Author Archives: jyoder2013

Salt, Light, and Good Works

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Mat 5:13-16 NKJV)

Immediately following the Beatitudes, Jesus continued in His “Sermon on the Mount” by speaking about Salt and Light. In the Context, It appears that He was speaking of the tangible ways we affect our culture and acquaintances. Jesus made it clear that we are to be a positive force coming into active contact with our culture.

“You are the Salt of the Earth.” “You are the Light of the World.”

Salt must be touched or tasted to have real affect. For it to be effective, salt must be in contact with a thing. To taste salt, it must touch our tongues. For salt to act as a preservative or cleansing agent it must be in contact with the item being preserved or cleansed. By its very nature, salt is only effective if it is in direct contact with its surroundings.

Salt in the shaker doesn’t affect the food. Salt in storage doesn’t preserve or cleanse. It must be out of the shaker to be effective. It must make contact with matter to have impact.

Light, in the sense of being a city on a hill and letting your light shine before men, is effective only as it is visible. A light that is hidden is really of very little value, at least as far as illumination is concerned.

After the beatitudes, Jesus speaks to what He desires His followers to be. The terms He uses are descriptive of His expectation of them. They are to be in touch with and visible to their communities. As salt they are to cultivate a hunger and thirst for righteousness in the people around them. As salt they are also to work to preserve godly values and promote reverence for Almighty God.

As light they are to be visible representations of Heaven, beacons that point others to the Glorious God and Father of us all.

So how does one practically become salt and light?

I believe it really boils down to our behavior and activities. Now many people will get bent out of shape at the idea of works being mentioned in conjunction with the Christian life, but it is very clear that Jesus had a solid idea in mind when He told us that we are salt and light. This was not some ethereal concept. He states very clearly that we are to be visible and in contact with our world in a positive and God honoring way.

This is really only visible to the world around us by the things we do or don’t do. So often we forget about the spectators of the Gospel. There are those around us who not only want to hear the good news they want to know that it works in a life. To say that the Gospel really worked for me, but not give any evidence with my life would be sure to raise doubts in the mind of an alert observer.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men…” We might speculate as to the nature of this light and how it should be visible, except for the fact that Jesus doesn’t leave us perplexed as to how this light is seen. He continues, “…that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”

That they may see your good works – but isn’t this a bit legalistic? Good Works? How else do you let your light shine? How else do people have any clue where the city is? Let your light so shine before men. The idea is that as salt, your works will come in contact with your community and the character of your works (read “good”), will be the light. On being affected by your good works, your community will glorify God your Father rather than you.

This is quite simply the nature of salt and light. Salt that no longer possesses the characteristics of seasoning and preserving is cast out as useless. Light that is no longer visible is rendered ineffective. So, what are the implications for us as Christians?

I believe very simply, if we are Christians, our lives will have the effect of seasoning and preserving the lives and relationships around us. If our lives are not doing this, I believe it is an insult to the cause of Christ. Jesus said, “…if the salt has lost its savor (effectiveness)…it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out…”

So am I saying the Gospel is about performance? Am I saying that it is about what I do? Not really, although my actions will reveal if I am truly salty or not. If my actions and interactions in the culture do not create a thirst for Jesus in others, than I have to ask if I really possess the quality of salt.

If my actions and interactions have no impact in pointing people to God, then I should certainly consider if I am light. This teaching on light is especially important because Jesus is called the light of the world (John 1:4, 5, 9). Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is essentially proclaiming a truth to His disciples that should only be understood as a result of His work and presence in their lives. There is no way any of us can generate a light on our own that will result in glory to the Father in Heaven.

The prophet Isaiah, warned us of the futility of trying to create our own light. “Look, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled— This you shall have from My hand: You shall lie down in torment.” (Isa 50:11 NKJV) So, I can’t create the light that I am to be. That is good news, because here then is the comfort. I don’t create the light that the world sees. No, in fact, if anything good is to shine through my life, it will be because the Light of the world, lives through me.

 

 

 

Blessed are…Matthew 5:1-12

Reading through this incredible passage which has become known as the “Sermon On the Mount,” I am reminded of John 1:17 which states, “…the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Such is the character of this message of Grace spoken in truth by the Lord Jesus Christ, that I am certain His audience was stunned. That day on the hillside, they heard a message that was spoken with an authority that was different from anything they had heard.

Grace is a term that is defined in numerous ways with some being content to define it as “unmerited favor.” Others see grace as being a sort of merciful covering for the untidy, unholy aspects of one’s life. Some see grace as leniency where God, knowing our weakness and inability to help ourselves, sort of gives us a compassionate band aid and welcomes us into the house. Others simply stick to a literal meaning of the word as being “a gift.”

Perhaps the word “grace” contains a bit of all of these meanings, but I was struck by a particular entry in the Strong’s Dictionary of Greek words when defining the word we translate as “grace.” That entry speaks of grace being “…the divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life.”

When I think of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this is the exact way in which I would describe the content. Jesus was teaching His listeners about the “divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life.” As He spoke this message describing the grace of the Father at work in the heart of His creatures, Jesus spoke the truth and He spoke it with all the Love and Authority of Heaven. Such was the power of His message, that when it was finished, the people were astonished.

Jesus begins this message in an interesting fashion. He begins by speaking of blessing. Yet what He speaks is not the typical content that accompanies my ideas of blessing. He doesn’t begin with blessed are you when you have enough food to eat and everyone likes you and you are at the top of your game. No, instead, He begins with “blessed” and then proceeds to couple this word with very unlikely conditions. Not only are they unlikely, they strike me as being impossible if not for the “divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life.”

Perhaps as Jesus watched the people gathering around Him before He began to speak, He was observing their faces and hearts (we read that He didn’t need anyone to tell Him what was in a man because He already knew what was in their hearts). Perhaps as He saw these folks gather, He saw those who were poor in spirit, some who were in mourning, some who truly were meek, others who knew they were unrighteous and were thirsty to be righteous. Perhaps He saw others who were struggling with bitterness and needed to show mercy. I don’t know if there were physical inspirations for the message, but we know that the Father directed the words of Jesus in this sermon.

To be blessed is defined by the Strong’s dictionary as “Supremely blest; by extension fortunate, well off; blessed, happy.”

This definition with its various renderings taken in the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount undoubtedly speaks to a state of being as opposed to a good feeling. While the state of being may be blessed, the accompanying circumstances most likely feel like anything but blessed.

To be poor in spirit, in mourning or even to be described as meek, at the surface do not sound very blessed. And if we focus on the condition mentioned we would probably get depressed or consider Jesus cruel in His assessment. Jesus says the blessing is not in the continuation of the condition mentioned but in a reward that follows that condition. The blessing is the hope and assurance that this condition is not the end, but will be followed by something greater.

To be hungry and thirsty for righteousness, probably means that we have become aware we are lacking righteousness in our lives. Now I for one do not like the knowledge that I lack righteousness. It doesn’t feel blessed. It feels condemning and shameful. Knowing I am unrighteous makes it hard for me to lift my head in a group of people it weighs me down with guilt. Still Jesus says that this is a blessed state of being because it spurs us to the place where we will find righteousness. It is as simple as Jesus told the woman of Samaria, “If you knew the gift of God…you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The blessing of being hungry and thirsty is that there is a bountiful supply to fill that need.

Being merciful sounds admirable, but showing mercy means that I must have experienced something unpleasant that I need to forgive. The condition that caused this state of being merciful is not to be desired presumably. Yet on the flip side the prospect of being shown mercy when I need it is very blessed.

“Blessed are the pure in heart” probably tickles my ears the most until I realize that purity is an impossibility for me on my own. When the Bible says, “all have sinned…there is none righteous…the heart in man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” and other such things, this begins to sound like a depressing part of the message. I don’t feel blessed because my sin keeps me from being pure in heart and without a pure heart, I question if I will be able to see God.

This is the one where I see most clearly that I need God’s “divine influence on my heart,” or I will never see His reflection in my life. It is only through the power of the Christ that I can even be considered pure in heart. Psalm 24 asks the question, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place?” the answer is, “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.”

Ps. 15 is very similar but asks a slightly different question, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?” Both of these passages give descriptions of purity of heart and life.

Because purity is the requirement to see God, I believe Jesus is describing the blessedness because HE IS HERE. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and where you used to be hopeless, there is now hope. He is able to forgive sins and make us pure in heart.

Blessed are the Peacemakers…This is a tough one. What is a peacemaker? To be a peacemaker sounds like you are either on the verge of or in the midst of conflict. Jesus says the peacemakers are blessed. They are called the children of God. Why? Because only the children of God who are empowered by the Grace of God are able to make peace. Left on our own we make war and contribute to conflicts. It takes a lot of grace to make peace. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the Peacemakers” He is speaking of the blessing of being under His Divine Influence when dealing with Conflict.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted” seems to defy logic. How can a man be truly happy when he is rejected, maligned, misinterpreted, hated, and mistreated? Again, the condition is not blessed, but the state of being. We are told to “…rejoice and be exceedingly glad” because our reward is great in Heaven.

We are also given an example, “…for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you…” In essence, Jesus is reminding us, “Do you remember those Heroic prophets whose writings bless you? Do you remember those godly people who stood against wrong and honored God? These guys were treated like you are being treated.” The blessing in this reminder is that as we look at the example and history of those great men and women of faith, we begin to understand that the same power at work in them is at work in us. The Divine influence of God, and its reflection in the lives of the prophets was resisted by the world. Jesus reminds us that we are on the same team.

Jesus spoke about some very difficult (impossible) situations and said that when we experience these we are blessed. That promise of blessing is only possible because Jesus is here. This was a message that hadn’t been preached before Christ, because Christ brought the promise. He was the fulfillment of the Law and the prophecies.

 Imagine with me if you will that today is just like in Jesus’ day. He is getting ready to preach and He sees you in the crowd. Jesus knows your heart and is willing to meet your need. What does He see in your heart?

 He is here and because of that, He says you are blessed. He is able to meet every need by applying His grace to your life and situation.

 The only way the poor in spirit can obtain the Kingdom of Heaven is if the King of Heaven gives it to them.

The only way the mourning can find comfort is if the God of all comfort, brings them comfort.

The only way the meek can inherit anything is if Jesus, the captain of our salvation, makes them Kings and priests to God.

The only way those who hunger and thirst for righteousness can be filled is if the Bread of Life and the Living Water from Heaven are given to them.

The only way to be merciful or obtain mercy is if our debt is paid in full by the blood of Jesus.

The only way to be pure in heart is for the Righteousness of Christ to be applied to our lives and then we have access to the throne of grace by a new and living way.

The only way to be peacemakers is to be a child of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is then that we become ministers of reconciliation and can have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding in control of our hearts and minds.

 The only way we can abide persecution is if we are empowered by the Spirit of God and Look for a city with foundations whose Builder and Maker is God.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, you have the promise of blessing in every situation because, grace and truth are here through Jesus Christ.

 

 

Not The Righteous, But Sinners…

Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.” (Luke 5:30-32 CEV)

 Not the righteous, but sinners…can it be that Jesus is really interested in sinners? Would He really rather hang out with them than with the righteous?

Perhaps the answer lies in the “Father’s business.” What is the Father doing? What is His work? If the Father is in the process of redeeming and reconciling the world to Himself, His will dictates with whom Jesus will spend time.

It is instructive to note that in this story, also found in Matthew chapter 9 as well as Mark chapter 2, the righteous or at least self-righteous come complaining to Jesus about the people with whom He is spending His time. The text indicates their tone was one of grumbling.  It almost seems that there is a bit of jealousy among them. I find this very interesting because they seem bound and determined to try and discredit Jesus, yet they are offended that He is choosing to spend time with someone other than themselves.

What is up with this kind of thinking? It could be that these people wanted to spend time with Jesus, but only on their terms? Wherever He was the self-righteous always managed to show up, yet they always seemed upset and disappointed with Him.

One could argue that they hung around Him because He was stealing their influence and their supporters and they wanted to minimize the damage, but then they didn’t count the tax collectors and sinners as their followers anyway. It strikes me as odd that they would object to Jesus hanging out with a crowd they rejected. It wasn’t like He was cutting into their support with tax collectors and sinners. They had already rejected this crowd.

Perhaps, they simply didn’t want Jesus to have any followers. That may explain some of their angst, but it really does appear that they were actually offended when Jesus actually sat down with these folks. It bothered them that Jesus was doing more than just striding quickly through the downtown. It bothered them that He was actually interacting with the street people and profligates.  It bothered them that that He wasn’t doing what they thought a religious leader should be doing.

But what could have offended them to the extent they spoke with the tone of one who is wounded and somewhat disenchanted? Could it be that they believed, perhaps hoped, He was who He said He was? Could it be that they wanted to be in on the action, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to let down their guard? Could it be that they were hoping Jesus would somehow affirm them?

They seemed bent on disproving Jesus, but why? They represented a whole system, but He was just one person. They had an entire culture on their side. Why was He such a threat to them? I believe in answering some of these questions, we might be able to better understand our motivations in dealing with the culture around us.

In nearly all organized religion, there is a political element present. You gain status and authority by virtue of paying your dues to the system and investing some skin in the game. Influence comes through following the right channels whether spoke or unspoken. 

To a certain extent each religion has “touchables” and “untouchables.”  You don’t particularly gain friends or influence in a religious system by going against the code. Try as we like to be objective, there always seems to be some group or practice that is not acceptable within our constructs of what pleases God.

For the ultra-conservative, anything that pushes the envelope of orthodoxy is unwelcome and suspect. For the more progressive, people or practices that remind of tradition or law are unwelcome or suspect. It seems that we have a predisposition to religion whether that religion is newly formed or carried over from ages past. We simply have a hard time functioning without developing an acceptable pattern of worship and behavior according to our perspective. But our perspective often proves to be a bit faulty and as a result, we have a hard time living as objective Christ followers.

Perhaps it is because we have a certain bitterness or fear towards people that we think don’t “get” our perspective or understanding of the Gospel. I am amazed at how many new Christians today revel more in being saved from “religion” than in being saved from sin. Many glory more in a new way of “church,” than in a new life. For them anyone still adhering to the traditional systems of worship is in bondage and they can tend to be cautious and even resentful towards them.

On the flip side, those from the traditional religious side of things have their own template through which they view the newer expressions of worship and freedom of lifestyle. They tend to view those with new or unorthodox expressions of worship as being crude and irreverent or as being bound in their own selfishness, arrogance or self-will.

Like the religious leaders of Jesus day, we may find it hard to envision Jesus sitting down with the “other” group and actually eating and fellowshipping with them. We all like to believe that Jesus has a softer spot in His heart for us than for the “other guys.” We all want to have the edge when it comes to God’s favor and grace. In short, we have a desire to be vindicated in our pursuit of God. In our arrogance we can be tempted to mock the simple mindedness or naiveté of those who seem “bound” by one thing or another.

Romans chapter 14 and verse 10 asks two interesting questions followed by a profound truth, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” These questions are very pertinent to the discussion here. For the more orthodox, the tendency is to pass judgment and condemnation on those who don’t hold the traditions. Whereas, for those operating under a new system of church, free from the constraints of tradition, the temptation is to show contempt for those still adhering to traditional systems.

The quoted passage ends with a statement that has a great leveling affect for any who would try and claim moral high ground in religious significance, “…we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

So why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Why does Jesus receive a visit from Nicodemus (John 3)? Why does Jesus eat in the house of Simon (Luke 7:36-50)? Why does Jesus converse with the religious leaders in the temple? And how is it that He seems to disrespect His earthly relatives in Luke 8:19-21? It is Because He is about His Father’s business.

I believe in stating, “I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners,” Jesus wasn’t pushing either group aside. Instead, He spoke a word that leveled the playing field. He wasn’t rejecting “Law” abiding citizens, but He was inviting them to admit their sinfulness. He wasn’t choosing a particular set of behavior as special, but rather inviting all to come self-righteous and “sinner” alike.

I take comfort in the fact that all had equal access to Jesus, He ate with them all. He associated with them all. True He rebuked some and consoled others, but He LOVED THEM ALL. His Father’s business was to bring them to righteousness through the Life of His Son.

Being self-righteous was of no merit and being sinful was of no merit. But Jesus made it clear that if you knew you were a sinner, you were invited into His grace.

Jesus, in eating with sinners shared such a beautiful picture of equal access. “…Not the righteous, but sinners”—He invites sinners from both camps to fellowship in His righteousness.

 Somehow the Apostle Paul got it right in communicating with Timothy when he wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” For Paul, it appears that He didn’t break the world of prospective worshippers into two or more camps with one being closer to God. He started with a faithful saying which colored his interaction in sharing the Gospel. I wonder if I can say the same thing with equal clarity and charity.

 

Do You Want To Be Healed?

… he asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” The man answered, “Lord, I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. I try to get in, but someone else always gets there first.” Jesus told him, “Pick up your mat and walk!” (Joh 5:5-8 CEV)

 Do you want to be healed? What a strange question. Obviously, the man has been camped out at the pool for a long time. No real reason to be there unless he wants to be healed. What do you say to a man who is beside the pool, but not in the water? He knows there is healing there but he is not getting in.

 I don’t know if there was a hierarchy of sorts, but it would seem that there must have been some sort of queue in which to wait for a turn at healing. This man has been in this condition for at least 38 years and still has found no relief. Could it be that in 38 years there has been no one who would help him move closer to the water?

 What do you say to such a man? My belief is that he has seen many people come and go in the time that he has been here by the pool. Why is he still on the edge and not in the pool? Why doesn’t he jump in? Why has no one helped him?

Several other questions come to my mind: Has he asked for help before? Has he declined help before? Why would you hang out in a place of healing without getting in? I don’t wish to be uncharitable, but the man seems to be more inclined to make excuses, than to make any movement toward the pool.

Another question begs to be asked, “How long have I waited by the water that gives life without plunging in? How many excuses have I manufactured for continuing in my sick and sinful state? How long have I experienced the paralysis of fear when healing and help were right next to me?  How long have I cursed the fruit of bitterness in my life while nurturing the root of revenge and hate? How long have I wallowed in self-pity and weakness holding out for sympathy rather than healing?

Jesus comes on the scene and as always He makes a difference in a life.

Jesus doesn’t ask for the list of reasons he hasn’t been healed. He doesn’t even seem to be bothered by the others who may be listening to this conversation. He simply asks the man if he wants to be healed.

I wonder if this isn’t really the question for all of us.

“Do you want to be healed?”

You’ve been living with pain for years. It has become a part of who you are. You are used to it. Certainly, you wonder what it might feel like to be totally free of that emotional baggage from the past, but then again, it would feel as if you lost your identity if the pain was gone. Besides, pain and suffering does have some value when it comes to manipulating the feelings of some people.

Also, the crowd around the pool (the sick and the invalid, the weak and the sad) have become your social group. The victims of life and circumstance have become your peers. If you were healed you would lose your link to this group. You would be one of the privileged ones and you would need to learn life all over again.

Sometimes healing looks like a big challenge.

“Do you want to be healed?”

“Well, you see the reason that I am still here is because…”

 Jesus cuts right to chase. “Do you want to be healed?” Get up take up your bed and walk!

Jesus isn’t one to throw a pity party. He cares, but He doesn’t get into this wallowing in sin or grief thing “because its just so hard”. Jesus is not into psychotherapy. Jesus speaks truth and heals what is hurt, restores what has been destroyed or damaged and speaks life. He doesn’t help us to heal ourselves. He doesn’t try to help us manage our days by the pool watching in frustration as others get in before us. He speaks life and heals us.

But the question He asks is simply, “Do you want to be healed?”

What is my answer? What is yours? “Do you want to be healed?” I believe that Jesus is ready to heal all of those who come.

Perhaps for the man by the pool, it was easier to hope for healing than to actually get into the pool. “What if it doesn’t work for me?” is a question that might have gone through his mind. “What if it works for others, but I don’t quite qualify?”

So healing is promised when an angel stirs the waters. “What if I exert the energy and find out it was just the wind? What if that ripple is nothing more than a water bug? I would feel so foolish if I got into the water and it hadn’t been stirred by an angel.”

I have looked at the promises of God and the testimony of Christians in that way. It worked for them, but I don’t think it would work for me. I would rather hold onto a hope of someday, than move in faith today.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus is about His Father’s business and He heals the one man, although there was a multitude there. He heals one man– A man who was wrapped up in sickness, fear, and self-pity—one man who sounds an awful lot like me…

The correct answer the question “Do you want to be healed?” is “YES,” but even that is not as powerful as the man’s response to Jesus’ command to “pick up your mat and walk.” To the man’s credit, he got up on faith, because nothing in the last 38 years would have allowed him to think that he could get up on his own strength.

He stood on the Word of Jesus. This is the beauty of the Gospel Message. Jesus speaks things into existence before we see them. Simply on the Word of Jesus, faith rose in the man. When Jesus says you can stand, you can stand.

He picked up his mat, a symbol of his sickness and sin. He picked it up in the strength of Jesus.

You know when a man is virtually immobile for 38 years, his bed wouldn’t be the most sterile piece of fabric around. I don’t like particularly enjoy cleaning up after myself when I have been sick and I am sure no one else in my family enjoys it either. I believe this would have been a less than desirable command for the man even if it hadn’t been the Sabbath day. (He wasn’t supposed to carry anything under Jewish Law on the Sabbath.) But he picked up his bed in the strength of Jesus.

There is a lot instruction in Jesus command to pick up his bed. Number one, he needed to take responsibility for his actions. He hadn’t been able to heal himself, but he needed to remember that he had been sick and helpless. Number two, He also needed to remove a stumbling hazard from the way of other people. There was no need to bring visitors back to look at the place where he used to lay. And there was no point in giving an invitation for someone else to lay there. Number three, it was a good reminder that he no longer had a bed among the sick. He was healed. He would not be coming back to spend his nights or days in self-pity and fear.

He walked in the command of Jesus. I don’t know where all that man walked after leaving the pool, but I do know this, when Jesus heals you and gives you the command to walk, there is purpose and there is life. Follow His Word.

So, where do you find yourself today? Do you want to be healed? Hear the Word of Jesus, and by faith, walk!

Through The Roof

Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed…And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” …He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he rose up before them, took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today!”  (Luk 5:17-26 NKJV)

 

The Power of God was present to heal them…

I like that statement, but what follows of the story is instructive. There may be some disagreement of who is being referenced here by the term “them.” However, this statement following the description of a great number of the religious leaders and scholars from all parts of the surrounding area would certainly give us the impression that they were included in the “them” when it says “the power of God was present to heal them.”

We can gather from the story that the gathered people didn’t know they needed healing. They were the ones with the answers. They didn’t necessarily know the questions people were asking. They were just answering the questions they thought were important because they had studied and prepared answers for them. They were not there to be healed but to monitor the teaching of Jesus. They were not looking to Him for answers because they were convinced that he was in error.

The story takes an interesting twist as the roof is torn off of the house in which Jesus is speaking. A man is let down on a bed through the roof and lands in front of Jesus. Evidently the extra number of religious leaders taking up the best seats meant that the ones who needed healing couldn’t reach Jesus.

It kind of reminds me of our churches today. Quite often, we find ourselves circling the wagons to protect sound doctrine and inadvertently set up obstacles which crowd out those who would see Jesus. Many times our cynicism toward the Bible and our love for the world, along with our snobby rejection of those who don’t know how to behave simply raises walls that the unsaved cannot scale.

One would think that a healing at this juncture would be fairly smooth and just what everyone was waiting to see. Remember “the power of God was there to heal them.” The religious leaders are in need of Spiritual healing, but they don’t know it. The healing they need is present, but their pride and unbelief, keep them from seeing their own needs. It is like they are in the hospital, but they aren’t aware they need treatment, they think they are here to monitor the doctor’s methods.

Jesus is not about smooth and easy. He is about His Father’s Business and His Father is giving an opportunity for Spiritual healing. You would think that Jesus would simply heal the man and get on with His sermon, Instead He sees the faith of the man and his friends and He makes a startling statement, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Talk about stirring up a hornet’s nest. The Pharisees were angry. They were insulted, and they were envious. They were also scared.

A statement of sins being forgiven would have not been nearly so jolting to the general crowd that followed Jesus, but for the religious leaders crowded into that little house, it struck them to the core. Forgiveness of sins is what they all needed and wanted. Being right with God was the core of their religious exercises, but they felt they knew how it was done and didn’t need some uneducated punk changing their rules.

They were frightened and rightfully so. Their whole social and political structure was based on the law and the desire to be right with God. Whether their efforts ever reached God or not was not as much a concern as whether or not the right people noticed. Then as today, the elite didn’t really believe the philosophy they embraced. They simply learned how to gain influence in their society and worked the system. For them the system involved proving yourself holy in the sight of people since the social and national identity of Israel was bound up in the Law of Moses. What frightened them was the distinct possibility that they were about to lose control because their house of cards was starting to shake. Their own righteousness seemed very fragile.

The power of God was present to heal them and they had ignored it until now. They were faced with a dilemma. Only God could forgive sins. But then, which is harder, to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “rise and walk?”

In one brief moment Jesus said and did both of these things and the religious people were astonished. The facts are there. A man was paralyzed and now is walking. He came on a bed and leaves on his feet. That Jesus has power to heal cannot be ignored, but what about forgiveness of sins? What about healing of emotions? What about restoring innocence to a wounded heart?

Jesus spoke directly to the hearts of everyone gathered there that day. The invitation was open. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”…everyone had an opportunity to receive forgiveness of sins that day, but we read that only one went away with that assurance.

I believe the power of God is present to heal us today, but I wonder how many sit piously in the pew waiting for God to straighten out somebody else. I wonder how many wounded and hurting people occupy places of authority in our churches, People who have never experienced the healing power of Jesus.

What about you today? Have you experienced the power of Jesus to deal with your heart?

When Jesus Lets You Set

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Mat 11:2-6 ESV)

 So what do you do when God lets you set? What do you do when the one you were promoting forgets you exist, or so it seems? You’ve promoted Jesus and His Kingdom. You have called many to repentance, and spent your life for the cause of Heaven and now you’re stuck and help doesn’t appear to be on the way. Nothing is happening. This is where John the Baptist found himself.

John was a man who denied himself the comforts of hearth and home to roam the wilderness and proclaim the advent of Christ. He boldly proclaimed a message of repentance and even challenged the religious leaders to show proof of their repentance by the fruit of their lives. He is the one who stood boldly against the adultery of a king and wound up in jail for it. How discouraging!

To make it worse, the very man whom John had proclaimed to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, is now out doing nice things for people, preaching and healing them. He is casting demons out of people and setting things right in their lives, but he is letting John sit in prison. John is hurt and a little confused. He seems to be asking “What’s up with this? What’s wrong with this picture?”

It’s like, “Yo, Jesus, remember me? I am the guy that you came to for baptism. You know, you and me dipping in the Jordan? Hey I am kind of tied up right now. How about proclaiming liberty to this captive?”

There are times like this in the Christian’s life. It seems that Jesus is doing things in every life but mine. Others seem to be living in the wonderful power and joy of the Lord, but I am stuck in a prison of hurts, or rejection or cancer or some other disease. It may be a prison of circumstance and situation or simply a relationship that doesn’t turn. I have poured out my heart for Jesus, I have served Him and tried to please Him, but He is letting me set.

John had an interesting question for Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Have you ever felt like this?

John is apparently saying, “It’s getting really old in here. Come do your miracle thing over here and bust me out of this prison.” Are you the one to do this or should I look for another savior?

This story is troubling for me mainly because of my pride and selfishness, but also because of the reality of what Jesus does in our lives. There are times when we can’t imagine why we are in a certain situation. It just seems to defy any rational argument. For Jesus to say “Assuredly … among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist…” and yet leave him in prison doesn’t make sense.

Earlier, John had made the statement about Jesus that “…He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” The implications of that statement are big, but I am sure that John never expected them to be this big. And he might have thought since he understood fact that Jesus is to increase, the decreasing would be less painful.

Why does decreasing have to be so painful and lonely? Can’t Jesus just let me, sort of, slowly fade off with honor? Why prison? Why pain? Why loneliness? Why injustice? Why doesn’t He rescue me? Why do others get help but not me.

What does it mean to be Jesus in this situation? What does it feel like for our God to watch over the confusion and pain of our lives even as His plan is for it produce a“…greater weight of glory?” What does it feel like for Jesus to be restrained by the will of His Father from releasing John?

For John to be sitting in the prison, must have felt like Jesus was lacking in power, loyalty, sympathy and kindness. Why would Jesus leave such a good man sit in prison? Why wouldn’t he use him in ministry? Why waste his talents?

Perhaps John had been looking forward to working with Jesus. Perhaps that was the reason he had been so bold as to confront king Herod in the first place. Maybe John was already trying to push the political buttons. I don’t know John’s motivations, but I do know that he was in place of loneliness, pain, and confusion. It was here that He asks a question that many of us are tempted to ask, “Should we look for another?”

Here is the difficult thing for people of God. We can go from being the promoters of God to trying to be His manager. John’s calling from God was to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and announce its King. Like a royal herald, John had accomplished his calling from God in proclaiming Christ, But now he was learning that he would do the most service to the Kingdom by being out of view in the place where God placed him.

Ouch! I don’t like that last paragraph.

Jesus’ response to the John’s questions was to show God’s power and glory in healing lives. Then He sent the disciples back with the evidence of God’s power at work. In essence, He told John, “Yes, I am the one, I know where you are and My Father has reasons for you to be there. You will be blessed if you are not offended by His will for your life.”

The truth here is that the Gospel of the Kingdom is about Jesus fulfilling the Father’s Business. The Father’s business is redeeming and restoring lives and relationships.

I was discussing this story the other evening with a friend. I asked him for his thoughts and this is what he texted me following our conversation.  

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24. John’s calling was completed. Sacrifice releases power. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the power released.” To the eyes of casual onlookers who do not hold kingdom values, the gospel is a waste. They see the life of Jesus and others as tragically “cut short.”

I like this thought. Perhaps when it feels like we have been left set by Jesus, He merely wants us to germinate and produce more seeds. I take great comfort in the fact that Jesus and the Father knew exactly where John was and by the words of Jesus describing John, I believe the Father was pleased with him.

Wherever you find yourself today, look to Jesus, perhaps it feels like your life has been put on hold, perhaps it feels like you have been abandoned. Remember, He is the One. Don’t look for another! Let Him determine your times and the seasons of your life and “blessed is the one who is not offended by HIM.”

“Follow Me”

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. (Mat 4:18-20 NKJV)

So how have you experienced the call of God and to what were you called?
Peter, Andrew, James and John were going about their lives, minding their own business working a vocation as fishermen. Then they were called by Jesus into a new vocation of fishing for men. Some have preached messages on this call, believing that this is the calling of every disciple.
How were you called and to what were you called?
Many folks today make much out of the fact that they are saved from sin and that Jesus called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. However, they seem to choke a bit if you ask them what God has called them to beyond salvation. Perhaps you are one of these people.
No doubt there is already an argument forming in your mind when I ask this question. Even as you squirm in your seat or feel a little heat under your collar, you might be saying something like this. “But, John, not all of us are called to go into Missions. Some are called to go and some are called to send.”
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that statement from “Christians,” I would be a wealthy man.
Another common excuse coming right on the heels of the first one is, “Brother John, I can serve the Lord in my job right here. There’s an incredible mission field outside my door. You won’t believe the type of people I work around!”
My original question is not whether you were called into missions, but rather “To what were you called by Jesus?”
I have been reflecting on this question, especially considering how Jesus called His disciples. I believe that God has called us into His life and light so that He can shine His light through us in the ongoing mission to reconcile the world to God. So, my original question has less to do with where you are or why you think you should stay there, and focuses rather on whether or not you know to what you were called.
Some people experience the call of God to salvation and are thrilled with the new joy and freedom, but they never really process beyond that. Many people think forgiveness of sin and freedom from the penalty of sin is the end game. But is it?
Jesus, in speaking to Nicodemus, seemed to indicate that being “born again” is simply an entrance into His Kingdom. God calls us through the door of salvation to be operate in His Kingdom as kings, priests, ambassadors, and witnesses to name just a few of the occupations. Yet many of us are content to just walk through the door and stand on the welcome mat and we spend the rest of our time trying to defend our position and excuse our fear of moving into the Kingdom.
These are the folks who will react when they hear a missionary or Christian worker ask them a question about calling. They immediately consider how to justify their position rather than seriously consider the question of their calling.
If you are one who is hard pressed to come up with an answer to the question of what God has called you to do, you would fit in with a large percentage of western Christians. Because of our wealth, freedom and opportunities, most American and Canadian Christians feel that God would never call them away from their good paying jobs and secure finances to live on faith and pursue ministry as a full time occupation. Since we have wealth and disposable income, we assume that we are called to “send” rather than “go.” Even then, “Sending” is often not a priority until our own financial goals are achieved.
But back to our question, “What has God called you to be and do?”
While four of the disciples were called to spiritualize their livelihood and “Fish for men,” the majority of the disciples were called with two simple words “FOLLOW ME.”
I am really glad that Jesus, in calling Matthew, who was a tax collector, didn’t call him to be a tax collector in the Kingdom of God. He simply called out “Follow Me.” And a beautiful thing happened, Matthew did just that.
God also called Thomas, who seemed to have a predisposition to pessimism. Jesus didn’t call Thomas to be Mr. Pessimist in the Kingdom. I realize that many Christians today believe they are called to carry on this tradition of pessimism and fear (also known as unbelief) but what God called Thomas, and even Judas to do was, “Follow Me.”
It appears that in the recorded calling of the disciples, they all received the call to follow Jesus. There might have been more added to the call, as in the case of the four fishermen, but it certainly was no less than “Follow Me.”
I believe that if we have heard any call from Jesus, it is to follow Him. It may mean that we follow Him onto a mission field of full time Christian service. Or it could mean following Him on mission to your workplace or your neighborhood. It could mean simply following Him through pain, suffering or loss. Where ever He wants us to go, His intent is that we follow Him to that place.
I am thankful that when Jesus calls us, He doesn’t send us on mission blazing our own trail. No matter what the specifics, I believe the call always begins with “Follow Me.” For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” Hebrews 13:5