Tag Archives: Christ

The Mousetrap Question

Jesus did something that scared the living daylights out of His critics.  Do you know how?  Was it with a startling miracle?  A demonstration of mighty power?  Neither.  He did it with a question!  Jesus asked a question that frightened them and shut them up for good.  Like all good mousetraps, Jesus’ question seemed safe and simple at first.

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.” (Matthew 22:41-42)

This looked like an easy volleyball lob for a return spike.  These guys were experts on the Scripture.  They knew all the answers.  And this one was easy.   They all knew that the Christ would be the son, or the descendant, of David.  You can almost see the cynical and triumphant look on their faces as they easily answered Jesus’ question.

But then Jesus’ trap was sprung!

“He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. “ (Matthew 22:43-46 – my emphases)

Whap!!!   Question is, what was it about this seemingly innocuous exchange that was so frightening to them?  Maybe this:

  • These self-proclaimed experts in the Scripture suddenly saw that there is more going on in God’s Word than they understood.  They didn’t know all the answers.  The Scriptures were written from God’s vantage point, not the limited and comparatively ignorant vantage point of humans.  To be confronted with this is humbling and frightening.  Especially for “scholars.”
  • Jesus trusted the actual words written in the Bible.  He didn’t pick and choose, as they did, according to what seemed right.  He accepted the words as they were written, even when those words didn’t conform with human, common sense.
  • Jesus knew that when the Scriptures were written, the human authors were “speaking by the Spirit” of God.
  • Because they could not refute what He said, the Pharisees began to suspect that the One with whom they were speaking was:
    • The Lord
    • The Messiah or Christ
    • Qualified to sit at the right hand of God
    • Would ultimately dominate all His enemies

When the rug is pulled out from under the things we think we know, it can be very scary.  Even more so when you cannot explain away the new insights.  The smart thing to do, despite your fear, is to re-evaluate your assumptions, looking carefully and thoughtfully into the things that have frightened you.  Such as what it says in the Bible.  That’s not what Jesus’ critics did.  They decided to kill Him.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Words of a Stranger

Perhaps he was known by most as “that crazy old geezer.”  But he was not crazy; he was eccentric – dialed in to a different station.  Luke says “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Wow…   Think of the turmoil in Israel during that time, as everyone had to register in his family home town.  Roman soldiers were stomping around, belligerently exercising their positions of privilege and power.  It was not a time to be expecting anything hopeful.  Most people were focused on simply getting through the day without running afoul of the guys with the whips and crosses.

But not this guy.

“It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26)

Knowing that the Messiah was about to show up, he spent his final days hanging out up at the temple.  Watching.  Waiting.  And, somehow (Holy Spirit again, no doubt), when Mary and Joseph brought their 8 day old Son to be consecrated, the “crazy old geezer” knew Who it was.  How many people were thronging through the temple that day?  How many babies were being carried through that massive courtyard?  What can you see of a baby who is wrapped up in “swaddling clothes?”  But Simeon was watching, waiting and he knew Who the baby was.

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”” (Luke 2:28-32)

Again, Wow!   Imagine what was going on in Joseph and Mary’s hearts at that moment.  How amazed and exhilarated…    But Simeon was dialed in to a different station and he was not done.  After praising God for this Good News, he chilled their bones with this:

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”” (Luke 2:34-35)

I wonder who it was Mary told about this astonishing and yet horrifying encounter.  I can’t imagine how she felt that day.  Or, how she felt, calling those words to mind when they had been violently fulfilled.

Oh, wow…

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Still Growing

When I first heard the rumor, I was skeptical.  But recent research has backed it up: Facebook is about to decline.  It was a pretty impressive run – more like an explosive flash in the pan.  But Facebook is about to follow CB radios, Hula Hoops and Bell Bottoms off into the pastures of relative obscurity.  Seems like nothing but nothing keeps on growing; every trend has its few years of popularity and then it wanes.

Everything, that is, except for the impact on the world of a homeless, itinerant teacher from the lesser regions of a conquered country the size of New Hampshire, Who was tortured to death 2000 years ago.  His followers, who originally numbered only 11, have added to their number.

Before He was crucified, Jesus made a preposterous prediction about how His “Kingdom” would grow:

” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”” (Matthew 13:31-32)

At last count (2010), people who called themselves Christians accounted for roughly 1/3 of the world population.  That number is still growing…

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Words of Warning

“Convert or die!”  That is the message ISIS is giving to thousands of Christians in Iraq.  This is no idle threat; it has been followed up with crucifixions.   But this latest and most publicized example of hostility toward Christians is not new or unusual.  Jesus told us to expect it.  The first time Jesus sent out His disciples to tell people the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven, He warned them:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.” (Matthew 10:16-17)

His warnings were not merely for that first assignment.  They pertained to the whole age until His Second Coming:

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted [not “if”] in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:21-23)

Jesus warned of opposition, cautioned His followers to be on their guard and ready to flee, but not to let up in spreading His message without fear.

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” (Matthew 10:26-27)

The opposition to Jesus brought by ISIS is bold and direct.  The opposition in the United States is subtle and indirect.  There has been a groundswell of public pressure brought to bear in opposition to any Christian who might dare to “proclaim [His faith in Jesus] from the roofs.”  The First Amendment specifically prohibits congress from making a law restricting the “free expression” of our religion.  Nevertheless, bills have been recently introduced in response to the “Hobby Lobby decision” that would do just that.

Do not be surprised.  Jesus warned us to expect opposition, even violent opposition but to speak up anyway.  He said:

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

Please take a moment and pray for those who are suffering and dying right now because they believe in Jesus and follow Him.  Thank you.


According to Plan

Was Jesus racist?  it sounded like it when He first sent out His apostles.

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)

Why only tell Israel?  Didn’t the other nations deserve to hear the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven?  It was not that He cared about them more than the other nations.  To the contrary, Jesus’ ultimate goal was to give the invitation and opportunity to everyone on earth.  As He explained to His disciples, late in His ministry:

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

So, why did Jesus send His disciples only to the people of Israel in the beginning?  it was how God’s plan was designed to work.  When you split wood, you can’t use a sledgehammer.  You must hit the wood with a sharp point and then gradually spread the force outward.  When you start a fire, you cannot pile all the wood on at once and try to light a log with your match.  You must start small, with carefully prepared kindling.

For 2000 years, through the times of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah and Daniel (to name but a few), God carefully prepared Israel to “get it” when Jesus would come.  Their history and cultural DNA gave them the context to understand His message, His sacrifice and His offer of redemption.  All these things had explained to Israel through their prophets and other sacred writings.  When Jesus struck His “match,” it needed to be applied to the kindling of the “lost sheep of Israel.”  For more about that strategy, see “Sourdough Theology.”

Expert professionals sometimes do things that seem illogical or counterproductive to us,  But then those things work and we think, “Hey, they really do know what they are doing.  In a similar way, I am awestruck by how God’s plan to rescue all peoples by choosing one people, revealed many hundreds of years in advance, was applied, unchanged, by Jesus,   After His resurrection, Jesus reiterated how the plan would work:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8)

Their small, local witness, would gradually expand outward, until all the world had heard the News.  That original plan continues to work, 2000 years later.

Perhaps God really does know what He is doing…

Back to Square One

Israel is surrounded by hostile nations, several of whom have pledged to wipe her from the face of the earth.  Pray for her.  But don’t be surprised.  God’s plan to rescue the earth from the grip of evil began there and it will end there – at Israel.

When God called Abraham, pledging that all nations would be blessed through him, He relocated Abraham to the land now known as Israel.

” The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

When Abraham’s descendants had later become enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, God sent Moses to take them back to the land, the land of Israel.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” (Exodus 33:1)

When God sent His Son as the Savior, He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, began His ministry in Galilee and was crucified and raised in Jerusalem – all located in the land of Israel.

Jesus’ second coming is prophesied to be associated with a gathering of hostile nations, led by evil forces, who will surround His people and attack, at Armageddon, “the mountain of Megiddo,” – in Israel.

“…They [demonic spirits] go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Revelation 16:14-16)

Is the rocket attack by Hamas and the ongoing ground war the beginning of those prophesied hostilities?  I don’t know.  I do know, when it comes, it will happen in Israel.  And I know Jesus warned us to “stay awake,” clothed (with His salvation) and ready.  There have been many times when it seemed as though His coming, and the final battle, would occur soon.  Since 1948, they have been literally centered on Israel.  This was all foretold with astonishing accuracy, beginning roughly 4000 years ago.  God’s plan began and will end in Israel.

Get ready.  If you have not made a decision about Jesus, please do not put it off.  For more information on that, see “Accepting the Gift.”

And please pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth…”

Flunking Jesus

Jesus would have flunked freshman creative writing; He mixed metaphors – a serious no-no. Beseiged by great crowds, Jesus compassionately said they seemed like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).  But then He switched metaphors:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.   Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Matthew 9:37-38

Why do you suppose He switched from the image of leading sheep to harvesting wheat?  The sheep metaphor “works” because of how helpless sheep are without a good shepherd to show them the way.  But what does a wheat harvest illustrate?  Here’s some things He may have had in mind:

  • The wheat belongs to the Farmer, the “Lord of the Harvest.”
  • Wheat cannot harvest itself.
  • There is a very limited window of opportunity during which wheat can be harvested.
  • Wheat is grown for the purpose of being harvested.  Until it is harvested and transformed into bread, wheat has not reached its full potential, has not accomplished its purpose. We have not become “complete” until we have the Holy Spirit living in us.
  • (This is my favorite…)  When you harvest wheat, you cut it loose from its attachment to the earth, gather it together and give it to the “Farmer.”  When we recognize that Jesus is God and trust Him fully, we are “harvested.” We are “cut loose” from our earthly attachments and given a new citizenship in Heaven.  Jesus gives us to the Father, Who transforms us by the leavening of His Holy Spirit.

Maybe you can think of other parallels between a harvest of wheat and our need for salvation.  In any case, probably Jesus shouldn’t flunk.

What Really Matters

Eric Wallace threw himself out of an airplane and parachuted into the middle of the Air Force Academy football stadium, just before the game.  But when he landed, he knelt down before his girlfriend, Melanie and asked her to be his wife.  The parachute part was sensational.  The proposal was more important.  The day will come when what really matters to Eric and Melanie is that they agreed to be husband and wife, “’til death do us part.”  On days like that, how he showed up to ask her won’t be so important.

Matthew focused in on what really mattered when he told about the paralyzed guy and Jesus. The way Mark and Luke tell the story, his friends smash a hole in the roof and lower him down on ropes, to get him to Jesus.  But Matthew leaves that part of the story out, skipping ahead to what really matters.  He wrote:

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)

Being lowered through the roof was the sensational part.  Being healed of paralysis must have been what the man was hoping for.  But Jesus jumped right to the part that really mattered: “Your sins are forgiven.”  I realize that some priests and clergy presume to pronounce sins forgiven, but in truth, only God has the authority to forgive sins.  That is why…

“At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3)

The blasphemy they accused Jesus of was taking on the role of God.  In Luke’s account, they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:4-8)

The startling part of this story was when they tore open the roof.  The sensational part was when the man stood up and walked home, healed.  That part wowed the crowd!  But the healing was only a sign, a sign to prove the part that really matters.  What really matters for you and me is that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

When you go to Jesus, seeking forgiveness, it makes no difference what you had to do to get there.  If He heals your body when you come, that is a bonus, of only temporary significance.  But what really matters to you eternally, is that your sins have been completely and eternally forgiven.  When your mind wonders and doubts if it is really true, you can be sure it really is, because Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.  That’s what really matters.

The Path to Freedom

When he pushed a 2×4 into the bear trap, the huge, rusty, steel jaws of that thing snapped shut, breaking that piece of lumber like a toothpick.   Everyone in that football stadium, attending Promise Keepers, flinched from the violent sound of it.  Then a father and his son were invited up onto the stage.  The son was blindfolded while a few bear traps were placed in the middle of the stage.  The father then called to his son, telling him to listen to his instructions as he walked across the stage.  At one point, as the kid was heading right toward a trap, the father shouted, “STOP!”   He did stop.  He followed his father’s spoken instructions, eventually winding up safely in his father’s embrace.  As you can imagine, this object lesson was indelibly pressed upon us that day.

Jesus said,

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

We are blindfolded from the truth in this earthly life, deceived by our limited understanding and false assumptions.  We stumble through life, unknowingly and inevitably heading toward peril.  That is, unless we “hold to” the teaching of Jesus.  It’s not enough to hear Him say, “STOP!”  Holding to His teaching means also responding to what He says.  If we do, Jesus says, we will “know the truth and the truth will set [us] free.”   Real freedom comes to us when we carefully follow the instructions spoken to us by the One Who knows where the traps are.  Real freedom is the path that leads to the full embrace of our Father.

July 4th is the day we celebrate freedom in this country.  According to our Declaration of Independence, we believe all people have been “endowed by their Creator” with the “unalienable right”  to liberty or freedom.  Such freedom may be our right but it is not guaranteed to those who refuse to listen and respond to the Creator.  It is those who “hold to [His] teaching” who “know the truth” and are thereby set free.

Even You

How would you feel if China called in its debts from the US, foreclosed on us and took over our country?  What if China invaded, abolished our government and put Chinese troops in every community to keep order?  If that happened, everywhere you went you would have to deal with soldiers from a foreign culture who would tightly regulate what you could do.  Can you imagine how resentful you would be, what simmering anger would fill your heart?  Put yourself in that frame of mind, and you have some idea of what it was like for the Israeli people, as they lived under the dominion of Rome in the first century.  But they had one hope: God had promised to send a Messiah, a Savior.  They assumed that when He came, He would overthrow Rome and re-establish their independence.

Imagine, in that situation, how it must have felt as people began to sense that Jesus might be the One.  Many signs seemed to confirm that He was the Savior.  Excitement was building and crowds were gathering around Him.  But then He started smashing the preconceived notions of the religious leaders.  He taught a radically different interpretation of God’s laws.  He called simple people to follow Him and argued with the scholars and priests.  He dared to touch a leper and healed him.  But then Jesus agreed to heal the servant of a hated Roman centurion!  Can you see how shocking this would have been?  How could the Jewish Savior consent to help one of their enemy oppressors?  Worse yet, Jesus praised this soldier’s faith, said it was better than the faith of any of the Israelites!  When the soldier said,

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8b)

Jesus said,

 “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10b)

As the leaders’ indignation was building, Jesus offended them even more, by suggesting that this Roman centurion was closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than they were!  He said:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

God’s promise to Abraham was that “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3b).  The religious leaders had forgotten God’s plan and assumed that God cared more about His Chosen People than He did about everyone else.  What’s more, they had forgotten that this whole plan was set into motion by Abraham’s response of faith in God.

God’s Kingdom exists for anybody who will enter it by faith.  Jesus came for you.  It makes no difference what nation or culture you were born into.  What matters is whether or not you trust Him.  Like the Chinese… I mean, Roman soldier did.