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.

What Are You Building Your Life On?

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Many of us often think about Christianity in terms of those who believe and those who don’t believe. But Jesus often taught about something that is not quite as clear as believers and nonbelievers. It is a condition that people often don’t see in themselves, and therefore a trap that is very deceptive and dangerous.

This trap that Jesus taught about is the trap of unauthentic discipleship. It is being a fan of Jesus but not a faithful follower of Jesus and not being able to see the difference between the two.

As I look back over my own life, there’s a period of eight years or so between my sophomore year of high school and my fourth year of pro-ball where I was stuck in this trap. I believed the Bible, I would pray, I would go to church or chapel, I would talk to other people about what I believed and encourage them to trust Jesus, but I was still doing things and living my life based primarily on what I wanted to do. I would do things that I knew Jesus would not approve of, but I would find ways to justify it or to make it feel like it wasn’t that big of a deal. But then God got my attention in the offseason of 2005 and opened up my eyes to see that I wasn’t what I thought I was this whole time. I wasn’t for real; I wasn’t a faithful follower.

You see, we can believe the stories about Jesus, read the Bible, pray to God and be actively involved in Christian service and yet still be what we are identifying here as an unauthentic disciple. We can be fans of Jesus but not faithful followers of Jesus.

You can know a particular sports team inside and out. You can follow them, be passionate and enthusiastic about them. You can wear a jersey, have season tickets and refer to the team as We, but that does not make you a member of that particular team. That just means that you’re a really good fan of the team. And that doesn’t work when it comes to following Jesus either. Being a really good fan of Jesus doesn’t make you a faithful follower of Jesus.

So how can we know for sure whether or not we are for real when it comes to our allegiance to Jesus? How can we make sure that we are faithful followers and not just good fans?

Well, since unauthentic discipleship is often hard to see in ourselves, we must go beneath the exterior aspects of our faith and examine the underlying foundation.

There’s a helpful illustration that Jesus gives to conclude his Sermon on the Mount. It’s an illustration about two different builders who build two different houses. And Jesus uses this illustration to help us see the underlying difference between being a fan or supporter of Jesus versus being a faithful follower of Jesus.

The Sermon on the Mount

In Matthew 7:12, Jesus sums up the kingdom way of life that he has been teaching about in the Sermon on the Mount with what we call the Golden Rule. Jesus teaches that authentic followers of Jesus are to love everyone around them by treating other people like they want to be treated. And so, all the radical demands of the kingdom way of life that Jesus lays out in Matthew 5-7 are culminated into this one main principle in 7:12.

From there, Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount in 7:13-27 with four short teachings that are all doing the same thing. All four are forcing us to make a decision concerning these radical demands. In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, R.T. France puts it this way:

“Together [these four short teachings] constitute a striking call for authenticity in the disciple’s response to the demands of Jesus. Each presents a contrast between the authentic and the unauthentic disciple, and this authenticity is found not in the disciple’s profession but in his performance. A professed adherence to Jesus and his teaching may be very impressive so as to deceive others, and even the professed disciple himself, but Jesus here gives warning that it will not deceive God, who looks for practical results. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not meant to be admired but to be obeyed.”

In the first three of these final four teachings, Jesus talks about two different paths, two different trees and two different kinds of servants. Today, I want us to look at the last of these four teachings where Jesus talks about two different foundations.

The Illustration

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with these words:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been built on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was that fall.

This illustration is not a difficult one to understand, and we don’t need to over-spiritualize it. Here we have two different houses that look exactly the same on the outside. The exterior aspects of the house are the same. So what is the big thing that sets these two houses apart? What’s the key difference between them?

The key difference is something that cannot be seen from the outside. The key difference is the underlying foundation on which these two houses have been built. One is built on solid rock and the other is built on sand. Only the house that is built on solid rock will be able to withstand the storms that will eventually come its way. And Jesus compares the wise man who builds his house on solid rock to the authentic disciple who hears what Jesus has taught and does what Jesus tells him to do. Wise men obey Jesus.

Jesus says that only a foolish man would build his house on sand. Only a foolish man would hear about the life and teaching of Jesus but then not do the things that Jesus has told us to do. Only a foolish man would think that he can do whatever he wants to do in life and not eventually suffer the consequences of those decisions. Only a foolish man would live his life as a good fan of Jesus when he is called to be a faithful follower.

So what is the thing that you are building your life on? What is the underlying foundation of your life? What determines how you live and the decisions that you make? Is it your own desires, feelings, intelligence and the influence of other’s lives or the is it the desires of God and the life and teaching of Jesus?

What is the thing that you are trusting will enable you to stand confidently before Jesus when you finally see him face to face? What are you placing your hope of forgiveness and eternal life on? Is it in your beliefs and your pretty good behavior compared to other people or is it on the work of Jesus and your total allegiance to him as your Redeemer and King?

Conclusion

Jesus is warning us: Since unauthentic discipleship is often hard to see in ourselves, we must go beneath the exterior aspects of our faith and examine the underlying foundation.

Trusting Jesus as your Redeemer, swearing your allegiance to Jesus as your King and obeying everything that Jesus has taught us is like building your house on solid rock.

This mixture of trust, allegiance and obedience is the underlying foundation of a faithful follower of Jesus. And this is the only foundation that will withstand the pressures of this life and that final day of judgement where we will see Jesus face to face.

Let’s build our lives on obedience to Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is not meant to be heard and admired; it is meant to be heard and obeyed. Don’t just be a really good fan; be a faithful follower.

A Disciple's Prayer

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What if Jesus was serious when he said, “I want you to pray like this”?

Sometimes we struggle with prayer because we are unsure of what to say or we feel like we’ve run out of things to say. But Jesus taught his disciples exactly what to say, and he wanted them to say it regularly.

Over the past few weeks, I have been studying the Lord’s Prayer which I actually think should be called a Disciple’s Prayer instead. I don’t say that in order to criticize tradition or to be cute with words; I say that because it is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, and one that he expected them to memorize and pray regularly. As I’ve studied this prayer over the last few weeks, I feel like I am rediscovering something that has been hidden in plain sight, and it all started by me finally asking a basic question:

Why did Jesus actually teach his disciples a very specific prayer, and why did he choose the particular words and phrases that he chose?

I am learning that this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is so much more profound than we often realize, and that it was given for a specific purpose that we often miss. Part of the problem is that we have to really understand what Jesus saw himself accomplishing in order to understand his motives for giving his disciples this specific prayer.

Jesus saw himself as the one who had come to inaugurate the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not simply the way to go to heaven when you die but rather the way to participate in God’s mission of reconciling heaven and earth. And it’s in the context of this mission that Jesus saw himself accomplishing that we are to understand this specific prayer that he teaches his disciples. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated.

As N.T. Wright puts it:

“The prayer says: I want to be part of his kingdom-movement. I find myself drawn into his heaven-on-earth way of living.”

This prayer sums up Jesus’ own life and ministry, and it keeps us focused on the new way of life and the new way of seeing the world that ought to define every disciple of Jesus. We can better understand this prayer by looking at its five big areas focus: The Father, The Kingdom, Daily Bread, Forgiveness, and Deliverance.

The Father

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be holy and treated with honor”

Jesus wants us to remember who it is that we are praying to. We are not praying to a general God who is distant and difficult to know on a meaningful level. We are praying to the God who has made himself known through the life and work of Jesus. Jesus even went as far to say that if you have seen him then you have seen the Father.

Jesus also wants us to remember that it is our responsibility as his disciples to represent the Father to the rest of the world and to honor him in the presence of others. The tragic story of humanity is that we have misrepresented God and dishonored his name. But Jesus came on a mission declaring that it’s time for the Father to receive the honor that he deserves. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us aware of the fact that we are representing the name of God everywhere that we go and in everything that we say. This prayer helps us stay concerned about the Father’s reputation and committed to honoring him in the presence of others.

The Kingdom

“May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus wants us to remember the very thing that his life and work was all about — the inauguration of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God’s plan for reconciling heaven and earth, and we have been called to repent and to participate in that mission.

The kingdom comes as more and more people swear their allegiance to the Father as King, and his will is done as his people obey him and do the kinds of things that he desires for us to do. Therefore, praying this prayer keeps us focused on doing what God wants us to do in everyday life, and it sets our sights back on actively participating in God’s kingdom-movement that is reconciling heaven and earth.

Daily Bread

“Please give us today our daily bread”

Jesus intentionally uses the phrase “daily bread” to remind his people of God’s provision for his people in the wilderness in-between their former life in Egypt and their future life in the Promised Land. God’s people had to learn how to depend on God for everything that they needed.

Jesus wants us to see that we too are in a “wilderness period” where we have been set free from our former life, but we are still on the way to life in the eternal Promised Land. And so, Jesus wants us to learn how to depend on God for everything that we need. This prayer helps us cultivate a mindset that views each day’s basic provisions as a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a regular reminder of our neediness and helps us remain aware of the neediness of others.

Forgiveness

“Forgive us of our sin as we also have forgiven those who wrong us.”

Jesus wants us to remember the radical forgiveness that God has granted us and the radical forgiveness that we must grant to others. Forgiveness is an essential element of a disciple of Jesus and the kingdom of God. The natural way of life in this world is to get even with those who wrong us, but Jesus wants us to embrace a new way of life where we give up our right to retaliate and choose to extend unconditional and unmerited forgiveness instead.

This is so important to Jesus that he actually adds an additional footnote after the prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 where he strongly but straightforwardly declares that if you outright refuse to forgive someone then you are showing that you have not truly internalized and understood the grace of God and the heart of the gospel. This prayer reminds us of the radical forgiveness that God has granted us, and it is a regular reminder that we must forgive everyone who betrays us or hurts us no matter how hard that might be.

Deliverance

“Please don’t lead us into a time of testing but deliver us from evil”

Lastly, Jesus ends with this sober reminder that if we embrace this new way of life, then we can expect opposition, temptation and times of testing. Each time we pray, Jesus wants us to remember that being his disciple means that we are willing to be led by the Father and that sometimes we may be led towards situations that we do not like or that we do not want.

We can ask God to not lead us into places that we don’t want to go, but then we must let it go and trust him. It’s essentially like saying, “Please don’t lead me into a time of testing and struggle, but if you do then please strengthen me and deliver me from being overcome by it or subjected to any powers of evil.”

Praying this prayer helps us remember that the Father is the great Savior and Deliverer of his people. He always has been, and he always will be. This prayer helps us to remember the presence, the power and the goodness of God no matter what situation or circumstance might be heading our way.

Conclusion

And so, that is a disciple’s prayer as taught by Jesus himself. This is a prayer that is meant to keep us focused on participating in the kingdom-movement that Jesus inaugurated. Jesus was serious when he told his disciples, “I want you to pray like this.”

We should never be at a lost for words when it comes to prayer. Jesus has told us what to say, and he wants us to say it often. Jesus expected his disciples to memorize this prayer and to pray it regularly. And so, let’s rediscover this treasure that’s been hidden in plain sight and let’s start each day with the prayer of a disciple.

Kingdom Way of Life Series

This season’s Baseball Chapel teaching schedule has us teaching weekly messages from the gospel of Matthew. To supplement this teaching schedule, I have decided to upload a series that we did several years ago on the Sermon on the Mount as new episodes on the Things Above podcast. This is a series that I first taught four years ago as Sunday chapel messages for the Braves, and one that I updated two years later for our Thursday morning men’s group here in Atlanta.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ most popular teaching from which many sermons have been preached and many books have been written, and it is a portion of Scripture that many of us consider familiar and something that we already understand fairly well. So that begs the question:

Why did I decide to teach such a popular portion of Scripture instead of something else?

The answer was fairly straightforward. As I read through the history of the church and observed great moments of reformation and revival that had taken place at various moments during that history, I began to come to the conclusion that our current condition as the modern church in Western civilization is one that seems to be plagued with powerlessness and superficiality.

So what we can do to resist superficial Christianity and to rediscover real devotion to Christ?

We need a fresh wind of authenticity and a firm grasp of our identity as Christians.

It is my hope that a sincere and serious study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount will lead us to repent of our current sinfulness (if needed) and move us towards a life of true righteousness that exceeds any and all forms of superficial Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount is the great summary of what a Christian should look like and how a Christian ought to live.

The Sermon on the Mount teaches us what it means and what it looks like to live the kingdom way of life. It lays before us what human life and human community should look like when they are reorganized according to the reality that Jesus is our King.

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Thanks for reading and listening, and I hope this is helpful to you!