Three Crosses Blog

  • February 20 - Matthew 20

    As you read Matthew through chapter by chapter, you notice certain recurring themes.  At the very end of chapter 19 Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last and the last first.”  Then, just a few verses later, Jesus says, “So the last will be first and the first last” 20:16.  Taken on the surface, these statements are essentially repetitions of one another – just reversed in their order.  But when you look at this in context, Jesus is applying this reversal motif to very different situations.

    The first statement, Matthew 19:30, comes on the heels of Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler.  Jesus’ words to that man cause Peter to wonder, “Is following You really worth it?  What’s in it for me?”  Jesus wants Peter to know (and all of us) that no matter what you sacrifice in this world, God will superabundantly reward you – both in this world and especially in the world to come.  Thus, when Jesus says “many who are first will be last and the last first” he making a point about how the Gospel will result in a massive reversal of fortunes: devoted followers like Peter will gain immensely (the last will be first), while the rich who reject Jesus’ call will lose everything (the first will be last).

    The second statement comes in the context of Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  All the groups work for a different amount of time but all are paid the same – and most are paid with surprising generosity.  When it comes time to pay those who worked the longest, they are offended because they do not receive more than those who worked the shortest.  It seems to me that Jesus is telling this parable to combat the pride and entitlement mentality of Christian disciples who serve the ‘longest’. Longest could mean having a Jewish family heritage rather than a Gentile heritage, or possibly following Christ from a young age, rather than turning to Christ at an older age.  My study Bible suggests the following: “It is probably correct … to see here a warning that Jesus’ early followers (such as the Twelve) should not despise those who would come later.”  If they do despise others and approach heaven with this entitlement mentality, even these ‘first’ ones will be disappointed – they will be ‘last’.  But for those who enter into the joy of heaven depending entirely on God’s generous grace, even at the eleventh hour, these will be first in joy and gratitude.

    The Gospel is the story of the first (the Son of God) who chose to become last (on the cross). But by his resurrection from the dead, the last became first (at his resurrection), a foretaste of the good world to come.  The Gospel turns our world’s thinking and expectations on its heads! 

  • February 19 - Matthew 19

    (The following is a guest post by Pastor Dan Leman, a friend of Dave's from seminary).

    If I had to pick two things that are the closest thing to gods in America, I would choose Sex and Money. In this chapter, Jesus says outrageous things about both of them.

    "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

    “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me"

    Granting, of course, that Jesus isn't calling for literal castration and poverty, these statements are still incredibly radical. First, being a eunuch means so much more than not being able to ... ahem... copulate. It also means that you can't procreate. And no kids means no influence, no heritage, no legacy. Children are a treasure from the Lord, and blessed in the man who has a quiver full of these arrows to shoot out to impact future generations. But a eunuch has no family; no wife, no children, no lasting impact.

    I don't think I need to spend many words on the difficulty of giving up money. Money isn't just money. It's significance, power, security, purpose, popularity, love, comfort, etc. Giving up money means giving up these things.

    But Jesus also says, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life." He doesn't demand without promising rewards that far exceed the sacrifice. Those who give up having a family for the sake of Jesus will have a far greater legacy through the impact they are able to make as unfettered servants of the gospel. Those who give up money and comfort in the States to take the gospel to unreached people groups will be rewarded with joy that far surpasses any temporary pleasures of our consumeristic society. As Isaiah 56 says,

    "Let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
    For thus says the Lord:
    “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
    I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

  • February 18 - Matthew 18

    Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? read it here

    “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of [the disciples] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

    Not long ago one of my students spotted a mistake that I had made while teaching math. I thought we were on lesson 77 but we were in fact only starting lesson 76.  The class broke out in laughs and cheers when they discovered that their teacher had made a mistake.  And to cap it off, the student who corrected me quipped a rough paraphrase of this passage in Matthew. “Mr. Hammond, Jesus said that children were smarter than adults.”  He was just being cheeky and we all had a good laugh over it, but it does raise a good question: What did Jesus mean by pointing to a child as an example of greatness? What does it look like to turn and become like children - to humble yourself like a child?

    There seem to be basically two approaches to answering this question: psychology and sociology.  If you take a psychological approach to this, then you are basically forced to conclude that there is something inherent in children themselves which Jesus finds particularly praiseworthy.  Was my student right – that children are greater than adults because they are smarter?  Or is that they are more innocent? Or more humble? None of those options fits well with my theology or my experience as a parent, although there may be something to the idea of dependence.  Children are functionally dependent upon others for everything and blissfully content with this arrangement.  And dependence is very close to that greatest of all virtues: faith. (Someone once point out to me that he had never seen two children arguing about who was going to pay the bill.)

    But if you approach this question from the perspective of sociology, you get a different answer (and I think a more persuasive one).  The statement of Jesus comes in response to a question posed by his disciples: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  The motive behind this question is a desire to look good and be reckoned great by your peers (cf. Mark 9:33ff).  This is a question about how other people perceive our status in society, specifically, the society of the perfect world to come.  They are asking, “When God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, who will be reckoned top dog?”

    By pointing to a child as the answer to their question, Jesus is drawing attention to the one person in their cultural, societal system who had the least respect, the least power, the least wealth, and the least prestige.  Jesus’ demand that we ‘turn and become like children’ is parallel to the demand that we ‘humble [ourselves] like this child.’ The one who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who is now least in the present age.  It’s not the proud and independent rich of this world who are on track toward greatness in God’s kingdom.  It is those who humble themselves before God and before other people who are on track toward greatness in God’s kingdom.

    This raises a hard question: What drives you today? Is it the lure of wealth,               power and prestige in this present age? Or the joy of humble service in the present age leading to the promise of greatness in the age to come?

    -DH

  • February 17 - Matthew 17

    Matthew 17 - read it here.

    (The following is a guest post by my friend and fellow pastor Dan Leman. Dan's comments capture some important insights into the literary structure of Matthew's gospel)

    I feel like we're entering into a new phase in the narrative in the end of last chapter and the beginning of this one. Ever since he called the disciples in chapter 4, Jesus has been walking around the countryside proclaiming the kingdom. He has been teaching, healing, challenging the Pharisees, and making the point over and over that the kingdom is to be received by faith. To be sure, there is more of that to come in Matthew (yes, I read ahead a little), but it feels like we've reached the beginning of the end of his public ministry. Here's two reasons why I think this:

    1) The Transfiguration - Talk about your climactic events! When Jesus is glorified, Moses and Elijah show up, and God speaks from heaven, I get the sense that we've reached a turning point in the story. What is more, the words used by God the Father are almost identical to the words He used when Jesus was baptized at the start of his ministry. This suggests to me that the transfiguration and the baptism of Jesus are meant to be bookends marking the beginning and end of Phase I of Jesus's ministry. Phase II is about to begin.

    2) Death and Resurrection Talk - I didn't mention it yesterday, but Jesus said something in 16:21 that was very interesting. He told the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, but that he would be raised on the third day. Jesus says this again in today's chapter in verses 22 and 23. Obviously, this is a drastic change from Phase I of his ministry. No longer wandering around the countryside teaching and healing, Jesus is now going to take his controversial message to the capital city where he will, in all likelihood, be killed by the religious power brokers he has so often challenged. Of course, he also says that he will be raised up, but what does that mean to the disciples at this point? Ever hearing, but rarely understanding, they are greatly distressed.

    Dan Leman

  • February 16 - Matthew 16

    Matthew 16 -  read it here.

    As I read through this passage, I was struck by Jesus' call to radical, self-denying discipleship in vv. 24-27.  "24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him wdeny himself and xtake up his cross and follow me. 25 For xwhoever would save his life7 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For ywhat will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or zwhat shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 aFor the Son of Man is going to come with bhis angels in the glory of his Father, and cthen he will repay each person according to what he has done."

     

    One of the best sermon's I've ever heard on this topic is by Francis Chan. Although he is preaching out of a passage in the Gospel of Luke, I think you will see the relevance of his words - both to understanding Matthew and to your own life as a follower of Jesus.  Follow this link to watch a short 10 min segment of this sermon.

    - DH

  • February 15 - Matthew 15

    Matthew 15 - read it here.

    Matthew 15:7-9  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'

    These words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah to the whole nation of Israel, back around 700 BC. God confronted his people because genuine love for God was rare but at the same time religious practice was at an all time high.  These words were quoted by Jesus around 30 AD to the Pharisees when he observed a similar dynamic in their ‘devotion’ to the God of Israel.  These words were written down by the apostle Matthew sometime around AD 66, no doubt because he saw in the Christian communities the same legalistic, pitfalls that had tripped up our forefathers.  And I’ll never forget the time these words were spoken to me as a rebuke by my friend and mentor Robert during my sophomore year of college.

    I can’t remember how he broached the topic exactly but I vividly remember the time and place – a warm evening in mid-May, after the stress of finals, excited for the summer ahead of me, on a casual stroll around campus at the University of Wyoming.  But as we walked Robert got the guts up to go below the surface, right to the heart.  “Here’s what I observe in you, Dave.  You are all about performance, rules, and looking good on the outside.  You want to get straight A’s in Spiritual Disciplines 101 – but where is your heart for God?  Could it be that all the activity has become a way to dodge God – to keep him at arm’s length?”

    I remember the temperature rising, the blood pressure increasing, the adrenaline pumping.  Who was this guy to criticize me? I made excuses. I defended myself. Eventually, rather than get into an argument, Robert threw up his hands in despair and we resumed our casual stroll with an uneasy peace.  But his words – Jesus’ words – Isaiah’s words – God’s living words wouldn’t be so easily shut up.

    “Hello, my name is Bob, and I’m a Pharisee, a legalist, and (yes) a hypocrite.”

    My friend Robert was right, it just took me a little while to see it, and a lot of humility to own up to it. For some people a ‘heart far from [God]’ is obvious. It looks like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But for others, a ‘heart far from [God]’ is not so obvious – it looks like a tidy life, keeping the rules, outperforming your peers, knowing all the answers, holding your head extra high at church. For some people, perhaps ironically, when our awe of God diminishes and our love for the Gospel cools, our fascination with rule keeping increases.

    It’s interesting that in context, the story of Jesus’ confrontation with the self-righteous Pharisees is followed up immediately by the polar opposite of the Pharisees, a Canaanite woman.  They were men in a patriarchal society; she was woman. They were Jews; she wasn’t just a foreigner, she was a Canaanite – probably an intentional description on the part of Matthew to conjure up our worst associations about Gentiles.  They had the law and the respect of the people; she had a demon possessed daughter. But while they came criticizing Jesus; she came crying out to Jesus for mercy. While they had a self-righteous approach to God; she had a humble and dependent approach to God. Is it any surprise that this Canaanite woman is the one who sees a miraculous sign and receives a divine blessing? Not at all if you have read Isaiah!

    Christianity is relentlessly heart focused. Externals matter, but externals are no substitute for a humble heart that draws near to God. Where is your heart today?

  • February 14 - Matthew 14

    Matthew 14 - read it here.

    We have four very dramatic stories in this chapter.  John the baptist is beheaded.  Jesus feeds a very large crowd with just 5 loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus and Peter walk on water during a windstorm.  And fourth, all the sick in and around Gennesaret were healed if only they could touch the hem of Jesus clothing.  What caught my attention as I read these stories was the words spoken moments before Jesus fed the 5000 men, plus women and children.

          Jesus intends to take a boat across the lake to a remote location to be alone for awhile after being told about John’s death.  But the crowds of people hear of it and follow him on foot so that they are there waiting when he comes ashore.  Jesus has compassion on them and spent the day healing their sick.  They are all tired, dirty, hungry, and a long way from anywhere.   We read in verse 15, Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’”  Listen carefully to the disciples, “. . .This is a desolate place, and the day is now over. . .”  It's time to pack it up, call it a day and sit around the campfire.  They were ready to turn off the good works and relax.  Jesus, on the other hand said, “They do not need to go away. . .”  He had a better plan.

          I think we are often just like the disciples.  We look to the things of this world to have needs met or problems solved.  Jesus wants us to learn to stay with him.  He will take care of us.  We don’t need to seek solutions anywhere else.  We do not need to go away!  That's a good lesson next time we are grieving, without food, feeling lonely, trapped in a windstorm on a lake or sick in bed.  At the end of the day, just stay with Jesus.  That works best, of course, if you have been with him throughout the day.

    Pastor Tom

  • February 13 - Matthew 13

    Matthew 13 - read it here.

    At times I have wondered about what I read in the bible.   Maybe you have similar questions.  Take Matthew 13 for example, Jesus speaks to the crowd in parables.  Not just one parable mind you, but many parables.  The disciples came and said to him, “why do you speak to them in Parables?” (verse 10).   His answer in verses 11-17 seems clear enough.  He speaks in parables because of the condition of their hearts and minds.  They have grown dull and even though they see and hear they don’t really see and hear and understand.  I get that, but I still wonder if they would have heard and understood if Jesus had spoken to them plainly without the parables.

          Don’t get me wrong.  I love the parables.  They are so rich in meaning and so full of truth you can come back to them over and over and understand more as you dig deeper.  It is as if you can understand and believe what is taught and then come back later and understand more and have your faith strengthened even more.  And maybe that’s the point.  The crowds did not believe and even if they would have understood they still would not have believed.

         And then we read towards the end of the chapter that Jesus finished these parables and went and taught in the synagogue in his hometown.  They were astonished and said “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”  It appears that he was now teaching plainly.  The people there all believed and lived happily ever after, right?  Wrong!  Read verse 58, “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”  They were offended at his message and they lacked faith.  But not all is gloom and doom.  In verse 58 it says that he did not do “many” mighty works there.  I take it to mean that he did “some” or at least a “few” mighty works.  There must have been a little faith among a few people and what Jesus did may have been in response to them.  He did what he could to encourage and build the faith of those who believed and to aid those in whom were the beginnings of faith.

           Maybe it is similar with Jesus’ use of the parables.  The parables were there for all to hear but for those few who heard and had faith there was encouragement, truth, inspiration.  God’s way of doing things may not always be clear to me.  Lord help me to have faith in your word and in your ways.

    Pastor Tom

  • February 12 - Matthew 12

    Matthew 12 - read it here.

          No matter what circle of people you get on with there is a big deal made about being “family”.  Whether it's blood relatives, common goal, a work crew or sports team, to be family is to be part of the core group.  We like to be family because it means we belong and are accepted.

          It's easy to see that Jesus and the Pharisees are not family.  Jesus and his disciples are followed and confronted in most everything they do by the Pharisees who were intent on discrediting them in front of the crowds of onlookers.  According to the Pharisees they broke the Sabbath laws all too often.  Matthew 12 opens with the story of the disciples plucking heads of grain to eat while they walked.  Then Jesus heals a man with a withered hand during the Sabbath service in the synagogue.  To me these actions are rather inconsequential and super fantastic.  To the Pharisee it was reason enough to seek Jesus’ death.

          The Pharisees were losing the popularity polls in a bad way.  It didn’t help the Pharisees when Jesus healed a blind and mute man so that the man both spoke and saw.  All the people were amazed.  To the Pharisees it must have been the last straw.  They claimed that he did it by the power of the prince of the demons.  That was a mistake they should not have made because Jesus then goes on to explain that by attributing the work of the Spirit of God to the devil they committed blasphemy against the Spirit and that will not be forgiven.  Nevertheless the accusations and confrontations continue as Jesus moves ahead with his ministry.

          And so it goes until at the end of the chapter Jesus is in a home and a crowd has filled the place.  His mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.  “But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

          Jesus does a great job of making the point clear.  You don’t have to be a Pharisee who fights against God to miss out.  Just ignoring God’s will or quietly disobeying will put you out of the family.   You may have a great earthly family but the family that counts for eternity is being part of the family of God.  

    Pastor Tom

  • February 11 - Matthew 11

    Matthew 11 - read it here.

    John the Baptist was in Herod’s prison, locked up with no radio, newspaper or Wi-Fi. Possibly discouraged and disheartened he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  In other words, “Are you the Christ?” It would be comforting for John to know for sure, after all John’s life had been totally committed to being the christ’s Herald.  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.”  In other words, “Figure it out.”  Given the facts it shouldn’t be too hard for John to come to the right conclusion.

          So it may be for you or for me.  Even when we are unsure of our faith or of the whole spiritual realm and our part in it we ought not to give up.  Take stock of the facts as they really are. Look around what do you see and hear?  Sure there are troubles and grief, but there are also lives changed, sins forgiven, relationships restored, bodies healed and good news preached to the world. I may not be in perfect circumstances or in great condition or even in a good situation but that doesn’t change the truth about Jesus or the conclusion I should come to concerning him.  I suspect John the Baptist came to the truth that Jesus was in fact the “one who is to come” but even if he didn’t it doesn’t change Jesus.  And I’m pretty sure my situation is better than John’s; he got his head chopped off (see Matthew 14).

          After the crowds of people heard this interchange between Jesus and John’s disciples Jesus turned to them and started questioning them about John and who they thought he was.  The people were still trying to come to grips with these challenging questions concerning what they believed when Jesus then presses the issue further by denouncing the cities where he had been.  (Most modern preachers would aim to be a bit more user friendly.)  The truth was they had seen first hand in real time the powerful miracles.  They had all the facts and proof necessary to believe the truth about Jesus and yet failed to do so.  Jesus then proclaims that Sodom would not have been destroyed (presumably because it would have repented) if it had seen the mighty works that the Jews had seen. 

         This is the challenge of Matthew 11 -  What are you believing and why?  The facts are there, the proof is exposed. What is your conclusion?

    Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

     
     
    Pastor Tom