Missing Jesus: Cleopas

A few Sunday’s ago after church, our family went to a restaurant that we enjoy. All weekend I was salivating as I thought about having a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie at this restaurant. After church I hurried my kiddos—a little too quickly out the door. As we drove, I got giddier and giddier. When I could see the restaurant, I could almost taste that pie in my mouth. We pulled into the parking lot, but I got a sinking feeling when I noticed there were no cars. I shuffled my feet to the door and read a handwritten sign that said, “Sorry. Due for unforeseen circumstances the restaurant will be closed today.” Argh! Stupid expectations!

My story may seem trivial. I started with something small because starting big may be overwhelming for some. I could tell you of my expectations and the disappointments that made me wonder whether I am cut out for the ministry or mission field. I could tell you of some unmet expectations I’ve had for my marriage that made me wonder if we’d make it another year or another day. Some of you have had great expectations for a relationship, a spouse, a child, a job interview, a career, a vacation, a retirement, a 401k, a dream house or a situation to turn around only to have it unmet. Have you ever had an unmet expectation?

When we dive into the Gospels we get to see and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus, ourselves, and others in the story or we can miss Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? We have looked at Judas and Caiaphas. Today we will look at Cleopas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Cleopas in all of us. Like Cleopas we feel the tension of expecting one thing from Jesus and experiencing another thing. When our expectations are unmet doubts creep in, discouragement, disappointments, disillusionment and frustrations can occur. Expectation is the mother of all frustration—the root of all heartache (Shakespeare).

How many times has life, even God disappointed you? It’s tough when you have unmet expectations in connection to a spouse, a child or a friend, but it’s really tough when it’s God. We don’t like to think about God disappointing us. Maybe you thought God was going to do things one way, but he had different plans. God can act or behave in ways that you might not expect. What happens when the character of God doesn’t come through the way you thought? What happens when God’s provision is later than you thought? What happens when you trust God, yet it seems like God fails you or abandons you? What happens to your view of God when life gets chaotic and God seems silent?

Today we are going to take a walk on the Emmaus Road. A road that began with unmet expectations, but led to a marvelous meeting with Jesus. We will step into the shoes of two men who had an expectation of Jesus, but that expectation wasn’t met like they had thought,

“That very day (the day Jesus resurrected) two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:13-14) Italics include my thoughts.

emmaus mapLet’s do a short Bible Study and ask who, what, where and why of the text. Who were these men? We will learn one has a name and the other remains nameless. We aren’t sure if they’re related, worked together or were neighbors. Let’s just call them friends. Where were they going? They’re walking to a village named Emmaus. Archeologists don’t know the exact location of the town or the road. Likely, it was west of Jerusalem—in the opposite direction from where the two men were headed. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? The Passover was over. The big feast in the big city had finished and the roads around Jerusalem would have a steady flow of people leaving to go to their homes and villages.

What are they talking about? News! The text tells us what they talked about,

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. (Yes, Jesus teleported!) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Seriously, where you been? Haven’t you check you FB or CNN feed?) And he said to them, “What things?” (like he didn’t know?) And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” (Luke 24:15-20)

The two friends (now plus one) unpacked the events of the past few days. This years Passover was unlike any other that they’d ever been to. It looked like it was going to be the best party ever, but it ended up being a dud. It looked like the stars had aligned and the Prophet’s words were being unveiled before their very eyes, but the hopeful Messiah goes and dies. This didn’t make sense to them. Many like these men sold everything they had to follow Jesus (some for 3-years). It’s as if they bought into a pyramid scheme and thought they got scammed. They saw Jesus die with their own eyes. They saw his body removed from the cross and carried to the tomb. The chaos of the weekend caused them to question God. Their hopes and expectations were drowned in sadness. They were deeply disappointed, if not devastated.

Have you been in their shoes? Have you felt what they felt? Have you thought that Jesus was one person—you placed your faith in him, you had great expectations of him—but something shattered who you thought he was, how he was to act and behave, what he was to do for you? Surely, you have. Let’s be honest. Following Jesus isn’t glamorous. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t make all your problems or pain go away. Following Jesus takes you down a dusty and rocky road—a risky and dangerous road. A road not well traveled. A lonely road. A road filled with temptation and persecution. A road of suffering and sacrifice.

You lose hope when thing don’t happen as you’d expect. When Jesus doesn’t meet your expectations you can easily become sad, angry, despaired, depressed, and hopeless. You can lose hope in the character of Christ when the journey of following Jesus gets a little chaotic. Isn’t it during times of chaos or difficulty that we tend to question God’s character? When everything is going good there isn’t need to question God. We got it good. Our relationship is good. Our trust is good. Our hope is good. Yet when my marriage is sour or my kids are playing the prodigal or I lose my job or I find out from the doctor bad news, it is then that I question the goodness of God. I question his plans. I question his character (e.g. wisdom, sovereignty, omnipresence, etc.).

Does God work through your frustrations? Doubts? Disappointments? Unmet expectations? You bet! It is often in those chaotic times that you see God work best. Is God there with you, even in the chaos? Certainly! Chaos can cloud your vision. You can miss seeing him walk beside you—with you. You may not recognize God as he does his work. Sometimes you may be kept from recognizing him or what he’s doing (Ex: Job, Abraham, Cleopas, etc.).

Let’s give these two men on the Emmaus Road a little grace. 48-hours earlier Jesus was unrecognizable. He was beaten, bruised and bloody. His beard was plucked. He was naked and scarred. Some of their last images of Jesus were traumatic and grotesque. To think that Jesus survived the ordeal, cleaned himself up and ran to catch up with these men walking to Emmaus just to have a conversation with them would have seemed absurd and unthinkable. Yet Jesus in his resurrected body had a little fun. It’s something you can look forward to when you get yours. He could teleport and walk through walls. That’s so cool!

Seriously, we learn six amazing truths about the character of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. First, Jesus pursues people. He pursued the two men. He initiates provoking question not because he did not know the answers, but that he wanted show how he pursues people.

Like Cleopas and his friend, we can be tempted to grumble and argue about the unmet expectations we experience. To this Jesus asked, “What things?” Jesus knows all those things. He wants you to know he knows those things. He understands those things. In fact, Jesus encountered those things first hand. He experienced those things. What things are you facing (or feeling) that Jesus has too? Likely all those things.

Jesus knows what you feel. He knows pain. He knows hurt. He knows anger. He knows sorrow. He knows despair. He knows because he’s been there. What if you took your complaints to God instead of just your friends? Can God handle it? Jesus could handle these two men and their honesty. He can handle yours too. He isn’t put off by it, in fact, Jesus invited the men to speak and share their sadness. Some of you need to know that today!

The men explained,

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (the one Moses, David and Isaiah talked about). Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:21-24)

They heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but sadly they didn’t see him themselves.

Jesus is in control, even if life feels chaotic. Remember when Jesus taught, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” or “Come to Me heavy laden, I will give you rest.” Listen to Jesus’ response on the road,

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones (stupid, sightless, shallow—What? That was a little harsh stranger! We bear our hearts to you and you call us foolish? Who are you to say that?), and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (You don’t see the whole story!) Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus models suffering comes before glory. This was important to the story and theology of the Messiah. Cleopas and his friend missed the detail that suffering always precedes glory. It gets harder before it gets better.

During a dark night of the soul hang on! Joy will come in the morning. If you suffer it will pass. Sadness will pass. Despair will pass. Disappointment will pass. Doubt will pass. Frustration will pass. Glory will come. I promise. Jesus promises!

Jesus teaches still. This is the greatest unrecorded sermon in the Bible. What I’d give to get my hands on that Podcast! Jesus unpacked centuries of prophecies from the beginning to the present. He gave these men a tour behind the scenes of the Story of stories. He gave the director’s cut commentary with bonus features. That must have been the best Sunday School lesson ever! The truth is you have this lesson. It’s in the Bible. You can hold it. You can hear it. You can read it. You can know it. You can be taught it by the Spirit of Jesus!

Do you realize that even after this Bible Study of Bible studies that Cleopas and his friend still didn’t recognize Jesus? Yes, it can happen. You can read the Bible from cover to cover, have the explained by the best teacher, preacher or commentator and still miss Jesus!

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Reminiscing the Upper Room). And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Yes, Jesus just teleported again!) They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven [disciples] and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)

Cleopas and his friend boogied back towards Jerusalem (7 miles)—in the right direction. They told Jesus’ disciples what had happened to them. Not many would walk that journey at night. It was too dangerous. But they had breaking news! Jesus was alive—he appeared to them! They didn’t have to prove it as Jesus would appear among them again (24:36). Cleopas and his friend were eyewitnesses to the powerful testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. They became founding members of the fellowship of burning hearts.

You gain hope when you see Jesus has been with you all along. You may be so caught up in your disappointment or unmet expectations that you fail to recognize God is with you. Like Cleopas and his friend does your heart burn within you. Jesus knows if it’s ice or fire. Jesus sets the Fahrenheit of your heart, even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. May he give you eyes to see his goodness, his grace, his love, his presence, his tender hand leading you along the road. May he ignite a fire in your heart. You too got a story to tell!

The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most powerful events in history to hinge your faith upon (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). When you are tempted to doubt, despair, or drown in unmet expectations, come back to the cross and empty tomb. What will you do with Easter now that Easter Sunday is over? What will you do with Jesus? What will you allow Jesus to do within you as he walks alongside you? Will you see how God redeems chaos as a part of his story? See how he is with you through it?

Missing Jesus: Caiaphas

There is a story of an 11th Century king of England with Viking roots named Cnut. His advisors would often say, “King, you are the greatest man that has ever lived. There can never be another man so mighty as you. There is nothing in the world that dares disobey you.” In order to prove his power Cnut ordered that his throne be carried onto the seashore at low tide. He then sat on his throne and ordered the tide to stop rising. The tide, of course, didn’t listen. It literally dampened the mood, his robe, and his kingly honor.

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The resurrection of Christ is the story of a tide rising. More than the tide it was a tsunami that couldn’t be stopped. The resurrection allows us to dive into the Gospels and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus and others in the story. This happens on two levels: First, we find our story—our redemptive story—is in Jesus. Second, we find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus. Sadly, like many of them we can miss Jesus in the resurrection story.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? Last week we saw Judas. Today we will look at Caiaphas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Caiaphas in all of us. Like Caiaphas we feel the tension to resist God and guard what is important to us no matter the cost. We strive for control, even if it be a little control. We are tempted to resist the God we say we trust and guard what we think is important.

Let’s be honest. Have you resisted God? You know you should stop doing this thing, but this is so fascinating and addicting. You know you should start doing that. You know you shouldn’t go there. You know you shouldn’t spend your money on those things, but you just this once. You know you should forgive, but the hurt seems to big. Everything in you tells you it’s wrong yet it feels so right. You find yourself resisting God when you know you are best-off trusting him.

What do those outside the church call this? They call it hypocrisy. We in the church call it hypocrisy too. Meaning we don’t actually do what we say or believe. In all fairness, it is difficult to surrender to a God we cannot see. Except we can see him. When Jesus stepped into the world he was God with skin on—the invisible God made visible. He certainly looked and acted different than many imagined God looking and acting, particularly to the religious people.

Joseph Caiaphas was the religious poster child. He grew up in a wealthy, political, and aristocratic family who controlled the temple. He was groomed to be a Sadducee (Sad-You-See!). He married the daughter of the high priest Annas. He himself became high priest between 18-36 AD, which was during most of Jesus’ life and all of his ministry. He was the most powerful man in Israel and the most influential man in Jerusalem. He was the go-between Israel and Rome. Other than Roman oppression, things went well for Caiaphas. Until a carpenter turned rabbi from Galilee started gaining notoriety with crowds.

The problem Caiaphas had with Jesus were his crowds. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went too. Sometimes 1000’s of people came to hear Jesus speak. He spoke with authority. People also came from all over the nation bringing sick to be healed by him. The crowds were a threat to peace for Rome and a threat to the Jewish order. They had reason to worry since Jesus didn’t have a good rapport with the Jewish leaders. He made their questions seem foolish. He called them names,

“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

You wouldn’t let your kids talk like that nor kiss their mama with a mouth like that! But that’s Jesus talking. Jesus echoes Jeremiah,

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1)

Jesus had big issues with the Jewish leaders as they were responsible for leading the people to God. And Caiaphas had big problems with Jesus, his crowds, and his criticism! Ironically, it was Caiaphas who was oppressing the people by funding the temple and scheming against God.

The final straw that broke Caiaphas’ back was not a conversation or confrontation with Jesus, but it was an act of compassion by Jesus (like Judas, both at Bethany). Have you ever been frustrated or jealous when someone was shown compassion? Like Caiaphas, we can miss what God is doing in front of us because we are nearsighted. We are raging when we should be rejoicing. We are grudge-filled when we should be grateful. Our spiritual eyes are blurry and blind to what God is doing. We lose perspective and only see what we want to see. We don’t see the whole story.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowds swelled in Bethany to see the miracle man and the Miracle Maker. The crowds marveled and believed. Jesus had raised a man from the dead! Wow! That would be enough reason to follow Jesus,

“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what [Jesus] did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council (The Sanhedrin; three groups who couldn’t agree) and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people (really?), not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:45-50) Italics are my thoughts.

Caiaphas’ strategy of discrediting Jesus publicly had failed. The priest’s questions towards Jesus backfired too many times. Now it was time for a final plan. Caiaphas’ agenda was clear: kill Jesus and the problem will go away. He was sincere and he believed he was acting on behalf of God (John 11:51-53). It was a plan that the Jewish House, Senate, and Supreme Court all agreed upon. Unknown to them, they were actually facilitating the will of God (John 10:17-18). And all Caiaphas could think about was getting Jesus to lose his crowds,

“The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him (1/3 of world Christian; spreading like a wildfire that couldn’t be contained).” (John 12:17-19)

Interestingly, later in Acts, we discover that many of the priests and Jewish leaders became followers of Christ. This is how John got his insider information on Caiaphas. Certainly, many Jewish leaders knew they were resisting what God was doing through Jesus, yet they held tightly to their plan because it would mean letting go of their power, their prestige, their pride, and their piety—everything that was important to them. Trusting Jesus was too costly.

When you decide to follow Jesus it will cost you something. It may cost you relationships, position, respect, money, standard of living, time, beauty, GPA or entertainment. The cost is too high for too many people. And therein lies the tension. It can be a wrestling match between what Jesus values and what you value. Many tap the mat to get out of the ring. You either consider the cost or you don’t. You are either hot or cold. You are all in or you aren’t.

If you’re a parent you’ve likely heard your kids plot out their future. I hear my daughters say, “When I grow up I am going to work at a Thai restaurant that way you can eat Thai food whenever you want.” “When I am an adult I am only going to eat all the candy I want.” “My house is going to be a barn so I can live with horses.” As parents we smile and laugh. We also know those plans will change as they get older. They may change moment to moment. Do you think God has a similar response to our adult plans and the ways we resist his plans? Do you think he shakes his head when we try to make our own plans? Do you think it breaks his heart when we ignore his wisdom being the Creator and Author of life?

Caiaphas couldn’t just get rid of Jesus. He didn’t have the authority to crucify him. He needed the permission of the Roman government. He needed case. He needed a legitimate charge against Jesus to show he was a threat to the empire. He needed to catch Jesus confessing that he was god or king (John 8:37-40; 10:31-39). So Jesus was led to Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law (18:12-14). Jesus turned the question back on Annas and he was slapped for it (18:19-24). Then Jesus was sent to Caiaphas where he was interrogated,

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am (ego emi; John 8:58), and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

That’s what Caiaphas needed. He had his case. He had witnesses. Without hesitation Caiaphas took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate thinking it was a petty issue punted Jesus back to the Jews (18:28-32), but the Jews persisted, twisted and tied Pilate’s political arms. Pilate still wasn’t convinced Jesus’ title “King of the Jesus” was a threat, until he heard the rumble of the crowd. By this time Caiaphas owned the crowd (or mob). Pilate opted for peace and willingly traded Jesus for Barabbas the murder (18:40). The case that Jesus was a self-proclaimed King—a threat to the empire worked (19:7). Pilate brought Jesus before the crowd,

“He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (Really?) So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:14b-16)

Pilate wrote a sign that hung above Jesus that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19b) Can you feel the rejection? Can you hear the mockery? It was irony—a blood bathed resistance.

Jesus would die on a cross in a matter of hours. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But 3-days later, on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, a squad of the Roman guards would come huffing into Caiaphas’ house, march down the hall to where he was and say, “The tomb where Jesus was buried is empty.” (John 20:1-10) Can you feel the weight of that? Can you see Caiaphas’ face drop and go pale? His worst fear realized. Jesus was raised from the dead as he said. Within days there would be sightings of Jesus all around Israel (1 Corinthians 15). Caiaphas’ plan crumbled with the resurrection of Christ, yet he still resisted. He paid hush money and created a story that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).

Following the resurrection we only hear about Caiaphas one-time,

“And as [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducee’s came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody…But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day…Annas the high priest and Caiaphas…and all who were of the high-priestly family…inquired,

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man (an act of compassion), by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12)

Caiaphas tried to muzzle their mouths, but it was futile. The name, reputation, and resurrection of Jesus was spreading like a tsunami. He couldn’t stop it. From that moment on, we hear no more about Caiaphas, but we hear a lot more about Jesus.

Remember King Cnut? I left out an important detail from his story. Sitting on his throne in the sea he was making a point. He knew he couldn’t stop the tide from rising. He knew he was just a man. He knew he wasn’t more powerful than God. We can be quick to judge the old king in a wet robe, but listen to what he said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God whom heaven and earth and sea obey. There is only one King who is all-powerful and it is he who rules the sea and hold the ocean in the hallow of his hand. It is he whom you ought to praise and serve above all others.”

Caiaphas stood in the presence of the Savior of the world, but refused to abandon his quest for control. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas acted as a Judge, but his judgment of Jesus was wrong. Jesus is the Judge. He said, “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48) His judgement is sure and final. If only Caiaphas humbled himself and bowed his knee to the King of kings and the Great High Priest whom he represented. Caiaphas should have said sorry, retired from his job, and joined the world changing movement, yet he resisted to give up his hat.

Can you relate to Caiaphas? Are there hats you’re holding onto? Generally, your greatest regrets are connected to attempts to preserve something that isn’t even a part of your life anymore. Pressure to preserve or prop it up will eventually drive you to extremes that harm you or others. And what you try to preserve will always disappoint and eventually disappear.

Caiaphas’ story of resisting Jesus illustrates the futility of resisting God. Resistance is futile (Borg, Vogon). You know well that resisting Jesus is futile. It’s easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but you and I are also prone to resist God by putting something else in his place. And those things quickly diminish in value.

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Accepting Jesus will cost you something, but resisting him will cost you more. It may cost you a relationship, position, respect, standard of living, time, etc. Jesus died and rose for that! Those things won’t be important 100 years (or 1,000 generations) from now, but Jesus will. Don’t miss seeing and believing in Jesus!

 

Missing Jesus: Judas

A cultural aspect of African life that I didn’t enjoy at first but enjoy now is bargaining. After 8-years I’ve become good at it. So good that some of my local friends are surprised that I can get a deal just about as good as they can. The basics of bargaining is that the seller seeks to make a profit and the buyer seeks to strike a deal with both getting what they want. Both win.

Bargaining in Africa

Have you ever tried to bargain God? That question may offend you, but be honest. Universally, anyone from kids to adults have tried to make deals with God. You may have said or thought, “God, if you do this, then I will (never/always/give)…” Bargaining God tries to get God in on your thing—trying to leverage God for your gain. You may do it with good reason. For example, you or a loved one may have a medical issue, you’re desperate, there’s no hope things will change and you say to God, “I will do anything to see it better or healed.”

We subtly bargain with God. We bargain him with our prayers, our church attendance (I go don’t I?), our giving (I give 10%. See my generosity?), our promises (I’ll stop __ if you…), and our obedience (See what I’ve done?). Everyday we are tempted to use God to get our way. We will do what God wants us to do, so that he will do what we want him to do. In bargaining with God we ask: What do I need to do to get God to do what I want him to do? We think we can maneuver God because we think God owes us, yet none of the deals we make cause God to pay up because that’s not how our relationship with God works. God needs nothing from us, but we need him for everything. Bargaining God isn’t a win-win, rather it’s lose-lose. Bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God.

Dennis Prager, a Jewish talk show host addressed the issue of deal-making with God in his book Think a Second Time:

“I have come to realize that many religious people, of all faiths, believe that they should be able to avoid the calamities that afflict the less pious. They believe, in effect, that they can make a deal with God—‘I’ll do what You want so that You do what I want. The problem is not merely that of reconciling the terrible injustices of this world with a just Creator—a problem that I and many others have. For countless religious people, this issue is compounded by their belief that God has reneged on a deal with them.”

Maybe you’ve tried bargaining with God in the past and it didn’t work out well for you. So you said forget it to God. You became disappointed or frustrated with him. He failed to act or behave like you thought he should. You lost trust in him. (Not the Palm Sunday you expected?)

When we dive into the Gospels and discover Jesus—God in the flesh—we can see how God acts and behaves. Sadly, we can miss Jesus in the story. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus in the story, we find our story is in Jesus, and we even find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? I think of Judas. You might be thinking, how do I to find myself in the character of Judas? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Judas in all of us. Like Judas we feel the tension of bargaining with God to get our way.

Judas tried to get Jesus to do what he wanted without any regard for Jesus’ life, ministry, or authority. He was willing to trade his relationship with Jesus for something else. For Judas it was about ‘what’s in it for me’. Jesus was a means to an end. That seems so silly, yet how often do you find yourself thinking the same thing? Let’s not be too critical of Judas. All of Jesus’ disciples struggled with what they wanted Jesus to be for them.

Remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler? He wanted Jesus to be someone different than he was,

“And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “…You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”(Mark 10:17-22)

Jesus then turned to his disciples and taught them that people with a lot have a lot to lose. Yet people with nothing have everything to gain with Jesus (Mt. 5:3; 2 Cor. 8:9).
Peter responded in a way that many of us might respond,

“See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (or “What’s in it for us?”) (Matthew 19:27)

Judas was there. He heard what Jesus said to the rich young ruler. He heard Peter’s question. He’d soon have his turn to ask Jesus, “What’s in it for me?”

Have you ever thought that? Have you ever wondering what’s in it for you?

Let’s get into Judas’ thinking. He had Old Covenant thinking. He thought God would send the Jews a Messiah (Savior). Judas like most Jews thought he would be a military leader, a political power player, someone who would bring Israel back to the good old days of King David and Solomon. He like all Jews hated living under Roman oppression. A Messiah could change that!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he looked a lot like the Messiah (Matthew 21:1-11). Judas was there. He likely put his cloak on Jesus’ donkey. He must have been thrilled. Judas thought this was Jesus’ moment. However, there were just a few things that made Judas question whether Jesus as really the Messiah. First, Jesus didn’t hate the Romans. When the Jewish leaders tried to stir up conflict between Jesus and the Romans, Jesus didn’t take the bait (Matthew 22:21). Second, Jesus wasn’t in good standing with the Jewish leaders. They weren’t ever on Jesus’ side nor was Jesus on theirs. Third, Jesus was too passive and not aggressive enough when it came to a Messiah’s agenda. He gave away too much of their money. It wasn’t enough to create a movement against the Romans. Anytime the money chest got any size, Jesus would shave off a chunk and give it to the poor.

Judas as the team treasurer may have thought that Jesus didn’t have the energy, plan or focus to be a Messiah like he imagined. Judas lost patience and faith in Jesus. The last straw for him was an extraordinary act of generosity on Jesus behalf that he thought was ridiculous.

The Straw that broke Judas’ trust in Jesus happened in Bethany, an eastern suburb of Jerusalem. Jesus was invited to a meal. It is an extravagant moment, a beautiful moment, also a moment of hushed disgust for Jesus’ disciples.

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment (a years salary), and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table (Can you see it? smell it? feel the tension?). And when the disciples saw it (John 12:4-6 singles out Judas for the stir), they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” (Jesus’ normal practice) But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? (“It’s her perfume/choice.”) For she has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”(Matthew 26:6-12) Italics are my thoughts.

What Jesus said would have been disturbing and emotionally devastating to the disciples. They would have forgot about the perfume and the woman. All ears turned to Jesus’ reference to his burial. If he was to be buried then he’d have to die! They’d have thought, “No, Jesus you can’t die. You’re the Messiah. Messiah’s don’t die! Do you know how long we’ve waited for you? Since our father, Abraham! Do you see how bad this Rome thing is? Do you realize we’ve followed you? We believed you are the One the prophets spoke about! Do you realize we placed all hope in you? What’s this talk about burial and funeral? If you die what about us?”

What Jesus said next was amazing. He took the attention off himself and put it back on the woman,

“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)

Jesus points to the fact that they are part of something big here. Bigger than this moment. They might be in this small place, at a small table, with a small group of people, but what is happening is big. They are making history. This moment will be shared around the world. It will go global in thousands of languages, nations and generations. It’s big! Have you heard this story before? That’s proof, it’s big!

Judas only thought about the perfume—a stench rather than the fragrance of life. He thought it was a waste. He thought it was a little too much about Jesus. He thought Jesus wasn’t doing what he should do. He thought there wasn’t much in Jesus for him. He thought maybe he had wasted time following Jesus. He wanted to be reimbursement for his time with Jesus. He wanted his part of the deal.

We don’t know if Judas was angry, impatient, discouraged, or disappointed with Jesus, but he did excuse him from the table. He walked away from the deal,

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went (1.5 miles away) to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)

According to Judas and the Jewish leaders it was a win-win deal. Judas got his payment and the priests got Jesus. There was one problem. The crowds, which kept the priests from capturing Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went. The crowds loved him. Judas knew where Jesus would be away from the crowd.

Think about this. Judas sailed on a boat with Jesus. He walked Israel’s countryside with Jesus. He ate meals with Jesus. He saw Jesus’ do miracles. He heard Jesus’ speak. He was with God in the flesh, yet he could not get Jesus to do what he wanted him to do. He willingly traded his relationship with Jesus for 30 pieces of silver—the going rate for a slave.

What have you been tempted to sell your relationship with Jesus for? Doesn’t it seem cheap like 30 pieces of silver? But in the moment, it seems like the best option.

The opportunity Judas looked for had arrived. It was Passover. The disciples found a room above a home (Matthew 26:17-29). They gathered together. Jesus sets the tone. He took off his robe. He took a towel and washed the disciples feet. Again, they are indignant thinking ‘Why would a rabbi serve me?’ They missed who Jesus was. They ate bread and drank wine,

“When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Judas knew that Jesus knew. Jesus always knows, right?) He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25)

John adds,

“Then after [Judas] had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (Yes, Jesus knew!) Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. (They assumed the best!) So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (John 13:27-30)

This is shocking! Jesus gave Judas the out he needed and didn’t stop him. He didn’t resist. It seemed too easy. Or is it planned? It was.

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” (John 13:31)

In other words, everything was working out exactly as planned! Jesus wasn’t surprised. God’s hand couldn’t be forced. God’s will cannot be thwarted.

After the meal, Jesus leads the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was late and dark. There was no one around. Jesus wanted to spend time praying. The disciples wanted to spend time sleeping. Jesus prayed three times After the third time (hitting the snooze button), he came to the disciples and said,

““Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” (Matthew 26:45-50)

As Jesus was arrested, all his disciples fled (Matthew 26:56). They ran away. They were like bats in daylight.

Judas likely didn’t think the situation would get out of hand because when he found out that the Jewish leaders went to the Roman government he knew it wasn’t to slap Jesus’ hand but to seek permission for his death sentence,

“Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” (Feeling shame and disgust) They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” (That’s your responsibility!) And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5)

What had great value in a moment didn’t have lasting value. What was worth trading in Jesus brought shame and regret. What was worth sacrificing the relationship, indeed forfeited it.

Perhaps this is where some of you are living today. It could have ended differently for Judas. It can be different for you too. There is no mistake that Judas and Peter’s stories are intertwined in Matthew’s gospel. Both Judas and Peter blew it on the same night, but only Peter returned to Jesus repentant and Jesus restored him. It was a new beginning for Peter. It can be a new beginning for you too if you surrender all to Jesus!

Peter & Judas

Bargaining with God

When you bargain with Jesus rather than surrender, you are responsible for the outcome. God won’t get in the way of you having your way. He won’t undermine your freedom even it it means you undermine him. That should put a little holy fear in you.

Bargaining is easier than surrendering. Resisting and arguing God is easier than trusting God. Judas’ greatest regret was trying to force God’s hand. His great bargain only led to a great betrayal. You may think it’s risky to surrender to Jesus, but it is far riskier to bargain with him. Remember, bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God. Beware of bargaining with God. Like Judas, the moment you trade Jesus for whatever, the value of what you get begins to diminish. Like buying a car and driving it off the lot. It’s never as valuable as it was.

Surrendering to Jesus

When you surrender to Jesus, he takes responsibility for the outcome. If you can’t bargain with Jesus and succeed that means you must accept his terms. When you surrender all to Jesus he has his best and your best in mind—a win win. When you bargain with God, you espouse a God who keeps score, rather than the God who loves you no matter what. God is not a cosmic scorekeeper who makes tallies and gives rewards, but as a Father who withholds no good gift. He gave you the inexpressible gift of Jesus. To have Jesus you need nothing, you may lose some things, but with him you gain everything (Mark 8:36-37)! Look to Jesus, not as a genie who grants wishes, but as a Savior who has paid the debt of your sin. Trust that Jesus never loses value and keeps his end of the deal. Jesus doesn’t negotiate a contract; he keeps a covenant sealed by his blood.

What have you been bargaining with God that you need to surrender instead? Are you willing to say, “Jesus have your way—your will? I am done trying to bargain (my relationships, my future, my decisions, my hopes, my career, my agenda) with you?” What do you need repent, so Jesus can restore?

Don’t miss Jesus in the story. Discover him, again!

Refreshed by Christ

Where is the most refreshing place you’ve been?  You know, a place where you see full, free and fully alive.

From the opening part of the Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn a lot about Paul, Philemon and the church. The opening is really a prayer. In the prayer we learn of God’s concern for healthy relationships within the church family and how the church is called to do life together as we take the gospel into the world we live in. For Paul the gospel is not just something to think about, it is to be acted upon. For us—the church—there is a lot of great application here.

Refreshed People are Refreshed by Christ

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” Philemon 4-5

Paul is refreshed by Philemon. Why? From what Paul knows about Philemon, from the first time they met until now, from what he hears (present tense) others say about him, Paul sees the visible characteristics of Christ are literally “spilling over” from Philemon, like a waterfall into a deep pond. He sees Philemon’s faith in Jesus and his love for others. Isn’t that a great compliment? Think of the alternative.

Some might argue that Paul is just buttering up Philemon in preparation for the hard thing he’s about to ask him. No. He’s not buttering up, he’s building him up. There’s a difference. Buttering up manipulates, but building up matures. Paul gives genuine reasons for building up his brother: he gives thanks to God and he prays over his brother. The word that Paul uses later in verse 7 is exactly the right word—“refreshed.”

Do you know anyone like this? I hope you do! Are you someone like this? I know that some of you are. You are a Philemon, one who brings joy, comfort, love and refreshment to others around you because of your willingness to encourage people and be there to ease their burdens. It brings you joy, and brings joy to the ones you help. You show us the heart of Christ, often when we need to see it the most. You point us to Jesus not problems. You renew our faith in God and revive our weary souls. And we smile when we think about you. Through you we are “refreshed.”

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Do you know anyone like this? I do.

The past three Springs, our family has traveled from the desert of North Africa to green England.  Each time we have visited our friends the Franklin family. They have refreshed us from a tall glass of milk to ordering our favorite Indian takeout to walks in London’s green space. Their church has refreshed us through prayer, encouragement, and warm clothes for our children who literally got off the plane in flip flops.  Just after Christmas Megan got sick with a debilitating brain disease.  She was eight months pregnant with their seventh baby.  The baby was taken by C-section and a healthy boy was born.  Within days Megan passed into glory.  Our hearts grieve for Brad and the Franklin family, but we were refreshed even through Megan’s death and the way she committed to give generously so that the nations may know Jesus Christ.

What would a person close to you say are the visible characteristics of Christ pouring out of you? Can you imagine the encouragement it would be to have them tell you that? That would be a wonderful application of today’s text.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul most often addresses in his letters. The first type are people who build up. This is Philemon. They are the kind of person who encourage, see the good, speak truth in love, and have a knack of pointing you back to Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another looks like. Building up in the church never stops because until Christ returns the church is a relational construction zone.

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The second type are people who tear down. They are the kind of people who look for ways to cut others down. They are quick to complain. They find faults and failures in others. They are the kind of person you will avoid if you need encouragement, but you will seek out if you need empathy for your own critical spirit. Tearing others down is not a strength or a spiritual gift. It is hurtful, divisive, and from Satan. You can’t punch a hole in the bricks of God’s house without hurting yourself too. How many people have been hurt trying to damage the building they are part of themselves?

Paul spent a lot of breath in his letters airing out about bad theology in the church, conflict among members, and wolves among the sheep. Paul’s letter to Philemon is not about being aware of wolves, but encouraging the sheep. Martin Luther, a man acquainted with both wolves and sheep said, “Fight vigorously against the wolves, but on behalf of the sheep, not against the sheep.” In other words, don’t be a flock of sheep fighting sheep. Sheep don’t fight. Sheep are gregarious, which means sheep band together and protect one another.

Oh, how the church needs Philemon’s—people who are known for their love and faith towards Jesus and others. And the church also needs Paul’s who see the way people reflect Jesus.

You may recognize the name William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian politician who made it his lifework to abolish slavery in Great Britain. It was an impossible task. He was young and at the beginning of his career. On the other side of the pond in America, John Wesley, was nearing the end of his career. Wesley heard of Wilberforce’s story and wrote him a letter (6-days before his death),

“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”

Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul also had the right words at the right time to help Philemon on the right path. He focused on Christ’s refreshing work in Philemon, which will be the very character needed as he reunites with Onesimus.

 

Questions for Reflection:

How have you been refreshed by a Philemon in your life?

When you look at your life, do you see the same qualities alive in your heart like they were in Philemon’s?

Are there areas in your life where Christ’s love hasn’t taken on action towards Him and others? If so, what are they?

Why is thankfulness so powerful, especially when you have to say something difficult to someone you love?

followers make followers

Matthew’s last words record Jesus before he ascended to heaven,

“Go therefore and make followers of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28, Jesus transformed twelve followers into a new kind of fishermen. In the Book of Acts—or Acts of the Jesus Followers—you see these men going into all the world telling the world about Jesus. Why? Because Jesus was the answer to the world’s problems. Jesus and his followers would turn the world upside down.

Maybe God will never call you to be a pastor or a missionary. Maybe you will never be called to go to the desert of Chad or the jungles of Brazil. You have your own jungle. As a church God has placed you strategically in a dark, broken, and hurting community.

As Daniel 12:3 says,

“Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are those stars shining brightly for others to see the Light of the World. It was a title he also passed onto his followers. The mark of a committed follower of Jesus is if he is making more followers of Jesus.  Followers make followers.

Are you a curious, convinced, or committed follower of Jesus?

Curious: Will you accept Jesus call to follow him today? Spend time with Jesus. Read Matthew.  Put yourself in the shoes of a follower.

Convinced: Do you resemble your Rabbi? What nets do you need to leave to cling to Jesus?  Are you ready to spend the rest of your life following Jesus?

Committed: Who is following you to Jesus?  Make more followers.

consider the cost of following Jesus

Most people in Jesus sandals would be enamored by the types of crowds that followed him, but Jesus wasn’t. He could see through their facade and into their hearts. He knew not all who followed him really believed. Notice how Jesus talks about fo-followers or fad followers:

“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-23)

Some follow Jesus until the going gets tough or until there is an excuse not to follow. Where Jesus traveled there wasn’t a Holiday Inn or a Sleeper Number beds. In fact, Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep most nights. Also in Jesus day, the pink slip out of any situation would be sickness or death in the family. It may seem like Jesus was insensitive towards the man whose father was dying, but Jesus knew that this man had many excuses.

I’ve seen firsthand how Chad, Africa has chewed up many missionaries. I’ve felt it too.  It is a difficult place. You have to deal with isolation, sickness, slowness of ministry, discouragement, and physical and spiritual deserts. It’s the kind of place you choose to live and most choose not to.  Few are called. The cost is high. Honestly, there are no easy places on earth. Following Jesus anywhere is difficult.

If you’re truly following Jesus, he will call you to walk on the water sometimes—to trust him so completely that if you take your eyes off him you will sink. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Following Jesus will take you into a broken and hurting world, but will get a front row seat to see how Jesus can mend it.

Following Jesus means worshiping him even when I don’t feel like it. Believe me there are days when that will be tested.

Following Jesus will make you look like a fool sometimes. If your life makes complete sense to unbelievers, then you aren’t really following Jesus.

Following Jesus means others will hold you to a higher standard . Following Jesus will reveal your shortcomings.

Following Jesus demonstrates you acknowledge the great cost Jesus paid for your sin. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus knows about cost. The cost may be loss of comfort or all-in commitment. Jesus has his way of separating the crowd from those who were curious, convinced or committed.

Have you considered the cost of following Jesus? What nets do you need to drop in order to cling to Jesus? Nets are anything you cling to other than Christ.  Look at your hands, then look at Jesus.  Let them go.  And follow.

your calling is to follow

Calling can be a confusing thing.  Often times people talk about calling in relation to their profession, place of belonging, premonition or personal prowess.  However, calling in Scripture is more often related to a Person.

Likely you follow Jesus because he called you to follow. The fact that Jesus calls you and me to follow him is utterly amazing. It is unexpected. I am unworthy. Think about it. God is the only one who completely and perfectly knows you, he undoubtedly cares for you, and he infinitely loves you. And Jesus, God with skin on, calls you and me to follow him. Wow!

Jesus is the Caller.

In essence, Jesus is popping the question. Will you marry me? Will you live in covenant with me? Will you give your life to me? Will you spend your life with me? Sickness or health? It is a question to think about. He is not looking to have a fling. He isn’t into dating you and then ditch you because of irreconcilable difference. He’s into you for life.

I think back on my relationship with Sarah.  We’ve known each other for 18 years, but 12  years ago we began dating.   I was  curious about everything from the food she liked, to her favorite music and hobbies, and I’d happily stay up late talking on the phone to learn everything I could about her.  After about a year I became convinced that she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  It has been almost 10 years since we walked an aisle and spoke vows to each other.  Those words held a lot of weight and demonstrated our commitment to each other.  They still do.  Those commitments would be tested.

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The stages of a growing relationship aren’t linear though.  We don’t move from one stage to another in order and the previous ones pass away.  In a healthy relationship all three are happening together.  We must never cease to lose curiosity.  We must never forget why we became convinced that we wanted to give ourselves for the one we love. And we must renew our commitment daily.

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So it is with our relationship with Jesus.  Interestingly, he made the first call.  He took the initiative.  He has proven his love.  He showed that he is into the small and big things of your life.  And he delights in you.

If Jesus calls you listen.

To ignore Jesus invitation is rebellion. Rebellion is the essence of sin. Sin says, “I will do what I want. I will listen to no one. I call the shots. I will not follow. I’m just not that into you. I’d rather be single.”

You are either drawn to Jesus or you are repelled by Jesus. All throughout Matthew he shows the contrast between the disciples who are drawn to follow Jesus and the Pharisees who are repelled and reject Jesus.  The contrast between the rebels and followers is seen best in Matthew 9:9-13, which is also Matthew’s autobiography:

“(Jesus) saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose (left everything) and followed Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His (followers). And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His followers, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

There is a lot to say there about Jesus, but what I want to focus on is what Jesus focuses on.

Jesus sees you.

Most people wouldn’t even make eye contact with a taxman out of fear of having to cough up some coins. Matthew’s identity is his job title. It wasn’t a title to brag about as it was one of the most hated of professions. It would be like saying he is a dentist, parking warden, telemarketer, or debt collector today. However, Jesus connects with Matthew. He calls Matthew. Jesus didn’t care about Matthew’s title. He gave him a new one.

Jesus sees ordinary people. People with labels and reputations. He doesn’t care about peoples titles. He cares about people. He cares about you. He sees you mess and all. He invites you. He cares about everything—that you leave everything—because he makes everything in your life different. And He gives you a new title.  Think of some the new titles he gives.  It can be life-changing to be called a son/daughter to one with imperfect parents, beloved to one with a sour marriage, or treasure to one who feels like a peanut rather than a precious stone.

To Jesus you are seen. You exist. And He calls you to follow.

you are known by what you follow

You and I are born to follow. As children we naturally follow by watching and imitating others. We are told to follow the herd, the leader (footsteps), the rules, even the yellow brick road. Something happened between childhood and adulthood, when we are taught to lead our own life and follow our dreams or follow our heart. You are a follower before you are a leader.

The truth is, you won’t hear a graduate say, “I want to be a follower when I grow up!” His parents won’t spend thousands of dollars sending him to Followership Academy. As adults we don’t want our legacy to be known as a world class follower.

However, we are followers more than we’d like to admit. We are closet followers of various sorts. We follow things from fashion, passions and interests. We follow the lives of the famous, favorite sports team, even things we like on Facebook or Instagram. While we don’t want to be known as being a follower, we are known by what we follow.

In a sea of a million things to follow it is good to ask why follow Jesus? I am sure you’ve thought about it. I am sure someone has asked you why do you follow Jesus?

That’s what brings me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is a Handbook for Followers. Matthew was a founding member of Jesus’ 3-year apprenticeship on followership.

I will begin near the beginning of the story. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus had already began his ministry. He wasn’t well known yet. Matthew says of Jesus,

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus must have been a compelling man. Four men who were tied to their family fishing business left everything after Jesus said only ten words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response is wowing. They immediately left their nets, boat, livelihood, and family to follow Jesus. Let that weight of that sink in for a moment. Jesus was that compelling. And he still is.

It might not startle us today, but it would have startled the early hearers of this story to learn about the type of people Jesus called. They were fishermen. They smelled like fish. They mouth was foul. They were a dirty bunch much like you’d see at the local pub, biker’s bar, or blue collar hangout. Yet Jesus called these men as his first followers. They were the most unlikely, unexpected, unworthy men. Some of us need to hear that today!

What is even more startling is what Jesus is calling them to do. He wasn’t calling them to a better fishing spot (that comes in a later story). He wasn’t calling them to a better job as good as “fisher of men” may have sounded. That’s until you understand how challenging people can be compared to fish.

These men knew who was calling them. Remember, Jesus was considered a rabbi. To follow a rabbi was a lifelong commitment. A student shadowed his rabbi and resembled his rabbi. Jesus asking these men to follow him would have been a high honor. The highest honor!

However, Jesus throws a major cultural curve-ball: rabbi’s didn’t call for followers. It was the other way around. Interested students would make a request to their rabbi of choice without guarantee of being chosen unless they were a star student. Jesus does the exact opposite he called students to follow him. He wasn’t acting like a normal rabbi. That’s okay because Jesus was the Rabbi of rabbis.

God throughout history is the main pursuer between man and God. In the garden, God pursued Adam. God called Abraham to go to the land of promise. God called Moses out of the burning bush. God led Joshua into the promised land and fought his battles for him. God called Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah to be prophets. As you look back over your life, surely God is the ultimate pursuer.

And Jesus pursued each of his followers. Jesus fielded his team with people that not only would have been picked last, but likely not at all. When you build a team you most often look for the strongest, wisest, or most skilled players. The misfits and stragglers are usually picked last. No mistake about it, Jesus oddly picked the last to be first. He picked the most unordinary team of ordinary men. Isn’t that a little comforting?

Imagine if Jesus had an assessment for his disciples. Something like this,

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.  As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely,
Jordan Management Consultants

Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195

Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t give us assessments or look at our resumes like that before becoming his followers?  I sure am.  I wouldn’t make the cut.  Few of us would.

Jesus was calling these four men away from the only job they knew to something completely unknown. He was calling them to a career change without term limits. These men wouldn’t be going home at the end of the day. They would walk wherever Jesus walked, sleep where he slept, eat all their meals with Jesus, and listen intently as Jesus shared the Scriptures. By spending time with Jesus, these young men would grow to become just like him.

Later in the Acts of the Apostles, it is said,

“Now when [the council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Peter went on to be the rock of Jesus’ church. John became Jesus’ beloved friend. And Andrew would give up his life for the sake of Jesus—as did the other followers.

And then there’s you too! You are known by what (or Who) you follow. How do you resemble your Rabbi and who is follow him behind you?

Matthew is about a King

Recently, our family read through the Gospel of Matthew.  It was wonderful to immerse ourselves into the life of Jesus.  More than any other gospel Matthew displays Jesus as the King of all.  He’s your king!

The images below come from the MATTHEW: FOLLOW THE KING Study Guide.

STORIES FROM THE KING ABOUT THE KINGDOM

stories from the king about the kingdom

GEOGRAPHICAL FLOW IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

geographical flow in the gospel of matthew

 

THE OLD TESTAMENT FORECASTS THE KING’S CRUCIFIXION

ot forecasts crucifixion

 

PASSION WEEK TIMELINE

passion week timeline

 

 

 

Matthew: Follow the King

King’s sit on thrones in palaces.

King’s wear royal clothes and crowns.

Kings enjoy the best things the world has to offer.

King’s make laws and command kingdoms.

King’s don’t live and work among their people.

The Gospel of Matthew is about a King—a different sort of king.  His family tree is traced back to the great king David, but he is born to an unknown young couple.   Rather than a palace, he has nowhere to call home.  He wears a crown, but it is made of thorns.  He commands obedience, a loving obedience that comes from the heart.

Matthew’s King doesn’t sit on a throne surrounded by a royal court; he spends time with sinners and outcasts.  Matthew wants his readers to know one thing above all: Jesus is King.  He is the king who guides his people like a shepherd into his kingdom. He forgives them, offers rest to their souls, and promises never to leave them.  Though he calls his people to follow him in suffering and the cross, he promises that this is the way to eternal life.

Matthew also shows that Jesus is King through his actions.  Storms are silenced by his voice.  Evil spirits are cast out with a word.  The sick are healed by his touch.

The day is coming when he’ll return revealed in all his power and glory—the reigning and ruling, eternal King.  Matthew wants his readers to know, follow, and be like the King.

I want to know this King, how about you? Let’s discover him together through Matthew.

FOLLOW THE KING is a study guide of 111 devotionals through the Gospel of Matthew.

Click here to Downloads the MATTHEW Study Guide

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belonging together

Block by block God is building a house. He isn’t building it with ordinary stones. His stones are living and breathing and worshiping. His stones are people. He isn’t building a bunch of different buildings, but we are being built up together into one glorious building. We belong together.

God is a master architect. He has had a blueprint in mind since before creation. He has built everything resting on Jesus. Without Jesus everything crumbles. Jesus is the centerpiece—the cornerstone—of God’s plan. As the Cornerstone, Jesus is also a living stone. While living in the world, he was rejected by men. However, God honored and accepted his sacrifice (vs.4-5). This was part of the plan.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV

Today, we can have one of two responses toward Jesus: belief or unbelief (vs.6-8). Jesus is either your precious cornerstone or he is your stone of stumbling. Jesus either saves you from shame or he offends you. You trust in him or he trips you up.

“For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in  Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe,  but for those who do not believe,“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8, ESV

Christians are unlike anything the world has ever seen. They are different. They stand out. In Christ, they have a new identity, which displays itself in four ways: 1) they are chosen by God (v.9a), 2) they are given a position of privilege with direct access to God (v.9b), 3) they are holy before God (v.9c), and 4) they are treasured by God (v.10).

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 1:9-10, ESV

Like Jesus, we live in the world. We are living stones. While living in the world we are to walk with a new integrity. No longer do we walk in darkness. We walk in the light. No longer do we live for ourselves. We live to glorify God. No longer do we want to live like the world. We live like we are sojourners (vs.11-12). We live within the new reality that this world is not our home. We live for the new home God is building for us.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the meaning of “living stones of a spiritual house”? Who or what are these “living stones”? How does this illustration help you understand God’s plan?
  • What is a cornerstone? Why is Jesus described as the Cornerstone? What happens to your life if Jesus isn’t your cornerstone?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is a stumbling stone? What are some things Jesus said or did that offended people? Does it bother you that Jesus would be a stumbling block?
  • What titles are Christians given in this passage? (see v.9) What is the significance of each title? Which of those titles are most encouraging to you? Which title would you like to understand better?
  • What is the purpose of the priesthood? What is your ministry as a priest?
  • According to this passage, what is the expected response of people to the gospel?
  • Why is it important to maintain a good reputation with those who are not Christian? Why does worldliness damage our reputation? What is your reputation?
  • What darkness has Christ called you out of? What does the light look like in your life?
  • What passions of the flesh wage war with your soul? How does your new identity help or hinder your battle against these things?

Scripture, Trials, and What is to Come

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars movies you are familiar with the chronology of the story and the films. When the original three films were made the producers started in the middle of the story. Then they made three prequels—how the story began. Now they are making numerous sequels—how the story continues. As the franchise has grown there are parallel stories like Rogue One that follow a unique character all within the original Star Wars plot.

The Bible is similar in that the Old and New Testaments aren’t two different stories, they are groupings stories with the same plot. The Old Testament begins with the world spinning into chaos, but it ends with the prophets foretelling and anticipating a Messiah who would come to save the world. The New Testament picks up with the Messiah coming into the world and ends with a promise that the Messiah will return again to finish off once and for all evil in the universe. We are still awaiting the sequel.

The wait for the next installment of the story is not easy. In fact, the wait is hard. The wait is full of trials because the story continues and we are characters in the story. The world is full of evil, the villain still lurks, and wreaks havoc. Yet the Bible promises that grace and glory will come (vs.10-12).  There will be a day when Jesus will eradicate trials. The Bible was written to remind us that Jesus was promised, came, will come again. Wait for it. The wait will be worth it.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” – 1 Peter 1:10-12

The Bible from cover to cover has been about Jesus. Everything said or prophesied about Jesus so far has come to pass. Therefore, you can believe what is yet to come will come to pass too. Only God knows the future, controls the future, and tells the truth about the future. The truth you need to know about the future is written for you in the Scripture.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How is the Bible one great story? What is the story about? What is its plot?
  • How does our perspective of history, in particular redemptive history, affect our faith?
  • What was a prophet? What were the prophets trying to discern? How do we see clearly now what the prophets could not see?
  • How were the prophets serving us not themselves? How have you been served by the writers of the Bible?
  • What is the good news that has been revealed to you by the Holy Spirit? Why is it such good news?
  • What is the meaning of “grace that was to be ours”? What are the implications that we have been given more grace than the prophets?
  • What is the significance that angels long to look into the things spoken to you?
  • When facing trials, where do you look first for comfort?
  • How does understanding the Scripture give you hope during trials or suffering? How have the Scriptures brought you peace and comfort?

Jesus, Trials, and Joy

There are days when our joy skirmishes into the shadow of trials and hardships. Trials can steal our joy and cause doubts or questions as to the possibility of joy.

Trials come to all of us, even Christians. They don’t come when it is convenient. They can come without warning. They don’t necessarily come one at a time but can come as a barrage. They can repeat over and over again. They can even range in severity and duration from momentary annoyance to lifelong anguish.

Feeling encourage yet?

Peter says joy is possible even in our darkest situations. Joy is possible because Jesus. Peter share at least three ways how Jesus completes our joy under trials.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:2-9, ESV

Jesus is the source of joy, even under trials.

Jesus endured the greatest trials known to man. He endured the cross for a greater joy—our joy. Jesus is our joy because he alone saves and raised from the grave (v.3). The resurrection of Jesus secures our hope and joy. He has reserved for us joy, guards it, and will complete it (vs.4-5). Despite our circumstances, we can have confidence that Jesus is for our joy.

Jesus is a light that eclipses the temporal trials of life.

A glorious day is dawning when our trials will be no more and we will be free from the pain and brokenness in this world (v.6). This is really good news.

Trials have their good purpose. Under trials we learn about Jesus and grow to be more like him. How we respond to trials shows our closeness to Jesus. If we embrace trials as an opportunity from God, they will sift our faith and the result is the glory of Jesus because faith that shines more stunningly than gold (v.7).

Jesus knows our trials very well.

Jesus walked into our shoes. He lived in this broken world. He knows what it is like to be rejected, falsely accused, abused, abandoned and persecuted. And even though we have not seen him we are drawn to him, we love him, we trust him more and more, and he fills us today with an inexpressible joy and hope of the complete salvation of our soul (vs.8-9).

Jesus is our joy today and forevermore.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus been your joy?
  • What is the “living hope”? How does this hope transform the way you live?
  • Why is the resurrection so important? To Christianity? To our own hope? To understanding Jesus as God?
  • Did people know Jesus was going to die and resurrect?
  • How does the Jesus resurrection change people? Compare John 20:19 to Acts 4.
  • What is an inheritance? What is the inheritance that Peter talks about?
  • What is the significance of the words “imperishable,” “undefiled,” and “unfading”?
  • What is unique about Peter’s use of the word “salvation” in this passage? Do you see past, present and future aspects of salvation in this passage?
  • What is the purpose of trials in our life? Do you think about this in the midst of trials?
  • What is the connection between faith, joy, and salvation?
  • How do you express your love for Jesus?
  • What things in your life subdue in expressible joy?

Hebrews: Jesus is Greater

Do you realize what you have in Jesus, right now?

One of the greatest truths you’ll receive in your lifetime is this: There’s nothing in your life that’s greater than Jesus. Nothing.

It is possible to grow familiar with who Jesus is and forget what he has done, is doing, and will do. You can grow discouraged and apathetic and distant from Jesus, your first love. You forgot who Jesus is. And something else becomes greater than Jesus.

This is the message of Hebrews. Jesus is greater. He’s greater than your sin. He’s greater than your enemy. He’s greater than your failure. Jesus is greater and there is no other substitute.

Hebrews is not for the shallow of faith. The author will push you into he deep end of the promises and purposes of God. As you swim in the deep waters of this Hebrew you will appreciate more wholly your Rescuer and Redeemer—Jesus the Great.

Click here to Downloads the Hebrews Study Guide

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brief but big

Climbing up Mount Everest for a fit team can take almost two months from base to summit. Most climbers upon reaching the summit will stay for only 15 minutes before making their way back down. Why such a brief stay on such a big climb? One would say that they had been admiring the beauty of their surroundings during the entire climb from the base to the top. Getting to the top was a great accomplishment, but the climb was greater.

Reading the book of Hebrews could be a lot like climbing Mount Everest. All along the way we behold the beauty of Jesus. With each step we see his greatest. Once at the summit there is not much more to say, but there is a lot to celebrate.

As we reach the end of the climb, the author of the letter of Hebrews wraps up his letter by saying, “I have written to you briefly.” (v.22) Surely he is being sarcastic, right? By today’s standards, if this letter was an email it would take about an hour to read aloud. It’s the kind of email many would skim through or file for another day when there was more time to read it.

Hebrews is a big letter that makes a big difference. It desperately needs to be read and understood by Christians today. It is a letter that teaches and changes lives. So how does the author close such a letter?

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.” – Hebrews 13:20-25

First, he closes with a blessing in Jesus name (vs.20-21). It is a fitting conclusion to the letter in which Jesus was the big idea from beginning to end. There is no greater document in the New Testament that explains the correlation of the Old Testament to the work of Christ, than Hebrews. Even the last few verses are jam-packed with Christology and the practical out-working of that theology. In other words, the out-working of Christ’s work has a continual in-working within Christ’s followers.

Second, he closes with a charge and good wishes (vs.22-25). Ink could not tell all he wanted to say, but it will have to do for now. In the same breath, he wishes to visit his readers soon with Timothy who was just released from prison. This in a roundabout way connects the author to Paul’s ministry, possibly in Italy. We may never know who the author was, but he certainly wrote a stellar thesis on the life and ministry of Jesus.

Hebrews may be a difficult letter to digest in one sitting. It is like a dinner of thirteen courses with each chapter being a meal of its own. Each meal filling and satisfying the soul. Each meal giving us a greater and greater taste for Jesus, the undoubted big idea of Hebrews. The author masterfully shows how there is no equal nor rival. Jesus is above all. He is not only great, he is the greatest of all.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are your overall thoughts, impressions, and takeaways from the letter to the Hebrews?
  • What did you learn about Jesus from this letter? How did you love for Jesus grow? If you were the author of Hebrews what more would you want to say about Jesus?
  • How is Jesus the big idea of the letter? How does the letter show that Jesus is the greatest of all?
  • How does a theology of Jesus impact practice? In other words, how does knowing about Jesus’ life and work affect the way you live?
  • What would you like to go back and discover more about within the letter?
  • Write a short prayer of adoration or appreciation:

Jesus is the Great Object of Our Faith

Steve and I would ride our bikes for miles. We’d push each other faster and longer. After the ride we would wobble onto the road and run. Steve was more than 20 years older than me, but he could lap me on the run. That is embarrassing for a young guy, but exhilarating for an old guy. He knew running was my weakest event training for a Tri and he would remind me, “Justin, this is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.” It did help to endure the middle of the run when I was tempted to walk or even quit.

I was a sprinter on my middle school track team. I ran the 100m and 400m. Running long distances was not my thing. Likewise, in life I would much rather endure a sprint than a marathon. However, this life resembles an Iron Man more than a quick jaunt.

We have just walked through the Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of examples that help you to know what faith looks like and what God can do through a human vessel. Each name is an example for your benefit. That you too would exercise faith, endure through the trials and resist temptations in this life (Hebrews 12:1a).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Now it is time to run (v.1b). The author of Hebrews describes life like a race. The course is not flat or oval like a track. It has high mountains and low valleys. There is pain and heartache. There are injuries and insecurities. In this life there are innumerable “weights” that taunt, trap, or trip us up.

Often our eyes are fixed on the weights and we worry what will come next or what will come of us. Yet those who have gone before us have given some valuable advice: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (v.2).

That might sound nebulous. How do I fix my eyes on Jesus when I can’t see him? Or what exactly am I to fix my eyes on? The key is keeping your eyes fixed on how Jesus endured the cross and shame. Do you remember Jesus final days? Do you remember the trial, the rejection, the flogging, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem, the blood, the tears, the prayers, the cries? Do you see how he endured? Remember this.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is hard but helpful.  Ultimately, Jesus is our example. He shows us what faith looks like. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He shows us what endurance looks like. He endured with joy and obedience. He shows us we are not alone. He is seated at the right hand of God as our intercessor.

Like my friend Steve, we need running buddies. One who will encourage you from time to time and say, “This is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.”

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think the author focuses on endurance after exploring the role of faith?
  • Read Philippians 3: 12– 14. How does this passage compare to the message in Hebrews 12? How is the example of a race so helpful?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. To what does Paul liken the Christian faith? How does he say we should live this life of faith? What does this mean practically for us as individuals and churches?
  • What are the weights Christians should remove so they can run the race? What are some of the things that believers cling to that hinder a their faith?
  • How is faith at times a grueling race? What sorts of “hardship” will believers endure as they grow their faith?
  • How can one have joy and endure at the same time? What can you learn from Jesus about melding of joy and endurance?
  • What are ways today’s church looks backward instead of forward? How can you follow the example of the heroes of faith and look ahead to the joy that awaits you? What role does faith play in the ability to look ahead?