Go Therefore…

Go therefore…

Two of the most important words to us in Scripture: ‘Go therefore…’

What is so important about this phrase for many probably is not the words themselves but how often it has been preached and how often these two words have been addressed. As an alumnus of Southeastern Baptist in Wake Forest, I heard these words a lot. These words helped to shape my understanding of the gospel and the importance Christ put on our call not just to pastors and missionaries, but to all believers. We are called to go, or as can be derived from the text ‘to be going.’

Now before I get too far ahead of myself there are some crucial things in Matthew 28:18-20 that we need to embrace. First while the verse does say go, there is a very important phrase before that, a phrase that makes it all possible, a phrase that shapes how, why, and to what end we go and it is this simple phrase: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Let us just stop right there. In Jesus’ final words to his disciples He wants them to understand the most important thing about what is to come and what is happening right now and that is: All authority is His, All power is His, All that can be and ever was to be is His. In these 11 words Jesus gave the disciples and us everything we ever need, not just to go but to live.

This authority is what gives the Gospel power, Jesus conquered the grave and in so doing revealed all authority to be His and has made it evident for all to see and know. And because of this authority He is now sending out His disciples on the most important task of their lives to make more disciples. Surprisingly to some, we see that Christ’s authority was not dependent on the disciples, but rather one who sent them. In this they are assured that it is not by their might or power that people come to know Him or grow but by the authority of Him alone.

However this should be a motivation for the pursuit of making disciples not an excuse, if for no other reason than the fact that this is commanded by God. As we continue in the text we see that the disciples are to teach every new believer the commands of the Lord and to follow after His teachings and the truth of the Gospel, which clearly means the one He is giving them here before He ascended. In the book of Matthew these are the last words of Christ to the 11 remaining disciples. His final words are to go, baptize, teach, and know that He is with them. And these words apply to us today as much as they did then. We are called to go. God has placed each of us in this specific place, in this specific time, with our specific jobs and neighborhoods not simply for our own well-being, but for the proclamation of the Gospel. We exist and are called to go and make disciples, some will go to far off countries, some will go across the street, some will go to a new city or job, but all will go and as we go we make disciples.

For most of you who read this you will say you have read this before. There is nothing new here, I will agree with you on that. For most of us this is one of the first things we learn when we come to faith. I mean we came to faith because someone told us, whether that be a relative or a friend someone told us, someone spent time with us, someone walked us through the basics of the faith, someone taught us about the work of the Spirit in us leading to holiness, someone taught us we needed to forgive others and seek forgiveness when we sin. Someone discipled us, whether that was one-on one or in a group. Someone followed Christs command to go and make disciples. How did they grow in holiness and understand the Lord more, they followed his commands to go and make disciples. You are the product of God’s work in their lives.

So I write this not because it’s new or revolutionary, but because it is the most basic thing we are called to do and at times it is one of the easiest to forget.

I pray for each of us that we will never forget, because we have the assurance that all authority is His and He is the one at work, so rest in Him and go make disciples.

Why Do You Love Christmas? For God? Or For His Gifts?

We’ve walked through Matthew 2:1-12 this week verse by verse and seen much glory in it.  Today, I want to end the first week of Advent by challenging and calling you to enjoy Christmas for one reason this year.

Did you notice Matthew 2:10? Once the wise men saw the star stop over the house where Jesus was, it says that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” This funny language describing how the wise men rejoiced literally means in the original Greek “their joy joy’d!” This is supreme happiness, supreme delight, so much so that words in any language cannot describe a higher level or degree of satisfaction or pleasure.

The wise men were white hot with devoted affection for this new born King. But why did they rejoice? Why was their joy joying? It’s simple isn’t it? We all know the answer, but do we really? You see Church, I’ve noticed something in you and in my own life that breaks my heart and grieves the heart of God. We say we delight in Jesus, we say we rejoice in our salvation, and we say we love the freedom from the punishment of sin and wrath of God. We say we believe Jesus is enough for us, and we only need Him. But Christmas presses something in us that ought to call us out.

Do you love God for who He is alone. Or do you love God for His gifts, blessings, or benefits?

I’m convinced church, that where God’s gifts are sought after and prized more than God Himself, God is not loved, honored, or known. He is blasphemed by this frail attempt of love. Matthew 2:1-12 calls us out into one thing and one thing only – the same thing God called the wise men too – HIMSELF!

God is the greatest gift we could ever have, and in the incarnation we received just that.

The Baby Turned Boy Receives Gifts

Matthew 2:9-12, “After listening to the King, they went on their way.  Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed another way.”

Well after being politically obligated to share with Herod when the star had risen, the wise men now set off again. The same star they once saw rise, they now see moving south and coming to rest. They went south, and where the star stopped they see a house. The fact that it was a house they saw, and not the inn with no rooms available, means it took such a long time for the wise men to get from Babylon to Jerusalem that baby Jesus is now boy Jesus.

Going in to the house, they saw Him, and upon seeing Him they fell down and worshipped!

They recognize God has given mankind a gift in this boy King, and they rightly respond with gifts of their own. Gold because it is a King’s abundant and overflowing currency. Nothing befits a King like fountains of gold to share with His people! The resin Frankincense to acknowledge the presence of absolute divinity and the worship due to Him from all peoples and nations. The other resin Myrrh to symbolize death, burial, foreshadowing that King Jesus will suffer death to usher in the Kingdom of God.

It is quite timely the wise men came the moment they did, for this little family (Joseph, Mary, Jesus) would soon have to travel another far distance – to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod when he seeks to kill the Christ by killing all boys under 2 in Bethlehem. I say it’s timely because this family probably used and survived solely on these three gifts until they arrived at Egypt. We see God caring for His Son here, protecting Him from Herod, providing Him with all He needs.

The same is true for us. The same is true for the wise men also. We read in 2:12 that God warns the wise men in a dream to not return to Herod, but to return to Babylon on a different road. So off they went – Happy to have beheld the Christ, safe with new directions from our Father.

Herod: Corruptly Using Religion to Serve Political Power

Matthew 2:3-8, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Well, it appears that not everyone is as happy about the birth of the King as the wise men were.  Herod the King, known also as Herod I and/or Herod the Great was the appointed King of the Jews under the authority of Rome.  History teaches us that Herod was ruthless.  He killed his wife, many of his sons, and many family members during his reign.  If he was this way with his own family, can you imagine what he would have been like to the people?  Also, you aren’t placed as King in Jerusalem if you’re a big deal in Caesar’s or Rome’s eyes.  If you’re big wig in Rome – they keep you in Rome!

To put it in perspective, placing Herod in Jerusalem is similar to once playing for the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field to playing 3rd base coach for church softball.  It is not career move marked by improvement or success.  All this to say, Herod was oppressive.  Upon hearing the news from the wise men that the Christ had been born, he was troubled, and if Herod is troubled, you can bet the whole city was trembling.  After all, this Christ had to be a great King to call such men of renown out of the affluent east to all the way to dusty Jerusalem.

This prompted Herod to inquire as well and ask his learned men, the chief priests and scribes saying, “Where is the Christ to be born?”  They answered him honestly and said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is written by the prophet, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”  In answering Herod the priests and scribes quote Micah 5:2, and this was no small prophecy to quote at this time. You see, Micah 5:2 describes the time when the time when a King will come from the little city of Bethlehem. But Micah doesn’t refer to just an ordinary king, but the King. This King, Micah says, is from of old, from ancient days. This King is nothing less than the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord of all Lords, the King of all Kings! Can you understand the position of Herod? He is King in Jerusalem and to his knowledge he has just learned that One who has been foretold and has now come. In Herod’s eyes this Christ, this Messiah, this Savior, is a political problem, a threat to all that is established by Rome in Jerusalem. It must be stopped before it has a chance to begin. And that is exactly what Herod intends to do.

At this point, we don’t know how it happened but Herod secretly had the wise men brought to him and from them Herod learned what time the star had appeared. So after learning these things, Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem saying in 2:8, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you’ve found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” Of course we have here a great display of something we see all too often throughout history and in our day – the incorrect and corrupt use of religion to serve the purpose of political power. It is plain to us that Herod will not worship this Child, but will try with all his might to end the boy’s life before Jerusalem is overthrown. If this it is plain to us, you know it was plain to the wise men.

The Nations Shall Stream to the Son

Matthew 2:1-2, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

So we read that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea while King Herod was ruling over Jerusalem.  Immediately Matthew tells us of the famous wise men, or “magi” in the original Greek.  He doesn’t tell us how many wise men there are (most people say there are 3 because there are 3 gifts) nor does Matthew tell us exactly where they came from.  All we know from the account in Matthew is that there is a group of wise men coming from the East.  Why did they come?  Verse 2 tells they came asking a question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  Why did they ask this question?  Verse 2 continues with their reason, “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Now, in order to understand this question and the reasoning behind it we have to look deeper into who the wise men were.  Here’s what we know.  When Jesus was born they saw a star rise in the East.  Like today, not very many people in ancient times normally and habitually watched and noted the behavior and pattern of the stars.  People notice them, and maybe even talk about them a little bit.  But it was the Astrologers who studied and noted their individual and collective movements in ancient times.  It is from this that most throughout history have concluded that the wise men were in fact learned Astrologers: watching, studying, noting, and learning from the patterns displayed in the heavens.  Now, think about it.  What large, affluent, urban city was east of Jerusalem at that time in history?  Every map of this time will lead you to one answer, Babylon.  It was large enough and affluent enough to have men within it that could devote their lives to the scholarly occupation of Astronomy.

Therefore, I conclude that the wise men were learned Babylonian Astrologers who knew the heavens like the back of their hand, and when they saw something abnormal occur in the sky, like a star rising over Jerusalem, they not only noticed it, but ran toward it!

This is no small thing.  It was near 800 miles between Babylon and Jerusalem.  It not only would have taken them a long time to travel that distance, but they would have needed a large group carrying a large number of supplies, and most of all, they would have needed a very good reason for being willing to travel such a distance.  So why go?  Remember, they were learned men who would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what was going on, remember they said, “We saw HIS star rising, and have come to worship Him.”  For them, the star rising indicated a Person worthy of their worship had come.  What led them to believe this?  They knew the prophecy written down almost 1600 years earlier found in Numbers 24:17 which says, “I see Him, but not now.  I behold Him, but not near.  A star shall come out of Jacob, a scepter shall come out of Israel.” You see it? A star will rise? A scepter shall come out of Israel? They saw the star, they knew that only a King could hold a scepter, and they knew He had finally come. So off they went.

That non-Israelite men would journey this even more gospel roots. Long ago, it was spoken of in prophetic visions that “all peoples” and “many nations” would come streaming in to Mount Zion to behold the King on His throne and worship the true God.  Both Isaiah and Micah say, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and they will all say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…” These wise men remind us that there is only one God, and that this one God is the Christ who was born in Jerusalem. He is the King who reigns, He is the One who made the world and all in it, who desires all tribes, and tongues, and peoples, and nations to come and worship and bask in the light of His infinite glory.  Jesus has just been born and already the peoples and the nations are streaming to Him worship!

You know what this means right?

The Kingdom of God is here.

God has come.

The darkness is about to fade.

Light is breaking through.

Dawn is here!

Do Not Mock God This Christmas, Glut on Him!

Now to close our time in Matthew 2:1-12.

Did you notice 2:10?  Once the wise men saw the star stop over the house where Jesus was, it says that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”  This funny language describing how the wise men rejoiced literally means in the original Greek “their joy joy’d!”  This is supreme happiness, supreme delight, so much so that words in any language cannot describe a higher level or degree of satisfaction or pleasure.  The wise men are white hot with affection.  But why did they rejoice?  Why was their joy joying?  It’s simple isn’t it?  We all know the answer, but do we really?

In a few days time, most of you reading this blog right now, will be sitting around a lit Christmas tree, unwrapping presents that you asked for.  Some of you will unwrap a new Xbox one, maybe a new gold iPhone 5, or a 70″ TV, even maybe a new car.  I’m convinced that if you rejoice exceedingly with great joy over these gifts you will waste Christmas.  How then will not waste it?  Not by not rejoicing, but by rejoicing is what is worth rejoicing, Christ!  Glut your souls on Him as you open gifts, and use and handle and be happy over your new gifts in such a way that people know you love Jesus more than these gifts.

God is not honored when His gifts are treasured over Him.  Do not mock God this Christmas.  Honor Him by enjoying Him.

The Wise Men’s Three Gifts

Matthew 2:9-12 says, “After listening to the King, they went on their way.  Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed another way.”

After being politically obligated to share with Herod when the star had risen, the wise men now set off again.  The same star they once saw rise, they now see moving south and coming to rest.  They went south, and where the star stopped they see a house.  The fact that it was a house they saw, and not the inn with no rooms available, means it took such a long time for the wise men to get from Babylon to Jerusalem that baby Jesus is now boy Jesus.  Going in to the house, they saw Him, and upon seeing Him they fell down and worshiped!  They recognize God has given mankind a gift in this boy King, and they rightly respond with gifts of their own. 

Gold because it is a King’s abundant and overflowing currency.  Nothing befits a King like fountains of gold to share with His people!  The resin Frankincense to acknowledge the presence of absolute divinity and the worship due to Him from all peoples and nations.  The other resin Myrrh to symbolize death, burial, foreshadowing that King Jesus will suffer death to usher in the Kingdom of God.  It is quite timely the wise men came the moment they did, for this little family (Joseph, Mary, Jesus) would soon have to travel another far distance – to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod when he seeks to kill the Christ by killing all boys under 2 in Bethlehem.  I say it’s timely because this family probably used and survived solely on these three gifts until they arrived at Egypt.  We see God caring for His Son here, protecting Him from Herod, providing Him with all He needs.  The same is true for us. 

The same is true for the wise men also.  We read in 2:12 that God warns the wise men in a dream to not return to Herod, but to return to Babylon on a different road.  So off they went – Happy to have beheld the Christ, safe with new directions from our Father.

Old News: Political Power Play Using Religion

Matthew 2:3-8 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Well, it appears that not everyone is as happy about the birth of the King as the wise men were.  Herod the King, known also as Herod I and/or Herod the Great was the appointed King of the Jews under the authority of Rome.  History teaches us that Herod was ruthless.  He killed his wife, many of his sons, and many family members during his reign.  If he was this way with his own family, can you imagine what he would have been like to the people?  Also, you aren’t placed as King in Jerusalem if you’re a big deal in Caesar’s or Rome’s eyes.  If you’re big wig in Rome – they keep you in Rome!  To put it in perspective, placing Herod in Jerusalem is similar to once playing for the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field to playing 3rd base coach for church softball.  It is not career move marked by improvement or success.  All this to say, Herod was oppressive.  

Upon hearing the news from the wise men that the Christ had been born, he was troubled, and if Herod is troubled, you can bet the whole city was trembling.  After all, this Christ had to be a great King to call such men of renown out of the affluent east to all the way to dusty Jerusalem.  This prompted Herod to inquire as well and ask his learned men, the chief priests and scribes saying, “Where is the Christ to be born?”  They answered him honestly and said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is written by the prophet, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”  In answering Herod the priests and scribes quote Micah 5:2, and this was no small prophecy to quote at this time.  You see, Micah 5:2 describes the time when the time when a King will come from the little city of Bethlehem.  But Micah doesn’t refer to just an ordinary king, but the King.  This King, Micah says, is from of old, from ancient days.  This King is nothing less than the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord of all Lords, the King of all Kings!  Can you understand the position of Herod?  He is King in Jerusalem and to his knowledge he has just learned that One who has been foretold and has now come.  In Herod’s eyes this Christ, this Messiah, this Savior, is a political problem, a threat to all that is established by Rome in Jerusalem.  It must be stopped before it has a chance to begin.  And that is exactly what Herod intends to do.

At this point, we don’t know how it happened but Herod secretly had the wise men brought to him and from them Herod learned what time the star had appeared.  So after learning these things, Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem saying in 2:8, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you’ve found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.”  Of course we have here a great display of something we see all too often throughout history and in our day – the incorrect and corrupt use of religion to serve the purpose of political power.  It is plain to us that Herod will not worship this Child, but will try with all his might to end the boy’s life before Jerusalem is overthrown.  If this it is plain to us, you know it was plain to the wise men.

“All Nations Shall Stream to Him!”

Matthew 2:1-2 says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

It is quite telling that non-Israelite men would journey this even more gospel roots.  Long ago, it was spoken of in prophetic visions that “all peoples” and “many nations” would come streaming in to Mount Zion to behold the King on His throne and worship the true God.  Both Isaiah and Micah say, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and they will all say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…”

These wise men remind us that there is only one God, and that this one God is the Christ who was born in Jerusalem.  He is the King who reigns, He is the One who made the world and all in it, who desires all tribes, and tongues, and peoples, and nations to come and worship and bask in the light of His infinite glory.  Jesus has just been born and already the peoples and the nations are streaming to Him worship!  What a King!  What a Man!  What a Savior to draw peoples of all nations to Him!  You know what this means right?  The Kingdom is here.  God has come.  The darkness is about to fade.  Light is breaking through, dawn is here!

Men of Renown From the East

It is always fitting to mention the birth of Christ during Advent, for that is what it is about.  But did you know that Jesus’ birth carries far more weight and meaning to it than can be found in 1st century Bethlehem alone?  His birth was the culmination of promise after promise after promise made by God to His people.  This means that to properly understand the birth of Jesus one must understand that the birth of Jesus is not beginning of the story.  You see, Jesus’ birth has roots and like a plant’s roots usually must go deep underground before the plant grows tall, there are prophetic gospel roots all throughout the Old Testament.  In fact the whole of the Old Testament exists to prepare the way for the King of Kings hundreds and even thousands of years before He arrives on the scene.  It is no small thing when the Author of the play walks on stage, and in the birth of Christ we have such an event.

For the next while I’ll be blogging through Matthew 2:1-12.  It is the famous story of the Wise Men who came to see Jesus.  Throughout this you’ll see why this passage is found within Matthew’s gospel rather than Mark, Luke, or John.  Why is this so?  Out of all 4 gospels it’s Matthew that uses the Old Testament most in describing how it all began.

Our text today following last week is Matthew 2:1-12.  It easily divides into three sections, and I’ll walk through one at a time, hear the Word of God:

Matthew 2:1-2 says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea while King Herod was ruling over Jerusalem.  Immediately Matthew tells us of the famous wise men, or “magi” in the original Greek.  He doesn’t tell us how many wise men there are (most people say there are 3 because there are 3 gifts) nor does Matthew tell us exactly where they came from.  All we know from the account in Matthew is that there is a group of wise men coming from the East.  Why did they come?  Verse 2 tells they came asking a question: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  Why did they ask this question?  Verse 2 continues with their reason, “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”  

Now, in order to understand this question and the reasoning behind it we have to look deeper into who the wise men were.  Here’s what we know.  When Jesus was born they saw a star rise in the East.  Like today, not very many people in ancient times normally and habitually watched and noted the behavior and pattern of the stars.  People notice them, and maybe even talk about them a little bit.  But it was the Astrologers who studied and noted their individual and collective movements in ancient times.  It is from this that most throughout history have concluded that the wise men were in fact learned Astrologers: watching, studying, noting, and learning from the patterns displayed in the heavens.  Now, think about it.  What large, affluent, urban city was east of Jerusalem at that time in history?  Every map of this time will lead you to one answer, Babylon.  It was large enough and affluent enough to have men within it that could devote their lives to the scholarly occupation of Astronomy.  Therefore, I conclude that the wise men were learned Babylonian Astrologers who knew the heavens like the back of their hand, and when they saw something abnormal occur in the sky, like a star rising over Jerusalem, they not only noticed it, but ran toward it!  This is no small thing.  It was near 800 miles between Babylon and Jerusalem.  It not only would have taken them a long time to travel that distance, but they would have needed a large group carrying a large number of supplies, and most of all, they would have needed a very good reason for being willing to travel such a distance.  So why go?  Remember, they were learned men who would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures.  They knew what was going on, remember they said, “We saw HIS star rising, and have come to worship Him.”  

For them, the star rising indicated a Person worthy of their worship had come.  What led them to believe this?  They knew the prophecy written down around 1600 years earlier found in Numbers 24:17 which says, “I see Him, but not now.  I behold Him, but not near.  A star shall come out of Jacob, a scepter shall come out of Israel.”  You see it?  A star will rise?  A scepter shall come out of Israel?  They saw the star, they knew that only a King could hold a scepter, and they knew He had finally come. 

So off they went.

Want to Save Your Life? Want to Find It? Lose It

“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25)

Does this seem harsh?  At first I think it does, don’t you agree?  Jesus is making an awful big statement here.  “If you want to follow Me, deny yourself (everything you’ve ever wanted and hoped for), take up your cross (embrace the will of God no matter the cost), and follow Me.”  The initial shock of this statement is meant, I think, by God to display a) the normal manner of Christian living, b) the allegiance Christ calls out of us, and 3) the reward for doing so.  One at a time.

The normal manner of Christian living is presented in this verse.  Though it seems radical is this not what Jesus calls all His followers to?  Or is this what He only calls seminary graduates and pastors to?  The answer is clear, Jesus calls every Christian to lay aside hopes and dreams and embrace God’s call to suffer in the footsteps of Christ upon believing in Christ.  As soon as one does this they will find another thing happening along with it.  When all your hopes and dreams are laid aside God fills the void with Himself.  New dreams, new desires, new hope, new loves, new passions, new directions blossom into life in a heart with fertile soil that used to be a hard stony heart focused only on self.

This is part of the reason we see the second thing clearly.  This is a radical call to allegiance, this is life changing stuff.  Have you stopped and thought of that?  Embracing life with Jesus, becoming a Christian, means everything must change.  Everything.  I learned this at my conversion at 20 years old.  After 20 years of non-Christian living I had built up a life for myself focused on one thing, me.  And now for the first time God was calling me to set that aside and pursue a higher joy and end, Him.  This is a radical shift in allegiance indeed.

But it is not without reward.  What will we find when we do this?  Our lives.  Notice that?  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  You will find that which you’ve always wanted, your life!  You, who you were supposed to be all along is waiting for you with open arms with you lose your life in Christ.  In fact, it is true to say that upon losing your life for Christ, you become more truly “you” than you’ve ever been before.

So the question after this call to allegiance is easy.  Want to save your life?  Want to find it?  Lose it for Christ, lose it in Christ.  He’ll empty you and fill you with the thing we need most, Him.

Jesus’ Ministry Model

Volumes and volumes of books have been written over the past century on leadership within the Church.  ”Pastoral leadership” has been the focus of a copious amount of Christian authors, and most of these books, except a few, sound almost identical.  The similarities are often found in what the author is trying to tell the pastor to “do” with his time, leaders, and people in order to create a more effective congregation.  ”Focus on small groups”, “focus on your elders”, “focus on your staff”, “focus on your people”, “focus on your preaching”, etc.  There is a place for this type of literature, but I wonder where the Spirit of Jesus is in these books when I read verses like Matthew 6:33, which says,

“Seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Now I’m aware that this passage in Matthew has a context and that context has a lot to do with our anxiety, worry, and tendency to focus on the wrong things in life, but I wonder….could Jesus have a word for pastors and church leaders here?  Before doing what all the previous literature would have us do and focus on “this” or “that” I wonder what God would with our ministries if “seeking to know Jesus better” were our main focus in ministry?

Perhaps God would “add” all kinds of ministry to us?

Perhaps God would”add” much to our own souls?

Perhaps God would “add” much to the souls of our people after seeing our newly awakened soul?

Perhaps God would “add” to our preaching, and leading, and teaching, and discipling, etc?

Perhaps He may.  God could do any of these things as we seek to know Him first and foremost in our lives of ministry.  But I don’t think any of these things are promised to be seen if we “seek Him first” as the passage indicates.  All this to say – there is one thing I long to see in a pastor’s heart.  I long to (and long to be) a pastor who loves God more than the ministry He gave me.  I want that ministry to grow and flourish under the proper heat of a white-hot relationship with Jesus!

Whether you agree with me or not, I think Jesus has laid down a model for ministry in this verse that more ought to pay attention to.

Right & Might – We Have All We Need

Matthew 28:18-20 says:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I command you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Acts 1:8 says:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

Are these two passages asking about the same type of power here? Matthew talks of authority and Luke (author of Acts) talks of power. Are these two the same thing? No. Matthew gives us the right to carry out the commission, while Luke gives us the might to carry out the commission. Conclusion: We’ve got the right from Jesus and the might from the Holy Spirit to carry this out. We’ve got all we need.

The Beatitudes and Our Heart Change

In Matthew 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount, and in the beginning of Matthew 5 we find the Beatitudes. They are, after a careful look, a specifically ordered revelation of God at work in the human heart. What do I mean? R.W. Glenn says it great:

The context of the beatitudes makes it clear that Jesus is describing what happens in a person’s life when they come to understand God’s grace in the gospel (see Matthew 4:23).

God’s grace in the gospel shows you your moral and spiritual bankruptcy. You must be spirit-poor if the cross is what it took to rescue you. God’s grace in the gospel makes you mourn. To know that your sin nailed Jesus to the cross breaks your heart. God’s grace in the gospel makes you meek. How can you be touchy and defensive now that you’ve seen Jesus dying for you? There’s nothing in you worth defending. God’s grace in the gospel lets you see how hungry and thirsty you are for a righteousness that will open the door to God’s acceptance. Jesus is that righteousness given to you freely as a gift. God’s grace in the gospel makes you merciful. How can you choke your neighbor over what they owe you when both hands are already occupied receiving the mercy of Jesus Christ? God’s grace in the gospel makes you pure in heart. Knowing that God has accepted you on the basis of Jesus’s blood and righteousness frees you to live honestly before God and people, admitting who you really are and how desperate you are for Christ. God’s grace in the gospel leads you to be a peacemaker. Your experience of God’s grace puts so much joy in your heart that you cannot help but tell others how they can be at peace with God. And finally, your experience of God’s grace in the gospel will get you persecuted. There is something simultaneously beautiful and repulsive about a gospel-centered life. In the fallen human heart, there is a deep aversion to salvation not based on our own resume — if we didn’t have to earn a seat at the table, it’s not worth much. So when non-Christians hear that all their efforts to make themselves acceptable to God are a galactic waste of time, they’re going to get angry, and we will be the object of that anger.

The grace of God produces two responses: infatuation or infuriation. Those who are infatuated by God’s grace display the beauty of the Beatitudes. Those who are infuriated with it, lash out at those whose very existence represents the futility of their project of self-salvation

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One Greater than Jonah is Here

Well, we’ve gone through the whole book of Jonah in throughout the past two weeks here, and it’s been fun.  We’ve seen Jonah act like a godly prophet receiving the Word from God and preaching the Word from God to Nineveh, and we’ve seen Jonah act like a wicked little child throwing a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way.  Doubtless there are thousands of lessons for us here in the book of Jonah and I think we’ve only scratched the surface in our time together.  But there is one more lesson from Jonah that we must talk about…and it is found in Matthew 12.

Matthew 12:38-41 says, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’  But He answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, One greater than Jonah is here.’”

This last lesson to learn about Jonah is a lesson of fulfillment.  Jesus says here that by looking at Jonah we get a preview, a foreshadow, a picture of what Jesus would look like when He comes!  For those of you that kept up with whole series, did you notice that chapter of Jonah we always ended up talking about Jesus?  That’s because the OT is like a bathroom mirror.  After you get out of the shower it’s all foggy – you can see your outline in it but you can’t see any details.  But slowly as fresh air comes into the bathroom and steam goes away, you see more and more details until you can see every little detail in your face.  In the same way, when you start the OT you see a foggy picture of the Redeemer that will one day come to save God’s people, but as you begin to make your way through the OT the picture gets clearer and clearer and clearer.

So, what’s the connection between Jesus and Jonah?  They’re two and Jesus makes them clear:

a) First, there’s a connection with “three’s” – Just as Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish, so too Jesus will spend three days and nights in the grave.  This implies that just as Jonah only spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish and was vomited out to go preach, so too Jesus will only spend three days and nights in the grave and be resurrected in power to equip the Church to preach His gospel worldwide.

b) Second, there’s a connection in repentance – If the Ninevites repented at the preaching of the prophet Jonah, how much more should the everyone in the world repent at the preaching of the True Prophet Jesus?!  Jonah was great, but Jesus said it clearly, “One greater than Jonah is here.”  Therefore if we do not listen to Jesus, and trust in His gospel, Jesus says the Men of Nineveh will rise up at our judgment and condemn us for not believing the Truth.