The Regrettable But Inevitable Conflict

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So far this season, I’ve been reading, studying and writing each week on each chapter from Matthew’s Gospel that lines up with the Baseball Chapel schedule for the 2019 season. And while reading one chapter a week is sufficient and a good habit for many of us to develop, it is also easy to lose sight of the big picture perspective of what Matthew is doing in his Gospel when we are only reading one chapter each week. This week we are in chapter ten, but this chapter (like any other chapter) is best understood in the context of everything that has come before it.

In the first three and a half chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, he intentionally links Jesus to the story of the Hebrew Bible by portraying Jesus’ birth as a new genesis and describing him as coming out of Egypt, through the waters and into the wilderness to be tested. Then when we get halfway through chapter four, Matthew shifts his focus to the launching of Jesus’ message and ministry with these words:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Matthew describes Jesus’ “kingdom ministry” by listing three specific things that Jesus was doing:

Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people (4:23).

This three-fold description of Jesus’ mission creates the formula for understanding what Matthew records in the next few chapters. In chapters 5-7, Matthew records a big block of teaching that shows us what Jesus went around teaching and proclaiming, and then in chapters 8-9, Matthew records what it looked like when Jesus went around healing every disease and affliction among the people. This section (5-9) ends like it started with Matthew once again referring to this three-fold formula when he concludes:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction (9:35).

All of this helps us better understand what we are dealing with when we get to chapter ten. Chapter ten is the second big block of teaching by Jesus (chapters 5-7 was the first), and it is a specific set of instructions that he gives his disciples on how to participate in the kingdom mission and what to expect when you do — some people will accept you and some people will reject you.

One big thing to notice at the beginning of this chapter is that Jesus gives his disciples the same message that he has been proclaiming and teaching (“the kingdom has arrived”) and the same healing power that he has been demonstrating (chapters 8-9). And Matthew records these instructions by Jesus in such a way that the principles go beyond his original disciples and provide instruction for all followers of Jesus throughout history on how to continue and carry out the kingdom mission that he launched.

That being said, here are three observations for us from these instructions given by Jesus:

First, as disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to be participating in this ongoing mission that Jesus and his original small group of disciples started. Being a Christian is not an insurance policy that secures you eternal life after death, and following Jesus is not primarily about how to go to heaven when you die. A follower of Jesus is someone who has sworn their allegiance to Jesus, who has submitted to his authority over their lives, and who has signed up to participate in the mission that he has launched. And a follower of Jesus participates in this mission by doing the same sort of things that Jesus was doing — teaching, proclaiming and healing.

Next, as disciples of Jesus, we should expect to be treated as he was treated. We will be accepted by some people, and it will encourage us to experience the blessings of their appreciation. However, we will also be criticized, mocked and rejected by some people too. We should expect this kind of treatment and not be so scared or cowardly that we try to downplay our allegiance to Jesus in order to secure the approval of others. Any attempt to keep our allegiance to Jesus private exposes where our ultimate allegiance lies — in our own well-being and in the approval of others.

And then lastly, as disciples of Jesus, we should show hospitality to and support other disciples of Jesus who are carrying out the kingdom mission. This is another practical way that we are to participate in the kingdom mission launched by Jesus. Even the smallest act of support for this mission is worth a reward in the eyes of God.

And so, let’s read this teaching of Jesus and remember that the day we decided to follow him is the day that we signed up to join the kingdom mission that he has launched. And let’s accept the fact that our allegiance to Jesus is going to regrettably but inevitably bring social and personal conflict on some level. As disciples of Jesus, we will be forced to make difficult decisions about where our ultimate loyalty lies. Let’s be wise about how we carry out this mission, and let’s stay focused on being faithful even if that means being unpopular.

What Does God Want From You?

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Who is God and what does he want or expect from me?

Perhaps there is no greater question to ask yourself and to spend your life trying to answer than the one presented above. Our view of what God is like and our assumptions about what he wants or expects from us will determine how we interact with him and whether or not we will fully devote ourselves to a relationship with him.

There’s a story in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus challenges some of the most basic assumptions that people have about God and reveals to us what God is like and what he wants from us. Matthew demonstrates how the crowds that were following Jesus were astonished and amazed by his authority, but this was something that was difficult for the Jewish religious establishment to get on board with because to them it often seemed like Jesus was disregarding the authority of the Hebrew Bible and doing things that just didn’t line up with their view of God.

And so, in this particular story that we’re going to look at today, we see the religious leaders questioning what Jesus is doing, and we see Jesus challenging their assumptions about what God wants from us. Matthew is using this story to highlight a key aspect of Jesus’ life, teaching and mission:

God is bigger than the boxes that we try to put him in, and God wants something much more profound from us than just rule-keeping and doing religious things.

The story is found in Matthew 9:9-13:

As Jesus was heading down the road, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed Jesus. Later, Jesus reclined at table in the house, and behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. So when the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “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, only 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.”

So Jesus is interacting and embracing people that were considered immoral and socially unacceptable. And this is a big reason why the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a hard time getting on board with him. Jesus was saying things and doing things that didn’t line up with their view of what God is like and what he wants from us. And so, as they question what Jesus is doing, Jesus very deliberately and lovingly challenges them by pointing out that their assumptions about what God wants from his people are off.

Jesus tells these Bible scholars to go back and learn a particular passage that is found in the book of Hosea. It’s a passage that they would have already known well, but Jesus is saying that they’ve missed the big point that was being made in that passage and throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. And it’s in this passage, that we too are given a portrait of God that might challenge some of our own assumptions about what he wants from us. Jesus tells these religious leaders and us today to go back and learn what God meant when he said:

“I desire mercy over sacrifices.”

Now, that word mercy is a good word, but it doesn’t do justice to the full meaning of the original Hebrew word that is used in that passage. The original Hebrew word used there is an extremely significant word that is used over 250 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is the word hesed which is sometimes translated as loving-kindness. It is a very difficult word to translate, but it’s this idea of this over-the-top kind of love in which you give someone everything even though they have no reason or right to expect anything from you.

Hesed is a Hebrew word that describes what God is like and what he wants from us. In the most famous description of God that is used over and over again throughout the Hebrew Bible, we are told that God is a God who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and full of hesed. God is full of this loving-kindness.

Jesus explained what this kind of loving-kindness looks like in several of his parables. Hesed is seen in the way that the good father goes over-the-top in embracing his prodigal son when he returns home. Hesed is seen in the way that the good Samaritan goes over-the-top in taking care of the injured man that he finds on the side of the road. And hesed is seen most powerfully in the way that the Creator of the world went above-and-beyond what seems possible when he took on humanity and came into his creation to be with us and then to willingly suffer death himself in order to rescue his creation and give us eternal life.

So Jesus is telling these religious leaders and us today that we need to go back and make sure that we understand who God is and what it is that he really wants from us. He is a God who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and full of this loving-kindness that led him to come into this world so that we could be forgiven of sin and given a new life. That is what leads Jesus to point out that this is the very thing that he is doing and demonstrating in his own life. He tells these religious leaders that he has not come to pat people on the back for their rule-keeping and religious performance; he has come to redeem and to put people’s lives back in order.

That is what God is like and that is what God wants from us. God is a God full of hesed, and he wants us to be his special agents of hesed in this world who go over-the-top in extending this loving-kindness to others.

Hesed is pursuing a conversation or a relationship with someone who would never expect you to give them the time of day. Hesed is doing random acts of kindness for people who have no reason to expect that from you. And hesed is participating in the mission to heal the world with the hope that is only found in following and reorganizing your entire life under the authority of Jesus.

Many of us have assumptions about what God is like and what he wants from us. But if you’re still struggling to get on board with Jesus then I challenge you to go back to the Scriptures and make sure that you actually understand who God is and what he really wants from us.

3 Observations on Praying Like Paul

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A leader must remain aware of his desperate need for God to help him and to guide him in his leadership role. One of the ways that we can stay aware of this desperate need is through a devotion to regular times of prayer. Prayer is the expression of our life’s dependence on God.

As someone who has been given the responsibility to lead other men and to help them in their obedience to Jesus and their overall spiritual development, I am often reminded of my own inadequacies for such a challenging task. It is humbling to admit this, but I often find myself trying to lead others with a mindset that believes if I study enough, learn enough and work hard enough, I can change people’s lives. The funny thing about that mindset is that personal experience continues to teach me that it’s not that simple and that I don’t have that kind of power. I can keep trying hard, but only God can transform hearts.

And so, a wise leader must acknowledge his own limitations and remain aware of his desperate need for God to help him and to guide him in his leadership role. And this means that one of the most valuable practices a leader can undertake is the practice of praying for those that you are responsible for leading.

So how exactly should we pray for those that we are leading?

Well, a good place to start is by reading and studying the four personal prayers of the apostle Paul that he describes in his own words in Ephesians 1, Ephesians 3, Philippians 1 and Colossians 1. In his oversight and responsibility towards these people, Paul writes to them and describes how he has been praying for them. These prayers tell us how we ought to pray, what we should ask for and why we should ask for it.

How We Should Pray

Paul mentions the frequency and posture of his prayers for the people that he is leading. He says that he bows his knees before the Father and that he does not cease to pray for these people. In the same way, we too should exhibit a posture that honors and respects God’s authority as King, and we should pray regularly for the people that we are trying to lead. This may or may not mean that we pray for them everyday, but it seems reasonable to say that we should be praying for them weekly or at least every-other-week.

What We Should Ask For

When you read all four of these prayers, it becomes strikingly clear what Paul wants the most for those that he is leading. He regularly asks God for an increase in their knowledge and wisdom. He refers to knowledge six different times in the four prayers and repeatedly uses words like discernment, wisdom, comprehension, understanding and enlightenment. Paul believes that the renewing of a person’s mind will fuel the renovation of their heart.

In the same way, we too should ask God to help those that we are leading to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to flip the lights on in the hearts and minds of others so that they will have a better view of God and all that he does for us. We can be incredible teachers, but again only God can transform the human mind and lead people to live with the wisdom and discernment that he gives. We are trying to help people learn and embrace a new worldview and a new way of life, and that requires a powerful work of God that goes beyond what we can accomplish on our own.

Why We Should Ask For It

Paul’s focus in these prayers is on an increase in knowledge, but his goal is not that people will simply know more information about God. Paul wants people to gain a better knowledge of God because he knows that this will also give people the insight that they need to love one another better and to live in harmony with one another.

The goal here is that this increase in knowledge and love will cultivate a desire in us to pursue what is pure and right and good in every situation and therefore help us make better decisions in life where we do just that. The goal is that an increase in knowledge will help us live a new way of life where we make wise decisions that would truly bless others and honor God.

And so, in the same way, we too should ask God that the Holy Spirit would be such a strong influence in the lives of those that we are leading that it completely changes the way that they see the world around them and the way that they choose to live each and every day of their lives. We should ask God to help others better comprehend his love that is incomprehensible. Because as people begin to comprehend and experience and embrace the love that describes our God and as they become more aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives then they will increasingly find themselves becoming more and more like Jesus himself — which is the goal.

Conclusion

Prayer is the expression of our life’s dependence on God, and prayer is an essential element for those in a position of leadership. Paul was devoted to praying regularly for those that he was leading, and he gives us a very practical example of how we ought to be praying we well. And so, if we want to be wise leaders and faithful servants of God, it wouldn’t hurt if we studied these four prayers and started praying like Paul.

Let’s pray regularly for those that we are leading with a posture that honors God for who he is. Let’s ask God to enlighten their hearts and minds with knowledge of who he is and what he is doing in this world. And let’s ask God to strengthen them with his Spirit so that this increase in knowledge would transform their way of life and lead them to become more like Jesus himself.

We've Never Seen Anything Like This

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According to Matthew, there were three regular activities on Jesus’ calendar — he was teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in social settings and also healing diseases and afflictions among the people (4:23). The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) introduces us to the teaching and proclaiming ministry of Jesus, but what did it look like when Jesus went around healing diseases and afflictions?

The Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the authority of Jesus in his teaching. In chapters 8-9, Matthew seeks to display the authority of Jesus through his actions. This next section of Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of stories that Matthew has intentionally included to highlight Jesus’ healing ministry.

Sometimes in our more modern approach to Scripture, we tend to read or teach from one small section at a time, and we can miss out on the big picture ideas that the original authors are wanting us to see and think about. Matthew has intentionally arranged nine stories in chapters 8-9 into three groups of three with short teaching moments in between that focus on the demands of truly following Jesus. The outline looks something like this:

  • (8:1-17) Three Miracle Stories

  • (8:18-22) Two Lessons on Following Jesus

  • (8:23-9:8) Three Miracle Stories

  • (9:9-17) Two Questions about Followers of Jesus

  • (9:18-34) Three Miracle Stories

So why has Matthew done this and what is he wanting us to see?

Different scholars have different views on what they believe Matthew is trying to communicate in these two chapters, but most of these views are highlighting the same basic ideas. If we back up from the individual passages far enough, we can see that the entire structure of chapters 5-9 form somewhat of an anthology that illustrates Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry summarized in 4:23 and then repeated at the end of this section in 9:35 — teaching, proclaiming and healing. And throughout this section, the main thing that seems to be highlighted is the unprecedented and unrivaled authority of Jesus.

After the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, Matthew tells us that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because he was teaching with an authority that was much greater than their normal Bible scholars. And then after the collection of miracle stories in chapters 8-9, Matthew tells us that the crowds marveled at what Jesus was doing and said that they had never seen anything like this before.

Through this mini-anthology of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew wants us to see how the mission of Jesus was fulfilling all the expectations associated with the promised Messiah. Jesus was not just another prophet in a long line of Jewish prophets. He was not just another rabbi in a long line of Jewish rabbis. Jesus was teaching in a way and doing things that nobody had ever done before, and the people that heard him teach and saw his actions were blown away by the authority that he seemed to possess.

And so let’s read these stories with a fresh perspective and a big picture lens of why Matthew has recorded them in the first place. Jesus possessed and demonstrated an unprecedented and unrivaled authority over Jewish religion, physical illness, spiritual forces, natural forces, sin and even death. And this authority should leave us astonished and amazed like the first-century crowds that followed him around, but it also demands a response of action. Matthew is trying to show us that Jesus’ unrivaled authority demands our unwavering allegiance.