A secret Messiah? (Matthew 8:4)

How do we announce Jesus’ kingship in a world where power is always oppressive?

Open Matthew 8:4.

Matthew 8:4 (my translation)
Jesus says to him, “See you tell no one, but head off to show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Why was the leper to tell no one about his healing? And if he was already cleansed, why send him off to offer a sacrifice for purification? Continue reading “A secret Messiah? (Matthew 8:4)”

The leper and the king (Matthew 8:2-3)

When God gets his hands dirty.

Open Matthew 8:2-3.

A leper was unusual company for a king. The skin disease was bad enough, but a leper was a defiled person, excluded from the community. Even kings feared the disease that could drive them from their family home and from God’s house (2 Chronicles 26:19-21).

But this leper heard that Jesus announced good news for the people who’d missed out. He knew what it was to be driven out of the community, and he wanted in. He didn’t just want to be healed of his medical problem; he wanted to be purified from the defilement that excluded him from the community.

The trouble was that anything the leper touched became unclean. He was expected to tell everyone that he was a defiler, that if they touched him they would also be unclean. Continue reading “The leper and the king (Matthew 8:2-3)”

Why kneel?

Christians in evangelical traditions kneel much less than we used to. Have we lost something?

Open Matthew 8:2.

As Jesus stepped down from this inaugural address on the kingdom, an outcast with a disease that prevented him being part of the community came and knelt before Jesus with a request. Why did he kneel? Should we kneel? What does it mean? Why do we rarely kneel anymore? Continue reading “Why kneel?”

Asking good questions (Matthew 8:1-4)

The questions you ask shape what you become.

Want good answers? Ask good questions.

We all bring own questions and interests and beliefs to Scripture when we read. To understand its message well, set your agenda aside for a while, bathe in the text, and let it raise questions for you.

Try it with this short story: Continue reading “Asking good questions (Matthew 8:1-4)”

Hearing the king (Matthew 7:28-29)

What kind of authority do you find in Jesus’ teaching?

Open Matthew 7:28-29.

Matthew 7:28-29 (my translation)
28 When Jesus finished his message, the crowds were astounded at how he taught. 29 He was instructing them authoritatively, not as their scribes.

“We need to teach with authority. Be like Jesus, not like the Jewish scribes,” the preacher said. I was only a college student at the time, but it sounded good to my young ears. What could be wrong with encouraging us to follow Jesus’ example?

That preacher missed the whole point. The crowd’s reaction raised the question who Jesus thought he was. What authority did he think he had? He wasn’t exegeting Scripture as Bible scholars do. He was redefining God’s decrees: “You’ve heard it said …, but I say to you …” Jesus acted as king. He set the laws of the kingdom. That’s a whole different level of authority to any preacher or teacher. Continue reading “Hearing the king (Matthew 7:28-29)”

A rock worth building on (Matthew 7:24-27)

Life is precious. How do you decide how to spend it?

StGeorgeMonastery
St George’s Monastery in the wilderness of Judea. Built into the rock in the fourth century.

Open Matthew 7:24-27.

A friend has some health challenges. “Got me thinking,” he told me over the weekend. “If I only had 5 years left, would I be satisfied with how I’ve spent my life?” He’s a clever bloke who has lots of things on the go. He’s decided to simplify, to get rid of most of his activities and concentrate on what matters. Continue reading “A rock worth building on (Matthew 7:24-27)”

Acknowledging Jesus as Lord (Matthew 7:21-23)

What does it mean to call Jesus, “Lord”?

Open Matthew 7:21-23.

Matthew 7:21-23 (my translation):
21 Not all who call me “Lord! Lord!” will be part of heaven’s kingdom — only those who do what my Father wants. 22 There’ll be many who say to me at that time, “Lord! Lord! Didn’t we use your authority to speak for God? Didn’t we use your authority to cast out demons? Didn’t we use your authority to do many powerful things?” 23 Then I will confess to them, “But I never recognized you. Take your leave from me, you agents of lawlessness.”

The Good News of the kingdom is that Jesus is Lord. Sin and death no longer enslave humanity; our heavenly Father has brought us back under his reign through his appointed ruler, Jesus our Lord. Peter’s gospel was, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). Paul called people to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). The hope of the world is that “every tongue confesses Jesus the Messiah is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

We’re a quarter of the way through Matthew’s account of the Good News, and this is the first time he has applied the word Lord (κύριος) to Jesus. Jesus is not exercising power the way kingdoms normally do: he has not been running around Galilee demanding that everyone call him Lord. Continue reading “Acknowledging Jesus as Lord (Matthew 7:21-23)”

The produce defines the tree (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus’ words are so relevant in a world where media gives rise to hero worship.

Open Matthew 7:15-20.

Matthew 7:15-20 (my translation)
15 Watch out for those who claim to speak for God but don’t. They present themselves as sheep following God, but they’re viscous wolves inside. 16 You’ll recognize them by what they produce. People can’t get grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. 17 Every good tree makes good fruit; but a worthless tree makes degenerate fruit. 18 A good tree cannot make degenerate fruit, and a worthless tree cannot make good fruit.
19 Every tree that doesn’t make good fruit is cut down for firewood. 20 You can certainly recognize them by their fruit.

What does this have to do with Jesus’ kingdom message? Because we treat religion and politics as unrelated categories, we miss what Jesus meant about false prophets. Jesus’ kingdom message is a threat to those who want power. Conversely, those who want power want to conscript God to affirm their leadership. False prophets are those who affirm false powers — rulers other than Jesus.

Continue reading “The produce defines the tree (Matthew 7:15-20)”

The less obvious way (Matthew 7:13-14)

The narrow way is counter-intuitive for those who want power.

Open Matthew 7:13-14.

Matthew 7:13-14 (my translation)
13 Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction; many go that way. 14 How narrow is the constricted gate, the way leading into life; few are those who find it.

Many today assume these verses are about the doors to heaven and hell. According to this interpretation, only a few people find the way to heaven and the majority are doomed to hell. But that isn’t Jesus’ message. He’s talking about the kingdom of God — heaven reigning over earth, in contrast with the usual way that kingdoms operate here on earth. The wide way that everyone travels is the way kingdoms normally operate, and Jesus is calling us to recognize another less obvious way: the way of the kingdom of God.

Continue reading “The less obvious way (Matthew 7:13-14)”