Blessing in the Struggle (Matthew 5:11-12)

Jesus had just told all His new followers that God would bless them as they opened up to this ‘New Kind of Faith’, this new relationship with God, through Jesus himself.

Now He has to turn a corner and let them know that this will cost! It may be hard!

He changes the subject from the abstract to the personal.

Instead of ‘God blesses those who…’, He now says “God blesses YOU…”

The problem is what follows:

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:11)

Well, that escalated quickly!

In all seriousness, Jesus is saying that ‘It’s true: God knows you. He sees you. He knows your heart…and He will bless you for it. However, not everyone will react that way. Some will actually HATE you because of me!

He wants His followers to know, right at the beginning, that it will be tough, and there will be a cost to pay for following Him.

How should they react when it happens?

Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (v. 12)

In other words, He reminds them that there has always been a ‘cost’ involved in doing God’s will, and there always will be. They were not the first ones who have had to ‘endure suffering’ for faith in God, and they would not be the last.

 

We, too, can ‘suffer’ for our faith.

Right now, in our culture–America in 2015–there usually isn’t any physical cost…but there can be many other kinds.

If we are faithful to Him as Savior and Lord, others may accuse us of being exclusionary.

If we are true to the Word of God, others may accuse us of being narrow-minded and judgmental.

Depending on the situation, you may pay with your livelihood!

Yet, our brothers and sisters across the world are paying with their homes, their jobs, their families…even with their lives! More people have been martyred for the name of Jesus in the last 100 years than at any other time in history!

Yet, in many ways, they did not lose…they won! They triumphed! They were blessed in the suffering!

We need to be willing to follow Him, no matter the cost.

We need to take a different perspective than the ‘right-here, right-now’ way most of our world thinks. If we are following Jesus Christ, we live from and for eternity!

There will be a cost to pay. He knows it’s hard.

He blesses us in the struggle!

 

An New Kind of Faith–Matthew 5:1-10

It’s one of the most famous passages of Scripture: The Sermon on the Mount. 

It has been parsed, studied, expounded upon…and with good reason: These are powerful words!

Yet, I sometimes wonder if, in all our ‘studying’ we miss the bigger picture.

Jesus, beginning His public ministry, goes to a place where He can be heard by the crowd and begins to teach. He’s teaching about a new kind of faith…a relational faith in God. Some in the OT had experienced it–David, Abraham…but for most people in that day–the Jews in particular–much of their hope from God was all about observing ‘The Law‘, which had been handed down from Moses.

Jesus was inviting them to view God differently, and to understand that God knew them and cared for them. He was inviting them to think differently about their faith–not only as a ‘code of conduct’, but also as an invitation to relationship.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,                                    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.                                                                                  God blesses those who mourn,                                                                                                for they will be comforted.                                                                                               God blesses those who are humble,                                                                                           for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” 

He’s saying, ‘God knows you. He knows your heart. He knows your ache for Him, your desire to be close to Him and please Him…and He will be known by you!’

I would imagine each and every one of the people in the crowd could see themselves in one or more of those ‘beatitudes’. (Yet, none of them–if honest–could see themselves in all of them.)

Jesus is introducing them to the invitation to intimacy that David had experienced. He’s saying that ‘God sees you’.  God knows your heart.

We are similar to Jesus first hearers.

Many of us have a ‘hunger and thirst’ for righteousness. Many of us realize our need for Him and are humbled by it. Some of us mourn. Others seek peace and justice.

All of us have that ache inside to know Him…even if we don’t understand it.

Jesus is saying to ‘the people…the crowd’ that God sees and He will be found by us  if we look.

Jesus was inviting them to a New Kind of Faith.

He’s inviting us too!

Why I Got RE-Baptized

As most of you know, I was raised in a Roman Catholic home by very loving, committed parents. They tried to raise me to obey God, go to church, and be a good citizen that loved other people.

Their efforts and prayers started before I was even born, I’m sure. Certainly from a very early age, they wanted me to be raised in ‘The Church’, and to actively embrace the faith.

One way they showed this was to have me baptized as an infant.

I don’t remember anything about it, of course.

Yet, they did it–and they prayed that it would be one step in my relationship with God and the Roman Catholic Church.

Around High School, I started to really question God, and especially the Church. I started to discount God and His very existence. I rejected Him, for all practical purposes, and went away from Him.

Then, at about the age of 19, He reached down and showed me my sin, my need for forgiveness, mercy and grace, and that Jesus came to provide it all, through faith. (We had almost always prayed to ‘God’, and talked about ‘God’. We knew the story of Jesus, but rarely talked about Him and virtually never prayed to Him.)

Someone showed me Ephesians 2, and a light went on! Especially vv. 8-9, where Paul wrote, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

Finally, I got it!

My only hope was not ‘religion’, but the Grace of God, as shown in Jesus! Suddenly, I was introduced to a ‘relationship’ with God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit working within me!

I now knew that going to church, doing good works, and jumping through religious ‘hoops’ cannot ‘Save’ a person…it is by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! I also now knew that I could be confident about being ‘saved’…not because I was ‘better’ than anyone, just because He had saved me!

Soon after coming to understand this, I was approached about getting baptized. I did not want to. I was afraid that I would fall back into ‘religion’ if I did, and that I was doing it because I was being told that I had to.

I didn’t like that, so I said ‘no’…for 8 years!

Then, one day I was listening to a Missionary tell his story. It was very compelling and motivational, and he invited people forward, IF they were willing to ‘go wherever God leads, and do whatever He wants’. I was, so I went forward.

Later that afternoon, I sensed the Lord asking me ‘Wait…you’re willing to go wherever I want and do whatever I want you to do, but you’re not willing to get Baptized?’

It made no sense!

After all, baptism was commanded by the Lord Jesus Himself! In His last conversation with His disciples, Jesus said “…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

I knew then what I had to do. The very next opportunity, I had to get baptized. I invited my parents and some of my family. They came and respectfully watched, but some did not understand.

I did.

I knew that it meant Surrendering to Jesus as my Lord–the One who would have control over my life.

…and it started with willingly being Re-baptized–not because my church told me I had to, but because my love of God and the Holy Spirit within made me want to.

In some ways, it was the fulfillment of what my parents had started. I was (finally) now reaching out and taking the ‘faith baton’ from them and running with it!

It was symbolic of the New Life that God had given me, in Jesus Christ.

So…how about you?

Were you baptized before, but now finally understand the grace and mercy of God? Is there any reason you should not get Re-baptized, to affirm this in your own life?

Do It!

If you’re at all like me, you’ll be glad you did!

Drop It! –Matthew 4:12-25

Jesus began His public ministry, essentially taking the baton from John the Baptist and moving it way forward. John had said “repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”, and that’s the exact message Jesus started with. Jesus, however, didn’t just have ‘prepare the way’ in mind; He had “it’s here, now” in mind!

The he people of the region responded very enthusiastically, and we can understand why! “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4: 23)

He was teaching the Good News of the kingdom, and healing every kind of sickness and disease. That is a powerful combination of word and deed! That helped the people know that Jesus was Legit!

As He was doing that, he came across Peter, James and John–3 fishermen–and said Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:19-20)

The “immediately” left everything and followed Him. Makes you wonder: were they hoping to be called? Were they prepared? Were they ready in some way?

Maybe it was cultural: ‘A Rabbi calls, you go!’; Maybe it was something from their upbringing: ‘Always look for ways to serve God!’…or maybe it was just that something about Jesus caused them to know that He was different–He was the real deal.

Regardless, Jesus said ‘Drop It! Follow Me’, and they “IMMEDIATELY left their nets” and followed Him! They left everything they’d known, the family business, their plans for the future…they left it all!

Makes me wonder: What am I willing to ‘drop’ to follow Him?

When He calls me to follow, do I find excuses not to? Is my normal attitude and direction one of following Him immediately, or one of quibbling with Him and stalling?

Lord, help me to hear Your voice and to follow, immediately…whatever the cost!

 

 

Matthew 4:1-11: The Test

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we read that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted” (John 4:1). We have to understand, however, that for all us us, GOD does not ‘lead us into temptation’, but rather, He ‘delivers us from evil’ (ala Matthew 6:13). For Jesus, though, there was something unique going on–He had to face the enemy and defeat him first.

We can learn a lot about the enemy’s strategies by how he approaches Jesus…and, we can learn a lot about how to combat him by how Jesus responds.

1) He temps Jesus when He’s at His ‘weakest’. 

Jesus, as a human, had limitations. 40 days and nights of fasting in the wilderness will tend to make a person worn out and vulnerable–and that’s when the enemy attacks!

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.  For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

‘People do not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 

2) The enemy attacks at our weakest spot.

Not only did the enemy attack at a moment of vulnerability, but he also attacked at the area of need–food and sustenance! Jesus had a very real need for physical food, and that’s what the enemy tried to use to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son.

Jesus refuted it with the Word of God.

3) The enemy then challenged Jesus’ faith and His trust in the Father.

Essentially, he ‘triple-dog-dared’ Jesus to throw himself down and test the Father to see if He would intervene and save Jesus from physical harm. It would have been a cheap trick and an attempt to have God the Father perform a ‘magic trick’ in order to intervene.

“…Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.
And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ 

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ 

Jesus refuted the enemy with the CORRECT use of the Word of God–a use which honored the Father. 

4) The enemy attacked Jesus through His goals and ego, in addition to His allegiance to the Father.

“Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’ 

Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.” 

The enemy may have used Jesus’ sense of ‘mission’ against him! In other words, Jesus could have thought, ‘Why not–he’ll give me the kingdoms of this world and I’ll use them for good…’. But that was not the Father’s plan. That was not why He came. Besides, the enemy had NO real authority to give any kingdoms of this earth to Jesus–only the Father could do that!

Jesus refuted the enemy’s temptations by reaffirming His allegiance to the Father and His plan…and showed us in so doing, how we can fight the enemy!

In this way, the enemy showed us his strategy…and Jesus showed us the way to VICTORY!

Matthew 3–Jesus takes over!

After John had been baptizing people, telling them to ‘repent’ and to ‘prepare for the Kingdom’, he said that “one is coming who’s sandals I am not fit to carry” (Mt. 3:11). He said that this One would bring judgement–especially on religious leaders and those who thought they were already righteous.

John said “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”(Matthew 3:11-12)

Clearly, John knew that this One coming after him was better than him…and he had no problem admitting that. This is the kind of humility that God is after.

As John continues calling to the people, one day he looks up and sees Jesus. We’re not told if they knew each other before (after all, they were cousins)…but John recognizes Jesus!

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Matt. 3:13-15)

Jesus did not need to ‘repent’, so why was he baptized? A few ideas have been put forth: 1) To identify with all of humanity; 2) To show that He was ready to lead; 3) as an ‘initiation’ into His public ministry; and 4) To ‘fulfill all righteousness’–as Jesus stated. It wasn’t that Jesus needed repentance, but that He ‘all in’ with God, and ready to lead.

John complied, and then we see the first real ‘picture’ of the Trinity:As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)

Here was the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all involved together at the same time. Jesus was pleasing to the Father, and had the empowerment of the Spirit.

Now He was ready to lead and to begin bringing ‘the Kingdom’ to earth!

 

Matthew 3–Produce Fruit!

Repentance, as I shared yesterday, has to do with turning a new direction and starting a new way of life.

From John’s perspective, he was encouraging people to repent and prepare…prepare for the coming Kingdom (which would be brought from Jesus, who was coming).

However, when John looked up and saw Pharisees and Sadducees coming toward him, he was not buying it. He knew that they weren’t coming in ‘repentance’! They were, I’m sure, confident that they did not need to repent–of anything!

While John welcomed and baptized everyone who was coming, these people he confronted–we read about it in Matthew 3:7-10 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

Why was John so rude to them? Because he saw through them! They weren’t coming in repentance. They weren’t coming to prepare themselves for the coming of the King and the Kingdom. They were checking out a rival. They were protecting their turf. They had no interest in repentance–they thought of themselves as righteous! He knew their hearts–they would immediately go to their pedigree and lineage, their qualifications and ‘office’.

He questioned them, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath”? What ‘wrath’?

The wrath of God which was reserved for all those who justify themselves and refuse the grace of God, through Jesus! Those who trust in their religion, their background, their own ‘righteousness’.

As Isaiah the prophet had said,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to our sins.” (Isaiah 64:6-7)

So, what can WE learn from John’s approach to the Pharisees and Sadducees?

We need to make sure that we are not trusting in our own goodness in any way, and that we understand–we are not forgiven because of growing up in the Church, doing the ‘right thing’, being ‘respectable’ or anything else. We are saved from the wrath of God because of His GRACE, through faith in Christ, alone! (See Ephesians 2:8-9).

Repent. Prepare the way. Give up any sense of ‘Self-Righteousness’…and then we will ‘bear fruit in keeping with repentance’. What would that be? Humility, Gratitude, Love, Grace, Compassion, a genuine Desire to Know and please God…

Ask God to show you: Are you trusting in your goodness, religion or self-righteousness, or are you trusting in Jesus, alone?