What Response can we Expect?

The angels called Him Jesus, Mary called him Jesus – but I call him Lord.

I am overcome by a sense of worship – bowing low before the “Lord”, “Jehovah”– “I AM”– “Before everything and after everything” – I look up and see a bright shining light rising up and up lighting up even the mountains and then I feel as if I am being lifted like on the wings of an eagle into this light, into His Presence.

“Yes Ian, in the presence of My great worth it is appropriate that you declare that. That you feel that, that is why you have been made. I receive your worship – you are precious to me just as every other saint is precious to Me. I hold you tight in Jesus – you are safe and secure in Me – your feet on the Rock. Allow yourself just to appreciate Me and feel My Presence here in the room with you – this is just a tiny foretaste of what it is going to be like when you come home into my Presence. Experience My joy – receive it and express it. Amen”

Moving into ch 11 of Matthew, we first have the story of John the Baptist. (Just a little side morsel of interest: My father’s name was Johannes and everyone knew him only as “Doper” – Baptiser). I think the story of John here is summed up in vs 13 John was the last in the line of the OT prophets. Just as Jesus stated in ch 5 that He had come to fulfil the law and the prophets, so John comes completing and ending the role of the OT prophets. To underline that, he is persecuted and put to death just as many of those prophets had been treated.

However there is a connection here also with the instruction by Jesus to take the message of the gospel out. This is confirmed by the rest of the chapter. As we take out the gospel, what sort of response are we to expect? Surely such a precious message, a pearl of inestimable value will be gladly grasped by everyone. Jesus warns that is not going to be the case.

People create their own expectations of what God is like. Just as some children want to play weddings and others funerals, so people who hear the gospel will find fault with the Jesus you present. Ascetic and self sacrificing? No . Normal and behaving like any ordinary person? No.

The explanation comes in the next paragraph. It is necessary for Jesus to reveal Himself v 25 before He is seen and accepted. These wonderful truths are hidden from those who have great worldly wisdom and say they are following Him in their way with a preconceived idea of who He is and what He is like. A God made in the image that suits their ideas. 1 Cor 2 from vs 6 describes that in detail. We see that played out even today where books are published by theologians and experts in the bible where they express all sorts of doubts and theories which take away the very nature of the gospel, while the simple, ordinary people accept it without question when they meet Jesus face to face.

This, like so many other truths of the gospel is perhaps difficult to understand yet can and should be accepted at face value. Our role is for us to accept and then repeat the beautiful invitation in vs 28. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”. The deep realization of your need is a prerequisite for receiving everything that Jesus wants to offer you. Just as He said in the beatitudes, blessed are the poor in spirit, that is those who realize their need and hunger and thirst, they will be filled. They will receive what Jesus died to give us.

Is that how you experience the gospel? Is that how you and I are to present it? Like offering water and bread to one crawling out of the wilderness where they have been lost for ever. It is not up to us to force a response. That comes from Jesus and we must expect much rejection, but never take it personally. Remember last week, “Who do you fear most?” But we can and must keep praying for Him to open the eyes and ears of those we speak to and be faithful to Him in all circumstances.

Who do you fear the Most?

I go to sit at Jesus‘s feet. He is not sitting high up on a golden throne – he is sitting on my level on a cushion. As I sit at his feet my eyes are taken up by those feet – scuffed and bruised from contact with the world, but washed by the host.

“ I did not invite you here to wash my feet, I came to wash your feet – your feet represent that part of you which comes physically and actually in contact with the world. Your feet become stained by the world and its ways. Your feet also take you on the way you go, yes which path you follow. But your feet do not have a mind of their own – they represent what your heart’s desires are. So that is why I wash your feet – representing that part of you which is most easily contaminated. I wash your feet so that you can take up your cross and follow me rather than go your own way into the world. My washing is powerful because I wash with my own blood and dry your feet with my grace – come, follow me today and every day and I will cleanse your feet and give you the direction you should go”.

At the end of the Sermon On The Mount Matthew tells us Jesus looked at the crowds and was deeply moved. The word translated ‘compassion’ does not fully bring out the full depth of His sorrow at the state of the world. His gut is moved deeply. The message, the gospel, He has just preached, is the only answer to that awful state. So the logical conclusion to this is that it must be taken out and shared that as many people as possible may hear it. Taken into the world to those who are ready to hear it and respond – ‘the harvest’. What are you and I to do in response to this? Well firstly pray for workers to take this message out in the world. Then secondly, be the bearers of the message yourself as you go out. That is the example he gives of the 12 being sent out. Some are chosen for a special assignment, but everyone of us should also feel that urgency as we move around.

Jesus gives various instructions and warnings to the 12. But I want to focus on 10:26 – 31. Three times Jesus says to them, “Do not fear“. I suppose that is the logical response to the warning of the reality of persecution which he had just told disciples they faced. But what about us? Of course many Christians do face the reality of persecution today, but what about you and I? Jesus gives a stark choice. Either, “Fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul or fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell”.

I had to search myself deeply. How does this message affect my motivation to speak out the message of the hope of the gospel in hostile situations? Where that message may be sneered at or you stand the chance of being mocked and rejected. The answer lies in a little word in v31. The word “value” or “worth”.. I have been told that the greatest need of every person is to be valued. Mankind is driven by this need. Yet here we see that in Jesus we find the greatest value. Our real value. So valuable that He died for us. If therefore, Matthew writes, we have this great value will not Jesus protect us because he values us so much. After all if He died for you and I, is it not just a small thing in comparison to show this love and protection as we speak out on His behalf. Do you want to live out this value?

If fact the very motivation for us to speak out lies in this realization of our value in His eyes. And so Jesus goes on to remind us, “That if we are ashamed of Him before men, well… He will be ashamed of us before the Father in heaven“. v 33. So expect rejection, even and especially in the close relationship of families. It is not necessary to seek that, but often there is a choice we must make, to stand up for Him and be counted or to keep quiet and go with the flow.

That friends, is one of the things that is a very real part of living a life where you take up your cross daily as you follow Him.v38 You demonstrate your worth, especially when you show your appreciation as you follow Him and stand up and be counted on His behalf.

So who are you afraid of? The word here is phobos from which we get the word phobia. Is your overwhelming awe and wonder for the unseen One who created you and the world you live in and has saved you, stronger than the fear you have for those in the world who stand before you physically?

What a message we have in or hands!. A pearl of great price, meant to be shown and shared with as many people as possible in our daily lives.

The Sermon, rounded off.

Just a reminder to you all. This is an interactive blog. You are invited to contribute. Just click on or tap the title you want to comment on and the platform will open up to write on.

I consciously humble myself before the Lord reminding myself I have nothing to bring to him except my response to his love.

“ Yes I am the Ancient of Days – none before Me none beyond Me – I bracket the time I created. And in the middle – the centrepoint is the gospel – the only true good news – the gospel that brings you peace – the gospel that brings anyone who embraces it peace. This is governed by one factor – My love – My holiness which exudes My love and it embraces all My creation. And it is in that love that I hold the future, your future and the future of the entire universe. The knowledge and understanding of all this is what holds the key to your peace and sense of security – so despite the apparent darkness of the night – within all that My love holds you in its steely yet warm grip. Don’t waste time trying to peer into the future, just relax and experience my peace today.”

Back to Matthew. Despite the fact that the so called “Sermon on the Mount” is written as an apparent complete message in chapters 5-7, it seems the entire message extends beyond that. In Mat 4:23 he writes that Jesus was, “Teaching …and preaching the good news of the kingdom”. In 8:35 he brackets that with the statement “Jesus went through all the villages teaching….and preaching the good news of the kingdom.” So this message of the good news of the kingdom, the “gospel” as we know it, extends a bit beyond what is written under the sermon.

That makes sense as we follow the two chapters after the sermon which are demonstrating the practical application of the Sermon and how to participate in that good news.

So firstly we see various messages on healing. Is that not what Jesus has come to do? To restore the damage of the curse and make us whole as the first fruits, as it were of the Messianic age which lead to the ultimate consummation of the kingdom. Within those stories of healing there is an emphasis on faith, which is the key factor for the “news” to become experientially real for anyone. There are a variety of expressions of faith, from a distance, by a word, through a touch, there is no fixed way that we could say, “That is the way”. The only thing that is constant is trust which Jesus follows by acting on it.

Then the last story in this cameo is in 9:27 ff where Jesus heals two blind men. Is this not a visible reminder that we are blind to this good news till Jesus opens our eyes? He also needs to open our ears and mouth. This supernatural work of revelation is implicit in our understanding of the spiritual dimension of the kingdom.

Then there are various stories of exorcism. That surely is demonstrating Jesus’ victory over the demonic world and the fact that through the gospel He delivers us from the Evil One.

Central to the stories is the question of forgiveness of sin, 9:1-8. Immediately after that Matthew, in telling of his own story, reminds us that coming to Jesus for forgiveness requires a recognition of one’s sinfulness and your need for God’s forgiveness. So implicit in the act of forgiveness we are reminded of the need for repentance. What a beautiful way to demonstrated that as Matthew tells of his response to Jesus call. He turns away from his old sinful life and leaves that to follow Jesus. Then just to underline this we are told the story of fasting. In the Old Testament the act of fasting was most commonly an outward sign of repentance.

I can go on about the reaction of the crowds which demonstrate Jesus’ deity. The reminder of the New Covenant, wineskins and cloth, which makes this action possible and more. But why don’t you go back and explore what else you can see which reveals aspects of the gospel.

So returning to 6:3 and the instruction to ‘enter through the ‘Narrow Way’.’ Entry through this way is on the one hand so easy. The way has been opened by Jesus and He does all the work. All He expects from us is a genuine desire, a recognition of our lostness and a desire to follow Him by turning your lives over to Him. At the same time it is extremely difficult because of people’s pride and insisting on doing things their own way rather than God’s way. That is surely why so few people find this way and enter in. Hence the admonition that it is only by doing it God’s way that there is access into the Kingdom. (7:21b)

Imbibe all this and let it enrich your understanding of the wonderful gospel of peace through Jesus and allow it to prepare you even more to be able to speak it to others, because the fields are white unto harvest.

Precious Welcome into the Kingdom.

Having experienced several bouts of severe facial pain in the last few days, I come to meet with the Lord this morning, in danger of being preoccupied by that.

“It is easy to trust Me when it is light, when all is well, when the path ahead is level, and when you have sufficient. However when the night descends or when obstacles arise in your path, you are brought to the point of putting your trust into action. When you reach that place where you are no longer in control, where you have no plan – then the test is – can you now place your trust in Me or do you give yourself over to confusion, anxiety and even panic? It is in that dark spot that My light shines at its brightest and I can bring you to focus on Me and My salvation. That is why I have said, “Consider it pure joy when you are faced with all kinds of trials” – the challenge is to trust and not to waver and start trusting in something else – “Then you will be like a wave of the sea tossed and blown by the wind”. This is my gift to you to benefit you and not to harm you.

My reading today is Mat 8:23-27. These few vv focus on the question Jesus asked the disciples when they were faced with a severe storm and He was sleeping in the boat, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith?” This is a stark reminder, almost a rebuke in the light of what I have written above. The question today though is, “Where does this faith arise? Can everyone have it?” This takes me back then to the “Sermon On The Mount” which we have been looking at the last few weeks.

Having spent some time describing the Kingdom of Heaven, what the members look like and how they are to live in the light of their citizenship, Jesus comes to a conclusion describing how this citizenship is obtained in this section. Matthew 8:13-27. (I.O.W. Entry into the Kingdom). The key for that section lies in 7:23, where Jesus places the stress on “Knowing Him“. In John 17:3 Jesus prays, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. If you tune yourself into it you will see that “Knowing Jesus and God” is a recurrent theme in John. But here in Matthew we just have this reference, so what does He say further to this to show us the “way”?

You see Jesus introduces this section on entry into the Kingdom with the words of 7:23,24. Stark words of warning, in our modern society where anything goes and there are, “Many ways to heaven”. Jesus says there are only two ways to live. The true and right way is narrow and difficult and only a few find it!. He follows this with a strong warning to be careful of the teachers you follow. There are many, some even wearing all the right garb that are actually ferocious wolves, leading people to destruction.

So there are many out there doing “religious acts” and other “highly commendable good things”, who are going to be shocked on judgement day when Jesus says those frightening words, “Depart from Me I never knew you”.

So what is the right and only way? Jesus proceeds with the word “therefore” in the next paragraph, to link it with this question .”Everyone who hears My words and puts them into practice.” Does this mean we are saved by our works? Well no, He has just said works won’t get you into heaven. What He is saying here is that the only way to heaven is to follow His way. The way and the route He has laid down. There is no option to do it your way that is acceptable. And note the words “hear” and “act”. You need to hear first, truly hear from the heart. Therefore it is important to listen. And then to understand that to just know is not enough, you must do what He says. You must follow His way from your heart.

But, “What about faith”, you say? This is where we need to understand the wonderful mystery and complexity of God’s word. One must always read and understand the bigger picture. Because “faith” is there. Yes? In the passage about the storm, which comes just after this section. God’s word is not carefully packaged so that you can read a little bit and know everything. His message is carefully woven into His story and all the facets are there. As you read and meditate on His word you start seeing the Kaleidoscope of His message which embodies a multitude of colours.

In Matthew Jesus said, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. In John 6:40, Jesus said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

There are tens of 1000’s of people who flock to church, but are doing it their way. Many will say, “This is how I see Jesus”, “I can’t believe in a God who is angry, the God I believe in is all about love” etc We must reach out, we must pray for these people who are doing it in the words of Frank Sinatra, “My Way”. The fruit of the false teachers can be seen in the behaviour and actions of their followers. Just because someone has a degree or is ordained does not mean they are “Good Trees”, producing good fruit. It is not up to us to judge but to warn and pray and reach out with the wonderful message of Jesus’ gospel of judgement and mercy which meet at the cross.

Seeking.

With the notes of the songs I have been listening to and singing still fresh in my ears, I am surrounded by quiet. Asking God to help me quiet my thoughts and the inner voices clamouring to be heard. “Cleanse me and my thoughts Lord that I may hear you speak”. I picture myself sitting at Jesus’ feet like Mary. “Be still and know that I am God .I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jesus. I am here with you”.

“You have been singing of the joy that awaits you when you pass into the new world – the new heavens and the new earth to be in My presence forever – yet there is a reluctance on your part to want to part with this world and the known – the comfort and love of those around you – you are not totally convinced of the huge joy that awaits you on the other side of the ‘divide’. In fact your thoughts stop at the divide – allow yourself to focus on Me and what I have demonstrated in the past – how I opened up the Red Sea for my people to pass through, how I opened the Jordan to allow my people to pass into the Promised Land. Remember the empty grave. I have the power, I have the plan, I am The Way through the divide – keep your eyes fixed on Me and allowing the thought of the great wedding feast of the lamb to fill you with joy and anticipation– knowing you are going to be there. Don’t cling to this world don’t stare at the divide with fear. Trust Me trust My love and grace. I am for you”.

As I pass into ch 7 of Matthew, let me share a few thoughts that seemed to be what Jesus was saying to me today. Coming to vs 7 Jesus says we should, “Ask, seek, knock and the door will be opened to you”. This spoke to me of an attitude towards God that seemed to connect with earlier thoughts expressed in the Sermon. 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.…”. 6:31 “Seek first….” This brought to mind the words of Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants…… My soul thirsts…”

This speaks to me of an attitude of deep longing, of a continuous desire. So what is the desire to be for? Well it is not for mammon or treasures on this earth 6:19. It is not even for the ordinary mundane things that make up our lives, “The Father knows already what you need”. 6:25-31. 6:32, “Your Father knows you need them”.

So what should we be seeking? 5:6 speaks of ‘righteousness’ . 6:31 expands that to “His kingdom and His righteousness“. 7:7 invites the hearer to seek, with a promise that they will be heard and God will respond. In the parallel passage in Luke we read, “…How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him”. Then in Psalm 42 we see the key to this search in David’s words. Three times he repeats that he is panting, thirsting and seeking God Himself, in vv 1,2.

So what did I hear Jesus say to me from these words? Firstly God wants us to know that He is available. He invites us to seek Him and in return gives the very real promise that He will hear and respond. The second thing is that, while the theme of the SOM is God’s kingdom, how the members look like, how they should behave and function, the word ‘righteousness’ sort of summarizes that. But it is not just any righteousness, it is HIS righteousness, which is the feature of the lives of the people of His kingdom. But where does that righteousness come from? Well from Him and our relationship with Him. Therefore David is right when he says He seeks God, because God is the true source of righteousness, that is where we will find it.

So where does this all spin down to? Well God is looking for those who have an attitude of longing for Him and everything that has to do with His area of reign. Can we ask for more of Him? He has already given us Himself completely ‘in Jesus’, so when we are born again we have everything of Him. What we do need is more of is a greater awareness and appreciation of Him and everything about Him that we already have. That is why Paul, for instance in Ephesians prays the we may ‘know’ His love. Experience in our hearts that which is freely available. He wants us to know Him better and He wants more of us and our love and obedience and trust.

Does that mean we should not speak to Him about all the other things on our minds? Of course not. Why, he includes “give us this day our daily bread” in His prayer. But this is a matter of priorities. On a personal level. If you have a friend and all you always talk about when you are together is yourself, your struggles and needs, where will that friendship go? So if we are to grow as Christians it makes sense to tune into God’s program and seek to be part of that, to hear what He wants of us and to speak to Him about that. In that way our friendship will grow in leaps and bounds. In return He will of course want to hear about your personal issues as well. Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how much more will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things”.

Do you have that sense of longing for Him that David describes as a deer, having fled into the mountains to escape, finds himself panting for water? If you don’t why not ask God to give it to you so you too will seek Him, His kingdom and His righteousness often and continuously.