Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday, August 31st

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezekiel 16-17.
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 18:1-6.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

The disciples have this same argument several times, and it really is quite sad.  They are stirring up envy, rivalry, bitterness, ambition, pride, self-seeking - pretty much mutually encouraging each other to sin.

And Jesus first reminds them of how they even get into the Kingdom in the first place.  The obvious point of the fact that we need to get in, means that we were born out of it.

MacArthur has a beautiful summation of Matthew's explanation of how to do exactly that.  He notes that it is no accident God has put the book of Matthew at the beginning of the New Testament as that is where most non-Christians or seeking people would start reading the Bible, and Matthew lays it out pretty clearly.  I love how MacArthur takes us through each step, but here's just a summary...

How does someone enter the Kingdom? Repentance, turning from their sin and desiring to have a change, realizing their unworthy of such a change and such an entrance into a Kingdom, being left with meekness and humility and out of that a willingness to submit obediently to Christ's Lordship no matter what it cost. And then to outwardly confess Jesus as Lord and be willing to state that He's your Lord before're sacrificing everything, you're selling everything to buy the pearl, you're selling everything to take the treasure out of the field....The people who enter the Kingdom press their way in it. They go through that narrow gate and they walk that narrow way and there's a price but they are persistent in their confident faith that there's sufficiency in Jesus Christ. They can't be distracted. They pursue it. Like the guy who keeps knocking and knocking and the Lord responds.

So Matthew has laid it out for us very clearly. If you would just sit down and read that, you would see that in order to enter the Kingdom there must be repentance. There must be a sense of unworthiness. There must be humility. There must be a willingness to submit obediently to the Lordship of Christ and confession and self‑sacrifice and a persistent pursuing faith. And may I suggest to you that that's Matthew's formula or as close as he's going to get to one for salvation. All the elements are there. And let me also say, none of those are produced in the flesh. They are all the work of the Spirit of God. But they are nonetheless the elements, the constituent parts that occur in the soul that is brought to the Kingdom...
And now as you come to chapter 18, in a most beautiful way, the Lord captures the essence of all of those. He distills the truth in this one statement. "Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven." And what's He talking about? Simple childlike humble trust.

There's no salvation without repentance and conversion.

Conversion and repentance are really two sides of the same coin. Repentance is being sorry for sin and wanting to turn‑‑that's the emotion. And conversion is the will that does it. So entering the Kingdom begins with a repentant heart and a will that turns to God.

MacArthur maintains that though salvation is instant, it's also a process.  First there's election, then there's instruction in the Word, then conviction which leads to repentance and conversion.  And the only way to do that is to become like a little child - humble, meek, trusting, content to be fed, loved and totally dependant.

And Jesus lays it right out there when they ask about who's the greatest.  He says that the humblest is the greatest and the fact that they're arguing about who's the greatest immediately disqualifies them.

And then He gives them a warning.  Which should comes as no surprise to any of us who are parents.  I mean, just think of it. The quickest way to get on a parent's bad side is to mistreat their children in any way - whether it's taking them down a wrong path, encouraging wrong beliefs, or simply being mean.  There's no quicker way to bring on the wrath of a parent than messing with their children.  And the reverse is also true - there's no quicker way to get to the heart of a parent than by caring for their children and looking out for their best interests.

And it is the same way with God and His children.

And when the children of God mutually encourage each other to sin, God is greatly displeased. In fact, it says right here, that we'd be better off dead.  It's that serious.

Most Christians have at least some concern for their own holiness.  But how many of us are concerned for the holiness of our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ?   We must not only not do evil in our own lives, but we must also not cause each other to sin.

When you hurt someone's child, you're hurting them.  It's the same with God and His children.  How we treat God's children is how we treat Jesus Christ. It's that simple.

We should not entice people to sin, we should not provoke them indirectly to sin, we should not tempt them to sin by setting a poor example or abusing Christian liberty, and we should not tempt them to sin by failing to lead them into holiness or failing to strengthen them in their faith,

Wow, talk about convicting.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 18:7-14
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezekiel 18-19

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday, August 30 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezekiel 13-15.
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 17:22-27.

22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

The Temple Tax

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax[a]?”
25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes —from their own sons or from others?”
26 “From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Somehow, even though I have read through the whole book of Matthew at least twice, the coin in the mouth of the fish has never stood out to me before.  You'd think it would, wouldn't you?  I mean, it's not every day that someone catches a fish with a coin in its mouth, nevermind that it happened exactly the way Jesus said that it would.   Even though Simon Peter knew who Jesus was, and even though he'd seen miracles and healings, and the calming of the storm, etc, I think I would still have been a little sceptical about the coin until I saw it.  How did Jesus know Peter would catch the right fish?  How did he know the coin would be there?  How did he know what amount the coin would be?  How did I never notice this story???
It seems quite obvious that this passage indicates that in spite of the fact that we are the children of God, in spite of the fact that our home is really in heaven and we are merely temporary residents of earth, in spite of the fact that these reasons COULD give us the impression that we needn't pay taxes or submit to the authority of this earth, Jesus clearly shows us that we are to obey the authorities over us and pay the taxes and dues as required.  John MacArthur has a fairly lengthy sermon showing how this story is an example of what Peter is writing about in 1 Peter 2, where he talks about submitting to authority.  Here is an exerpt:
Now let me give you little note here. Taxation in those days was not like it is today. The countries were run by one individual, an emperor, a king, there was not democracy as we know it. And so the one who is at the top of the pile, at the top of the pyramid, is the one who called all the shots. And he basically taxed the whole society under his control for two reasons: to support his kingdom and to support his family. And he collected it all and used it for the support of his family and the support of his kingdom. 
Now He asks a very simple question, "Now when the king sets out to take his taxes, who does he take it from? Does he take it from his sons or strangers?" Well, you don't have to be Phi Beta Kappa to know the answer to that. He doesn't take it from his own family, he's taking it for his family. What point would there be to tax his own family, he's collecting it for them. So it's obvious and Peter would know the answer and he says, "Of strangers," in verse 26, of course. You see, they didn't have a democracy where everyone paid taxes like we do on a structured basis, equally everyone responsible to pay. In those days, if you ran the place, you did all the collecting and none of the paying. And so it was very very obvious that kings did not take their taxes from their own sons. 
So Jesus then draws a conclusion. "Then are the sons free." That's right. And if this passage ended there, oh boy. You say, "What is this saying?" We're free. Why? Because God is the King of the earth and God rules everything and we're the sons of God, so we get all the benefits and we don't have to pay our taxes. It's a really good illustration because it was a temple tax being collected and who was the king of the temple? God was. And who was His Son? Jesus Christ. So if there was any tax that Jesus Christ shouldn't have paid, it was the temple tax. He was the Son of God who was the king of His dwelling place, the temple. So it would have been a perfect time for Jesus to say I'm not paying My tax, after all, God is the head of the temple and I'm His Son and He doesn't tax Me. And further than that, we're all the children of God and the world is God's and He's our King, and we don't need to respond to the world. They were giving their money to support us and God. 
But look at verse 27. This is really clear, notwithstanding, in spite of all of that fact, in spite of the fact that that's true, "Lest we should...what?...offend them...lest we should offend them." Now wait a minute. mean we don't want to offend the lost, the tax collectors, the IRS, the government? We don't want to offend them? That's right, we don't want to offend them. No, no, we don't want to offend them. 
Oh, I think there are some evangelical Christians who must offend them a lot, don't you? I mean, they must be sick of them. They must be saying to themselves, "I don't know what kind of religion Christianity is, the kind they've got, but I sure wouldn't want anything to do with it." You see, you know, when Christians attack and attack against the government, I'm not talking about moral issues, I'm talking about just general policy, I think we need to speak against sin and evil and we need to even say "Thou art the man" when there's a sinner and an evil doer. But when you...we just continually attack, I think we offend. We do offend. 
He says we don't want to offend them. We don't have to pay that. We don't have to...we're free. But we don't want to offend them, see. Why? Well, because we don't want them to throw out our message. Isn't that right? Because they won't accept us. So the Lord paid His taxes. 

Does anyone else wince a little when they read headlines or articles, or hear news stories about some of the behaviour by people who, as representatives of Christians or Christian values, do things that make us all as a whole look like a bunch of jack asses?  Pardon my French.  It seems, all too often, that it's only those types of stories that get media attention and give our whole society a terrible impression of Christians.

Have you ever wondered why Christianity didn't start a slave insurrection in Rome? Because the Roman government was ordained by God. Do you know that? We can see that now. It was the Roman government that provided one world language which it facilitated the preaching of the gospel...the Greek language. It was the Roman government that provided the Pax Romana which brought peace to that whole part of the world which allowed intercourse between countries and nations all over the place so the gospel could spread so freely. It was the Romans who established the Roman roads and highways and trade routes and ship routes so that the gospel with its missionaries could be carried all over the place. 

You see, God put the Roman government there to facilitate the gospel even though they didn't believe it. And so it's not our role to second guess God but to accept what the Bible says that the powers that be ordained of God, if you resist the powers that be, you resist God. And if you do that, verse 2 says you bring judgment on yourself. For rulers, and here is a general principle, are not a terror to good works but to the evil. And that's true in almost every society. There may be some very isolated exceptions to that, but every society sets up laws and the people who conform to those laws find they can survive and the people who don't, fall under punishment. And that's the way it is in human society. "Will you then not be afraid of the power?" You don't want to be afraid of your government? Then do what is good then you'll have praise of the same.
It would be so easy, you see, for Christians even in the Roman society as in the society to which Peter wrote, to look at themselves and say, "Hey, and we're subjects of a heavenly kingdom, and we belong to a King who is not of this world, and we live for His return, and after all, this world hates us and they persecute us and look what they're doing to us, and we're superior spiritually. We have no obligation to them." And then you get to the idea where you think you're so superior and you've got everything going for you, you just start one wholesale blast of the society in which you live. You'll never find that in the New Testament. And that society had a lot about it that ought to have been changed. But God knew the way you changed the society is not by blasting away at the people in authority in it, the way you change the society is by winning the people who are in that society to Jesus Christ and it changes from the inside out. So Paul makes it clear that we are to be good citizens. 

Additionally, I think this story is also an example of provision.  Jesus and the disciples didn't earn money from an occupation or trade, there was a tax that needed to be paid, and God provided exactly the amount needed for Jesus and Peter.  It doesn't say how the other disciples paid their taxes, but I think we can assume that if God provided for Jesus and Peter, he provided for the rest of them as well.  This story makes it unreasonable to say "I have to cheat on my taxes because otherwise I won't have enough for the other things I need."  God will provide for our needs.

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Matthew 18:1-6.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Ezekiel 16-17.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday, August 29th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezekiel 9-12
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 17:14-21

The Healing of a Boy With a Demon

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
17 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Once again MacArthur had some great insights into this passage that were new to me.

As Jesus and the three disciples who had been with Him during the transfiguration come down the mountain, they meet a crowd that included (according to Mark) scribes, a multitude of people and the remaining 9 disciples.  A father comes and pleads with Jesus to have compassion on his son who was suffering excruciating torment due to demon possession.  The disciples had evidently attempted to cast out the demon but had also evidently quit after their attempts failed.  And Jesus was frustrated by their faithlessness and perversity/crookedness.  He couldn't wait to go back to the Father.  So Jesus heals the boy of the demon possession and all the torment that had come with it.  The disciples were confused now because Jesus had given them authority to cast out demons and they hadn't been able to do it.  What went wrong?

There faith was too little - it was not persistent enough.

Having little faith (which is obviously better than no faith) was something that Jesus had accused the disciples of several times in Matthew.  In 5:30 they had faith that God would provide...the food they already had, but were worried about their food for tomorrow. In 8:26 they had faith.... until the storm hit.  In 14:31 Peter has faith....until he begins to sink.  In 16:8 they had faith....until they didn't have enough food to feed the multitude.  And now here again, they had faith...until they couldn't heal as quickly as they thought they should.  They have faith in what they already have, but not in what is supernaturally required.  Which isn't much faith.  After all, Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  

Great faith has faith in God in the midst of the storm, when the cupboard is bare, when your last coat is worn out.  That's great faith.

In each of the preceding instances, Jesus was there with them, and He ended up taking care of it.  But this time, He had not been there.  He was testing their faith.  And the test did not go well.

If Jesus answered every prayer request we ever had instantly, our faith would be shallow indeed.  And Jesus is not our personal request genie.

The key to understanding v20 is to realize that Jesus was not focusing on the fact that the mustard seed is small - he does not mean that even if your faith is super tiny that you can move mountains.

Remember the parable of the mustard seed?  Matthew 13:31-32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

Faith that is like a mustard seed, faith that starts small but grows, increases and becomes great.  That is faith that can move mountains.

And the mountains are certainly not literal mountains. It's talking about moving mountains of difficulty.  This phrase, moving mountains, was a common Jewish saying that referred to someone who could remove difficulties.   Besides, I don't know about you, but I seldom need a mountain moved.  But sometimes I need to survive an emotional storm, someone I love needs healing, someone else I love needs saving faith - those are the mountains.  And how do we grow our faith?  Through persistence in prayer.  And that prayer obviously also has to be within the framework of God's will, God's promises.  But persistence is the key.

And when greater trials come that require greater persistence in prayer, our faith grows greater.

James 5:16b The effective, fervant prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Here's a great illustration of this kind of man....
More than half a century ago, George Mueller prince of intercessors began to pray for a group of five friends...five friends. After five years, one of them came to Jesus Christ. After ten years two more of them came to Christ. He prayed for twenty-five years and the fourth man was saved. And for the fifth he prayed until the time of his death and that fifth friend came to Christ a few months after George Mueller died. For that fifth friend he prayed fifty-two years, perseverance.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 17:22-27
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezekiel 13-15

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday, August 28th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezekiel 5-8
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 17:1-13

The Transfiguration

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

There is so much more to this passage than I've ever thought.  I really appreciated John MacArthur's sermon (actually, he was 3 sermons on this passage, but I just listened to the last one).

He points out several incredibly interesting things.....

Jesus' transfiguration is a lifting of the veil of humanity, allowing Peter, James and John a glimpse of the shining, glorious, radiant, dazzling light - the Shekinah of God.  This was very obviously an incredible testimony to His deity.   Followed by the testimony of the saints - Moses and Elijah, talking about (according to Luke) His death.  And then, incredibly and terrifyingly, God speaks confirming the Sonship and deity of Christ and that He is following the plan exactly as prescribed, and commands the disciples to listen to Him. And the disciples are terrified.

Why are people so afraid in the presence of God?  What scares them so much?  Well, you see, God is infinitely holy and men are hopelessly sinful....And sinners in the presence of an infinitely holy God always feel like they need to hide.  That's just how it is.  

The transfiguration takes place during the week long Festival of Booths (which explains Peter's thought process).  The Festival of Tabernacles/Booths was to commemorate the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt and into the promised land - and during the 40 years of wandering in between, they lived in tents or booths.  And the Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) is the only week long festival that will be present in the Kingdom.  The Passover will be celebrated, the communion table remembered, and the Festival of Booths - because it is a picture of redemption, of leading us out of the bondage of sin and into the promise.  Isn't that beautiful?

MacArthur describes the tapestry of this scene and it's pretty amazing.  Christ is the centre of this picture and He will be the centre of the Second Coming, in glory and power, as seen here.

Secondly, Zechariah 14:4 says that when He comes His feet will touch the Mount of Olives. And this preview happens on a mountain, just as the reality will.

Thirdly, when Christ returns He will return with His saints and to His saints. Moses represents the dead believers, and Elijah (because he was taken up into heaven and did not experience death) represents believers who will be alive at the Second Coming of Jesus.

What a beautiful preview of the Second Coming!

V11-13 are slightly confusing, but MacArthur maintains that Jesus meant both that one like Elijah had already come (in John the Baptist) and that one like Elijah would come again, before the actual Second Coming.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 17:14-21
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezekiel 9-12

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday, August 27th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezekiel 1-4
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus Predicts His Death

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

How often don't we think we know better than God?

It sounds incredibly foolish.  And yet we've all felt that way at one time or another.  Maybe you haven't realized it or verbalized it that way, but every time we question our circumstances, complain about our trials or ignore God's nudge in a direction we don't want to go - that's exactly what we're doing.

And that's what Peter was doing here.

The very idea that the Messiah would die was repulsive to them, and so utterly different from their expectations, despite all the OT evidence to the contrary, that Peter just couldn't handle the idea, and actually had the nerve to rebuke the Lord of the universe.  The same Jesus he had just confessed as being the Christ.  He thought his plan was better than God's plan.

Peter is not alone.  We all think that God needs a little help in our particular life's plan.  Sometime we think it needs a complete reroute, other times we think a little detour would be nice, and sometimes we just think a little tweaking would perfect it.  The sheer audacity of that way of thinking is mind boggling.  Yet incredibly commonplace.

We need to trust in two truths.  God loves us.  God is sovereign.

If we truly believe those two truths, then we should trust Him implicitly.  We should trust that our circumstances have been filtered through His hands and that NOTHING can happen to us without His knowledge and consent, and that everything that happens to us is ultimate for His glory and for our own good.

The latter part of our passage strikes a death knell to the healthy/wealthy/happy charismatic Christianity that truly makes a mockery of the cross and treats Jesus like a genie there for their exclusive benefit.  What a gross misrepresentation of Christianity that movement has put forth.  MacArthur tells it like it is....

I submit to you that to view coming to Jesus Christ as simply to get is to prostitute the divine intention. To come to Jesus Christ, yes, is to receive and keep on receiving forever and ever. But there's pain before the gain and there is a cross before the crown and there is suffering before the glory. And there is sacrifice before the reward. And I believe that's what our Lord is teaching us in this critical passage.

The disciples had just acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah.  Jesus has just told them that He would build His church and that death would not prevail against it.  He told them that they would be heaven's authority on earth as heaven revealed truth to them.  They were listening closely here.  But then He said that He would be killed, and they stopped listening.  They didn't hear the part about Christ rising again.  And Satan works through Peter to try to dissuade Jesus from the cross.

But God does not think the way men think.

Men think about the gain without the pain, the crown without the cross, the glory without the suffering, the reward without the sacrifice. That's the way men think. And you're thinking like men think, not like God. God says the gain comes through the pain and the glory comes through the suffering. It has to. There's no other way because you cannot put God, whether incarnate in the Son or alive in the hearts of His people, in the midst of an anti‑God society without there being some suffering, without a reproach, without hostility. 

We need to be willing to die for Christ if that's what it takes.  We need to realize that at the moment we becomes Christians, and then as we continue on as Christians as well.  It's a continuing thing.  And it will be worth it in the end, when Christ comes in glory.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 17:1-13
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezekiel 5-8

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday, August 26th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Lam 3:37-5:22
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 16:13-20

Peter’s Confession of Christ

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[f] loosed in heaven.”20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

In one of the Follow the Rabbi lectures linked on the sidebar, Ray Vanderlaan suggests an interpretation of this passage that I had not heard before.

Catholics interpret this passage to mean that Jesus is commanding the church to be built on the rock, where the rock is Peter.  And yes, Peter did lead the church quite well.  But that is not the likely interpretation.

Protestants interpret this passage to mean that Jesus is the rock on which the church is to be built, and that is most certainly accurate.

MacArthur develops that slightly further in that the church would be built  on people who confess His Word, who confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the deity of Jesus, the Word of God, He's still building the church on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Apostles.

But RVL has another interpretation that I had not heard before, and it is only possible to grasp it when you understand the context, specifically the setting and what Jesus was showing the disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

Caesarea Philippi was a city dominated by pagan worship and immoral activity to make Las Vegas look innocent.  Ray Vanderlaan writes...

To the pagan mind, the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the winter. They committed detestable acts to worship these false gods.
Caesarea Philippi's location was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff.
The pagans of Jesus' day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves.
To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld—the gates of hell. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats.
When Jesus brought his disciples to the area, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district in their world and devout Jews would have avoided any contact with the despicable acts committed there.
It was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell.

Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: He didn't want his followers hiding from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.

Standing near the pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" Peter boldly replied, "You are the Son of the living God." The disciples were probably stirred by the contrast between Jesus, the true and living God, and the false hopes of the pagans who trusted in "dead" gods.

Jesus continued, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (see Matt. 16:13-20).
Though Christian traditions debate the theological meaning of those words, it seems clear that Jesus' words also had symbolic meaning. His church would be built on the "rock" of Caesarea Philippi—a rock literally filled with niches for pagan idols, where ungodly values dominated.
Gates were defensive structures in the ancient world. By saying that the gates of hell would not overcome, Jesus suggested that those gates were going to be attacked.
Standing as they were at a literal "Gate of Hades," the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus' challenge. They had studied under their rabbi for several years, and now he was commissioning them to a huge task: to attack evil, and to build the church on the very places that were most filled with moral corruption.
Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: He didn't want his followers hiding from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.
Jesus' followers cannot successfully confront evil when we are embarrassed about our faith.
After Jesus spoke to his disciples about storming the gates of hell, he also gave them another word of caution: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory" (Luke 9:26).
Jesus knew that his followers would face ridicule and anger as they tried to confront evil. And his words came as a sharp challenge: no matter how fierce the resistance, his followers should never hide their faith in God.
Jesus taught with passion, even when bystanders may have thought him a fool. And at Caesarea Philippi, he challenged everyone within hearing: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?" (v. 25).
In a city filled with false idols, Jesus asked his followers to commit to the one true God. While false gods promised prosperity and happiness, they would ultimately fail to deliver. Jesus didn't promise an easy life, but he delivered on the promise of salvation;the only kind of prosperity that really matters.
Today, Christians must heed the words of our Rabbi, especially when we are tempted to hide our faith because of embarrassment or fear. Our world is filled with those who have "gained the world" but lost their souls. If we hide our faith, they may never find the salvation they need.
As we listen to Jesus' challenge today, we as Christians should ask ourselves the important question: When it comes to the battle against evil, are we on defense or offense?
In a culture that embraces diversity, it is offensive to suggest that there are certain truths that apply to everyone. Pointing out sin isn't popular and many Christians are labeled as "intolerant" for refusing to accept certain behaviors and ideas.
Unfortunately, many people have embraced a distorted Christianity that tries to be "politically correct." They don't want to offend anyone, so they accept sin rather than confronting it. Ultimately, their words of "love" ring empty because they accept sins that ruin people's lives.
Other Christians just try to avoid sinful culture altogether. They have been taught to go on the defense—to hide in their churches, schools, and homes and to shut the door on the evil influences of culture.
But Jesus challenged his followers to be on the offense—to proclaim the truth without shame.
Our schools and churches should become staging areas rather than fortresses; places that equip God's people to confront a sinful world instead of hiding from it. Jesus knows that the pagan world will resist, but he challenges us to go there anyway, and to build his church in those very places that are most morally decayed.
As we listen to Jesus' challenge today, we as Christians should ask ourselves the important question: Are we on defense or offense?

I loved listening to the full audio lesson of this idea - RVL gets very worked up as he creates a vivid picture of Jesus showing the disciples the utter debauchery of the pagan worship and commanding them to do something about it!  Are we doing something about it?  Or are we just hiding and biding our time till Jesus returns?

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Matthew 16:21-28
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Ezekiel 1-4

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday, August 25

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Lamentations 1-3:36
Today's scripture focus is Matthew 16:1-12

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”(F)
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Don't we always want proof? We are hesitant to believe anything. We rarely take people at their word-we want to see the photo or hear the account substantiated by someone else or even see it with our own eyes. We are often sceptical of things. The Pharisees and Sadduccees wanted proof that Jesus was everything he claimed to be.  It didn't seem to matter that they had (no doubt) heard about the miracles that Jesus performed- healing disease and sickness and demon possessed. They probably heard (or maybe were even among) the crowds that were fed by a miracle. It doesn't seem to matter that Jesus spoke with wisdom and authority in His teaching and constantly left them speechless. They wanted direct proof.

I found an interesting note about the fact that the Pharisees and Sadduccees approached Jesus together.

In 16:1 these two groups are mentioned together for the first time in Matthew's account of Jesus' ministry (cf. 3:7, about John's ministry). Given the great differences between the groups, the evidence of Mt 16 is striking. Here they are associated with one another in the closest way. In every instance (vv. 1, 6, 11, 12), both names stand under one definite article ("the Pharisees and Sadducees," not "the P's and the S's"). The two groups unite in their testing of Jesus, v. 1. Jesus ascribes to both groups a single teaching (didachI), [The Pharisees and the Sadducees, otherwise opposed to each other, now unite against a common enemy].v. 12, here pictured as their "yeast," vv. 6, 11. This is most remarkable, given their different points of view - so remarkable that some interpreters infer from Matthew's language that he was ignorant of, or indifferent to, those differences (cf. e.g. TDNT 7: 52). But this is to miss the intention of both Jesus and the opposition.

They were so critical of Jesus that they chose to ignore their individual differences to band together to "get" Jesus and "trap" Him by asking Him to give them a sign. However, Jesus rebukes them and tells them that "...None will be given except the sign of Jonah." Then Jesus left them and went away. 

"The sign of Jonah" (more about it here-Thanks Tammy!) was the only "sign" Jesus was going to give to them. I love the next part...Jesus. left. them. and. went. away. I teach Grade 1and at my school there are always conflicts that arise between students. One of the strategies that we teach the children to use is to walk away. Not in total avoidance to the problem but to cool off, to think, and to make good choices about how to go about solving the problem. Walking away also gives the other person the same opportunity. Some differences of opinion- "Was it a goal? Or not?", "Did you actually say that mean thing? Or did someone just think they heard it?" -will not be solved and the best thing to do is to walk away before something happens that both parties will regret.

Jesus gives a verbal response and a visible response. The visible response of walking away was a

"deliberate act of "judgmental abandonment" (Gundry, 324). Jesus does not abandon his subject, only his audience. In 16:5-12 he will pursue the matter raised by the question of v. 1; he will continue to speak about the Pharisees and Sadducees, but now he does not speak to them - only to his disciples. This passage is very reminiscent of 15:1-20, where, after pronouncing judgment upon the Pharisees and teachers of the law, vv. 8-9, Jesus turns to the crowd and then to the disciples."

Any sign would not have been enough. The Pharisees and Sadduccees had already made up their minds about Jesus and how he threatened their position. They were angry and resentful and determined. This is why Jesus cautioned his disciples and compared their influence to the power of yeast and its ability to grow and spread through a large amount of flour and affect the entire batch.

"Bad doctrines act in the soul as leaven does in meal; they assimulate the whole Spirit to their own nature. A man's particular creed has a greater influence on his tempers and conduct than most are aware of. Pride, hypocrisy, and worldly-mindedness, which constituted the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, ruin the major part of the world." (Quote taken from here)

Tomorrow's scripture focusMatthew 16:13-20
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Lam 3:37-5:22