Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

18 January 2019

Matthew 28

Without this short 20 verse end to it, the Gospel would peter out. What happens here is earth-shaking.

Like Luke and Mark, Matthew highlights the crucial role played by the women, first to know the good news and then to tell the men. Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ that he names were there when Joseph laid Jesus’ body to rest (27:61), and there again on Easter morning. So no mistake about which sepulchre. These facts with eyewitnesses count. Faith without supporting evidence opens a door of credulity to fake news.

The Trump-associated concept of ‘fake news’ is exactly what Matt 28 exposes: ‘this [fake news] story has been spread among the Jews to this day’ (verse 15). ‘Follow the money’ is a guideline for the state capture inquiry and for Matt 27–28. Money! First, the thirty pieces of silver for Judas, and now the hush money: ‘when they (the chief priests) had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers (i.e. the temple police)… so they took the money and did as they were directed.’  (verse 12ff)

Earthquake, angels and an empty tomb were enough to shake up the heavy-hearted women who ‘ran away quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy’. (verse 8)

But that’s just the prelude:

Then Jesus met them and greeted them.

And they ran to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him.

Are male theologians who write the learned volumes—read by fellow intellectuals—the pillars of the church? These verses upset that perspective and challenge our relationship with Jesus.

Here we see that awe, joy, love and adoration are the qualities of encounter with the risen Lord.

We need these responses to respond actively to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations…’. To be sure there is a role for teaching too (verse 20)—and Matthew has done that especially well in giving us his Gospel. This ‘Matthew, the tax collector’ (9:9; 10:3)—on the payroll of Herod Antipas, and whose life had revolved around money—has also met Jesus face-to-face, and been transformed.

This Matthew, back in Galilee, heard and believed it when Jesus said: ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go…’ (verse 18f).

And our response?

 

17 January 2019

Matthew 27

Thirty three years back, the rising star of Jesus, ‘king of the Jews’ attracted the astrologers to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:2), but had Herod running scared. Now darkness descends over ‘Jesus, the Galilean’ from Nazareth (26:69, 71) who the soldiers, in mockery, have crowned with thorns.

Crowned? What sort of king is this?

The morning light of day starts off badly for Jesus. He is taken, bound, to Pilate. Much worse is to follow. Darkness enshrouds it, until around 3pm Jesus cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  (verse 46). The chapter ends with Jesus’ body entombed. What sort of Anointed One (Messiah) was this?

From cradle to grave, Matthew highlights the issue of Jesus’ kingship. Chapter 27 brings this to a climax—a climax of Jewish rejection and Roman execution. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ asks Pilate. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ mock the soldiers. ‘This is Jesus, the king of the Jews’ reads the placard above His head. ‘He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’  the leading priests, the scribes and the elders shout out for all to hear.

Jesus dies a brutal death, His claims and mission an evident public failure.

Watching this final scene at a distance were those who loved him and didn’t run away. The women from Galilee. Matthew mentions three of them—Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of James and John. These extraordinary Galilean women are key eyewitnesses, as we discover from reading all four Gospels. We rely on their testimony for the sequence of Jesus’ death, entombment and resurrection. But more than that, they model what it means to follow Jesus when the men go missing and deep sorrow has settled over them all.

However, there is one good man willing to take a risk—‘a respected member of the council’, ‘Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus’, just executed for sedition along with two others.

We can never experience the emotional impact on those women, including His mother Mary, of seeing Jesus dragged away, mocked and done to death.

But from far away in time and distance, in reading this scene, we are gazing on the battered human face of God, our Saviour.

 

16 January 2019

Matthew 26
Psalm 150

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Matthew 26:63b

For us, there can be no ifs or buts or maybes—because there wasn’t for Jesus. He was put on the spot, on trial before the high priest, Caiaphas. Jesus’ reply was a shocker. He claimed that a seat alongside this ‘living God’ was His by right.

As the drama of Jesus’ last hours plays out in this chapter, there is shock after shock. First, Jesus tells His inner circle that He’ll be crucified the day after tomorrow. A woman outrages the males at their sacred Passover meal with her exorbitant act. Jesus discloses that there is an informer in their midst and that they will all desert him in the hours to follow, including their leader Peter, the rock.

But familiarity dulls us to the most shocking element of all.

‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

(verse 27f.)

This is just as shocking, in its own way, as His crucifixion.

How could Jesus’ circle of devout Jewish disciples, on that Passover night, have imagined participating in this—Jesus telling them to symbolically drink ‘blood’ and to eat his flesh! What a shock to their systems, to their Jewish identity, to their national traditions, to their understanding of forgiveness of sins, to their hopes for a messiah. Surely only God is authorised to replace Israel’s covenant at Sinai? Jesus hijacks the customary Passover meal in Jerusalem, turning it into something that is all about Him. This is a radically new way into a relationship with God.  There is now nothing exclusively Jewish about it.

Miles away, just off Tokai Main Rd, and 1 986 years later at the bottom of Africa, we commemorate Jesus life-giving death this way.

What does Jesus also draw attention to that night?

To the woman who pours exotic perfume on His head in her extravagant display of love for Him, Jesus says this provides an anointing for His burial. ‘For she has done a beautiful thing to me…to prepare me for burial’ (verse 10f.) And, sure enough, this morning in the blog, we are still thinking about this woman’s bold act, as Jesus foretold.

How do we express our love for the Lord?

 

15 January 2019

Matthew 25
Psalm 149

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Matthew 25:34-35

If you’re a goat, this is not good news. If you’re a sheep, it’s a disconcerting challenge!

Jesus, the master story teller, has us picturing five foolish maidens knocking on a closed door. When they needed to be oil right, they got it oil wrong, and so missed their opportunity to join in the celebration. It’s a frightening story about being ready.

“Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.” We sang that cheerfully back in the ’60s. Jesus is serious. The issue is serious!

Then there’s the cash-in-hand story. Even more frightening. The one-talent, bright spark has a plan. He buries his cash and digs it up to hand it back. ‘You wicked and slothful servant!’ Hearing that performance evaluation wasn’t part of his business plan. And there’s worse for him to follow.

‘You’ve been faithful over a little. Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ That’s what we need to hear.

Now we in the TCC community of faith are not in positions of great power and authority. We’re known at work, to our families, and to a few friends. Given 200 years, who will remember us? We won’t make it into the history books. So ‘the kingdom prepared’ is a far better investment for the here and now, and for the ever after.

But… ‘believe and receive’ is not the whole story. Not the way that Jesus tells it. If we want to be wearing a thick woolly fleece and not be reckoned to be a threadbare goat on judgment day, then we need open hearts in our treatment of others—the hungry, the thirsty, those lacking clothes, strangers, imprisoned believers (verse 35ff.). The sheep are shocked. ‘When did we do this?’ they ask. ‘As you did this for one of the least of my family, you did it for me,’ Jesus explains (verse 40).

This makes us uncomfortable. In the villages, Jesus had mixed with the poor, the marginalised, the diseased, the not-wanteds, the Samaritans, and many of these had become His disciples. He started a new family of belonging to Him. He invites all and makes welcome.

Listen up, well pastured TCC sheep!

We need to follow Jesus.

14 January 2019

Matthew 24
Psalm 148

Jesus left the temple and was walking away…

Matthew 24:1a

The use of two verbs for emphasis gives this an intentionally ominous ring.

The disciples who are village boys from the north are hugely impressed by the magnificent Temple and its surrounds. Jesus saw it differently (verse 2). The massive stone blocks of the platform dwarf the tourists and those praying at the ‘Wailing Wall’. The Temple itself is long gone, never rebuilt.

Jesus walks on to become the exalted Son of man whose return will be heralded by the sounding of the last trumpet (verse 31). Jesus faces His final confrontation with the Temple authorities in the assurance of His glorious return to the world ‘with power and great glory’ (verse 30, with Mark 14:60ff).

The disciples asked Jesus for answers to two questions: (a) When will the Temple be destroyed? and (b) What sign will there be of the close of the age and His coming in glory? Jesus answers both questions, but seems more concerned with the interim threats posed by false messiahs, the terrible sufferings of the siege of Jerusalem, and the need for His followers to always be ready to meet Him.

Roman occupation over the next 37 years will explode in Jewish armed rebellion, the siege of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple to the ground—evidence for Jesus as political analyst and authentic prophet. His coming at the end of the age will be with the shock of a lightning strike (verse 27). It will authenticate no futurist think tank for political analysis and no cranky calculation by the lunatic fringe. It will authenticate Jesus as Messiah and Lord worldwide.

Yes, the Temple central to Judaism has gone. The Roman Empire and its gods, likewise. But Jesus is more than a prophet. He is Lord who opens the eyes of the blind, calls Lazarus back to life, leaves His own grave clothes behind in the empty tomb, eats fish with His friends afterwards, and invites Thomas to check out the wounds from His crucifixion. Faith in Jesus is not blind faith or based solely in His prediction about the Temple.

It is a faith in what we can’t see now and an outcome without a date attached. An expectant faith.

‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant…?’ (verse 45).  

That is Jesus’ question to His disciples in turn.

‘Faithful and wise’. ‘Servant’.   

Who, me?

 

11 January 2019

Matthew 23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Matthew 23:23-24

Jesus is scathing in His judgment of false religion. He has no time for it because it has nothing to do with faith in Him. Man-made religion does nor save and neglects what God prizes, namely … justice and mercy and faithfulness.’

Do you want to be pleasing to God? Then Matthew 23 is good medicine for you. A follower of Jesus cannot tolerate sin or falsehood. Compromise with sin gives place in your life to Satan (Ephesians 4:27) and makes the Lord Jesus very angry (verse 15)

Jesus pronounces seven woes on false religion – dire warnings of judgement meant to make me uncomfortable. I prefer to hear about God’s grace than the hard truth about sinful hypocrisy that God detests and the judgement befalling it. Frankly, it’s uncomfortable … mainly because too often it’s applicable!

Why then is Jesus strong warning good medicine for us?

Because God’s word purifies us from sin (John 15:3 and Ephesians 5:26).

Jesus’ words expose our wrong attitudes and He shines his light into any darkness in our hearts. Just like a visit to the dentist is painful but good for you – Jesus’ words expose and fix our rotten cavities. God’s standard is absolute holiness (1 Peter 1:16). This is what Jesus gives us through His cross; then we need to obey our Lord, because faith without works is useless. (James 2:20)

Jesus said ‘You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?’ (Matthew 23:33)

Jesus speaks very strong words of warning … but does so in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that You are not afraid to tell us the hard truth because of Your love. You don’t want us to be deceived and condemned. Thank You for discipline and willingness to forgive us through Christ.

10 January 2019

Matthew 22

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

Matthew 22:23-33

Have you thought much about your next life? The one after death?

Jesus makes it clear in Matthew that there is a resurrection from death that is according to the scriptures (verse 29 & 32) and according to the ‘power of God’ (verse 29). This power of God is the very resurrection power of Jesus Himself. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you’ (Romans 8:11).

This is why Jesus can boldly say, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26)

Do you believe this? Your answer is vital – it affects how you will trust and obey King Jesus. Eternal life is only in Him. He says that we will be ‘like the angels in heaven’ (verse 30). We will be immortal and will worship God forever in His presence.

Does this truth fill you with hope and joy? Life is not just sin, sorrow and futility. Death is not an ending but a beginning of eternal joy in God’s presence. (Psalm 16:10-11)

Prayer: Thank You, Father, that You make a way for us to live forever with You through Your Son, Jesus. Please help us to live for You now in this present life and to obey You.

9 January 2019

Matthew 21
Psalm 147

Matthew 21. Isn’t it wonderful how Matthew proclaims Jesus as the Saviour-King who fulfils all the Old Testament prophecies and promises of God concerning the Coming Messiah (King)?

‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”‘ (verse 5 from Isaiah 62:11)

Jesus is our great and humble King! Have you been expecting Him?

‘“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”’ (verse 9 from Psalm 118:25-26)

The Saviour King has come! Jesus is the promised descendent of king David whose kingdom will never end (2 Samuel 7:13-14). The One who comes ‘…in the name of the Lord’, is sent by God to deliver us from Satan’s rule. Put all your hope in Jesus.

Matthew wants us to be sure about Jesus and to put our faith in Him. It’s a great encouragement to our faith that Jesus fulfils the prophecies of scripture made by the Holy Spirit through the prophets. “If a person were to take just eight of the specific Old Testament prophecies about Jesus being fulfilled in any one person the odds would be 1 in 1017. That is a staggering number” [Peter Stoner, Pasadena College]. And Jesus actually fulfils a lot more than 8 prophecies!

‘Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes?’” (verse 42)

For Jesus to be ‘rejected’ and crucified was always God’s plan, and now He is the ‘cornerstone’ of our salvation. Isn’t Jesus absolutely ‘marvellous’!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help me to believe what the scriptures say about Jesus and to put my faith in Him. You are truly in control of the destiny of the world and our salvation.

8 January 2019

Matthew 20
Psalm 146

Psalm 146. Do you consider God worthy of praise and thanks? From the depths of your soul? Do you see His nature and works clearly enough in your life to want to honour Him for His mercy to you? Is God worthy of trust in your understanding? Really? Does His invisible presence, power and help register in your life?

This is the encouragement of Psalm 146. To trust God … completely!

‘Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God’ (verse 5). We are to have an expectation of help from God. That is the very definition of faith (Hebrews 11:6). Believing that the invisible God will help and do something in me or my circumstances.

‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save’ (verse 3). Clearly, we’re not meant to idolise people and expect them to fulfil what only God can.

God is the ‘… Maker of heaven and earth … He remains faithful forever’ (verse 6). God is awesome and consistently rules over His world and us.

‘[God] upholds the cause of the oppressed … the hungry … the prisoners … the blind … those who are bowed down … the foreigner … the fatherless … the widow’ (verse 7-9). God will actively care for the ‘oppressed’ and help those who call on Him.

God also ‘frustrates the ways of the wicked’ (verse 9). God is King.‘The Lord reigns forever … Praise the Lord’ (verse 10).

God has the power and willingness to save His people. Praise the LORD’ (verse 10).

Prayer: LORD, I praise you because You reign forever. Please God, help us to trust You for your active help and salvation in all our troubles. Thank you that Your help and mercy can reach us because Jesus has removed all cause for separation from You.

7 January 2019

Matthew 19
Psalm 145

Matthew 19. What do you love most in the world? Why does this even matter?  

Because what you love and trust can save you or damn you forever.

A certain rich man asks Jesus, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (verse 16) ‘Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”’ (verse 21)

Jesus calls the man to extreme passion: he must trust, love and follow Jesus above all else to be saved [which only makes sense because Jesus is fully God]. Jesus is the saviour king of the kingdom of God (verse 23). This is the equivalent of Jesus telling the billionaire CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg to give away all his money to trust and follow Jesus. We must love God (Jesus) more than money and possessions (verse 21-22) (see also Matthew 6:24).

Despite keeping some of God’s commandments, the rich man still lacks salvation [eternal life – verse 16] because he lacks total devotion to Jesus. He cannot earn his salvation by keeping the commandments – good is not good enough! It’s total devotion, wholehearted allegiance – anything less just won’t suffice! Sadly, the rich man leaves and rejects Jesus because he still loved money more than God, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). That’s why Jesus comments to His disciples, It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (verse 23). Nothing can or must compete with God and His Son for our allegiance.

Of course, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is worth giving up everything for because He sacrificed Himself for us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help us to trust and love Jesus more than anything and to find our happiness in following Him.

4 January 2019

Matthew 18

 “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Matthew 18:1b

Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:5

We have seen glimpses of Jesus in His glory, power and humility, and now we, just like the disciples, are challenged in how we see ourselves in the light of His great grace. “The theme that binds this section together is God’s concern for the spiritually needy”(Bryan Chapell). Jesus warns us that we must change and become child-like (not childish!). That means we need to be humble, trusting, dependent on Him, realising that we are powerless to save ourselves, teachable with an expectant attitude. That is so radically different to the world where one competes for promotions, personal advantage and status.

We are also warned strongly to not lead anyone into sin, but rather to deal with our sin radically and truthfully, to confess and forsake sin. (verses 5-7)

So let us search our hearts, confess our sins and turn to Jesus, our king.

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world, but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” John Newton

Thank you Lord Jesus, our great King and gracious Saviour!

3 January 2019

Matthew 17

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Matthew 17:2

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Matthew 17:5b

To sustain the disciples during the horrible events of His coming suffering, Jesus discloses Himself in all His glory, writes D.A. Carson. This was a revelation to the disciples who Jesus really is, and God himself affirms Jesus as His Son (see Matthew 3:12).

Especially after just hearing about bearing their crosses with its implied suffering – what an encouragement to them, and us, that beyond death is glory.

We should be amazed that this glorious Son willingly humbled Himself to die on a cross and our hearts should filled with gratitude and an eagerness to sit at his feet and listen to him! (Matthew 13:43). The one who is to suffer is God’s chosen Messiah, His Son, whose true nature is revealed in glory. (R.T. France)

Let us worship and praise this glorious King.

Sing the last verse of ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.”

2 January 2019

Matthew 16
Psalm 144

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 16:24 (read also Matthew 10:38-39)

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Matthew 16:26

Jesus continues teaching and preparing the disciples for the suffering ahead of them. His words in verse 24 foreshadow His death and call on His followers to fully identify themselves with Him. Denying oneself is not mild asceticism, but cross-bearing, a painful real possibility of loss of life and hardship of living in a way that is out of step with a self-centred, hostile world. It is not easy to live a selfless, holy life in a world that indulges self and mocks, punishes and persecutes Christians.

What good will come from it?

D.A. Carson writes on verse 26: “All the material possessions and privilege in this world cannot compensate for spending an eternity in hell. Nor can any human offer anything to God to redeem themselves. Eternal life must be received as God’s free gift. But this context reminds people that it may cost them their lives.”

This is a reminder to all of us that this life is temporary and that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and spending eternity with Him, despite our present hardships, suffering or even persecution. May God give us strength to persevere with Christ and to continue standing with Him, until we are safely with Him in heaven. Amen.

1 January 2019

Matthew 15
Psalm 143

What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Matthew 15:11

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:18-19

In the Jewish customs of that time, cleanliness and godliness went hand in hand. But, if external purity matters, how much more does internal purity matter? Bryan Chapell writes that “few things are more spiritually harmful than the outward practice of religion apart from the repentance and faith that characterise the true follower of Christ”. We work hard to keep our outward actions and appearance attractive, but what is in our hearts is more important. Others cannot see into our hearts, but God can.

Jesus challenges the hearers and us about our heart condition. What does our thought life reflect? Rather startling sins are included alongside murder and adultery, like slander and false testimony (verse 19). How often do we say unkind words about someone else? How easily do we share something about someone as a prayer request? How often do we exaggerate and embellish, or understate the truth?

Warren Wiersbe writes, that “we must constantly remind ourselves that true religion comes from the heart. We love from the heart (Matthew 22:37), obey from the heart (Romans 6:17), give from the heart (2 Corinthians 9:7) and pray from the heart (Psalm 51:10,17).”

Let us pray and ask God to guard our hearts from evil thought, and repent of any sins that we have commited, and ask Him to create in us a clean heart.

 

 

31 December 2018

Matthew 14
Psalm 142

This section in Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 14-20) is what Warren Wiersbe calls the “Retirement of the King”. Jesus is preparing His disciples for the testing times ahead in Jerusalem and His approaching suffering and death.  John the Baptist was recently martyred, and some believers will suffer severely and die for bringing the message of Christ.

On his birthday, King Herod promises with an oath to give Herodias’ daughter whatever she wants. She requests the head of John the Baptist on a platter (verse 7-8).  The king was distressed by this request, ‘but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.’ (verse 9-10).

It was a rash promise in the context, with deadly consequences.

Christians should be people of their word (Matthew 5:37). Any promises you make, must be kept. Therefore, unlike Herod, be wise in the kind of promises you make to one another; do not make promises you will later regret.

Action: Avoid casual and irresponsible promises that may bring dishonour to the Lord and harm to His people.

Ask the Lord to make you wise and trustworthy in your use of the tongue (cf. Matthew 5:33-37).

28 December 2018

Matthew 13

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

Matthew 13:31-32

Things are not always as they appear. I suspect I am not alone in saying that I can misinterpret situations. I think I know what is going on, only to discover that I don’t. Matthew 13 is filled with Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…..’. We will focus on the ‘Parable of the Mustard Seed’ that proves the point that appearances can be deceiving. In the context, Jesus has encountered significant opposition from the religious leaders. This raises questions about the validity of His ministry and teaching. How can Jesus be God’s anointed deliverer if even the Jewish leadership oppose Him? And how can Jesus say that the Kingdom of Heaven is near when God’s enemies are not judged (Matthew 4:17)? Jesus’ parables are designed to address some of these realities.

In our parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed planted in a field (verse 31). He points out that although it is the smallest of all seeds – proverbially so – yet when it grows, it is greater than the garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds come and perch in its branches (verse 32). The thrust of this parable is clear: from tiny beginnings, comes spectacular growth. The kingdom of heaven is like this, claims Jesus. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the advance of the kingdom seemed insignificant and unimpressive. Yet, from these humble and inauspicious beginnings, the kingdom would one day reflect remarkable growth. Some commentators suggest that the imagery of birds perching in branches is drawn from the Old Testament prophetic books of Ezekiel and Daniel, and may refer to the incorporation of the Gentile nations into God’s kingdom (cf. Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6; Daniel 4:12, 21). Whatever the case, the kingdom of heaven, like the mustard seed, will mature, providing shelter for many.

You and I live in an age that can testify to the enormous growth of the kingdom of heaven from its humble beginnings. In effect, first appearances were deceiving. It is worth keeping this in mind when we reflect on the struggles of the church throughout history. Even today, the church can appear small and insignificant. Don’t be discouraged! This parable reminds us that God is building a mighty kingdom that will one day be revealed for all to see, a kingdom that includes many, people from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’ (Revelation 7:9; cf. Matthew 28:18-19). Are you part of this Kingdom?

27 December 2018

Matthew 12

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

If you’ve been attending TCC for any length of time, you know that the Gospel rings out from the pulpit Sunday-after-Sunday, the good news that Jesus has set us free from our sin and guilt by His once-for-all sacrificial death on the cross. If you’re a believer, you have put your trust in Him and this gives you a sure hope of heaven. You know that all your sins are forgiven. It can, therefore, be a little disconcerting when you hear about the so-called ‘unforgivable sin’, the topic of our text today (verse 31-32). Some believers become unsettled by this concept. Mindful of their past sins, they become fearful that they may be guilty of it, and their assurance of salvation crumbles. This concept of the ‘unforgivable sin’, therefore, merits a closer look.

In our text, Jesus speaks of ‘blasphemy against the (Holy) Spirit’ that will not be forgiven (verse 31). A word spoken against the Son of Man (= Jesus) will be forgiven, but not a word spoken against the Holy Spirit; it will never be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come (verse 32). This person is guilty of an ‘eternal sin’ (cf. Mark 3:29). What does all this exactly mean?

In the context, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit means to call the work of God the work of Satan. This was the accusation the religious leaders levelled against Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:24). One commentator puts it this way: “Since the power of the Spirit is behind Jesus’ miracles, to attribute those works to Satan is to slander the Spirit, an eternal sin that goes far beyond mere unbelief.” Such persons reject the work of God’s Spirit and, therefore, their guilt remains. But what about speaking against the Son of Man? Why is there forgiveness? Does this mean that the Holy Spirit is more important than Jesus? Commentators reject this conclusion. It is possible to be mistaken about Jesus’ true identity at some point, or even be hostile towards Him, and yet subsequently to embrace Him by faith (cf. Matthew 16:21-22). According to one commentator, “The sin against the Holy Spirit (the unpardonable sin) is not equivalent to rejecting Christ as Saviour. People may refuse to accept Christ for years but later in life embrace Him as Saviour.”

It has been pointed out, with merit, that if you are anxious about having committed the unforgivable sin, you are not guilty of this sin. If you are trusting in Jesus for your salvation, you have not blasphemed against the Holy Spirit!

26 December 2018

Matthew 11
Psalm 141

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus offers rest to the weary and burdened in our text. It is tempting to interpret this promise of rest as relief in the midst of the ‘hustle and bustle’ of modern-day life. However, Jesus is here referring to something far more important, eternal rest (i.e. salvation) for your souls (verse 29). In the context, commentators believe that Jesus is addressing the heavy burden of legalistic religion (= keeping the law) that seeks to earn salvation, but continually fails.

The good news is that Jesus here offers rest to those who are weary from labouring for salvation. Salvation is a gift! Jesus’ offer comprises three commands or steps:

  1. Come to me
  2. Take my yoke upon you
  3. Learn from me

Notice that these steps begin and end with Jesus. He alone is the key to this rest. You must come to Him (step 1). You do so by faith, looking to Him alone for your salvation. He promises to give rest to your soul, whoever you are and whatever your circumstances. You will no longer feel the need to toil for your salvation. However, that is just the first step. You must also take Jesus’ yoke upon you, and you must learn from Him (steps 2-3). Commentators interpret this to mean acceptance and submission to Jesus’ teaching. The motivation? ‘I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (verse 29-30). In contrast to the religious leaders of his day, the obedience and service to which Jesus calls you is not burdensome. It is the fruit, not the foundation, of your salvation; it is motivated by gratitude to God, not gaining favour with Him. As you take His yoke upon you and learn from Him, Jesus helps you. The load Jesus gives you is easy to carry because He, unlike the religious leaders, shares the burden (cf. Matthew 23:4). It is Jesus’ strength that makes the yoke easy and the burden light!

Jesus does not offer you an easy life when you come to Him, but rather the gift of eternal life. He will remove your burden of sin and guilt and give you the peace of a right relationship with God. Your soul will experience rest … forever! However, that promise is only for those who obey steps 1-3. In the words of the old chorus, ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey!’

25 December 2018

Matthew 10
Psalm 140

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Many South Africans live with fear as a companion – fears regarding their physical safety, health or financial well-being, etc. Fear, in and of itself, is not a bad thing; it is a natural response to danger that encourages you to seek safety when necessary. But sometimes fear can be debilitating, and sometimes is can be misplaced. We see this truth taught in our text.

In Matthew 10, Jesus calls and commissions His disciples for Gospel witness: ‘As you go, proclaim this message: “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near”‘ (verse 7). In the midst of a long list of practical instructions that follow, Jesus tells His disciples: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (verse 28). There are those (plural) that kill the body but have no power to kill the soul. Do not fear them, says Jesus. Jesus here raises the possibility of martyrdom in the cause of Gospel witness (cf. verse 21). Do not seek it, but do not fear it. The ability of people to harm you is limited to this life. But there is One (i.e. God ) you should fear because He alone has the power to destroy both body and soul (i.e. the whole person) in hell. The destruction in view here is eternal suffering, not annihilation. Clearly for Jesus, the ultimate disaster is not physical death, but spiritual death, according to one commentator (cf. Revelation 20:14).

Fear God, not men, and for good reason, says Jesus. God’s power to destroy you extends beyond this life and beyond the physical. But, truth be told, we tend to do the exact opposite. We fear people rather than God, and we value the body above the soul and this life above the eternal. According to Jesus, our fears and values are misplaced. But Jesus here mercifully provides His disciples with a biblical perspective on the matter which is divine (fear God), eternal (destruction in hell), and balanced (both body and soul matter). Keep this perspective in mind when tempted to fear others. To fear God means to make Him BIG in your own thinking and living, and when GOD is big, all others become small and less fearful. As one commentator states it, ‘Fear of Him overcomes fear of them.’

24 December 2018

Matthew 9
Psalm 139

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Matthew 9:1-8

What do you consider your greatest need right now? Your answer will probably depend on your circumstances. It may be health or employment related, or perhaps it is relational. If you’re a believer, you may be waiting on the Lord in prayer to intervene and bring relief. But as you wait, you may feel discouragement. Our reading today will challenge your perspective. In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus heals a paralytic, meeting an obvious physical need, but not before He has pronounced the man’s sins forgiven (verse 2). Why this sequence? Let’s take a closer look.

Some men bring a paralysed man to Jesus. They believe Jesus can heal him (verse 2). This is no surprise, after all Jesus has already healed many (cf. Matthew 8:16). What is a surprise, however, is Jesus’ response, given the man’s physical need: When Jesus sees their faith, He says to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven’ (verse 2). Jesus’ pronouncement indicates a link between sin and sickness, but prioritises the sin problem (Psalm 41:3-4; 103:2-3; cf. Matthew 8:17).

The teachers of the law accuse Jesus of blasphemy because God alone can forgive sin (cf. Mark 2:7; Isaiah 43:25). Forgiveness is God’s prerogative because all sin is ultimately against Him (cf. Psalm 51:4). The teachers of the law, therefore, believe Jesus lacks authority to forgive sins. Jesus describes their thoughts as ‘evil’ (verse 4). Jesus then asks them a rhetorical question: ‘Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? Surely the former, because it cannot be verified. Jesus then heals the man to prove that he, the Son of Man, has the authority on earth to forgive sins’ (verse 5-6). The crowd who witness this healing are filled with awe and praise God (9:8).

We learn a number of important lessons from this miracle story:

  1. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins
  2. Forgiveness of sins is by faith
  3. Forgiveness of sins is your greatest need

If you have experienced Christ’s forgiveness, ‘take heart’ or ‘be encouraged’ (NLT), says Jesus (verse 2). This forgiveness is far more important than relief from any physical or material need, no matter how great. Indeed, your greatest need is hidden from view; it is sin, says Jesus, and I have met that need at the cross, once-for-all! Take heart; your sins are forgiven!

21 December 2018

Matthew 8

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

Matthew 8:26

Following the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues with His ministry healing many people, including a man who had leprosy, a soldier’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law and two demon-possessed men. All these miracles were signs of God’s power, affirming His messianic identity and gave glory to God. Any ordinary man would not have been able to do such things. Yet, the ancient world was not without its healers (real or otherwise) and some would claim that Jesus was just another one.

Sandwiched in between these miracles though was an extraordinary event that could only be attributed to One with remarkable credentials. His disciples were so amazed that they asked the question “Who is this man?” Indeed, the corresponding telling of the story in Luke 8: 25 says they were also ‘terrified’.

Who on earth could ever tell the winds and waves to calm down in the midst of a fierce storm? Jesus apparently could and did just that. The authority that He exercised in teaching the crowds was demonstrated here in an entirely different capacity. Here was someone who had command over the very powerful forces of nature. No wonder the disciples were afraid and asked who He was. It is a question that we too need to ask.

But the disciples did believe that Jesus was the Messiah even if they didn’t fully understand at this time what that actually meant. They had faith in Him and they followed Him. They had faith in Him to save them from drowning because they called on Him in the midst of the storm. Yet Jesus challenges them on this very issue. ‘You have so little faith’ (verse 26). It was an indictment He used repeatedly. See Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20. Jesus’s expectation appears to be that His followers should have far more faith in Him. They were, therefore, not using what was theirs sufficiently. Faith apparently has to be exercised after we come to know Jesus as Saviour so that it grows. Grant that we too would not be labeled as followers of Jesus with ‘so little faith’.

Prayer: Help us, Lord Jesus, to have faith in You as our Saviour and to have faith in You day by day as we live our lives in the knowledge of who You are and what You have done for us.

 

 

20 December 2018

Matthew 7

In the final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches His disciples to treat others as they would like to be treated and not to judge others—a sentiment many secularists might agree with. They would not affirm what follows though, where He speaks about effective prayer, and that the gateway to God’s kingdom is very narrow and difficult with only a few ever finding it. Jesus also teaches, how true disciples will be recognised by their actions and only they will be welcomed into Heaven.

Many books have been written on the Sermon on the Mount. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones took sixty Sundays to preach his way through it! It is, therefore, somewhat challenging to write just a few hundred words on a section or sections of each chapter. Perhaps though, rather than focusing on a few individual teachings, it might be equally helpful to look at the wider picture and the final section of Jesus’s teaching, where a metaphorical umbrella is placed over all that He has said.

‘Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock’. (verse 25, NLT)

Jesus taught many different things in this sermon, and He concludes with an affirmation of those who practice what He preaches. They are wise. This clearly implies that what He has been teaching is also wise. Although a thesaurus might explain wise as intelligent or astute, the Bible has a very different understanding on what wisdom is and it does not relate to a high IQ.

Psalm:111:10 helpfully frames what being wise or having wisdom is; ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise’. (NIV)

Prayer: Lord, enable us to listen to and follow Your teaching so that we may be wise in Your sight.

 

19 December 2018

Matthew 6
Psalm 138

In Matthew 6, Jesus continues to teach His disciples about how they are to conduct themselves in areas of life that call for sacrifice—good deeds for others, giving money to those in need, fasting alongside prayer.  This is taught in contrast to practices that were obviously common and self-seeking so that lots of people would know how ‘great’ they were. But we all like a bit of recognition and a pat on the back when we do something for others or when it is sacrificial— don’t we?

Why do we do these things in the first place? Whose attention are we really trying to get? It all comes back to that heart attitude again. Jesus reminds us that the only One who counts as far as seeing what we do in relation to good deeds is our Heavenly Father. Our instant gratification and influential society would want us to see this differently (it’s all about now!). Jesus, however, reminds us that it is our Father who rewards us and He assures us that we will be satisfied when our motivation for doing good deeds is found in our faith in Him. Can there be a greater reward?

Jesus’ teaching about money in verse 24 is equally non-compromising and cuts straight to the heart of the matter. How much do we value our money and how much do we truly value God? We might not normally think of money as a ‘master’ or ‘boss’—but how much time and energy do we give to thinking about it, acquiring more and more and more, and then acquiring more and more stuff? Then comes the justification of why we acquire things. There is always a reason and a good one to boot!

Of course, the issue is not about how much money we have or earn but where our heart is. Do we love the Lord and seek Him in deciding what we do with our money—however much or little we have— recognising that all that we have comes from our Heavenly Father in the first place? We either do that or face the alternative that money is actually our boss—a rather sobering alternative indeed.

Prayer: Help us Lord to be motivated by our faith in You in all that we do, and to store up treasures in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.

 

18 December 2018

Matthew 5
Psalm 137

Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount has been described as the greatest sermon ever preached. Amongst other things it cuts quickly through to our heart attitude to God and not just our behaviour, which may look correct and tick all the legal boxes. Jesus knew the frailty (pride/arrogance/deceitfulness) of the human heart and taught His disciples to live in a way that moved radically away from the Jewish culture of the day. The same radicalness away from contemporary culture is still called for today for those who name themselves Christians.

On the surface much of Jesus’s teaching appears implausible. ‘Be very glad when you are mocked, insulted, lied about and persecuted because you are my followers.’ (verse 12) ‘Do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.’ (verse 39) ‘Love your enemies.’ (verse 44) These instructions go against our very being, our self worth and all that our surrounding cultures assert. Is not ‘Stand up for yourself’ the pervading cry?   

But that is to miss the whole point, isn’t it? The sermon opens with ‘God blesses those who are poor (in spirit) and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.’ When we understand, by God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, that we need Jesus to forgive our sins and to secure our place in heaven, we are given insight into a whole new world.  We recognise our complete dependence on Jesus for forgiveness, but we also come to realise that if we are to live in the way that He teaches here, we need to be completely dependent on Him.  We simply cannot do it ourselves. Left to ourselves we will not want to live this way, no matter how much we say we love Jesus. So how can we follow Jesus’s teaching?

John 15:4—5 clarifies it beautifully. ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing’. (NLT)

Prayer: Lord, help us to remain in You so that we can follow Your teaching, and be Your light in this fallen world.