The Heart of a Traitor

Matthew 26

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I have often heard that there can be no forgiveness for Judas. After all, Judas committed the worst crime imaginable; he delivered Jesus into the hands of the executioner. Not only did he betray his closest friend, he sold Jesus for the price of 30 silver coins. People estimate this to be worth anywhere from $90-$3000. If you ever watch crime shows, you know that $3000 is a miserly sum to ask for a task such as that. This just shows how greedy Judas was. In fact, in John 12:3-6, we see that Judas frequently steals from the money box. Judas is the one who was upset with the woman who poured the expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. He claimed that he wanted to give the money to the poor, but he actually wanted to take some of the money for himself. According to some, these sins aren’t even the worst that he committed. The worst sin was denying forgiveness.

I want to challenge this idea. I believe it is entirely possible that Judas could have been forgiven and we will see him in the kingdom of God. In 1 John 1:9, it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Did Judas confess his sins? We can read in Matthew 27 that Judas “was filled with remorse.” He even declares openly to the priests, saying, “I have sinned.” Judas confessed. Is God not faithful and just? We know that he is, so there must be forgiveness available even for Judas.

Mark 3:28 says that “all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” Now we must ask, did Judas blaspheme the Holy Spirit? First, we must determine what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. In Catholic teaching, six acts constitute blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and three of them could apply to Judas, those being despair, obstinacy in sin and final impenitence.

To despair is to believe that your sins are beyond forgiveness. It’s hard for me to say that this applies to Judas after he returned to the priests and tried to return the money. He was seeking forgiveness and the priests turned him away saying, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” If anything, this is a sin by the priests for refusing Judas the support that he needed. The argument that Judas did despair is that he proceeded to hang himself. Why would he do this if he believed that he was forgiven? This is a fair point, but once again, this seems to hang on the priests who refused to tell him that there was forgiveness for his sins. Perhaps Judas despaired, and perhaps not, but I can’t see his heart. Only God can.

Obstinacy in sin is the persistence in sin even after sufficient admonishment. It appears as though Judas was persistent in his greed and thievery, seeing as John wrote about it. Here, there are a few questions to ask. How much is too much to be forgiven? How long had Judas been doing this? I can’t answer either of those questions. I personally believe in change of heart. Even if Judas had been continuing in this sin for a long time, he could have had a change of heart once Jesus was sentenced to die and he realized the error of his sin. Thus, he sought forgiveness. This question leads to another, more philosophical question: Can a man who has lived his whole life in sin receive forgiveness in the last moments of his life? Once again, I don’t have a firm answer, but I tend to believe that obstinacy in sin isn’t even a blasphemy against the spirit. If one sin can be forgiven, then two sins can be forgiven. Jesus said to forgive others 77 times. He also said if you forgive others, our heavenly Father will forgive us. Hence, we can receive forgiveness for the same sins over and over. It’s never too late to receive forgiveness.

The final blasphemy is final impenitence. This is the only one that I could see applying to Judas. Impenitence means failure to repent. Did Judas fail to repent before his death? I think not because of the way he sought out the priests, but once again, I don’t know Judas’ heart. Only God does.

Either way, if Judas is guilty or forgiven, I think it is dangerous to talk in terms of absolute forgiveness because in the end, we are not the judges. God is.

-Nathaniel Johnson

Investment 101

investment 101

Matthew 25

Jesus just finished telling his disciples to expect His return. Now he tells parables about how we should prepare for the return. It’s always nice to have concrete instructions. These ones are in the form of parables, but they aren’t terribly cryptic.

The first parable is about a wedding. There are a bunch of people waiting to meet up with the groom so that they can go to a feast with him. Initially, there are ten of these people patiently waiting. They were expecting him to arrive during the day, but on his way, he was delayed. Once the sun fell, only five of them stayed to wait for the groom because they were prepared for darkness. They thought ahead and brought extra supplies.

In this parable, Jesus is the groom and we are the virgins or bridesmaids waiting for his arrival. Notice that initially there were many who expected his coming. Most of us reading this believe that Jesus will come back. There have been times in the past when a biblical scholar has declared that he deduced the time at which Jesus would return (you can find a nice list of these occurrences on Wikipedia). I imagine many of the people who ended up believing these claims were disappointed when the proclaimed date rolled by without ushering the Kingdom of God. Many of them probably fell away from faith because they had expected their groom to show up during the day, yet they failed to wait through the night. The same is true now. Even if we don’t see an exact date for His return, we must continue to wait. We must be especially aware that soon the sun will set. Darkness will fall. But that doesn’t mean that the groom has forgotten his people and his feast. In fact, darkness will certainly precede His coming.

The second parable is about a hedge fund manager. This man gives his underlings various amounts of seed money and expects them to use it wisely. More precisely, he expects huge returns out of them. Two of his employees manage to achieve returns of 100%. The final employee merely broke even. Of course, the manager is happy with the first two. The returns that they managed are nearly unheard of. For example, to get a 100% return on your investment today, you would have had to invest in Apple stock 5 years ago (more precisely, April 17, 2014). The parable doesn’t tell us how long the manager was away, just that it was a long time. Long-term investment is one of the safer ways to grow your money and short-term investments are considerably riskier. Perhaps the third employee knew this and said, “Rather than take a loss on my boss’s money, I’ll just sit on it.” Perhaps this employee thought his manager would only be gone for 3 months. If he had invested in Apple stock three months ago, then he would have lost 27% of what he invested. That wouldn’t make the manager terribly happy, but the 0% gains that he presented still provoked the manager’s anger. The manager said that he would be gone for a long time, but the third employee didn’t take that to heart and decided to do nothing.

Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The Holy Spirit is the investment that Jesus gives us. The Spirit gives us each special gifts. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists a few of them: prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leading, showing mercy. These are the talents that Jesus gives to us. He expects us to invest these gifts for the long-term. This might mean pursuing one person for years to show them the Love and Truth of Jesus. In can be risky to try to convert someone in a day, like a short-term investment. You win that person over, but you could also completely ostracize them forever. This short-term investment is certainly not ideal compared to the safer returns of long-term investment in people. Jesus wants to get returns on the gifts that he gives to you. So put them to use for the long-term.

The final parable is like the first two. Some will claim to know Jesus, and some will serve Jesus. Those who serve will be like the sheep, separated from the goats and placed at the right hand of the King. Those who never believed, or who believed but refused to serve, refused to make a return on the investment that Jesus gave them, will be tossed out. They will be tossed out just as the devil himself will be tossed out. But the righteous, those who invest wisely, will receive eternal life.

-Nathaniel Johnson

The Summer Is Near

summer is near

Matthew 24

We are in the middle of the winter right now. I live in Minnesota and we are supposed to see the coldest air temperatures since the year that I was born. We have a predicted high of -13F and a low of -29F. I think I’m just going to throw away all of my shorts and short-sleeved shirts. I’m going to get rid of my swimsuits and sunglasses, too. It will probably be winter for the rest of my life, after all.

Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be for me to do that? Of course, summer is coming, and I’m ready for it. The second coming of Jesus is the same.

Prophecy

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” Jesus tells this to his disciples when they point out the buildings to him. They were probably trying to say how beautiful the architecture is with its gates, porticos and cupolas. Jesus had just said in Chapter 23 that Jerusalem is abandoned and desolate, so his disciples were trying to prove him wrong. Imagine that. Jesus had just gone through the tests and traps of the pharisees. He proceeded to tear them apart and use their behavior as a lesson for everyone else. And then His disciples decided to question Him too. He had to set them straight. He said “I tell you the truth.” He knew that Jerusalem was beautiful but he also knew that it would be destroyed. About 40 years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and that city was razed in the process. Josephus, a first-century Jewish scholar, said that over 1 million Jews were killed in that siege. Jerusalem truly did become abandoned and desolate. After this, Jesus’ disciples make another error; they assume that the temple will be destroyed at the end of the world and the return of Jesus. Jesus didn’t go back to the discussion of Jerusalem, but rather discussed the signs of the end of the age, as his disciples asked rather than as they intended.

Signs

There will be many false messiahs. There will be wars, famines and earthquakes. This is the beginning. We can see all of these things already. Just google “man claims to be Jesus.” You’ll find countless examples. There have been many wars, famines and earthquakes even in my short lifetime, but Jesus said that this is just the beginning of birth pains.

Christians will be persecuted, arrested, killed and hated all over the world. Sin will be rampant. We are starting to see this too. In some places more than others, Christians are being persecuted. According to Open Door USA, the worst countries to live in for Christians are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. In North Korea, if it is discovered that you are a Christian, you can be deported to a labor camp or even killed on the spot. In China, if churches become too large, the government will raid the church and arrest member and leaders alike. In December 2018, a house church was raided by the Chinese police and pastor Wang Yi was arrested. He is a well-known pastor of the Early Rain Convent Church. Thank God that the United States is still largely free of Christian persecution.

But certainly, we are not in the worst of it yet. Jesus says that the anguish seen at the end will be greater than any the world has ever seen. We can think of many times when the world was in anguish greater than now. In the previous century there were multiple wars covering the surface of the Earth, causing widespread anguish.

The final sign will signify Jesus return. People all over the world will be able to see it and then Jesus will gather his people.

Exhortation

This final sign will be so obvious that you don’t need to believe in any of the false prophets coming before Jesus. It will be seen in the east and the west. But you must not be caught off Guard. Jesus uses multiple examples here to try to get that point across. No one expected the sky to open up and to flood the world. Neither will most expect the coming of Jesus. Live righteous lives. Love your neighbor. Repent. Await his return.

-Nathaniel Johnson

Justice, Mercy and Faith

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Matthew 23

Now that Jesus has turned the tables against the Pharisees in their little word games, he turns his attention to the crowds and his disciples. He begins his final public speech and absolutely destroys the Pharisees. He rips into everything that the Pharisees do, calling them out for their pride and hypocrisy. He acknowledges that these men are the best minds when it comes to The Law; they know The Law backwards and forwards, but they are not good examples. In particular, he calls them out for neglecting the importance and weight of justice, mercy and faith. This is one distinction that sets followers of Jesus apart from followers of The Law.

Justice

Justice is the administration of law. Based on this definition, you would think that the Pharisees understood justice quite well. However, this definition has the connotation of the administration of law on the general population, not just in one’s personal life. What the pharisees got correct was righteousness in their private lives without achieving justice in their public life. Justice is law applied equally to everyone, while righteousness is law applied to yourself. The Pharisees look at themselves, see that they are following the law perfectly and commend themselves for it. The problem isn’t their piety, it’s their pride. God didn’t command them to follow the law so that they might puff themselves up and hold themselves in high regard, but rather to benefit all of society. This is justice. Righteous acts are not righteous because they benefit you alone, they are righteous because they benefit everyone around you.

Mercy

Not everyone can follow the law as closely as the Pharisees. Those men were men who dedicated themselves to the reading of scripture day in and day out. Living the law is the only thing that they know how to do. When they look on the masses and see sin: adultery (John 8:1-11), blasphemy (Mark 14:64), greed (Luke 19:7)…what they fail to see are people. People who fall short. People who don’t live the same lifestyle as the Pharisees. The Pharisees know the scriptures, but they don’t seem to remember how God showed the Israelites mercy time and time again. Instead, they turn their noses up at the sin that they see and tell themselves that they are above that. The truth is, no man is above sin except for Jesus himself. The Pharisees poured over their scriptures to make sure that they washed their hands before meals and tithe even their small incomes. They strained their water for gnats. But they swallowed a camel instead. They failed to show mercy. They failed to show people the mercy that their God showed to them.

Love

Love is at the center of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love people. Apparently the Pharisees didn’t get that. They were too worried about appearing like God-loving individuals that they didn’t have the time to love God’s people. In doing so, they made all of their love for God worthless. If you only love God, you are neglecting one of the greatest commandments. It is as simple as that. Show your love for God by showing your love to His people.

-Nathaniel Johnson

It’s a Trap!

Matthew 22

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In this chapter of Matthew, we see many ways in which people are trying to trap Jesus. It turns out that Jesus is a masterful logician and manages to find the perfect response to all the questions that he is faced with. Let’s look at how we can use these same tactics in our life.

The Loaded Question – Matthew 22:15-22

The first trap in this chapter is the one laid out for Jesus by a group of Pharisees and Herodians, Jews and Romans. They ask Jesus if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus says that you should pay taxes to Caesar than the Pharisees can come after him for collusion with the Roman government (the Jewish oppressor). If he says not to pay taxes, then the Herodians can go after him for tax evasion. This is a loaded question. It comes with certain assumptions that put the person being asked into a lose-lose situation. A common example that most people are familiar with is, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you answer yes, then you admit to beating your wife in the past. If you answer no, you admit to currently beating your wife. The correct way to answer a question like this, as Jesus does, is to reframe the question and tear down the underlying assumption. Essentially, he gives a non-answer. “Give to Caesar what is Caesars’ and give to God what is God’s.” He implies that you should pay taxes but also suggests that the money belongs to God in the end anyways (see psalm 24:1). He also gives the impression that he is neither for nor against the Roman government. In the same way you should respond: “I have never beaten my wife.”

Reductio Ad Absurdum – Matthew 22:23-33

The Sadducees try to get Jesus by using a logical argument called reductio ad absurdum. They took Jesus’ position, that the dead will be raised to life, and pushed it to its extreme limits to prove that it must be false. This is a technique that is often used by people outside the religious community. One example of this is when people argue for abortion. They will inevitably ask you if it is acceptable for a woman to have her baby aborted if the baby was conceived through rape. They are trying to take the pro-life position that it is wrong to kill babies in the womb and push it to an extreme example to show that the position is wrong. However, this tactic shouldn’t work on you, nor did it work on Jesus when the Sadducees tried it on him.  Jesus pointed out that their understanding of the resurrection was fundamentally flawed. They didn’t understand what would take place, that men and women will be raised to be like angels in heaven, without being given in marriage. First, he destroyed their absurd argument: men and women won’t be married at all. And secondly, he proceeded to school them on the explicit statements in the Scripture: God is the God of the living, not the dead. In the same way, you should respond to these types of arguments. First, everyone acknowledges that rape is a horrible act and the perpetrator should not go unpunished. Secondly, one sin does not elicit another; killing children is always wrong.

The False Premise – Matthew 22:34-40

Once again, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question that they believe has no sufficient answer. They ask, “What is the greatest commandment?” This question can’t be answered. No matter the answer that Jesus gives, the Pharisees will not be satisfied. However, Jesus can tell that they are trying to trick him and call them out on it. He knows that the question relies on a false premise: there is a single commandment that is greatest. Jesus refuses to answer the question on their terms and gives them an unexpected response. He says that all scriptural law can be based on two commandments alone. This is a technique that I like to use when people ask me, “How can a good and just God allow children to suffer?” My response is actually quite simple and similar to Jesus’ response to the pharisees. I reject the presupposition that God allows those children to suffer and respond with “God is good and just. And people suffer.” The questioner assumes that those two statements are contradictory when they really aren’t. Rather than going along with their assumption that God is responsible for suffering, you should reject their premise outright.

-Nathaniel Johnson

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What are You Producing?

Matthew 21

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After Jesus had cleared the Temple of the merchants who were selling things in his Father’s house, Jesus approached a fig tree because he was hungry. Unfortunately for Jesus, the fig tree didn’t have any figs on it. At that moment, Jesus spoke to the tree and it completely withered up. His disciples were amazed by this, and were confused why this had happened. I understand the disciples’ confusion because it took me a long time to figure out why this story was in the Bible. What in the world is this talking about? Why would Jesus choose to wither a tree?

 

After much study, I found that this was a parable of Jesus, although one that was lived out. God’s people that were doing terrible things in God’s Temple were the same as this fig tree; they were not producing any fruit. Because the tree didn’t produce any fruit, Jesus rejected it and allowed it to crumble. The message could not be more clear: if God’s people aren’t producing good fruit, they will crumble and wither.

 

Jesus talked about “bearing good fruit” many different times, but I want to discuss just two. In John 15, Jesus said that we cannot bear fruit without living in communion with him. You cannot produce anything of substance if Jesus isn’t part of your daily life. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit without being attached to the trunk, we cannot produce anything if we are not constantly attached to Jesus.

 

In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says that we will know people by the fruit that they produce, whether good or bad. If we see an apple on a tree, we know that it is an apple tree; if we see a pear, we know that it is a pear tree. In the same way, if we see good fruit being produced, we know that person comes from Jesus. On the other hand, if bad fruit is being produced, we know that that person is from somewhere else.

 

So the question for you today is this: “What are you producing?”

Are you producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), or are you producing the same thing as all the sinners in this world? If you aren’t producing good fruit, it is time to reconnect with the Lord of your life, Jesus Christ. We cannot do it without him.

 

-Talon Paul

Don’t Give Up on Them

Matthew 20

for the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives a very interesting parable about a landowner who hired some people to work on his land. He hired one man early in the morning, one at 9:00 am, one at 12:00 pm, one at 3:00 pm, and another at 5:00 pm. At the end of the day, all of them received a day’s wage, which they had all agreed to. Understandably, the one who was hired first was upset that he received the same pay as the person who started at 5:00 pm. The landowner simply told him that he agreed to work for that day’s wage and wasn’t being unfair.

 

This parable is talking about people’s salvation. There are some people who have been saved for many, many years; they have dedicated their life to Jesus, served in the Church for years, and made many disciples through their lifetime. Then there are people who come to faith at the very end of their lives, sometimes repenting on their deathbeds. However, in the eyes of God, both those people have the same reward waiting for them: life in the Kingdom of God.

 

There are at least two things we should learn from this parable. The first is that it does not matter when someone comes to salvation; we should rejoice that they came to faith at all! We shouldn’t view them differently than we view someone who has served for years in the church. Everyone who accepts Jesus has received the same salvation, according to Romans 10:9-10. We need to be happy for that individual, not jealous or bitter towards them.

 

The second lesson we learn here is that we should never give up on people. As long as there is still breath in their lungs, we have a shot at blessing them with the gospel. Just because a friend or family member that you know has rejected the gospel right now, doesn’t mean that they will never accept it. There is always an opportunity for their salvation in God’s eyes. Our job is simply to try and plant a seed in their life, and allow God to cause the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). So do not give up on that person you have been working with, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem; you do not know what God could be doing in their hearts.

 

-Talon Paul