Monday 30 September 2013

Matthew 20:17-34 - Dying for life

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Matthew 20:17-34 tells us a lot about the character and nature of Jesus. It falls naturally into three parts, Jesus speaks about his coming death in Jerusalem, he deals with Zebedee's wife and sons, and he heals two blind men.

This is about as stressful as life gets! Imagine you are setting out on a journey that you know will end in your painful and desperate death, that you are having to deal with your followers jockeying for position and criticising one another, and people are stopping you along the way asking for help.

At a time like that I would be a gibbering wreck looking for a way out, grumpy and more than a tad impatient. Just look at some of the words associated with Jesus in this short passage...

Delivered over to the chief priests and teachers - condemn to death - hand over to the Gentiles - mock, flog, crucify - raise to life - ask a favour - drink the cup - indignant - servant, slave - ransom - shout - have mercy - we want our sight.

Jesus took it all and dealt with it patiently, graciously, and determinedly. He came to serve, first the Father, then the people around him.

Read the passage through with this in mind, then consider your own response to others when you're under heavy pressure and extreme stress. He is such an example for us. Can you follow him deeper into patience and grace in your own daily life?

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Sunday 29 September 2013

Matthew 20:1-16 - Vineyard work

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In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus uses a parable to put over an idea that seems unfair yet is not. The owner of the vineyard chooses to pay all workers the same whether they've laboured all day or just for a short time at the end of the day.

But as Jesus points out, the owner is within his rights, he can pay whatever he wishes to those starting late. Those who signed on early received the pay they'd contracted for. They had no reason to expect more.

As with all parables, this story reveals something significant about the kingdom of heaven. Telling these stories helped Jesus explain difficult ideas in ways that people would remember, even if they didn't always understand them fully.

Perhaps we should use stories more often ourselves. They don't have to be fiction with an underlying meaning like a parable. They might also be true stories based around events in our lives. Both parables and our own experiences can illuminate the hearts and minds of the people who hear them.

But why are stories so effective? I suspect it may simply be that stories capture our imagination. People will listen to a story when they might glaze over at the bare facts. And both parables and life examples are able to demonstrate how a principle works so that it may be reapplied in different circumstances.

Stories are useful when speaking to large groups of people, but they're also effective in one-on-one conversations. Try to accumulate a series of useful stories that you can draw on when the right occasions arise.

Here's a simple example from my own life, many years ago. I had missed the last bus home from Cheltenham so I decided to start walking. After some while, toiling up the hill to Seven Springs and with more than ten miles still to go it began raining, hard. A beat-up old Reliant Robin pulled over and offered me a lift, and during the twenty minute journey the driver told he me he was happy to be able to help me and he hoped I would help others in my turn whenever I had the chance.

That made quite an impression on me and I have never forgotten it. Somehow that simple experience helped me understand the grace and love of my heavenly Father who helps us when we need it and expects us to treat others in the same way. What had previously seemed no more than boring rules in a dusty old book suddenly came alive for me with great clarity.

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Saturday 28 September 2013


This is not a normal post, it's an announcement to let my readers know that I have turned off Google+ commenting on this blog.

I discovered that only Google+ users could comment. I have therefore moved to Disqus to manage the comments here in future. All readers will be able to comment from now on, either as Disqus users or anonymously.

Sadly, the downside is that existing comments are no longer visible. They are still present in Google+, however.

Matthew 19:16-30 - The rich man

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Read Matthew 19:16-30. Notice carefully how Jesus deals with this young man. How would I have dealt with him? How would you deal with him? What can we learn about Jesus from this? What do we need to change in our own thinking?

Jesus has just left the place where he blessed the little children and right after that a man comes to ask him a question. Like many people in our own day, this man thinks he needs to do something good in order to receive eternal life as a fair exchange. Of course, it doesn't work quite that way, we don't, and indeed can't, earn eternal life. Given our sinful nature there is nothing we can offer in fair exchange. Eternal life is a gift offered to us through grace.

So Jesus doesn't say, "You need to do this, or go there, or do that". Instead he says, "You need to keep the commandments". No doubt the man wants to know which ones, as if he thinks some of them may not matter. Are we like that? And when we speak with people we meet and they express an interest in Jesus, are they like that too? Aren't we all prone to pick and choose which rules to obey and which to ignore? Have you been guilty of murder or fraud or arson? Probably not. Have you ever exceeded a speed limit? Hmm...

But we can't do that with the commandments. They are law, but they are the law of Yahweh, the Almighty. We can't just push the boundaries a little and expect him not to notice!

So Jesus gives him what he wants, he provides a short list. He tells the man not to break some fundamental commands. And the man assures him that he has not. He must think, "I'm in!" I imagine him mentally punching the air at this point. "Yes!" But maybe he sees something in Jesus' face, and he asks, "What am I still missing?"

And then Jesus picks the one thing he is not willing to let go of, the one that will prevent him from following. What things prevent me from following Jesus fully? And how about you? Are there things too precious for us to give up?

Jesus explains to the disciples that hope still remains because all things are possible for Elohim. Once again it's the poor in spirit who will inherit life. Those who put themselves last will be in the forefront. But those with money (like the rich man), power and spiritual strength will be last in because they have so much to lose.

Why must we lose everything in order to find Jesus? Because we must come to the point of realising that he is worth much more than everything else we have. Until we see this and understand it clearly, we won't even be willing to follow him.

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Friday 27 September 2013

Matthew 19:1-15 - Divorce and children

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Jesus' teachings often seem hard, even unattainable. But should we see them as goals to be achieved despite enormous odds? Or should we rather see them as clear statements of the depths of our shortcomings, making plain the huge gulf between our abilities and the demands of holiness?

The answers to those two questions determine whether we will attempt to achieve salvation by our own efforts, or recognise that only grace can save us.

Jesus has already applied this thinking several times. For example, he claims that lust in a man's heart is as bad as adultery. Anger in a man's heart is as bad as murder. An eye that causes you to sin should be pulled out and thrown away. Now, in Matthew 19:1-12, he applies the same approach to divorce.

While he's healing the crowds, the Pharisees come with another testing question, part of the process laid down for checking out anyone who claims to be Ha Mashiach, The Messiah. Ironically, but true to form, they are more interested in technicalities than in the healings taking place before their very eyes; surely that should have been sufficient evidence!

As usual, it's a trick question, "Is there any valid reason for a man to divorce his wife?" Yet in asking this, they thought they had a trump card up their sleeves. Moses wrote that yes, you could write a letter of divorce (making it official) and then send your wife away (making it practical). So if Yahshua says "No" they can point to Mosaic law, but if he says "Yes" they can point to passages in Genesis.

Of course, it all unravels for them. Jesus tells them that the perfect and original state of affairs is that a marriage cannot be broken. And as far as Moses goes, he says that divorce became necessary through human weakness and failure. So divorce and remarriage is equivalent to adultery just as anger is equivalent to murder. And that's his final word on the matter to a Pharisaic heart.

But see how he responds to a repentant heart. To the woman caught in adultery he says, "Has anyone condemned you? Neither do I. Go in peace but don't sin" (John 8:2-11). That is grace in action.

The lesson we can take from this is not just a lesson about marriage, divorce and adultery, it's a challenge to have the same kind of grace in our hearts that Jesus demonstrated for us. If I am to represent him among the people in my street and in my town I'd better think more like a little Jesus than a little Pharisee.

Perhaps Jesus drives this message home in Matthew 19:13-15. We must never turn away the simple-hearted, the inexperienced, or those without understanding. The worldly wise will always look out for themselves. But the weak (like the woman caught in adultery) need our blessing.

If Jesus didn't come for the rich or strong or healthy or wise but for the poor in spirit and the weak and the sick and the little children, I should do the same.

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Thursday 26 September 2013

Matthew 18:21-35 - Forgiven but unforgiving

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Matthew 18:21-35 relates another of Jesus' parables, prompted by a question from Peter.

Peter wanted to know how long patience should be applied in a situation where there has been repeated offence and repeated forgiveness. How long would you put up with this treatment? How long would I? Three times? That would seem more than generous in a case where someone is taking the mickey. We are called to be forgiving, but surely we're not called to be stupid? This is not, "Once bitten, twice shy". It's more like, "Three times bitten and reach out your hand again"!

It's easy to think Peter was a bit of lightweight in terms of forgiving, but he wondered whether seven times would be enough. Peter certainly outclasses me, how about you?

Jesus' answers, "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times". This seems a very demanding requirement to put it mildly. But the parable makes it clear that we have been forgiven far, far more than anything another person could possibly owe us. Father has forgiven us everything, he has sent us away with life when we deserved death. How, then, dare we fail to forgive a brother or sister?

How does this work out in practice for us? How will we treat people when they let us down, make promises they fail to keep, take what is ours, or leave us in the lurch? Well, we must forgive them - this time, next time, and again and again and again. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray he included the words, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us".

Forgiving the same person repeatedly is a challenge for us all, but it's a challenge we must rise to and succeed in. Be like your Father in heaven, pour out good things on all without distinction. Be gentle, be patient, be merciful.

The world will notice. Whether they respond in growing love or in deepening hatred is not the point. It's all part of being a disciple, demonstrating to a broken world what Jesus is like.

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Wednesday 25 September 2013

Matthew 18:1-20 - Who is greatest?

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In this next section (Matthew 18:1-20) Jesus deals with another question from his disciples, and then launches into further parables.

The disciples want to know who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He calls over a child and explains that access to heaven is not possible unless a person is like a child. The greatest will be the humblest and in receiving a child, we are receiving Jesus himself.

How well do we understand this? Do we get it well enough for it to impact our daily lives?

Jesus also says that causing a child to sin would be so dreadful that it would deserve drowning. Not only drowning, but drowning by means of a massive weight in truly deep water. In other words, exaggerated drowning, extreme drowning. It's so bad that if a hand, foot or eye causes sin, cutting it off or pulling it out wouldn't be too severe, that's tough language to illustrate a serious problem. Jewish teaching often used this kind of exaggeration, Jesus is saying to them, "Take note. This is very serious".

Jesus then explains that Father cares about a small child the way a shepherd cares about a lost sheep. There is a single mindedness in the search and rescue operation he will launch.

And finally he teaches about responding when we have been wronged. Two or more witnesses are required in Jewish law, and Jesus says that where there are two or three of us, he will be present as well.

Will we let Jesus lead us here? Are we willing to be like small children? Will we avoid causing temptation? (Remember, the evil one tempts, the Holy One does not. So if I tempt, whose child am I?) How will we respond when we are unjustly treated by others?

And will we show the world how Jesus wants his people to behave? Will we bring blessing or temptation to those around us? We are his representatives on the Earth. People will respond to Jesus according to what they see in me. That is a huge responsibility.

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Tuesday 24 September 2013

Matthew 17:14-27 - Healing and tax

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In Matthew 17:14-20, the disciples want to know why they were unable to cast out a demon. Jesus explains that it's because they lack faith. We can learn a lot from these few verses.

Jesus is approachable, the father kneels before him as he pleads for his son and he shows much more faith than the disciples. They couldn't heal the boy but he still thinks Jesus can.

Think about some of the amazing things the disciples have experienced in the recent past and then ask why they still doubt. They've seen walking on water, feeding many with little (twice), Jesus glorified on the mountain, and many healings and throwing out of demons.

Why do we doubt? Or, more paticularly, who do we doubt?

But in considering these things we may miss something else at least as important. Jesus is approachable, the Most High has come to live amongst us and he doesn't demand any sort of special treatment. He eats with prostitutes and tax collectors, is approachable by a distraught father, and listens to requests. How we need to be like him! If we are not, how are we going to reach a lost and broken world?

In Matthew 17:22-27 Jesus mentions that he must die. He also deals with the Temple tax in an unusual way. We are not subject to the rules imposed upon us by other people, in particular we are not subject to religious rules. We are children of the Most High. Our Father is not of this world.

Do we remember this as often as we should?

Faith, Jesus' death, and our spiritual citizenship are closely connected to one another. Think about that. What does it imply for your daily life?

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Sunday 22 September 2013

Matthew 17:1-13 - Jesus' glory revealed

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Matthew 17:1-13 is about the transfiguration of Jesus. He goes up the mountain with his closest followers (Peter, James and John) and while they are there he appears in glory, speaking with Moses and Elijah. Not only that, the Father speaks from the skies, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

This must have been a confusing and terrifying ordeal for the three disciples. As Jews they would have known that they should not have been able to be in the Presence and live. It's not an experience they would have forgotten!

Is our vision of Jesus even remotely adequate? He is the living Christ, Immanuel (Elohim with us). He is Lord of lords, King of kings, the Son of the Most High. He told Philip, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father" (John 14:9).

No, our view of him is certainly weak and lacking. How desperately we need to see him as he truly is. We need to glimpse him in the way Peter, James and John glimpsed him on that mountain. As our vision of him widens and deepens, so will our walk with him become closer too.

We need this so much. What will you do today to draw closer, to know him better in all his ways, to hear his voice more clearly and to obey more fully? Consider choosing a book about Jesus' life and studying it. ReJesus by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost would be a good place to start, but don't stop there. Try The Jesus I never knew by Philip Yancey, or What Jesus Started by Steve Addison.

If you can recommend other good books on Jesus, please leave details in a comment.

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Saturday 21 September 2013

Matthew 16:13-28 - The Son of Man must die

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Jesus must die, and if we are to be like him we must be willing to die too.

Read Matthew 16:13-28 and notice that people had various ideas about who Jesus really was, though they agreed that he was a prophet and somebody noteworthy. We tend to see what we are looking for so we have to ask ourselves, "What (or who) are we looking for?"

To answer as Peter did we must hear the truth from the Father himself; it must be revealed. Nobody is going to understand Jesus by mental agility and prowess but only as a gift from above. And it's on this bedrock of revelation that Jesus says he will build his church.

But if Peter felt proud to have received such a revelation, he was soon brought bumping back to the ground by hearing himself called a stumbling block placed in the way by the evil one.

Can we see ourselves in and through these verses? We should! Are we going to have the concerns of the Almighty Father in mind? Or will we be fully absorbed by our own concerns? Will we want to save our life but lose it? Or will we lose our life for Jesus? This is not necessarily about physical death. We all face that anyway. This is truly about giving up what we hold dear, picking up our cross and following Jesus.

There's a combination here of revelation and obedience. We need both. Jesus offers us both.

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Friday 20 September 2013

Matthew 16:1-12 - A kind of yeast

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Here in Matthew 16:1-12, Jesus continues to hear from the Jewish religious elite and is misunderstood once again by his disciples.

The Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed over some things, but both groups understood that if someone was thought to be the Messiah (or claimed to be the Messiah), there were certain tests to be made and a proper process to go through. That process begins with observing and moves on to testing, and that's what they are doing in this passage.

There are certain signs that only the Messiah would be able to do, healing a Jewish leper, casting out a dumb demon, giving sight to a person born blind for example. They come to Jesus and ask for a sign. They are demanding proof that he is the Promised One.

Jesus listens but gives an answer that they would have found evasive and unsatisfactory. He knows they've already seen the signs yet they remain unconvinced. They are looking for the Messiah, but now that he's among them he is not what they expected or wanted. Does Jesus sometimes not match our expectations? As his followers, do we match the expectations that others have of us? Are we enigmatic, as he is? Do we stretch people's expectations? Is it useful to be an enigma? If so, how? Why?

The truth was enigmatic for the disciples too. How often do we misunderstand Jesus? How often does he speak spiritual truth while we just hear unspiritual practicalities that miss the point he's making? There's often a "Huh?" factor, isn't there? His ways are not our ways.

Yeast changes everything it is mixed with. If we absorb it, Pharisaic thinking will change simple truth into complex, analytical, religious nonsense. We cannot afford to be contaminated. We need to be aware and we need to be wary. Let's not make Jesus complicated. Let's take him at face value; let's become more like him; the Holy Spirit will lead us into all the truth.

Do verses 9 and 10 clarify yesterday's speculations about multiple feedings of thousands? See how one passage casts light on another.

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Thursday 19 September 2013

Matthew 15:21-39 - Faith and food

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In Matthew 15:21-39 there are two events, the healing of a Canaanite woman's daughter and another case of feeding thousands on a few loaves and fish.

Jesus knew that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. He knew for sure that the church he was creating would eventually go to the very ends of the Earth, that was the Father's strategic objective. But he also knew that the tactics to be used were that he would start a fire in Israel that would set alight the entire globe after he had returned to the Father.

He seems unsympathetic, ignoring the woman's cries for help. But he is never unsympathetic, perhaps it's better to see him here as very focussed. But her insistence and boldness cause him to give her the thing she was asking for. Her daughter is healed.

As you read this passage ask yourself some of the following questions.

  1. If Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, why does he even go to non-Jewish towns like Tyre and Sidon?
  2. The woman is familiar with Jewish ideas. She knows that Jesus is the son of David. She calls him "Lord".
  3. Although he didn't answer her at first, neither did he send her away. The disciples advised him to do so. Why didn't he?
  4. When he finally spoke to her he gave her an opening, an opportunity. He asked her a question, a clear chance for her to continue the conversation. We talk to Jesus quite a bit, we call it prayer. And we expect him to answer. But how often do we listen to his questions and answer them?
  5. What would the disciples have learned from the conversation and the healing that resulted? What can we learn?
  6. Who is he leading you to reach?
The rest of today's passage is similar to the previous feeding of a large crowd. These might be two reports of the same event, collected here by Matthew. Or there may have been similar events and both are recorded here. Or perhaps this is something that happened several times, or even often, and only two occasions were written down. (See also Matthew 16:9-10.)

But these speculations are not important. The fact is, Jesus provides us with nourishment in our places of need. The fact is he cares about our everyday requirements. Can you relate this to your own life situations and experiences? When has he fed and nourished you during a time of lack? Does he feed us spiritually as well as just physically? Which of the two is most necessary, most fundamental? If food prevents physical weakness, starvation and death, what does spiritual food prevent?

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Wednesday 18 September 2013

Matthew 15:1-20 - Food in, words out

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When the Pharisees and teachers come to ask Jesus questions, they don't ask because they want to know, they ask because they want to find fault. We all know people who ask questions like this! Read through Matthew 15:1-20 and let the ideas expressed by the people in these verses soak into your mind and understanding. Notice what the Pharisees and teachers thought, what the disciples thought, and what Jesus thought.

Yahshua makes it really plain for the disciples although he clearly regrets that they haven't understood fully without additional explanation. Uncleanness is not a matter of ritual washing, it's a matter of bad words coming from a bad heart. It's not about dirt going in, it's about dirt coming out.

To what extent does this apply to us too? Are we sometimes more concerned about how we look or how people think of us than we should be? Do we sometimes say or do things that reveal what we hold and think in our hearts and minds? Are we scrupulous about the outside but not about the inside?

Jesus once said, "I am the way, the truth and the life". When we are on the journey with him, hearing and speaking his truth, living his life and letting him live within us, how will that affect what goes into us and what comes out? The disciples quite literally walked with him, talked with him and lived with him daily. So can we - can't we?

The more potent question (as it was for the crowds following him) is, "Will we?" Are we truly disciples? Or are we merely in the crowd, coming for help and healing and then returning home to live the old routines again?

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Sunday 15 September 2013

Matthew 14:23-36 - Walking on water

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Following the feeding of thousands of people with just five loaves and two fish, Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat, gets the crowd to go home, and walks up a mountain to pray. He has just heard the news about John the Baptist's death and the crowd had prevented him from spending time alone. Late at night he walks across the Sea of Galilee towards the boat (Matthew 14:23-36).

The disciples are scared when they see him. But Jesus' words calm them and Peter joins him briefly on the water.

Notice how the storm died away when Jesus entered the boat, and that the disciples worshipped him as the Son of the Most High. Did he prevent them from doing this? What does that tell us about who he is?

Also notice how he was recognised in Gennesaret and the faith they had in him. He is both approachable and well worth approaching. Can we learn something from this? Think especially in terms of what may happen as we introduce people to him. Like the people of Gennesaret we need to recognise him, go and get others, have faith in him, and ask him for help and healing.

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Saturday 14 September 2013

Matthew 14:1-22 - John, food for thousands

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Matthew 14:1-22 covers two distinct but related topics.

Verses 1-13 explain that Herod had John the Baptist killed, and now when he hears reports about Jesus he assumes it's John raised from the dead. John's disciples bury him and then go to Jesus with the news. When he hears about it, Jesus leaves Nazareth where he's been teaching and goes by boat to an uninhabited part of the lake shore.

And in verses 14-22 Jesus feeds the crowds with five loaves and two fish. The crowd was large, verse 21 tells us there were five thousand men, but with women and children as well it may have been much more, perhaps ten thousand or so. Think in terms of feeding a small town with sandwiches intended for about ten people.

As you read the passage, consider what it tells us about Jesus. Why did he go to an unpopulated place when he heard the news about John? How did he respond to the arrival of the crowds? Notice how he involves the disciples in what he is doing. Do we make disciples in the same way?

Notice the contrast between the disciple's response to the crowd's need for food and Jesus' response. The disciples are concerned about the people's welfare, but they don't think beyond the natural. Are we like that? If so, how does it affect our approach to the needs we see around us?

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Friday 13 September 2013

Matthew 13:44-58 - Treasures and rejection

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This is the third post from chapter 13 of Matthew. In Matthew 13:44-58 we find three more parables about the kingdom of heaven and a record of how Yahshua was rejected in his own home town.

It's clear that the kingdom is precious yet may go unnoticed like treasure hidden in a field. So finding it is a big deal and a cause of excitement, and obtaining it is worth everything. But it's also like the net, it gathers up good and bad alike and a time of sorting out is required. How excited are we about the kingdom? Are we really prepared for the next thing he will do?

In verses 51 and 52 Jesus is speaking of the Jewish religious scholars. When people like them are trained in kingdom living they can draw upon good things from both the Law and the kingdom, old and new. The Law is not abolished, it is still precious, still a treasure. Are we able to bring out both old and new treasure? Jesus not only teaches what is new, he also illuminates what is old.

When he returned to Nazareth and taught there he was recognised as the son of the building contractor, Joseph. They thought they knew him, they had employed him to build doors and windows and repair roofs, they were troubled by his new teaching. Are we sometimes like the people of Nazareth? Do we think we know who Jesus is and what he is like? Does this make his mighty works less likely among us? Is he far different than we expect?

We need to keep asking these hard questions. Considering them and answering them will help us grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding.

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Wednesday 11 September 2013

Matthew 13:24-43 - More parables

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Matthew 13:24-43 provides accounts of three more parables.

In the first of these Jesus describes how good seed is sown first, but then an enemy sows weeds. Both the wheat and the weeds are allowed to grow to avoid harming the crop, but at harvest time the good and bad are separated and the bad destroyed.

The second is another story about growth. Although at the start a seed may be insignificant, it can give rise to a plant big enough and strong enough to provide shelter for the birds.

And the third story is about yeast, explaining how even a small piece affects a large amount of dough. In those days leavened bread would have been a kind of sour dough process. When baking, a small portion of dough would be retained  for the following day. Mixed with the new dough it would act as a starter; when the new dough had risen and was ready for the oven, another small piece would be set aside and the larger part baked.

The disciples asked Jesus to explain the first parable and he goes through it in detail for them.

Notice how these parables use living processes to open our minds to how the kingdom works. How many different points can you find which Jesus illuminates with ideas from life? There are several in each parable. We learn about growth in competition, the risk of causing harm, development of structure and strength, great results from small beginnings, and more.

Could you use this kind of story-telling with the people you meet. Can you think of parable-like ideas from modern life? The kingdom of heaven is like...

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Tuesday 10 September 2013

Matthew 13:1-23 - The sower

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The well-known parable about sowing seeds is in Matthew 12:1-23; read it through carefully and think about it in detail. This is one of many life-based parables and similes Jesus uses to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. This is because there are great similarities between how living things work and how the kingdom works.

Think about spreading, germinating, growing and fruiting. But also think about preparing soil, sowing, watering, sunlight, weeding, using fertiliser, harvesting, and separating good from bad.

Jesus tells this parable (among many others) to a large crowd on the sea shore. He explains why he teaches this way when the disciples ask him; it has something to do with fulfilling Old Testament writings but it also has much to do with understanding and not understanding. It's because there's a significant difference between a disciple and everyone else.

If this seems harsh and unfair, remember that anyone can become a disciple and everyone is invited. There's no entrance exam and no fee to pay; Jesus gives freely to anyone who is willing to follow him. Quite simply, seeing and understanding are the rewards of following. It doesn't depend on ability but on willingness.

Reread Matthew 11:46-12:3 and notice that this is all on the same day. Those who follow Jesus are his family, they are the ones who live with him and they are the ones who understand.

So Jesus explains the parable to his disciples, his family. In a sense, this parable is about itself. What kind of ground has the seed found in your life? Are you a disciple? Are you family? Are you fruitful?

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Monday 9 September 2013

Matthew 12:22-50 - Good and bad fruit

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Extraordinary miracles demand extraordinary explanations (Matthew 12:22-50). Jesus heals a man who was both mute and blind. This is so astonishing that the crowds are saying, "Might this man be the Messiah?" The Pharisees, based on the same evidence, are convinced he must be from the enemy.

And Jesus' answer is both shrewd and hard to dispute. He suggests the Pharisees are like bad trees, they produce bad fruit. As they are not with him they can only be against him. They are speaking not only against Jesus but also against the Holy Spirit.

So now some of them come and tell him that they need a sign from him.

Even Jesus' family become illustrations to clarify the truth. "The people who do the Father's will are my family", he says.

How do you feel about all this, are there ways for us to follow Jesus here?

One thing we can do for sure - we can strive to be people who will bear good fruit and we can endeavour to do the Father's will. It's not in our own strength or ability to succeed in such things, but if Jesus himself is in us and has filled us with the Holy Spirit, then we will bear the fruit of the Spirit as evidence of that new, inner life.

Can we also regard ourselves as "sent"? Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh. How did they respond? Why did he become angry? Jesus was sent among us in just the same way. Are we not sent to reach the lost people living around us? What are we going to do about it?

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Sunday 8 September 2013

Matthew 12:1-21 - Jesus' authority and nature

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Here in Matthew 12:1-21 we see again that Yahshua is more concerned about the spiritual intention of the Law than he is about the observance of the details.

The Pharisees were experts at writing minute rules, often going far beyond the Mosaic Law itself. The Law requires people to rest on the Sabbath, but it doesn't say that rubbing off the wheat husk to nibble the kernels is "work". Doing so while strolling through the fields might just as well be seen as a form of relaxation.

Not only does he provide cogent counter-arguments, he also demonstrates that they flout their own rules when necessary and then heals in a way that requires no more work than the words "stretch out your hands".

His response to their plotting is simply to go to another area. Matthew tells us that Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah 42:1-4.

One important lesson to take from this passage is that we, too, should be much more concerned about the spiritual intentions of the Law than about its literal meaning. We should not be so careful about church tradition that we fail to respect our parents, for example. We should not use any kind of ritual duty to justify neglecting the hungry. Nor should we criticise others for failing to pay a tithe or pay into church funds when they are struggling to feed their family. And we are not to be self-satisfied at attending a worship service while our neighbour needs help with a practical difficulty at home.

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Saturday 7 September 2013

Matthew 11:20-30 - Repent, be simple, rest

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Jesus now turns to the results of unrepentance in Matthew 11:20-24. The towns he criticises, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum have all vanished whereas many others (for example Nazareth or Tiberias) remain thriving places to this day. Capernaum and Chorazin lie in ruins; there is not complete agreement about where Bethsaida is located (though it was in the area where the Jordan runs into the Sea of Galilee).

Then he speaks about the simple approach needed for revelation and how too much learning makes it hard. He shows how knowledge of the Father depends on the Son revealing him. And he says that he will provide rest for the weary (Matthew 11:25-30).

And once again we can consider all this in terms of our own calling to represent Jesus to the world. We must come in simplicity to receive the truth about the Father and come to know him as Jesus does. And like the Son we must reach the weary and burdened with the wonderful news that Jesus is gentle and humble and provides rest. And we have the joy and privilege of demonstrating his gentleness and humility in our own lives, and becoming a blessing to the weary in whatever ways we can.

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Friday 6 September 2013

Matthew 11:1-19 - John the Baptist

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Matthew 11:1-19 is an interesting passage in more ways than one; Jesus says some intriguing things. John the Baptist has some doubts in his mind and wants to know for sure if Jesus is the promised One. It's quite a surprise that he would be unsure after the events of Matthew 3:13-17. Whenever our personal circumstances cause doubts to cross our minds we should remember we are in good company!

Jesus' reply is the same one we need to hear when we doubt - just see what Jesus is doing. He uses the opportunity to probe the hearts of the crowds. What did they expect John to be like? And he tells them that John is more than a prophet.

But although John is truly special, the least in the kingdom is even more special. Are you in the kingdom? If so you are very special.

And when Jesus says, "From the days of John the Baptist", does he mean from the time of Elijah? How is it that "the violent take [the kingdom of heaven] by force"? Is he thinking of John being imprisoned? In verses 16-19, Jesus points out that there's no pleasing people, not eating and drinking is wrong and so is eating and drinking.

In what ways can we be like Jesus? He says he is like the Father (John 14:7, John 14:9) and tells us we are to be sons of the Father too (Matthew 5:44-46).

But in this passage, what words, actions and characteristics of Jesus might we follow? Perhaps we might challenge people by asking them what they expect to see when they go to church. What do they think Jesus is really like? A baby in a manger? A soft and smiling man with long hair and a beard? Someone dying on a cross? Do people really know him? Are we revealing his true nature by what we do and say day by day?

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Thursday 5 September 2013

Matthew 10:16-42 - Just rewards?

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Jesus has sent his twelve disciples out into Judaea and Galilee to proclaim the kingdom, heal, restore life, and release those in spiritual bondage. Now, in Matthew 10:16-42 he tells them what lies in store for them.

Basically he is warning them that they will be persecuted. Believers are persecuted around the globe today in just the ways that Jesus mentions. But in the West we seem to be mostly escaping persecution in the early 21st century. Might that be because we are not effective in being sent out to proclaim the good news, to heal, to cast out demons? We have been given the authority to do these things, and commanded to do them, how well are we doing in terms of obedience?

He says we will be hated "for his name's sake" - but first we must actually go in his name.

But Jesus also encourages the disciples (and us) by explaining that we are worth much more than sparrows. And listen to this, if we acknowledge Jesus in public, he will acknowledge us before the Father. But in the same way, our denial leads to his denial.

And Jesus expands on this in two more ways. Even family members will be on opposite sides, persecuted and persecutor.  We find life by losing it for Jesus' sake.

And the people who receive us (hear us, accept us) also receive Jesus.

What do you make of all this? What lessons do you draw from it? Do you accept Jesus' command to go - whatever the cost? This is a serious business and not for the faint-hearted, or indeed for the half-hearted.

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Wednesday 4 September 2013

Matthew 10:1-15 - Sending the twelve

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Today we're looking at Matthew 10:1-15 in which Jesus speaks to his disciples and sends them out.

He begins by giving them authority to eject unclean spirits and heal illness and injury. Authority is given first and then they are sent. How important do you suppose this sequence was for them? Have we been given authority? It would be foolish in the extreme to go without it!

We have a full list of the disciples here, given in pairs. It has been suggested that they worked together as pairs, the smallest and most intimate group possible (and the smallest form of church). See CO2 - Church of Two for more details. The seventy were certainly sent in pairs (Luke 10:1).

Jesus sent them strictly to Jewish lands. Their role is to do what Jesus did, it was their first taste of living on his behalf, the first taste of being missional as opposed to observing it. They are to proclaim, heal, raise the dead, cleanse, throw out demons. It's not a money-making enterprise, they will travel light, and they are to find and stay with worthy people and bestow peace.

To us this all seems a bit strange, but in Jewish culture 2000 years ago this would be a normal way of travelling. Even today 'Peace be upon you' is still the standard greeting in Hebrew (Shalom alechem) and in Arabic (Assalamu alaikum). Dependence on local hospitality was normal, visitors were regarded as a blessing.

Notice the warning to those who are not welcoming.

In our own lives we need to be missional too. Church springs from mission and every expression of church should involve a sending out into the surrounding culture and community. Think about mission in terms of your own life. What might you do that you are not already doing?

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Tuesday 3 September 2013

Matthew 9:18-38 - Healings and harvest

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Here in Matthew 9:18-38 we have a series of healings followed by some instruction about the harvest.

Even a ruler kneels before Jesus, he is desperate because his daughter has just died. On the way to deal with this, a woman simply touches the edge of Jesus' robe expecting healing. Yet she is not healed by the touch, but healing comes when Jesus speaks it out to her. Is this significant? What does it tell us about praying for healing?

And the ruler's daughter was dead, but when he takes her hand she lives. Touching a dead person makes Jesus technically unclean according to Jewish law. Not only does he bring life where there was death before, but he touches the law as well. She was dead when he began to touch, but alive when he stopped. What does this have to say about death, life and uncleanness?

Notice that the two blind men had a strange way of showing their gratitude, they ignored Jesus' warning about telling people. Perhaps they were so delighted that they couldn't contain themselves!

And why were people so astonished about the demon-possessed mute man? It's difficult to understand unless you know a little about Jewish teaching on demons. The religious leaders believed that to cast out a demon you must first discover its name and then use the name to cast it out. Either Jesus knew the demon's name without being told, or more likely he had no need of such knowledge. That's why this event so amazed the people who saw it. The Pharisees had to explain this, but they came to entirely the wrong conclusion. Jesus is full of surprises, he will surprise us too - in many ways.

And then we finally have the words about the harvest. Pay attention to the circumstances. Jesus has been teaching, proclaiming and healing. His compassion led him to say what he did to the disciples. Pray for more harvesters! It's still true today. There is no shortage of harvest, but there's a severe shortage of harvesters. We should pray about that - regularly and earnestly. What else might we do? Might we ourselves become answers to this prayer? What would that imply?

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Monday 2 September 2013

Matthew 9:1-17 - Calling Matthew

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Jesus and the disciples return to Capernaum on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. Notice how he deals with the paralysed man, what prompted him to heal this person? Right here we begin to see some of the scribes thinking ill of Jesus; his reaction is to demonstrate his authority, equating healing with forgiveness.

Although people were afraid they nonetheless gave glory to the Almighty, recognising the source of Jesus' authority.

And at this point Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, the author of this gospel account. He gets up and follows. There were many tax-collectors at the meal described next, quite possibly because they were Matthew's friends. What does this tell us about hospitality and the value of bringing friends into Jesus' presence? If Jesus is willing to eat with the dregs of society, shouldn't we do the same? Are we simply merciful? Or do we think rituals are the way forward? Do we see mercy as a form of worship? If not, why not? Will religious rituals help us? What do you regard as worship?

John's disciples wanted to know the answer to this same question and Jesus explains that a new covenant will mean new ways of doing things.

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Sunday 1 September 2013

Matthew 8:18-34 - Follow, faith and fear

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Matthew 8:18-34 contains three stories of Jesus interacting with people in different situations. We can learn a lot from stories like these.

He told his disciples to cross Galilee, they had been in Capernaum on the northern shore (where Peter's house was) and a large crowd had gathered. One of the scribes responded by saying he'd follow Jesus anywhere. Jesus effectively tells him there will be no settling anywhere.

Another disciple wants to bury his father before following, which probably implies living at home and caring for his parents until they have passed away. But if we want the life Jesus offers we need to take it right away.

When the party sets out to cross Galilee, a storm blows up and the agitated disciples wake a slumbering Jesus because they are terrified. Some of them are seasoned fishermen, well used to conditions on the lake. It must have been severe weather.

And when they arrive on the part of the southern shore closest to the city of Gadara he is met by two demon-possessed men and commands he demons to leave.

So in these few verses we hear about Jesus' authority over people, over the physical world, and over dark, spiritual forces. In the case of the physical and spiritual realms his word is authority enough.

Hoiw does this compare with the first case, the disciple who wants to put family ahead of following?

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