The severity of sin and its remedy – Matthew 18:7-9

Jesus was never light on sin.  While infinitely gracious, compassionate and kind toward flawed and fallen people like ourselves, he understood the depth of our affliction.  He absolutely refused to minimize it.  As he saw it, both the tempter and the tempted put themselves at the most serious risk of judgment.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (ESV).

No solution for sin and its effects is too radical for Jesus.  Cut off the guilty body part and throw it away.  But here the depth of the problem is revealed.  We might imagine ourselves amputating till there was almost nothing left and still struggling against sin.  The source of our guilt cannot be found in the hand or the eye, or anything else that is removable.  Sin thrives in the lowest recesses of the heart.

David grasped this when he prayed in Psalm 51:10,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.

And this is what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27,

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This is what we need – a heart that desires to please God.  We don’t need one less limb or useful organ.  We need to become new people.  Receiving new life in Christ accomplishes this.  If we don’t have it, then that is what we need.  If we do have it, we need to learn to walk in it.  This is clearly summed up in the words of Paul.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  

Sin is severe – and probably more awful than we can understand, since our very perception of it is distorted by, well, sin!   Jesus took it so seriously he paid for it on the cross.  A new heart, a whole new self, is now available to us in Christ.

Matthew 17 Verse by Verse

Matt photoA few disciples have a mountain top experience with Jesus as witnesses of his Transfiguration.  Upon coming down, they find the rest of their group unsuccessfully trying to help a demonized boy.

Matthew 17.pdf

Matthew 17.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Concern for God’s Kingdom as Seen in Matthew 17

Heavenly Father,

We declare Jesus to be King of kings, Lord of lords and supreme Ruler of heaven and earth. We also declare him to be King, Lord and Ruler over our lives.  

May your Kingdom come and your will be done.  We ask your help in discerning your will so that we will more faithfully represent Christ as we go about our earthly business.  Help us to know how to exercise Christ’s authority in the spiritual realm, in our families, in our church and in our daily community life.  Help us to see when we are not doing so, especially when that is the result of a lack of faith. We admit that our faith needs to grow.

Help us also to see all those numerous cases when submission to earthly rulers is the right thing to do.  We thank you that we live in a place where we are free to worship you.  We pray that you would give those that govern wisdom to govern according to your will.  We also pray that you would have mercy on them and lead each of them into a saving knowledge of you.

And finally, we look forward to the soon return of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Little faith – Matthew 17:14-20

Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, this was the scene for Jesus and his disciples (from the ESV).

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Let’s admit right from the start that rebuking a demon and getting immediate, happy results is no small thing, unless you are Jesus.  He did this kind of thing all the time.  Most of us, let’s also admit, probably fall into the category of the disciples.  They failed.

Sometimes failure just happens.  Maybe what we tried was a bad idea.  Maybe it wasn’t God’s will.  Maybe the failure was in our approach, so we need to go back and try again with a lesson learned.  Sometimes we fail due to lack of faith.  That was the case here.

Jesus doesn’t attribute all problems to demons nor all failure to too little faith, so neither should we.  Sometimes, however, the battle is purely spiritual.  The gates of hell are busy in their futile efforts to prevail against the church.  Their failure is assured in the long run.  Jesus will see to that.  In the short run, we have to take a little responsibility.

Let’s willingly engage in the work of spiritual warfare, remembering that we serve a big God who promises victory.  And let’s not be hindered by our all-too-usual lack of faith.  The strength of the church, the souls of the lost and the advancement of God’s will in the world are dependent, to some extent, on our faithful engagement.

Matthew 16 Verse by Verse

Matt photoThis chapter is something of a hinge point in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus confronts the disciples regarding his identity as the Christ.  He also teaches them about the costs of discipleship.

Matthew 16.pdf        (Omar Yamout)

Matthew 16.mp3      (Omar Yamout)

A Prayer to Avoid Bad Teaching Prompted by Matthew 16:6-12

Heavenly Father,

Our Savior told his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” by which he meant their bad teaching.  As Christ’s disciples in this present day, we are no less prone to error than those early disciples were.  Help us to avoid it.

Help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth.  Help all the teaching we give and that which we willingly receive to be free from legalism, loose practice, error in doctrine and wrong motivation.  Let us speak and believe what is true, rather than that which is convenient.  And let us simultaneously avoid excessive harshness by adding to your commands.

Let our beliefs be correct and our lives be honorable, full of grace and true to your word.

And we ask this in the name of Jesus,

Amen.