The wrong crowd – Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is still eating with sinners.  The church is full of them.  On any given Sunday, in the midst of any given Christian congregation, you will find them.  Jesus is comfortable there and intends to make these people his friends.

One reason I say this has to do with our perception of hypocrisy.  The true hypocrites in this story were the scribes of the Pharisees who thought eating with certain people was beneath them. Who were they to feel so self-righteous?  In reality they needed Jesus too.

The church that we see is often a lot like the crowd here at Levi’s banquet.  Jesus is surely present and so are his disciples.  The disciples, as we know from the Gospels and Acts, were themselves in a state of continuous spiritual growth.  They were imperfect on their very best days.  And then there are those who are generic followers.  They may not even be believers just yet.  Or maybe they are very new to the faith and each day brings them a major lesson.  Or they may just be friends of Levi who came to the banquet, who just heard of Jesus that day, and have no desire to repent of anything at this time.

Let’s expect a lot of ourselves as far as holiness and spiritual growth.  Let’s also be gracious with others.  You’re going to find yourself sitting next to some sinner, tax collector or present day equivalent next time you attend any church gathering.  This isn’t the wrong crowd, but the right one, if you are looking for Jesus.

A Prayer Prompted by Mark 1

Heavenly Father,

We understand that when Jesus came as a sinless Savior entering a sinful world, all of history changed. We benefit from his example and incomparable service to us.

Help us to appreciate how much he identifies with us by enduring temptations, caring for our needs and ultimately dying so that we might receive eternal life.

Help us to be willing to serve him as our God and Savior, being willing to leave anything and everything behind that stands in the way of complete devotion to our Lord.

Help us also to be willing to serve him right where we are, if that is your will for us.

Give us supernatural insight so as to always be aware of the spiritual battle that is raging around us. We want to continue to further your kingdom and see your word go out to everyone everywhere.

And help us to be devoted to the proclamation of the gospel message, the message that tells us that Jesus Christ our Lord has come. We need to repent and believe in him.

In Christ’s name we pray,

Amen.

What’s inside? – Matthew 23:27-28

As Jesus cuts into the religious hypocrites of his day, one of the “woes” he pronounces on them is this:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

It’s a graphic picture.  Rotting corpses lying behind clean, newly painted, white outer walls.  The smells of fresh paint and decomposition combine in an oddly unpleasant mixture.  We might only wish the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus referred to were the only ones ever to be found guilty as charged.  

Unfortunately, as long as there shall be religion in a fallen world, we can count on the existence of religious hypocrisy.  If the world, the flesh and the devil can’t get us to fall headlong into sin and drown, they will keep trying to find something for us to dip our toes in when no one is looking.  It may be some secret dishonesty or indiscretion.  It may be a smug self-satisfaction that we are not as evil as someone else.  It doesn’t matter what the rottenness is caused by, it only matters that it is there.

The starting point in reversing the process is simple honesty that hypocrisy is real, wicked, and consistently knocking at our door.  Basic honesty with ourselves and others removes the need for religious hypocrisy and is almost already its opposite.  We don’t have to clean up the outside to impress anyone and the inside will not deteriorate beyond a certain point.  The Holy Spirit, if he dwells within, will see to it.

It’s the confessing sinner that is able to repent of sin and the humble servant that can somehow live with an outward flaw.  Hypocrisy is an obstacle in the way of genuine spiritual growth.  The highway toward true holiness has many off-ramps that lead to hypocrisy.  We need to be sure not to take any of them.  When our inside and outside are in harmony, both trending toward a Christlike end, all is well.  One day we shall be inwardly and outwardly pure.

Christ’s parable of the wedding feast – Matthew 22:1-14

The Parable of the Wedding Feast continues a string of parables that Jesus began in Matthew 21.  The full text of the parable is here.

The king represents God and his son is the Messiah.  The invited guests would be the nation of Israel up to the time of Jesus.  Their poor treatment of many prophets and messengers is well documented in the Old Testament and continued to the time of John the Baptist.

God’s response was to destroy their city, Jerusalem, and this happened more than once.  Jesus seems to be looking to what would be a future destruction from his own perspective.  

Since the invited guests refused to take part in the festivities, the king encourages anyone at all to come.  The point is that the wedding is going to take place with or without the originally invited guests.

In the ancient world, there were examples of kings who handed out special clothing to their guests.  One outcome of this was that everyone was on the same level — no pride for the wealthy and stylish, no shame for those who were poor.  All of them were honored guests of the king.  (See Gundry 1994).  

One man was wearing his own clothes, apparently thinking they were good enough.  He has no answer for the king when he is confronted.  He is thrown out immediately.

Here are a few things we should take to heart from this parable:  

  1. Not all those raised with a religious background accept God’s invitation to the royal wedding of his Son.
  2. For example, many of the Jews in Old Testament times or the time of Jesus refused.
  3. Many raised in the church today do the same, ignoring the invitation and belittling God’s messengers.  They believe they know better.
  4. Even if we say yes, we must remember that we are allowed in only on God’s terms not on our own. 
  5. The result is that many who are “bad” as well as those who are “good” (v.10) end up as guests in the wedding when the party starts. They all came in at God’s invitation and on his terms.  Those who refuse Christ’s offer or try to negotiate something other than entrance as a result of his free gift find themselves left out.

A Prayer Prompted by Matthew 9:36-38

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Heavenly Father,

Christ had compassion on the shepherdless crowds who were harassed and helpless.  In response he asked us to pray, and so this is what we are doing.  He alone is their true Shepherd, their Good Shepherd and Chief Shepherd.

There are multitudes who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of who he is and what he has done.  There are multitudes more who need to hear it again, who need to be reminded or given one more opportunity to respond.

None of us can accomplish this task alone.  Please, heavenly Father, send out laborers.  As Jesus pointed out, the harvest is truly plentiful and the laborers few.  Send out laborers into this great harvest field.  Let their labors lead to the increase of your church.  Let their labors be used to build your church.  Let eternity be filled with more people brought into your family as a result of the laborers that you send out in response to our prayers.  Let disciples be multiplied and the knowledge of your word be increased.  And let your name be glorified throughout all ages as a result.

Amen.

Kingdom prayer – Matthew 6:9-13

The traditional Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish reveals Christ’s religious roots when we compare it to his model prayer.  Both of them give us a great framework for meditation.

Mourner’s Kaddish

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

(English translation from My Jewish Learning.  https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/text-of-the-mourners-kaddish/)

Christ’s Model Prayer (Matt 6:9-13)

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Amen and amen!

(Thanks to Craig Blomberg for pointing out the connection in his commentary on Matthew 1992, New American Commentary Vol 22, B & H Publishing)

Matthew 3 Verse by Verse

Matt photoAll four Gospels mention John the Baptist and his ministry of preparing the way for Jesus.  Today we look at John and the baptism of Christ.

Matthew 03.pdf

Matthew 03.mp3