck by these facts in the beginning, it is easy for them to become “old hat”, as it were. You know, everyone knows we cannot keep that standard, so we just accept the forgiveness Jesus has won for us and go on as usual. However Jesus’ death on the cross not only won forgiveness for our inability to be perfect, He also has given us a way forward to live closer and closer to God’s perfect standard. That is what the gospel is after all. We aim to follow Jesus in the power of His Spirit and when we fail, we repent and cast ourselves back on His grace and guiding power. We may never give up this aim and we may never take His grace and forgiveness for granted. After all it cost Him His life to win it for us.

So friends, what a call and a reminder to us of the path of the gospel for each of us every day. “Take up your cross daily and follow Me”, He said. This should never be a burden. It should be a delight as we walk with joy with Him every day. And keep our ears open to hear every word He is speaking to us as He draws us deeper into this love relationship He is offering everyone of us. May God bless you this coming week as you draw closer to Him. .

Faith and Obedience.

“Be still and know that the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Jesus, the great I AM is here with you in this room. Allow that to sink into your mind and your consciousness. This is where faith starts – it starts in Me, in your understanding of Me, the revelation I have made of Myself to you. It is inextricably tied to what I have revealed to you through my word and my Spirit. Faith cannot be seen, it is abstract concept. The perception of how you see Me and how you respond to Me. It is nevertheless as real and necessary as the universe. Now this unseen idea is dynamic, it does not remain there dormant – it is demonstrated in the change that takes place as you respond to it. Real faith is visible – it is visible in the fruit of your life. That is why I use that picture often –. No fruit equals no faith. It does not work the other way around i.e. be obedient and try and produce fruit and you will get faith. That is legalism and the antithesis of faith.“

As we continue now with Matthew 21, describing events and teaching that takes place over a concentrated few days, often called “Holy week”. (Friends, I hope you read that chapter first. Meditate on it and ask Jesus to speak to you. Then you can turn to what I have heard Jesus say to me and deepen your understanding from that). There is much information here, which we will not all go into. The main theme of course remains “Who is this Man?” Revealed here as the ‘Unusual King’, the ‘Prophet’, the ‘One with ultimate authority’, ‘the Vineyard Owner’ and the ‘Stone the builders rejected’. Maybe you will see more. Running concurrently is the rising anger of the Pharisees as they perceive what His is claiming for Himself and how that will affect them and their positions in the community and their planning to kill Jesus..

I have spent some time this week meditating on another theme which comes to the fore here. The theme of faith. It is at its basic level a simple concept, yet as we study how the concept of faith is built out in a passage like this, one realizes that it is a dynamic concept and one which can and has often been misunderstood.

The story of the fig tree is clearly a picture of judgement. Judgement of the Old Israel’s disobedience, as demonstrated by what was happening in the temple and the attitude of the religious leaders. They were producing no fruit to show that they were following Yahweh. It is a prophetic word by Jesus about what is about to happen to Old Israel. So against that backdrop we have the little interchange at the end of that paragraph. vs 21 “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will be able ……”. vs 2 “If you believe, you will receive, whatever you ask in prayer”.

Now who would want to move a mountain? And in any case, why does Jesus use this example? What is going on here? Firstly the parable of moving a mountain must be understood in the light of Jesus’ general use of hyperbole to make a point. The point is, as I am sure you see, not about the mountain but about having faith. Having faith means you can accomplish the otherwise impossible and you can ask for anything, including the impossible and it will be done for you. Wow! No wonder some, who don’t understand this parable go overboard.

Key to understanding what Jesus is saying is: Faith, believing not doubting, is a feature of a relationship with God through Jesus. It is the way our relationship works. It starts with believing in the one Messiah and God His Father, for who He is and what He has come to do. Exactly what the main theme is here. When you are in that relationship, anything is possible. Anything, because God is omnipotent. Your requests, within that relationship, will be in direct line with what God’s plan is, for you and His kingdom. He will see that those requests are fulfilled. It is not about struggling with something and then suddenly remembering, “Oh why don’t I ask Jesus?” Or I think I need something, so I will trust God for it.

There is room for all that within the relationship situation, but our attitude needs to be growing in a continuing humble dependence on God, trusting He will work out His plan for you. He does care, deeply, but is not Father Christmas.

There is a second aspect to this teaching which is linked here to that on faith. Firstly in the parable of the two sons, who is commended? vs 31 He who did His father’s will. Notice Jesus links that with believing in the statement vv 31 and 32.

The next parable has a similar point. Who are the farmers that are commended? v 41, those that produced the fruit the Landowner had desired in the vineyard (true Israel). Teaching? Faith is invisible to the outsider, obedience is something you can see. Obedience which is linked to faith will always be demonstrated by fruit. Fruit is always the result of “doing the Father’s will”.

So this all relates back to the fig tree. The Old Israel, represented by all these religious dignitaries had no faith, they had no connection with God, therefore they were not doing His will and producing the fruit God required from His Nation. It is a teaching on the inextricable link that faith makes between us and God and how that is shown. The alternative results in God’s judgement. From the time of Adam, man has been wanting to do things his way and just giving a nod to God. The consequences of that attitude are dire. cf the fig tree dying, vs 41, “He will destroy those terrible men”. vs 43 “The kingdom of God will be taken away from them”.

As I meditated on all this, this week, I realized again that faith is a natural expression of the bond that ties us to Jesus. We don’t always feel the same amount of faith. We are human with emotional highs and lows. But God recognizes our desire and continued pursuing of a relationship with Him. He is busy building our faith all the time. This will undoubtedly be expressed in the fruit of our changed lives. No fruit = no faith. The only way to grow in faith is to continue working on our relationship with Jesus. Remember the simple words of the old hymn? “Trust and obey, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus , but to trust and obey.”

Welcome the Unusual King.

“As you have been singing about Me as the real king – consider what that means. What is the role of a good king? It is to rule over his subjects for their benefit – it demonstrates his authority over all – but an authority dedicated to the well-being of his subjects. Not lording, ordering but serving them and providing for them. Protecting them and through His rule, directing them so that they may live a productive, satisfying life of service to one another. Ultimately the true nature of My rule was demonstrated on the cross. An action which was wholly motivated by love and for the benefit of my subjects. The real king of Jerusalem is in need of nothing from his subjects, but simply desires to be loved in response to His love, demonstrated by the changed lives all those who have been invited into His kingdom. May your service be joyful and expectant as I empower you daily – my beloved subject.”

The nature of Jesus’ kingship in this world is demonstrated dramatically in the next few chapters of Matthew as he reaches the climax of His Gospel description. It is perhaps easy to overlook the drama that unfolds as we have read and heard it so often. So why don’t you read Matthew ch 21 again, expectantly. It is so concentrated that I am only going to chat about the first 17 vv..

Remember the greater context is still, “Who is this Man and what has He come to do?” The immediate context has been humility before Jesus and the need for Him to open our eyes to see and understand His teaching and actions. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the final act in the drama of His life. He has already been recognized by the disciples as “The Messiah, the Son of God” way back in 16:16. The concept of Messiah, was of an invincible king coming to rescue the Jewish people from their bondage.

Imagine how incongruous the scene described in the first vv of the chapter is. The arrival of a king in those times would be heralded by him riding on a beautiful steed at the head of a huge procession. Jesus, riding alone on a donkey? Imagine at king Charles’ coronation, he comes into London, all alone riding on a battered Vespa scooter.

Yet the response of the crowd demonstrates that they do, somehow recognize Him as king. They welcome Him with shouts of praise and demonstration of cloaks and branches. Notice the effect of His entry in v 10, the whole city was shaken! Despite this response the crowd’s conclusion is, “This is the prophet Jesus”. (Either a reference to the local stories of Him or to the special Prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy)

His first action is to go to the Temple. Why there? Well, the temple was the place where people would go to meet with God. It represented His presence with them. Now what is interesting, is the quote that Jesus makes as He cleanses the temple. It comes from Isaiah 56. Why not read that chapter now? If you remember, the thrust of that Chapter is a view of God’s ultimate purpose: Salvation is central, represented by God giving His righteousness, but it is extended to all. To outcasts, eunuchs and foreigners. The only requirement was for them to join themselves to God’s covenant and demonstrate this by keeping His Sabbaths.

So as Jesus goes to the temple, He is reminding the people of how they have failed in their appreciation of God by denying Him and turning away from His covenant. They had also failed to represent God to all the outsiders and foreigners. Taking it a step further He is judging the temple and preparing the people for when it will become redundant because of their rejection of God and His covenant. His intention was that He would replace the temple with His own person through whom the people would meet with God the Father from then on.

Matthew then describes how the blind and lame come to Him after that and He accepts and heals them. At the end of that paragraph, we once again are reminded that it is the unprejudiced eyes of little children who would accept Him. 21:16.

The contrast is stark. The religious leaders don’t recognize Him and reject Him yet those who are open and humble do. Do you see the significance of this repeated theme?

Looking forward, it is only after His death that we have the final word on who He is, as the centurion exclaims in 27:54, “Surely he was the Son of God”.

One can understand their confusion and we still see much of that today. Ultimately it is only those whose eyes are opened supernaturally that can accept who He really is. There is a warning however, to me in all this. I should not ever put Jesus in a box and think I have the last word on Him. I should go out to meet Him every day expecting the unexpected and ready to glorify Him as I meet Him. At the same time, I need to remain as a little child setting aside preconceived ideas and humbling myself under His mighty hand.

As you run all these thoughts through your mind today, I hope you will be filled anew with excitement and anticipation for your relationship with this Man Jesus who in Himself was and is the mighty God.

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.