Seeking positions – Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There may be a proper motive and a right way to seek desired positions within the church, but it isn’t easy.  Whatever it is, James and John still had to learn how to do it and so did their mother.

To refuse a position of responsibility, should it be offered to us, is to risk sounding like Moses.  He argued with God at the burning bush over his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt.  At the same time, to seek the position is risk looking like Zebedee’s family in the passage above.

God calls people to take positions of responsibility.  We don’t call ourselves.  The most balanced attitude toward this service/greatness tension might have been both expressed and lived out by Archbishop William Temple, who said, “I have never sought and never refused a position of greater responsibility,”*

The key might be in the love of the service itself, rather than the position.  Paul put it like this in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  The task, not the office, is the motivator.  Jesus uses terms like “servant,” “slave,” “to serve,” and “to give his life,” to describe his own mission.  Ours may look similar to his.

If we focus on service, we won’t get derailed by seeking positions.  It may be that a higher position of some sort will come our way.  If it doesn’t, we still get to serve right where we already are.

*Quoted in Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 191). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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

Resurrection Sunday 2019

Nabeel Qureshi 1983-2017

Nabeel Qureshi 1983 – 2017

Jesus’ death on the cross is not the end of the Christian message. The gospel is that Jesus then rose from the dead. Whereas every other life ended in death, Jesus’ death ended in life, and his resurrection is the basis of all Christian confidence.

Resurrection 2019.pdf

Resurrection 2019.mp3

Worthy of worship – Matt 2:1-2, 11

When the “wise men” or magi came from the east, they came to worship the king of the Jews.  To all but Christians this may seem odd since the Jews never worshiped their kings.  They were not a people whose religion allowed for the worship of humans, angels, anyone or anything else but the one true God.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (ESV throughout)

This non-worship of others besides God continued into the Christian era.  Take this example of Peter when he meets the Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10:24-26.

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

Paul and Barnabas react similarly to Peter in a similar situation.

11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

In Revelation John gets reprimanded not once, but twice by an angel for giving him excessive honor.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev 19:9-10)

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Rev 22:8-9)

Back to the magi.  In Matt 2:11, they follow through on their mission.

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Only God is worthy of our worship.  Jesus is worthy of our worship.  Jesus is God.

Central Streaming: Love Fulfills the Law

Paul’s Letter to the Romansapostle-paul

When we love others, we want what is best for them.  Loving our neighbor as ourselves includes all the basic commandments and more.

Romans 13.8-10.pdf

Romans 13.8-10.mp3

Central Streaming: God’s Gracious Plan

Paul’s Letter to the Romansapostle-paul

Unity in diversity is not only possible among God’s people, it is part of God’s gracious plan.

Rom 9.1-11.36.pdf

Rom 9.1-11.36.mp3