Romans 8:1-11 Good Versus Evil

The first seven chapters of the Book of Romans have focused on the power of sin in our lives, and they have set the stage for chapter 8 by discussing Paul’s ideas about sin. Romans 8:1-11 is an entrance into friendly territory. It talks about the Holy Spirit, which was not mentioned in the previous seven chapters. In chapter 8 alone there are 21 specific references to the Holy Spirit because this chapter is practical in showing us how important the Holy Spirit is in our daily lives.

Paul contrasts life in the flesh with life in the Spirit, and Romans 8:1-11 focuses on setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. Paul works with the idea that God’s Spirit raised Jesus’ dead body and that same Spirit lives in each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit gives life to our bodies and personalities. We are like God because we are made out of the same stuff and substance as God. God’s Spirit sets off our spirits inside of us.

The power of evil is not dumb. It always attacks us when we are the most vulnerable and the weakest. Paul identifies our four weakest areas as sex, anger, drunkenness and orgies and pride. In other words, we are at our weakest when we are in our sin-filled nature. Romans 8:1-11 crucifies and kills our sinful nature and lets the Spirit gush out with great power.

Life in the flesh means a life of sin, selfishness and worldliness. In contrast, life in the Spirit is a life of holiness, giving and Christ-centeredness. Life in the flesh leads to a body that is dead in sin, but a life in the Spirit leads to a life in Christ. When the Spirit lives in us, we are brought to life and we are redeemed from the grave just like Jesus was brought back to life and redeemed from the grave after his crucifixion.

When Paul talks about the sins of the flesh, he talks about all the sinful behaviour that exists in our world, and that is in contrast to the peace, joy and love that exists in the Spirit. We have been created as embodied persons, claimed by the promise of baptism and focused on the Spirit who redeems us to all that is good and true. Concern for worldly pleasures is bad, concern for spiritual life is better. This is often difficult for us to do, especially if we have to work on Sundays or when we are tempted by the sinful world. If we have the Holy Spirit, God will give us the strength to resist temptation.

The Old Testament law was weak because humans could not keep it, so God sent Jesus. Jesus met the demands of the law that were rightly made against the people. The Holy Spirit living in us allows us to obey God’s laws. It helps us reject our old earthly ways. It is also the hope of every believer. It regenerates our human spirit when we accept Christ as our Saviour.

By sending Jesus, God fulfilled the law for us and condemned sin. We are freed by the Holy Spirit. The law of the Spirit is in contrast to the law of sin and death. The Spirit gives us a new focus and a new freedom. We do not need to fear death or God’s wrath. Death is not the end. It is the beginning of unending, complete redemption.

God is a powerful judge who punishes us when we need it just like a parent punishes a child when the child needs it. God punishes us because he loves us and he wants to keep us on the straight and narrow path. God convicts us of sin, but he sets the conviction aside when he says, “Go, and sin no more.” God will not judge us unless we have never been saved. Our good deeds are not enough to save us because even our greatest deeds are filthy rags in his sight because of his perfect standards. If we are in Christ, our punishment has been transferred to Jesus, so we are not condemned. Judgement Day for us took place at Calvary, so our judgment day is behind us. Non-believers still have to face their own Judgment Day. As pardoned sinners, we live our lives by following the Spirit. Only then can we be a true image of God.

Christ and the Spirit are fully God and work together. Since Christian bodies are not yet redeemed, they still die even though they are freed from the condemnation of sin. The presence of the Spirit within believers testifies to the new life they enjoy because of the righteousness of Christ that is now theirs.

The Holy Spirit is the cure for sin and death. The law of sin and death is more deadly than an electric shock. Life in the Spirit changes us. Sin has killed our bodies and we can’t help ourselves, but Christ helps us. To live in Christ requires a radical transformation that renews our minds. That does not mean that we will not have any more struggles. In fact, Paul mentions his own struggles with sin in Romans 7:15-25. Walking in the Spirit is a relationship issue. Specifically, it is an issue of our relationship with God.

During a recent Olympic Games, the Huffington Post ran an article about the brain-training secrets of the athletes. Gold medal champions know how to train their minds like they train their bodies. Using mental exercises, they’ve learned to tune out distractions, reduce stress and focus on staying on top of their game. Using mental imagery, they visualize their performance in exacting detail, for studies have found that mental practice is almost as effective as physical training. Olympians meditate to calm themselves down. When they get into a “flow mindset,” they say they’re “in the zone.”

Christians should be experts at cultivating the mind and soul. The Bible tells us to train our minds as we train our bodies—to reject anxiety, to focus on trusting the Lord, and to visualize the green pastures, still waters and abundant life God has promised. The Bible tells us to meditate on His Word and get “into the zone” of the spiritual mind. Peace comes from trusting our Saviour—to be spiritually minded is life and peace—and that’s why he keeps those in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on him.

When we set our minds on the things of God, we do not allow sin to gain a foothold in our lives. If we do not forgive ourselves we remain enslaved to sin because we still feel guilty. We still condemn ourselves, but Jesus will never condemn those who believe in him. If we do not believe in Christ, we can’t please God by being good.

God does not save people who do good deeds unless they believe in Jesus. We can‘t escape sin by our own efforts. We can only escape sin through faith in Christ as mentioned in Romans 7:26.

Good deeds by themselves do not fulfill God’s law because they are produced for selfish reasons by a heart that is opposed to God. Jesus even said in Matthew 9:13,”I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  

To put it another way, a couple recently wrote a letter to Billy Graham. In that letter they stated that another couple in their apartment complex said they know they’re going to go to heaven when they die. The writers asked how the couple could say that. The writer added that the couple seem like good people, that it’s arrogant for anyone to claim they’re good enough to get into heaven. Here is Billy Graham’s reply:

“Many people, I’m afraid, hope that God will let them into heaven, since they’ve been honest and good and kind toward others. After all, they think, isn’t this what God expects of us?

But you may be surprised to learn that the Bible tells us otherwise. The Bible says God’s standard is nothing less than perfection — and who can claim to be perfect? In other words, if you had committed only one sin — just one — it would be enough to keep you out of heaven. God is absolutely pure and holy, and we’ll never be able to stand in His presence on our own. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

This is why we need Christ, for only He can forgive us and cleanse us — and He will, as we turn in faith to Him. And this, I suspect, is what your neighbors have discovered. They know they aren’t good enough to go to heaven on their own, and they have turned to Christ for the forgiveness and mercy they need.

And this can be true of you. God loves you, and He offers you the gift of eternal life right now — a gift paid for by His Son, Jesus Christ. Why not reach out and accept that gift today, by inviting Christ to come into your life? The Bible’s promise is true: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).”

Jesus said in effect that the things we offer to do and the promises we want to make in exchange for our forgiveness are just offerings to help us get over our guilt. He would rather give us forgiveness as a gift. The Holy Spirit is a gift for all believers. It does not have to be earned. When we are saved we can repeat the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!”

The process of change from life in the flesh to a life in the Spirit is a gradual one. This can be very frustrating to us because we live in a society that promises instant results and instant gratification. We want to make real changes in our lives, but many of us are looking for a magic pill to solve all of our problems. We have to open ourselves to the wonderful and unpredictable Spirit that is flowing so freely and so full of life all around us. True change is a long, slow process. It is a daily practice that will eventually result in change and growth.

Bibliography

  1. Cecil Murphy, “My Powerful Judge.” Retrieved from www.cecilmurphy.com
  2. Dick Inness, “The Law of Life.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  3. Dr. Tony Evans, ”Extreme Makeover.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  4. Exegesis for Romans 8:1-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  5. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Relationship, Not Regime.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  7. Dr. Ed Young, “Watch Your Mindset.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  9. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  10. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  11. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Get in the Zone.” Retrieved from www.davidjeremiah.org
  12. Jon Walker, “Jesus Offers Mercy, Not Condemnation.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  13. Stephen Davey, “Hiding Our Sin.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Christ’s Spirit and My Spirit.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  15. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Christ’s Spirit and Put to Death Our Human Nature.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
  16. Billy Graham, “How Can Someone Know They’re Going to Heaven?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com

Matthew 11:16-19,25-30 The Easiest Yoke We Can Carry

Have you ever noticed that there are always some people who can never be satisfied or happy with anything? Jesus did, and in Matthew 11:16-19,25-30 he compared the people of his day to children who can’t be satisfied by any game or activity, whether it is festive or sombre. Their actions reflected their lack of wisdom.

Jesus wasn’t the first person that the Pharisees didn’t accept. The people rejected John the Baptist because of his lifestyle, and they also rejected Jesus because he socialized with people who were sinners. The people of Jesus’ time knew that a Messiah was coming and that he would set them free. The problem was that the people were expecting a military-type of ruler who would drive out the Romans and return Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David. They were not expecting a simple, humble servant.

Like Jesus, John the Baptist was seen as someone other than who he really was. He was seen as a demon-possessed lunatic, and Jesus was seen as a glutton. John’s austerity in dress and food underlined the severity of his message. Jesus, on the other hand, went to where the people were and became a participant in their condition, if not their sin, where the joys and sorrows played out in families, towns and cities. 

The people of John’s and Jesus’ time rejected God by rejecting his messengers; neither approach pleased them, because neither man fit into their mold, so they lodged contradictory complaints. In both cases, the wisdom of the courses of action of both men was proved only by the results. In other words, the ends justified the means. We often want the Jesus we want, when we want him. The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and he was frustrated. The problem for those who reject Jesus is their awareness that taking John the Baptist and Jesus seriously requires people to change their lives.

The elite did not accept John the Baptist or Jesus-the poor did. The same situation exists today. There are those who think that they are so high in society that they don’t need God. Then there are those who are so downtrodden and suppressed by society that they eagerly accept Jesus’ teachings.

There is an interesting contrast in this passage. Jesus is contrasting Man’s Law with God’s Law. Man’s Law was formed as the result of the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people to guide them through the moral traps of life, but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves on their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The law was a dispensation of terror.

The Pharisees’ rules were a burden in their time, just like man’s rules can be a burden in our time, especially when dealing with the government. If you don’t have every single “I” dotted and every single “T” crossed, dealing with the government can be a heavy burden. Not walking in step with the establishment is hard work and can be dangerous, but it can be done, and has been done in the past by people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.

The world’s way of lightening burdens has always involved transferring the burden to a scapegoat, usually the poor. God hears our cries and can understand the difference between cries of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, joy and deep need. He longs to hold us while we cry, not saying anything, but showing immeasurable love through his powerful embrace.  God will bring strength out of brokenness. He releases us from the bondage of having to prove our worth. We can live freely and lightly. He will never give us more than we can bear.

Jesus came along and said to the Pharisees, “Look, guys-you don’t need all of these man-made rules and regulations. You don’t need rules stating how far a person can walk on the Sabbath, or how clean they have to be in order to be part of society, or what type of work people can do on the Sabbath. That is not the intention of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are rules for how people are to live their lives and treat their fellow man. They are not meant to be a spiritual strait-jacket, but you, with your rules and regulations and determination to obey the letter of the Ten Commandments, have forgotten about the spirit of the Ten Commandments.” People might be learned in religious rules, customs and teachings, but our main source for understanding God’s ways doesn’t come from that knowledge. It comes from receiving Jesus and his message. In fact, strict observance of the law can make us blind to the Spirit’s freedom that Jesus is offering us.

Jesus went a step further and replaced all of these laws with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. He told the Pharisees, “Look at how much easier and less demanding the Great Commandments are. They are a common-sense approach to living the life God wants us to lead. If people obey these two commandments, they will form the basis for how people live their lives. “

Jesus’ invitation to come to him speaks to everyone who is oppressed. Jesus reaches out to everyone who will listen to him. He doesn’t care about our reputation or social status. He cares about our hearts. Those who are “heavy laden” endure something that is laid on them from an outside source. Today, we would call it burnout. Jesus’ form of rest is not the absence of work, but rejuvenation and refreshment.

Most of you have seen oxen that are harnessed together by a yoke. They share the burden and work together so that one doesn’t have to do all of the work or shoulder the entire burden. Oxen are trained for a specific position in the yoke, so when they are put in the other position, they refuse to move, much like the Pharisees refused to change for Jesus or John the Baptist.

In Jesus’ day, the term “taking the yoke” meant coming under the leadership of another person and following in his or her footsteps. When Jesus tells us to take his yoke, he is inviting us to submit to his authority. If we submit to him, he will give us rest by sharing our burdens. We all need rest. That’s why God created the Sabbath. A Sabbath changes the pace of our lives. It helps us restore our strength and helps us be still. It helps us to let go of our grip on our lives. Jesus is asking us to let him be in control of our lives. He wants to guide and direct our lives. As the old saying goes, he wants us to “let go and let God”.

Some of the yokes we put on ourselves are because of unresolved guilt and unrealistic expectations. We want to prove that we matter, but God tells us that we do matter. He created us to be with him and fulfill his unique mission in our lives. His load is light and it is a radical alternative to the ways of the world. Christ will help us handle life’s demands.

Jesus’ easy yoke is not an invitation to an easy, carefree life, but it is deliverance from the man-made burdens of religion. These burdens are the guilt of sin and its side effects such as depression, anxiety, fear and doubt. If we accept the rest Jesus offers, all we have to do is accept his teachings as well as the obligations he will lay upon us. He invites us to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Taking Jesus’ yoke requires us to radically change our behaviour. That is not an easy thing for us to do. We get comfortable with the way things are. It’s like our favourite pair of shoes-it just feels so good, especially for society people. Sometimes it’s hard for society people to be humble.  Their attitude is summarized by the words of this old song: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Christ blesses the humble. The humble have a power that is beyond their natural abilities.

Jesus promises to give us rest when we find our rest in him. He is our burden-bearer. He allows us to draw the line where we can say, “Enough is enough,” but we have to decide to accept his invitation.  When we turn the circumstances of our lives over to him, he lifts us up and infuses our hearts with fresh hope and wisdom. Some situations are just too difficult for us to handle, but nothing is too great for God. In the words of the famous old hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer

He promises to refresh our weary souls when we cry out to him.

A sermon preached on Matthew 11:28-30 actually changed lives in a small rural community where two leaders of the congregation were quarreling bitterly over a decision about which they disagreed. When the minister pronounced the benediction and left the sanctuary at the end of the service, he wondered why the congregation did not follow him to the door where he normally greeted them. He returned to the sanctuary and found the two leaders embracing each other in tears while the rest of the congregation stood around in amazement.

As we come together to worship every week, we admit our hunger for God. God sees our emptiness and feeds us the choicest food, the flesh and blood of the one who invites us today to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is meek and humble of heart. We can let go of the heavy yokes of this world and take up the blessed yoke that is no burden, the yoke of acceptance of our own beloved self in Christ, the yoke of acceptance of the beloved nature of other weary, heavy-laden ones still striving all around us.

Bibliography

  1. Craig Condon, “Rest for the Weary.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.ca
  2. Jeremiah, David: The David Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. Exegesis for Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Under the Same Yoke.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmaikl.com
  5. Berni Dymet, “Dog Tired.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jon Walker, “Try Harder or Trust More?” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  7. Dr. Ray Pritchard, “A Friend of Tax Collectors?” Retrieved from www.keepbelieving.com

Matthew 11:16-19,25-30 Rest for the Weary

“Nothing I do is ever enough!!!”

Have you ever heard someone say that? Have you ever said that or thought that yourself?  Sometimes no matter how much we do, how much we say, how much we pay, how much we save, how much we exercise, etc., it just never seems to be enough. Jesus knows how we feel, because he went through the same thing here on earth.

Jesus wasn’t the first person that the Pharisees didn’t accept. Like Jesus, John the Baptist was seen as someone other than who he really was. He was seen as a demon-possessed lunatic, and Jesus was seen as a glutton. John’s austerity in dress and food underlined the severity of his message. Jesus, on the other hand, went to where the people were, a participant in their condition, if not their sin, where the joys and sorrows played out in families, towns and cities.  The people of John’s and Jesus’ time rejected God by rejecting his messengers; neither approach pleased them, because neither man fit into their mold, so they lodged contradictory complaints. In both cases, the wisdom of the courses of action of both men was proved only by the results. In other words, the ends justified the means. We often want the Jesus we want, when we want him. The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and he was frustrated. The problem for those who reject Jesus is their awareness that taking John the Baptist and Jesus seriously requires people to change their lives.

The elite did not accept John the Baptist or Jesus-the poor did. The same situation exists today. There are those who think that they are so high in society that they don’t need God. Then there are those who are so downtrodden and suppressed by society that they eagerly accept Jesus’ teachings.

There is an interesting contrast in Matthew 11:16-19,25-30. Jesus is contrasting Man’s Law with God’s Law. Man’s Law was formed as the result of the Ten Commandments. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people to guide them through the moral traps of life, but well-intentioned people added on to the law until it became its own trap. Religious professionals prided themselves on their observance of the law, but even they couldn’t avoid breaking the law. The common person did not stand a chance of perfectly observing the law. All of these rules and regulations were a huge burden on the people. The law was a dispensation of terror.

Jesus came along and said to the Pharisees, “Look, guys-you don’t need all of these man-made rules and regulations. You don’t need rules stating how far a person can walk on the Sabbath, or how clean they have to be in order to be part of society, or what type of work people can do on the Sabbath. That is not the intention of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are rules for how people are to live their lives and treat their fellow man. They are not meant to be a spiritual strait-jacket, but you, with your rules and regulations and determination to obey the letter of the Ten Commandments, have forgotten about the spirit of the Ten Commandments.” People might be learned in religious rules, customs and teachings, but our main source for understanding God’s ways doesn’t come from that knowledge. It comes from receiving Jesus and his message. In fact, strict observance of the law can make us blind to the Spirit’s freedom Jesus is offering us.

Jesus went a step further and replaced all of these laws with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. He told the Pharisees, “Look at how much easier and less demanding the Great Commandments are. They are a common-sense approach to living the life God wants us to lead. If people obey these two commandments, they will form the basis for how people live their lives. “

Most of you have seen oxen that are harnessed together by a yoke. They share the burden and work together so that one doesn’t have to do all of the work or shoulder the entire burden. Oxen are trained for a specific position in the yoke, so when they are put in the other position, they refuse to move, much like the Pharisees refused to change for Jesus or John the Baptist.

When Jesus tells us to take his yoke, he is inviting us to submit to his authority. If we submit to him, he will give us rest by sharing our burdens. We all need rest. That’s why God created the Sabbath. A Sabbath changes the pace of our lives. It helps us restore our strength and helps us be still. It helps us to let go of our grip on our lives. Jesus is asking us to let him be in control of our lives. He wants to guide and direct our lives. As the old saying goes, he wants us to “let go and let God”.

Jesus lived enough days on this earth to experience weariness-in body, mind, spirit and heart. Weariness can come in all forms and can last a long time. Some weariness moves into depression and despair. Thus, for Jesus to extend rest for the weary, he is giving hope to those who are burdened. That hope is named-Jesus.

Jesus promises to give us rest when we find our rest in him. He is our burden-bearer. When we turn the circumstances of our lives over to him, he lifts us up and infuses our hearts with fresh hope and wisdom. Some situations are just too difficult for us to handle, but nothing is too great for God. In the words of the famous old hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer

He promises to refresh our weary souls when we cry out to him.

In order to understand God, we have to get rid of our rules, intellect and common sense. We have to become spiritually helpless like children and come to him with curiosity, naïveté and trust. We have to come to him in simple, child-like faith. This isn’t easy to do, especially because  as we move from childhood into adulthood, we are often jaded or shaped by our experiences.

A child young enough not to have been taught otherwise knows how much he or she needs help. A child innocent enough not to be caught up in the world’s deception knows that he or she is loved just as they are. In fact, it is not even a matter of knowing-for the infant in our arms, it is a matter of experiencing love, being held by love.

The Pharisees’ rules were a burden in their time, just like man’s rules can be in our time, especially when dealing with the government. If you don’t have every single “I” dotted and every single “T” crossed, dealing with the government can be a heavy burden. Not walking in step with the establishment is hard work and can be dangerous, but it can be done, and has been done in the past by people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.

The world’s way of lightening burdens has always involved transferring the burden to the scapegoat, usually the poor. God hears our cries and can understand the difference between cries of pain, hurt, anger, frustration, joy and deep need. He longs to hold us while we cry, not saying anything, but showing immeasurable love through his powerful embrace.  God will bring strength out of brokenness. He releases us from the bondage of having to prove our worth. We can live freely and lightly. He will never give us more than we can bear.

Most of us go through life with burdens that weigh heavily on us. Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we know the meaning of stress. Regardless of what our burdens are, Jesus wants to come alongside us and heal us. He wants to properly clean the wounds of our lives. It will take time and it won’t be easy, but if we keep ourselves surrounded by Jesus, the source of life, we will be healed. And when we are healed, we will experience the love, peace, hope and rest that Jesus can bring.

It is easy for us to get caught up in a “hurry-worry syndrome”-doing too much, driving too fast, eating too quickly, and juggling too many things. It all seems important at the moment, but later we realize that much was done at the expense of cultivating deeper and meaningful relationships with those we love the most. Being held hostage by the tyranny of the urgent is not how we were meant to live.

A sermon preached on Matthew 11:28-30 actually changed lives in a small rural community where two leaders of the congregation were quarreling bitterly over a decision about which they disagreed. When the minister pronounced the benediction and left the sanctuary at the end of the service, he wondered why the congregation did not follow him to the door where he normally greeted them. He returned to the sanctuary and found the two leaders embracing each other in tears while the rest of the congregation stood around in amazement.

Jesus’ easy yoke is not an invitation to an easy, carefree life, but it is deliverance from the man-made burdens of religion. These burdens are the guilt of sin and its side effects such as depression, anxiety, fear and doubt. If we accept the rest Jesus offers, all we have to do is accept his teachings as well as the obligations he will lay upon us. He invites us to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we come together to worship every week, we admit our hunger for God. God sees our emptiness and feeds us the choicest food, the flesh and blood of the one who invites us today to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is meek and humble of heart. We can let go of the heavy yokes of this world and take up the blessed yoke that is no burden, the yoke of acceptance of our own beloved self in Christ, the yoke of acceptance of the beloved nature of other weary, heavy-laden ones still striving all around us.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package.
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package.
  4. The Rev. Dr. Trace Haythorn, “Jesus’ Invitation to Paradox”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  5. The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad, “I Will Give You Rest”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  6. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  7. Billy Graham, “What Can I DO to Help My Family?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  8. Selwyn Hughes, “Danger in the Home”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  9. Les Lamborn, “Keeping Busy”. Retrieved from www.rbc.org
  10. Kelly McFadden, “A Time to Heal”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  11. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Finding Rest”. Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  12. Gwen Smith, “I’m Frustrated”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  13. Kelly McFadden, “Use Your Gifts and Talents to Help Others”. www.crosswalkmail.com
  14. Charles R. Swindoll, “Trauma”. Retrieved from www.insight.org
  15. Gwen Smith, “Between Faith and a Hard Place”. www.crosswalkmail.com
  16. Charles F. Stanley, “Cease Striving”. www.crosswalkmail.com
  17. Jim Burns, “Do You Have Anything that Needs Exchanging?” www.crosswalkmail.com
  18. Charles F. Stanley, “Letting God Handle Your Burdens” www.crosswalkmail.com
  19. Charles R. Swindoll, “Take Time”. www.insight.org
  20. Jim Burns, “Thinning”. www.crosswalkmail.com
  21. Greg Laurie, “The Two-Part Invitation”. Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  22. Billy Graham, “Does God Understand the Way I Feel?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  23. Robert H. Schuller, “Give God Your Burdens”. Retrieved from www.hourofpower.cc
  24. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of Matthew
  25. Eddie Lawrence, “Stress Survival (Pt. 1)”. Retrieved from www.riverworn.com
  26. Steve Arterburn, “To Whom Will You Surrender?” Retrieved from www.newllife.com
  27. Leslie Snyder, “Tears”. www.crosswalkmail.com
  28. Girardian Reflections, Year A. Retrieved from http://girardianlectionary.net/year_a/proper_9a.htm
  29. Rev. Beth Quick, “Have It Your Way”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com
  30. Exegesis for Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  31. Daily Discipleship, Copyright 2008 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  32. Fr. John Boll, O.P., “First Impressions, 14th Sunday (A), July 3, 2011. Retrieved from www. preacherexchange.org
  33. The Rev. Canon Charles K. Robertson, “Never Enough”. Retrieved from www.day1.org

Romans 7:15-25 Spiritual Tug of War

There is one struggle that all of us as Christians have. It is the struggle between knowing what is right and doing what is right.  In other words it is the conflict between good and evil. Believers have the ability to sin because of the legacy from Adam that we can’t do anything right.

The conflict Paul is talking about in Romans 7:15-25 is a form of spiritual warfare. It is like the game of tug-of-war. As we learn to say no to sin and yes to God, we are given a renewed spirit, vigor and understanding. Paul talks about this struggle by talking about his own personal struggle with good versus evil. In his eyes, he failed to do any good and he could not completely comply with God’s law. God’s Old Testament law demanded perfection. The law does not save us from sin, but it does show us the character of the giver of the law-God. The problem with the law is that is reveals human weakness when compared to the law’s perfect standard. The Pharisees tried to compensate for this by coming up with a list of 612 do’s and don’ts, but they only reinforced the point that we can’t completely obey the law. God’s law pulls us heavenward, whereas the law of sin pulls us toward hell. Jesus gives us eternal life through him, and escape from the flesh is also through him. Jesus dealt with sin through his death and resurrection.

Paul’s situation is similar to that of a drug addict who quits “cold turkey.” Many times the addict relapses and starts using drugs again because the problems that encouraged the addict to start using drugs are still present. The key to lifelong recovery lies in treating the mind. Paul was “addicted” to his past, sinful life, and we as Christians can become “addicted” to our past sinful lives without a strong faith in Christ.  Only Christ can rescue us from our “cravings.”

Like Paul, we have a constant struggle when it comes to doing the right thing. We know what is right, but when it comes to doing what is right, we often fail, and the harder we try, the more likely we are to fail. The alternative is to give in to sin, but the result is eternal damnation. There is a third alternative-one that was provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection. What is impossible for us to solve on our own has been solved by God’s grace. Jesus has freed us from the damages caused by this inner war. If we genuinely seek to do God’s work in our world, we become better people of faith.

Jesus explains this in Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. He explains that we do not need to follow man-made rules such as the 612 rules the Pharisees made to make certain that the people did not break any of God’s laws. Jesus even replaced the Ten Commandments with the two Great Commandments-love God and love people. God’s grace gives us the freedom to enjoy the rights and privileges of being out from the bondage of sin and man-made laws. Everyone is different, and God loves variety because he loves each and every one us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us on the cross. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are restored to God.

Our daily decisions, no matter how small, usually shape a lifetime, and wisdom is found in making the most of each and every opportunity. All of our decisions matter to God because they impact our lives and the lives of others.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  3. Pastor Steve Molin, “Conundrum:  (n.) A Puzzling Question or a Problem.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  4. Charles R. Swindoll, “Defining Liberty, Part Two.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
  5. Pastor Ed Young, “Decision Effect.” Retrieved from www.edyoung.com
  6. Exegesis for Romans 7:15-25. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  7. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2005)

Matthew 8:23-27 God is Never Asleep

Our world is full of fear and uncertainty. Here in Nova Scotia, we’ve just passed through the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve recently seen a mass shooting. Several Canadian air force personnel who were based in Nova Scotia died in a helicopter crash off the coast of Greece. Society has changed in ways that threaten our values, beliefs, and way of living.

Have you ever thought that God was asleep during your time of need? Perhaps you called out to God at that time, but you didn’t hear an answer. Psalm 121:14 says that “He who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.” He is always there, but we must remember that He will answer our requests in His own time and in His own way.

Sometimes God uses the storms of life to teach us something or to accomplish other purposes. We might not like going through the storms of life but they can teach us things. There are things we can learn in hardship and crises that we can’t learn anywhere else.

This is why the passage from Matthew 8:23-37 might be helpful for us now. Matthew wrote his gospel for Christians in the latter half of the first century. They were battered and tempest-tossed by their circumstances. Many of them were facing hardship and ostracism and alienation from their families, friends and neighbours because of their commitment to Jesus. They were being discriminated and persecuted, sometimes to the point of death. The story of Jesus calming the storm resonated with them. It calmed their fears and gave them reason to hope that not all was lost. It gave them hope that at some point they would come through this storm.

The Sea of Galilee is famous for violent storms that occur without warning. When the terrified disciples awakened Him, Jesus first rebuked the disciples for their insufficient faith. Jesus reminded the disciples that when He is with us, we are safe. Only Jesus can get us through the storms of life. He then rebuked the wind and the sea so that a great calm descended upon them. Jesus is both the human being in need of rest and the Sovereign Creator who can calm a storm.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for their fear, but He also recognized the faith they did have. Faith copes with problems beyond our power by engaging God’s power. Jesus wasn’t bothered by the storm because He trusted that God would get Him and the disciples to the other side.

When the disciples asked Jesus for help, they showed confidence in Him. They went where sinners and Christians should always go when they feel that they are in danger. Only Jesus can save us from the storms of God’s wrath.

Jesus was constantly inviting His followers to witness and participate in situations that were beyond their understanding and their comfort level. He constantly says, “Believe in Me. Trust Me. Watch and see what I can do.” Jesus is inviting us to lead a different kind of life in our world.

Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. It unleashes a swarm of anger-stirring doubts. Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia. It makes us forget what Jesus has done and how good God is. Jesus takes our fears seriously. We don’t have to be afraid.

Stability in the storms of life comes not from seeking a new message, but from understanding an old one-namely, faithfully reading, studying and obeying God’s word. In this story, Jesus is the perfect picture of having God’s peace in the storm.

This story teaches us to speak to our fears. Jesus rises up and rebukes the wind and it ceases at the sound of his voice. We may not have the power to calm waves and storms, but there is power in our speech, and speaking boldly to our fears can help us overcome them.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 32-33)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; p. 18)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1307-1308)
  6. Pastor David McGee, “You Have Been Called.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Br. David Vryhof, “When Fear is All Around.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
  8. Pastor Greg Laurie, “Always Watching.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  9. Pastor Greg Laurie, “Hurricane Grace.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
  10. Max Lucado, “The Effects of Fear.” Retrieved from email@maxlucado.com
  11. Allen Jackson, “Ordinary People-Extraordinary Path.” Retrieved from contact@intendministries.org

Genesis 22:1-14 Giving God Our Best

Mom wiped her hands on a kitchen towel as she went into the den. “Uncle Jim and Aunt Karen are coming over tonight to celebrate Dad’s birthday,” she said.

“Awesome!” Kyle bounced on the couch, never taking his eyes off the television screen as his thumbs tapped the buttons of the game controller.

“Have you learned your Bible verses for tomorrow’s Sunday school lesson?” Mom asked. “You’d better get that done before they get here.”

Kyle shook his head. “I’ll have time after this game,” he assured her.

Later, Kyle joined his mother in the kitchen and sat on a stool at the counter. “Have you learned those verses yet?” she asked.

“Not yet. The game went long,” said Kyle, eyeing a platter on the counter. “Yum! Cookies! I didn’t know you baked today!” He reached out to take one.

“I didn’t,” Mom said, playfully acting as if she would slap Kyle’s hand. “I baked them last week to take for coffee time after church, but we didn’t need them all. These are the leftovers. They’ve been in the freezer, and we’ll have them tonight.”

“Can’t I have one now?” Kyle asked. “Tonight I’ll be too full from Dad’s birthday cake.”

Mom shook her head. “The cookies are the cake,” she said.

“No real cake?” Kyle asked, frowning. “But you make the best birthday cake!”

Mom shrugged. “I’ve been busy, and I figure the cookies will have to do.”

Kyle shook his head. “You’re having leftovers for Dad’s birthday?” he asked in protest. “Doesn’t he deserve some of your time, too? And a cake?”

Mom looked at the platter of cookies. Then she looked at Kyle thoughtfully. “You’re right,” she said. “And your heavenly Father deserves more than just a few leftover minutes of your time.” She leaned on the counter. “A minute or two to learn your Bible verses after the video game is giving God your leftovers.”

“Oh!” Kyle looked at the plate of cookies. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” He pushed away from the counter. “I’ll get to them right now.”

Mom smiled. “And I ‘ll get working on that birthday cake!”

In Genesis 22:1-14, God tested Abraham. He wanted to know if Abraham would sacrifice the son he and Sarah waited for. Abraham obeyed God’s call. He was taught to believe in God and His simple word. Abraham must have been torn between sacrificing his son and the promise God made. Abraham believed that if Isaac was sacrificed, God would raise him from the dead.

Satan tempts people to bring out their worst; God may test His beloved ones to bring out their best. The people closest to God often find themselves in the midst of the biggest tests. But Christians must remember: God will only ask them to do what He will enable them to do.

All people have three parts to their personality: intellect, emotions and will. Each was included in this test as God sought to refine Abraham to a purer faith. When God commanded Abraham to offer his promised son as a burnt offering, Isaac was approximately fifteen. In this defining moment, God asked Abraham to take all of his future hopes-all that Abraham expected from the Lord according to His covenant-and surrender them on an altar. Although this instruction made no human sense, he did not argue or plead; he simply obeyed.

The phrase “rose early in the morning” which was also used when God told Abraham to send Ishmael away, anticipates actions that were particularly difficult to accomplish. Abraham’s obedience was so complete the he split the wood for the burnt offering in advance, realizing that wood at the site of the altar might be scarce. Moriah was about 45 miles north of Beersheba, a journey of three days at that time.

The Hebrew term translated as “worship” describes the specific act of a person bowing all the way to the ground. More important is the force of the verbs here- “worship” and “will come back to you” express great determination and faith. Abraham in effect told his servants, “Once these acts of worship are complete, Isaac and I will return.” Abraham had no precedent for believing that God would somehow bring his son back to life after the offering, for no one had ever seen a resurrection. Nevertheless, he trusted God to do the impossible, maybe because he had already seen God deliver the impossible through Isaac’s birth.

Just as with Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, God spoke at the very moment Abraham needed to hear from Him: just as he took the knife to kill Isaac. God did not want Abraham’s son to die; He wanted Abraham’s submission to Himself. When God said, “Now I know that you fear God,” He validated Abraham’s deep faith.

In Hebrew, the phrase “to fear God” describes saving faith; it also indicates one who values God as God, in awe, wonder and worship. In Scripture, fearing God takes priority over every other response to Him. This may be the one reason God tests the faith of His servants.

God does not accept human sacrifice. Man is morally unclean and is therefore unfit for sacrifice. God provided a substitute for Isaac. Similarly, He provided a substitute for the punishment we deserved. Only an unblemished lamb was acceptable for sacrifice. That’s why Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. He was sinless, so He was the perfect sacrifice.

Abraham’s confidence that God would provide was rewarded, for God rewards those who honour Him. God reaffirmed His covenant to Abraham with the most steadfast of oaths. The phrase, “The Lord will provide” is a fitting name for Moriah because God provided not only a ram in Isaac’s place but also a Saviour in humanity’s place.

Isaac was a type of suffering son who willingly submitted to the Father’s will; therefore, Isaac is a picture of Jesus and His sacrifice. Abraham is a picture of God the Father who (in the words of Romans 8:32), “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” The ram was a type of lamb who died as a substitute for our sins.

All of us will be tested at times. Tests reveal things that can’t be known any other way. God uses these times to allow us to discover something about ourselves. For example, God often gives us a vision only to allow it to die first before the purest version of the vision is manifested. When God gives us a vision and darkness follows, waiting on God will bring us into accordance with the vision He has given us if we wait for His timing. If we don’t wait for God, we do away with the supernatural in God’s undertakings.

God demands that nothing can mean more to us than loving and serving Him. That’s why He tested Abraham, and he passed with flying colors.

God tells us to fear Him. When we fear Him we will obey His law and hate all manner of evil. This pleases God and brings us into the experience of His pleasure. When we love God, we will do what He shows us to do. We have to do these three things:

  1. Be certain about what He is calling us to do. We are called on to listen and wait for Him to restate and reinforce His directions.
  2. Picture yourself in what you are afraid to do, and then prepare to carry out your obedience in faith.
  3. Trust God to do what He intends to do in our particular situation.

This story makes the point that everything we have-even our lives and the lives of people we love-belongs to God. He gave them to us in the first place. This story assures us that God will provide for us and that He will be present.

Do you give God cookies instead of cake? Do you give Him your best, or does He get your leftovers? Do you spend quality time in God’s Word, or just a few spare minutes after you’ve finished your book or game or time with friends? By putting God first in your life, you are giving Him your best. Like Abraham in today’s Scripture reading, put what God wants you to do at the top of things you have to do each day. He wants your best so He can make you all He knows you can be. No matter what circumstances we are facing, we must follow God’s example. We will never know how deeply we believe in God until we have to face a crisis. We should place our faith in Him.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 32-33)
  2. “Cookies? Or Cake?” Retrieved from newsletter@cbhministries.org
  3. Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  4. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J,.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; p.187)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Os Hillman, “Listening to the Father’s Heart-March 21, 2020.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  8. Os Hillman, “His Vision, His Way, In His Timing.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  9. “Abraham Believed.” Retrieved from www.LivingFree.org
  10. Joni Eareckson Tada, “A Faith Test.” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  11. T.M. Moore, “The Fear of God (5).” Retrieved from www.ailbe.org
  12. Thea Lunk, “Only Son Isaac.” Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net.
  13. Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2138

Matthew 10:40-42 Helping Others as Jesus Helped Others

A successful man known for his generosity was driving his new car through a poor part of town. A boy tried to flag him down. The man didn’t want to get involved, so he pretended he didn’t see the child. As he slowed for a red traffic light, he heard a loud crash. Someone had thrown a brick at his car, denting the trunk.

The man stopped, jumped out of his car and grabbed the boy that threw the brick. “You juvenile delinquent!” he yelled. “You’ll pay for this or go to jail!”

“I’m sorry, mister,” the boy cried. “My mom’s lying on the floor in our apartment. I think she’s dying. Our phone’s been cut off and I’ve been trying for ten minutes to get someone to stop. I didn’t know what else to do! Take me to jail, but please, call a doctor for my mom first.”

The man was filled with shame. “I’m a doctor,” he said and asked, “Where is she?” The boy took him to his mother and the doctor administered CPR and called an ambulance.

“Will she live?” the boy sobbed. “Yes, son, she will,” the doctor said. “Then it’s worth going to jail. I’m sorry I ruined your car. You can take me in now.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” the doctor said. “It was my fault you had to throw a brick to get my attention.”

The doctor made sure the boy was taken care of, and as he drove home he resolved not to fix the dent. He would keep it as a reminder that not everyone in need has a brick to throw.

What Jesus is telling us to do in the reading from Matthew’s Gospel is similar to the famous Golden Rule- “Do unto others”. A cup of cold water is a gift that everyone can give because it is the smallest of gifts. Even this, the smallest of gifts, is precious to the person receiving it, because sometimes it is the gift of life.

We are to do this for everyone we meet, because the recipient could be an angel, prophet or Jesus in disguise. It can mean providing material support such as food, clothing or shelter. It can also mean accepting the truth of our guest’s message. We must be prepared to pay the costs-financial, personal and danger. It is expensive to provide for living expenses. Our personal space and privacy are invaded. We could be caught in the opposition/persecution that the prophet would face. Jesus even said that hatred and persecution would get so bad that anyone who offered his sent ones a mere cup of cold water would receive a divine reward.

Those who do God’s work can be assured that those who help them will be rewarded. Doing God’s work includes healing and those who are in the health care profession.  They often leave personal comforts such as family time to care for the needs of others. When they care for the residents in nursing homes or patients in a hospital, they show the love Jesus showed us when he lived among us. When we serve others, we serve Jesus, just like Jesus and his disciples served others.

We are to show compassion for others by caring for the sick, comforting those who mourn, etc. This is contrary to our “me-first”, selfish culture. It will loosen our hold on our possessions, lives, and so on, but these small beginnings are the seed of a different kind of happiness-the happiness that only the Christian life provides.

Even small gifts can make a big difference. It is a reminder of the old adage that “big things come in small packages”. To offer hospitality, care and compassion, we simply have to bring who we are, what we have, where we are. It requires attention to the person receiving the hospitality. We have to receive the person first before they can receive the benefit of the gift we offer.

To Jesus, hospitality meant acceptance, even those who, in his society and in his day, were deemed to be unacceptable. This is why he put his arms around lepers, ate with tax collectors and sinners, forgave adulterers and broke Sabbath laws. Hospitality was not only important to Jesus, it was at the very heart of being God, and it didn’t make any difference to him where such hospitality took place, or to whom, or on what day.

When it comes to hospitality, we take turns being the host and being the guest. Sometimes we are the ones who simply need the hug or cup of water or kindness. Other times, we are the ones providing the hug or cup of water. The “little ones” Jesus refers to are frequently the scapegoats or victims in our society. They are the powerless, the weak, the hurting, the abused, the abandoned, the elderly or children, and they are often the easiest targets for our wrath. They need the help and compassion that Jesus offers through us. When we help them, we have the power to bring others into a relationship with God, the power to show others God’s love by showing them our love, the power to bring them face to face with God by bringing them face to face with us.

Bibliography

  1. Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV
  2. Exegesis for Matthew 10:40-42. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  3. Richard Inness, “Listen to the Whisper”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  4. Leslie Snyder, “Uncommon Courtesy”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  5. Jeanne Schuller, “Through the Din Comes a Call”. Retrieved from http://onlineministeries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/062611b.html
  6. The Rev. Dr. Trace Haythorn, “The Art of Welcome’. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  7. The Rev. Beth Quick, “The Friendly Church”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com/sermon6-26-05.htm
  8. The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemier, “Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  9. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  10. The Peoples’ New Testament. Part of Lessonmaker Bible software package.
  11. The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel, “Encouragement”.Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  12. Dr. Randy L. Hyde, “The Stranger at the Door”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  13. Pastor Steve Molin, “Sittin’ on God’s Porch”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org
  14. Daniel Clendenin, PhD, “A Rabble of Blasphemous Conspirators: Proclamation and Reception of the Early Believers”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml

Matthew 10:40-42 We Are God’s Welcome Mat

How many of you have a welcome mat outside of the front door of your house?  A welcome mat usually has two purposes. It’s used to encourage people to wipe their shoes off so that they won’t track dirt or mud into your home or business. It’s placed outside your door as a sign to let people know that they are welcome to come in.

In Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus talks about welcoming people. Generally, Matthew emphasizes the disciples being good hosts, but in this passage, he turns that around. The disciples are the ones being cared for by others. Similarly, as modern-day messengers of God, we need to be gracious guests and accept help from others. Often the most caring people are the ones who are least likely to accept any help for themselves. As Christians, we need to be both care-givers and care-receivers. We need to allow others to use their gifts to help us. Each and every act of mercy contains Christ’s love for the world. It is a love we can share anytime and anywhere with any gesture, no matter the size.

The identification of the littles ones in need of a cup of cold water elevates the least powerful member of the community of disciples (of which all Christians are members today) into a position of equal importance to that of prophets and righteous ones. At the beginning of the commissioning of the disciples, Jesus sent them into the mission field without any means of support and defense-no money, no travel bag, no change of clothes, not even a staff or sandals. They were completely dependent, first on God and then on the hospitality of the communities that received them. Their vulnerability and dependence were the key to the success of the mission.

Similarly, when we are given the same commission, we are sent out without any means of support or defense, except that which is provided by God or the people who receive our message. We are dependent on others. Our vulnerability and dependence is the key to the success of our mission.

Jesus teaches that receiving His messengers or prophets is the same as receiving Him, and that receiving Him is the same as receiving His Father. The One who is sent represents the Sender. The same reward given to the prophet will also be given to the one who receives the prophet.

God is honoured when we do acts in His name. He is honoured when we receive prophets because He is a prophet. He is honoured when we receive a righteous person because He is righteous. He is honoured when we give a drink of water to a disciple because He is a disciple. When we receive a messenger, we receive Christ. God will reward us for everything we do in faith in His name. The simplest deed in discipleship in Christ will be recognized by God. God doesn’t only reward “big” jobs or “important” works. He loves to give and He loves to reward obedience, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us.

Someone once wrote to Billy Graham and asked if missionaries do any good. The writer said, “Our church has been raising money to help build a health clinic where some of our missionaries work. To be honest, though, do projects like this actually do any good? That country is very poor, and one little clinic isn’t going to change anything.”

Billy Graham replied:

“Yes, a project like this may seem like a drop in a bucket compared with the overwhelming needs of that country. But it won’t be a drop in a bucket for that community! We take so much for granted in our society, but what if your nearest doctor or hospital was 50 miles away, and you had no way to get there? That’s the situation millions face in our world, and the problems can only be solved one step at a time.”

“The clinic your church is helping to support will not only bring physical health to this village, but it will also be a beacon of spiritual hope as it points people to Jesus Christ. God loves the people of this village just as much as He loves you and me, and He yearns for them to come to know Him and love Him just as much as He does you and me.”

We can say, “That’s not my problem!” and shut the needs of others from our minds; or we can say, “I can’t change everything, but I can do something about the pain at my elbow.” For example, two friends were walking on the beach covered by starfish washed ashore by a high tide. The starfish were destined to die soon in the burning sun on the sandy beach. One man began picking up starfish and gently tossing them in the ocean. The friend said, “What are you doing? What difference does it make? You can’t begin to save all of them.” “True,” the other man said, “but it makes a difference to the ones I save.”

It is the same with those we can help. We don’t have all the answers, but as we come to grips with the enormity of the problem, it’s amazing how we begin to see the needs and hear the Holy Spirit say, “Help, here!” or “Do something about this!”. When we do that, we can and do make a difference.

Christ lives in His people. They become His ambassadors. How they are treated is how He is treated. Welcoming His ambassadors is the same as welcoming Him. Jesus equated Himself with God. He also knew that God gave Him authority, and He claimed that authority. Hospitality is a witness to the unconditional love of Christ. That lifts us up and saves all who would be saved. It’s open to everyone.

When we look at the world today, we don’t see much hospitality. Too many of us hide in upper class or gated communities. Too many of us change the channel when we see poor people on television. Too many of us change stations or turn the radio off when we hear stories about poor people. This does not mean that hope is dead. On the contrary, hope survives. It is all around us. All of our outreach programs are unsung stories of faith at work, not just for the people they serve but for the vehicle of love they provide for us.

The “little ones”-both the poor and those who are new to the faith-are our guests of honour. They might be angels in disguise or even Christ Himself in disguise. We are urged to welcome them as we would welcome Christ. As Christ said when He gave us the two Great Commandments, we are to love God and love people.

How different would our ministry be if we took seriously the understanding that we are Christ’s presence in the world? How different would our ministry be if we remembered that we are treating other believers the way we are treating Christ?

Not all of the rewards we will receive will be positive ones. Can we have positive ones without negative ones and vice versa? Can we have all the blessings of believing without the persecution and suffering? Can we have the resurrection to new life without the suffering and dying to self? Can we have the crown without the cross?

What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come through our church doors on our own initiative and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them? What would happen if we truly believed that we bear the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, in every home, workplace, or neighbourhood we enter? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to show Christ’s love for our neighbours?

Our task is to see Christ in everyone and attend to the Christ in everyone-the stranger, the enemy, the friend, the spouse, our sibling, a politician, even someone who believes differently than we do. Christ is in everyone. When we regard everyone as Christ, then maybe they will see the Christ who is in us.

The simple act of leaving our personal comforts to care for the needs of another demonstrates the love Jesus shared with us when He left the ultimate comfort and joy of heaven to live life here on earth. Serving another person is inconvenient. It takes time, energy, personal resources, and sometimes, personal discomfort. It is so much easier to look away and assume someone else will do it. Jesus invites us to serve Him by caring for the needs of others. Today and every day the invitation remains. How will we respond?

Hospitality is crucial to the gospel message because unless we change our point of view, unless we change the state of our hearts and minds about those that society oppresses, unless we can see others as children of God, then we can’t fulfill our orders to share the Good News of forgiveness and healing, of justice and mercy, of righteousness and hope.

How about in our churches? Do you think that people are always welcome at our church home? Do we speak to those people who are visiting our church that we do not know? If someone comes to our church and they are dressed different from the way we are dressed, do we make sure that they are made to feel welcome?

Jesus said, “He who receives you receives me.” If we turn that around, we will understand that if we do not welcome others into our homes and into our churches, it is the same as if we are refusing to welcome Jesus. We wouldn’t do that, would we?

Well, let’s put the welcome mat out — and let’s be sure that we mean it!

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1299)
  2. The New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew and Mark. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Augsberger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Ins.; 1982; p.18)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. “Did Jesus Claim to Be God?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Billy Graham, “Do Missionaries Do Any Good?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  8. Dr. Harold Sala, “How Rich Are You?” Retrieved from www.guidelines.org
  9. Leslie Snyder, “Uncommon Courtesy.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
  10. Brian P. Stoffregen, “Exegetical Notes: Matthew 10:40-42.” Retrieved from www.crossmark.com
  11. Elisabeth Johnson, “Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  12. Stanley Saunders, “Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  13. David Lose, “No Small Gestures.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  14. The Rev. Dr. Dan Leon, “A Crucial Cup of Cold Water.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  15. “Welcome.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com

Acts 4:32-37 Loving and Helping Our Fellow Man

How do we see our possessions and our fellow man? Are we selfish, or do we share? Do we love others as Christ loves us? These are important questions that Luke makes us think about in Acts 4:32-37.

The Jerusalem believers had a very mature view of material possessions; what they possessed was not their own-it all belonged to God. They showed unity and love in their prayers and their property. This started with Jesus’ resurrection, and it impressed many people. They are a good example for us to follow. If we want to bring others to Christ, the best way to do this is to show them kindness and minister to their needs. Kindness to them softens their hearts and makes them receptive to our message. 

Christ blesses each of us for each other in fellowship. These blessings are to be shared. There was an immediate manifestation of God’s presence through the early believers that would establish them as a powerful witnesses for Christ. God’s grace was evident.

The people of the Jerusalem church lived with open hands. From their open hands, others could take what they needed, and into their open hands, God could put more resources to share. A closed hand misses two blessings in life: it can neither enjoy the blessing of giving to others nor receive blessings from a loving God.

The new believers were willing to share what they didn’t need to meet the needs of the poor. Christianity made them feel like they were members of one family. The early believers were of one heart, soul, blessing and all rooted in one great conviction. They had their minds, emotions and wills open to each other, and they were one with each other and with the resurrected Christ. They belonged to the same Redeemer, and they cheerfully parted with their property. Their ministry was a work of self-denial. This is a good example for us. No one should enter into ministry if they are not prepared to devote everything they have to serving God.

Christians are to be mutually dependent on each other. We are called to be Christ’s people, called to be in communion with Him and with each other, and together as the church to be the divine agent of God’s ministry today. This kind of caring for the needs of one another was rooted in the life they had experienced along the road with Jesus, who proclaimed, taught, fed and healed. The church has continued to roll up its sleeves to feed, to heal, to bring hope and to restore everyone who is in need. The church shows that the risen Saviour cares about us and our physical and mental well-being.

The true nature of the life of the body of Christ is the fellowship of its members. We are called to share with each other, helping each other to learn from their difficulties and to rejoice fully in the delights of life. We are called to be liberators and maximizers for each other.

We are called to serve God with what He has given us. It doesn’t matter if He has blessed us with wealth, a great family or good health. God wants us to be obedient and faithful with what we have. These gifts must be combined with God’s grace. Without His grace, we will be taken out of our own thoughts and behaviours as human beings.

There is no “right” time when people need help the most. There are always competing priorities and conflicting claims on our time. To be a source of help and hope, we must be willing to do what is necessary.

This would not be possible without the assurance of loyalty. All of us need people who are loyal to us and to whom we are loyal because of Christ’s loyalty to us. He is for us. He will not leave us or forsake us when we succeed or fail. When He lives in out hearts and souls, HE enables His own loyalty within us-first to Him and then to other people. We will open up our inner hearts and share only when we have an assurance of loyalty which keeps confidences and supports us when people criticize us.

The Book of Acts shows a community bound together by care and concern for one another that goes beyond self-interest. People with big egos won’t be at home in this community. God’s justice has come to the world. God’s justice means that every person has what they need for their dignity and worth. What if the wealth of the church was mobilized in today’s society just as it was in the Book of Acts? Few would be hungry or could say they had not heard the Gospel or they did not have the basic needs of life. True godly love will meet needs.

We are called to be leaders who serve people by coming alongside them to help them according to their needs. Sometimes our encouragement is tangible and practical, other times it comes through words and presence. Everyone everywhere needs encouragement.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1493)
  2. Barnes’ Notes on the New testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 105-111)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Vikki Burke, “The Spirit of Generosity.” Retrieved from dbm@dennisburkeministries.org
  6. Dr. Jack Graham, “How to Survive Success.” Retrieved from jgraham@powerpoint.org
  7. “A Great Power.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Ladd Bjorneby, “Acts 4:32-35.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  9. Dr. Paul Chappell, “The Cost of Comfortable.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org

Romans 2:12-24 Knowledge of the Truth Leads to Righteousness

Have you ever met people who thought they were better than others? Well, we as Christians know that is a bad attitude to have. No one is better than anyone else. We are all the same before God. He judges Jews and Gentiles alike-impartially and righteously-on the basis of their levels of understanding of his law. That is what Paul is saying in Romans 2:12-24.

The Jews had the truth of God’s law. The problem was what they did or did not do with it. Just because we know God’s will does not mean we have made a decision or chosen a specific path. For example, the Jews had a treasure trove of truth because they were God’s chosen people, but they were blind to God’s promises, especially the ones that were being fulfilled before their eyes. Their blindness hindered their ability to be spiritual guide to the nations.

The Jews had a “holier than thou” attitude because they were God’s chosen people. It’s no wonder that they were hated by the Gentiles, and it’s no wonder that the Gentiles hated the God of the Jews. It’s also not surprising that the apostle Paul had a scathing denunciation of the Gentiles. The Jews failed to “practice what they preached.” They did not practice the law they proclaimed, so they faced God’s judgment. God exiled the Jews, which only added to the hatred the Gentiles had.

The Jews didn’t realize that they needed to become like children so they could learn what they needed to learn in order to teach people who were spiritually immature. The law was true, but it was only a symbolic image of knowledge. It had little or no substance, so it could not be obeyed perfectly.

The Jews’ profession of the law was not consistent with their practices. This caused some of the Gentiles to hate God and his word. The same view is held by many people today. They see Christians, especially ministers, who talk of living a good Christian life but who do not actually live good Christian lives. We have examples of preachers who talk of how Christians are to live humble lives of service but at the same time live lavish lifestyles that are often financed by donations to their ministries. It is no wonder that some non-believers have negative attitudes toward Christianity. We as Christians have to practice what we preach in order to win lost souls for Christ.

This is one of the clear expectations God has for us. All of these expectations can be summed up in two words-our conscience. It’s only as good as the knowledge that programs its voice. In the case of a Christian, that knowledge comes from God’s Word as written in the Bible. God has programmed his moral code into the heart of every man and woman. We are born with it. When our actions or thoughts violate that code, the conscience responds by sending a “no” message to the brain. On the other hand, when the act or thought goes along with the preprogrammed moral code, the conscience says, “go.”

In the same way that some people of privilege abuse it, there are also people who rise above their lack of privilege. Paul speaks of Gentiles who were never given the privilege of knowing God’s law but who were so sensitive to what they knew of God that their consciences were keen, alert and in touch with reality.

A righteous person is a person who is in right standing with God. A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour. A righteous person seeks to obey God and yield to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness means a person wants what is right according to the word of God. He or she wants to see God’s truth and God’s will established on the earth.

One of the greatest dangers facing Christians is the temptation to teach God’s word without applying it to their own lives. This happens for different reasons. Some Christians teach simply for the gaining of more and more knowledge. Teaching God’s word to others without personally seeking to please Him may allow us to appear as spiritual towards others, but in reality our hearts will become hardened in disobedience. In addition, this kind of teaching can only result in mere human understanding because God’s word remains powerless in our lives.

God’s word is alive in the Bible. If we allow it, it will speak personally to us and transform our hearts, minds and lives. As his words penetrate our souls, we will truly become available to God. We will be Kingdom builders…and all because we allowed God’s word to work in us.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  2. Dr. Harold Sala, “Interpreting Genesis.” Retrieved from www.guidelines.org
  3. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Effective Prayers.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  4. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  5. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2005)