Sinking in Our Circumstances

matt 14 27

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

After sending his disciples into the boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and after dismissing the crowds, Jesus goes up onto the mountain alone to pray (vv. 22-23). The disciples were attempting to sail across the sea but were having trouble because they were facing a head wind and waves (v. 24). In the “fourth” watch, which corresponds to our 3-6am, Jesus came walking to the disciples on the water (v. 25). This is Roman reckoning of time as they divided the night (6pm-6am) into four watches while the Jews divided it into only three. As the scene is set, it is the middle of the night and the disciples are in the middle of the sea, and Jesus comes walking on water in the middle of the storm.

The terror of the disciples is immediately noted as they thought Jesus was a “ghost,” meaning an “apparition” (v. 26) The Master speaks calmly to them and reassures them that it is indeed he who they are seeing (v. 27). Peter, wanting to know if it truly was the Lord, requests that he be allowed to join Jesus upon the water (v. 28). Jesus’ simple response indicates the simplicity of the request: “Come” (v. 29). However, once outside the boat, Peter’s perception of the wind and the waves caused him to falter in his confidence and desperately cried out for the Lord to help him (v. 30). Jesus reached out his hand and picked Peter up, entered the boat, and calmed the storm (vv. 31-32).

What is surprising is that Jesus reached out his hand to help his sinking disciple rather than giving him verbal exhortation or encouragement. Jesus’ address to Peter comes in the form: “O you of little faith” (v. 31). What we see in this record is Peter allowing the surrounding circumstances to affect him and his focus upon the Lord. Peter exited the boat and began to walk toward Jesus. But when he looked around and saw the wind and the waves, his progress was impeded, for he began to sink.

I think that this illustration is quite comparable to what we encounter in our lives. We have our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and are serving him in the kingdom, but at times we look around and become more focused on what is happening around us and allow that to affect our perception of ourselves so that we begin to sink. We lack that confidence and assurance that we once had as we were walking toward the Lord. But the good news is that the Lord has not left us helpless and is not far from us. He will reach down and help us if we will but call out to him. Jesus isn’t looking for perfect disciples, but faithful followers. And faithfulness means a continued reliance and trust in the one who we call our Master.

-Jerry Weirwille

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The Kingdom Treasure

Matt 13_44

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In this section of the Gospel (13:44-49), Jesus presents three parables that deal with the kingdom. All of them begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like….” But the first two deal with the value of the kingdom (vv. 44-46), while the last one deals with the judgment that will happen at the end of the age (vv. 47-49). Let’s focus on the first two that describe the value of the kingdom.

First, the kingdom of heaven is like “treasure hidden in a field” (v. 44). In the biblical times, there were no such things as safety deposit boxes. People would hide their wealth in the ground by digging a hole and burying it. In the parable of the talents, this is what the individual who received one talent did (cf. 25:25).

Jesus describes the kingdom as “treasure” that has been buried in a field, but which was discovered by someone and then “covered [back] up.” The person who discovered the treasure, reburied the treasure. That seems odd. Why didn’t he or she just keep the treasure they discovered? To make a long explanation shorter, the owner of a property owned everything both on top of and within the ground of the property. So in order to legally claim the treasure, the person had to buy the land. But Jesus’ point is not this technicality. His emphasis is upon the value the person estimated the “treasure” to be worth. The person sold “all that he has” in order to buy the field (v. 44). The man was filled with “joy” and because of the recognition of the treasure’s value, the person deemed it worth more than all their other wealth combined.

In the next parable, Jesus uses the imagery of commerce with a merchant who found a “fine pearl” (v. 45). In the biblical culture, “pearls” were among the most prized jewelry since they were very rare (no scuba equipment yet to dive deep enough to easily capture oysters…lol). And like the person in the previous parable who found buried treasure, the merchant also esteemed the pearl to be more valuable than all his or her other possessions. Therefore, the merchant sold everything he owned in order to buy the one pearl (v. 46).

Ok. So we get that Jesus is driving home the point about how valuable the kingdom is. But I think what is most important about these parables is the attitude depicted by the two individuals who were willing to get rid of everything else they had in order to obtain this one precious item. I sometimes wonder if I have that attitude. Intellectually, I can rationalize why it is completely true. But practically speaking, I think about whether my life truly reflects that disposition in my heart. Do I see the kingdom as the “hidden treasure” or the “fine pearl”? Am I willing to forsake all else in order to seek the kingdom?

Obviously, the parables are a hyperbole for emphasis as Jesus is not literally instructing his disciples to dispose of all their physical wealth and belongings. Rather, Jesus is touching on the attitude of one’s heart. Where do we prize the value of the kingdom in our life? Have we put anything else in front of it and added the kingdom on to the side of our pursuits in life.

Let’s not forget Jesus words: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).

-Jerry Wierwille

How to Find Life

Matt 10 38

Matthew 10:37-39

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

After commissioning the twelve apostles, Jesus proceeds to teach them about what this commissioning entails. First, they will be persecuted (vv. 16-25), but they don’t need to be afraid because God will be with them and cares for them (vv. 26-31). Then comes a section that deals with the seriousness of the need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, which can be a controversial subject (vv. 32-39). Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (v. 34). This proclamation is not Jesus’ war cry as though his intention is to bring violence, but rather, it reveals that Jesus recognizes and discloses that he will be a point of contention and disagreement for many people. In other words, the truth that Jesus came to bring (and which he represents) will inevitably cause disunity and conflict.

It is on the heels of this declaration by Jesus that we read of the even more severe nature of this conflict—it may happen even within one’s own family. Jesus assumes the natural love of one’s family as a premise and then moves to identify that as a lesser priority in life than love for him. When he says that a person who loves him less than their family is “not worthy” of me (v. 37), he is making a value claim upon himself as more important than them. To be “worthy of me” means to “be fit to be a disciple.” It is important to clarify that Jesus is not advocating that his disciples not love their families. Instead, he is simply stipulating that the value attachment of a person to their family must not exceed their value attachment to him. To be Jesus’ disciple is to prize him above even one’s own flesh and blood.

The implications of this statement are far reaching. Who would say that loving a brother, sister, child, or parent should be subservient to the love of another? But this is precisely the demand that Jesus is making of his disciples. It is a declaration of discipleship that calls for absolute devotion. This extreme requirement is extended as Jesus also says that those who would follow him must “take [up] their cross” (v. 38). This is an expression referring to being willing to self-identify and endure the shame and suffering of one who is crucified.

Jesus elaborates by uttering one of the most interesting paradoxes: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (v. 39). In essence, Jesus is saying that the life that matters is the life that is lived for the sake of Christ. To take the road of self-denial and live for something other than one’s self is to “find life.”

From these three criteria of discipleship, where do we find ourselves? Are we willing to follow Jesus no matter what? Does our love for him exceed our love for anything else? Are we willing to take up our cross? Are we will to die to self in order to find that which may truly be called “life”? Such a price is the price of being a disciple. Are we willing to pay that price? What might be stopping us from wholehearted devotion and service to the Master?

-Jerry Wierwille

 

Love Reaches Out

Matt 9 36

Matthew 9:10-13

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The scene that is set in this passage is one that is conspicuous in light of Jewish practices and expectations. The customary expression “behold” is used to invite the reader to give careful attention to what follows. Jesus is described as “reclining” with “many tax collectors and sinners” (v. 10). This is quite unusual from a Jewish perspective for a respectable rabbi like Jesus. A meal where an honored Jewish guest like Jesus was attending would not be typically filled with company of such disreputable people. Eating with “tax collectors and sinners” (who were considered unclean) was an outrageous occasion from a Pharisee’s perspective. But that is exactly the point that is being made—Jesus is unlike the Pharisees. A Pharisee wouldn’t be caught dead eating with these people, but Jesus is making a statement about the difference in character between him and the Pharisees.

Jesus uses the metaphor of being “sick” as a way to address the tax collectors and sinners (v. 12). The Pharisees were concerned with staying away from those they deemed “sick,” while Jesus demonstrates a deep concern for them. However, his desire to help those who are “sick” is taken as his approval of their lifestyle and condoning of their “sickness.” But this is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ intention. In a sharp rebuke, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn” what it means when God said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (v. 13; cf. Hos 6:6).

The prophet Hosea was seeking to exhort God’s people to show love and kindness. He described the superficial and hypocritical love of God’s people as being like “a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hos 6:4). Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were being like the people of Israel that Hosea was criticizing. Jesus was modeling how to show mercy and compassion for the outcasts of society rather than how the Pharisees who were demonstrating outright rejection and criticism of them.

What does Jesus’ actions indicate and how can we too model this love and compassion for sinners? What this passage indicates is that the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their blatant disregard for those in need of help is completely contrary to the love of God that Jesus is demonstrating by coming into the “sick” and tending to them and helping them. Those who are lost do not receive help by having a finger pointed at them. Rather, they are cared for when the value of their life is acknowledged. Love doesn’t default to protecting one’s self-image or with being concerned with what other people think. Love reaches out and shows how God desires to draw a person close to him and to restore them and heal.

If we truly grasp why Jesus would be helping the “sick” and risking the judgment and harassment from the Pharisees, maybe we can understand a little better how to form a Christ-like mindset for reaching the world the way that Jesus did…starting with showing “mercy.”

-Jerry Wierwille

When God Responds

matt 8 8

Matthew 8:5-10

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

In Matthew 8, Jesus is recorded as miraculously healing several distinct individuals that represent three classification of people who were viewed with lesser status in Jewish eyes. The first is a leper, who is considered unclean for a Jewish man to touch (vv. 1-4). Next is a servant of a Roman centurion, who was a Gentile foreigner and likely part of the oppressive Roman Empire, which Jews considered to be their enemy (vv. 5-13). Lastly, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 14-15), which is unique as women were not looked upon with much recognition or significance in Jewish society. In addition, the passage also reveals that Jesus healed numerous other people who were demon-possessed around Capernaum as well (vv. 16-17).

In verses 5-10 when Jesus is approached by the centurion, he concedes to the centurion’s request to come and heal his servant. Jesus’ agreement to come to the centurion’s home is quite a startlingly turn of events in this passage as a Jewish person would be deemed ceremonially unclean if they entered the house of a Gentile (cf. Jn 18:28; Acts 10:28). But nevertheless, Jesus humbly agrees to go and heal the man (vv. 5-7).

But the centurion replies quickly to Jesus expressing his “unworthiness” for Jesus to make the effort to come to his house. Rather, the centurion reveals a keen understanding of Jesus’ authority to speak with the power of God. The centurion explains that he knows what authority means because he speaks, and someone obeys, and the task is accomplished. In the same way, he claims that Jesus only needs to speak the “word,” and according to the authority of his “word,” the centurion’s servant will be healed (v. 8).

This proclamation amazes Jesus because the centurion understood the power and authority of God that Jesus represented. And in response to the centurion’s understanding of this reality, Jesus declares, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (v. 10). What an unsuspecting pronouncement—that Jesus would confess such a great faith from this Gentile that superseded any he had seen in all of Israel. The emphasis here is that even a Gentile, who was not considered a member of God’s people, will see the power of God at work when they trust in Jesus, God’s Anointed.

What the passage can teach us is that God’s power flows in response to the exercising of faith (trust) in God as the source of all power and in Jesus as God’s Messiah. If we want to see God’s power at work in our lives, it begins by recognizing that God moves when we believe and trust in him, knowing that he is able to do even what may seem impossible in our eyes. Our trust in God doesn’t make God move; rather, God responds when we trust in him. And we must also trust in his character—that he responds as the good and loving God that we know he is.

-Jerry Wierwille