A Prideful Warning

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Pride goes before the fall.  It is warning given to us by our elders, many times in our youth when we think we have it all figured out, and is based in one of Solomon’s proverbs (Proverbs 16:18-19).  Just when we think we are on top of the world with our wealth, education, social status, or even our religion, we are undoubtedly a gut-wrenching moment away from being put back in our place.  And unfortunately for us, the bigger the man, the harder the fall.

In Matthew Chapter 3, John the Baptist is sent out to prepare the way for Jesus.  He is the “voice of the one crying in the wilderness”, and man dressed in camel hair (although I don’t think it was cashmere turtlenecks), and a diet based on what he could find around him in nature.  No doubt, this man sent to prepare the way was a bit of a spectacle, but not deliberately. John gathered many followers, baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins. John was taken aback when he saw who was in the line – Pharisees and Sadducees.   Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were caught up in outward observance of religious law. They might pray in the streets (Matt 6:5), openly announce their giving (Matt 23), ask many religious, pious questions (Act 23), becoming spectacles themselves, yet still they only abided by the laws that conveniently roll off the tongue and fit their interest.  These men were highly regarded for their piety. They were key members of the religious community. Their roots were in the church. Yet, time and time again, John, then, Jesus see these men for who they are: prideful hypocrites.

It is no wonder they come to John to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, something common with Jewish culture even before Christ, because this was an outward observance of faith, and really the one enduring public expression that remains today.  For them, it was another way to add another tassel, place another feather, earn another merit badge to showcase their devotion (to their pride) on their whitewashed tomb (Matt 23:27-28). John calls out this action for what it is and begins to cut these men down to size, pleading with them to work on the inside: true repentance and bearing fruit (Matt 3:8).  Then he warns them that God himself will cut these men down to size if he must, not simply pruning (John 15), but cut at the very root, and throwing their fruitless mess into the fire once and for all (Matt 3:10).

As we are reading today, let this be a warning to us, especially those of us who are “church folk”. We may study the Bible, hold a position of leadership, or make eloquent confessions of faith, but to whose purpose do we do these things?  Are we lining up so we can receive our reward in full today (Matt 6:4)? Earn our badge, sticker, or tassel? I know I constantly battle my pride as I check more boxes of serving God.  As I articulate and expound on deep theological questions, cast judgement in situations of others, or feel like I have shared a great message, I can’t help but think, “Wow. Good thing God has me on His side.” How arrogant. How prideful.  How ashamed am I. The things I share, that I might selfishly revel in, that are so wonderful, so grand, are not my own, but God’s! Doing things “for Him”, like we ever could, does not assure our place in His kingdom (Matt 7:22; Eph 2:9-10). Only repentance and bearing fruit. Everyday we must fight for altruism in our lives, to die daily, to fall a little, and be consumed by God’s kingdom message.  I’d rather be eating locust and wearing camel skin, than have God bring justice to me later – but today, it is a warning – Church, check your pride.

-Aaron Winner
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What’s in a Name?

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MATTHEW 2

 

In the Bible, there is be a great deal of naming done for the sake of conveying a purpose or message.  It could tell the story of a birth (Samuel: God has Heard), a unique physical trait (Esau: Covered- with hair), to make a theological point (Abraham: Father of Many), or a prophecy (Yeshua: Saving One); nonetheless, these men and women (Ruth; Companion) are born-to or given to testify of the the glorious God we serve.

 

In the first two chapters of Matthew, a name that appears in equal amounts to the name of Jesus is Joseph.  As discussed yesterday, Matthew 1 is the genealogy of the line of Joseph, but equally important to note is Joseph’s role in the early part of Christ’s story – the announcement, advent, and escape.  This man entrusted with the care of Jesus was named, whether coincidentally or purposefully, for his famous great (great, great, great…) uncle Joseph, who was the famous dreamer and interpreter. It is then fitting that Joseph is given the word of God, not by messengers or a family member as we see with Mary (Luke 1), but in a dream.

 

Between Matthew 1:18 and Matthew 2:23, or a span of a couple of years, Joseph is recorded as spoken to by God in a dream on four different occasions. He is told not to be afraid to take Mary as a wife (1:20), move to Egypt (2:13), move to Israel (2:19-20), and finally, specific guidance to stay away from Judea, and go to Nazareth (2:22). Joseph, who may have initially been filled with doubt, becomes incredibly faithful to the will of God.  Just like his liked-name predecessor, He goes hither and yon to follow the will of God. At times, he looks incredibly foolish. He goes from the comforts of home to the foreign land of Egypt, yet ultimately, he brings glory to his father, for OT Joseph, Jacob, and for NT Joseph, YHWH.  In so doing this, he lives up to his name – not Joseph – but the one carried by his Son he so carefully protected.

 

While our name is not Joseph, (well, most of us), each one of us also have a calling on our name too (Rom 8:28).  We are not all named for the same reason – some have the name of a biblical figure (like me), and others are named for a special relative, and even a few are named for a Fleetwood Mac song, but God has purposed and fashioned us all (Psalm 139:13-17) to be faithful to him.  Joseph played his part in making sure there is one name that supersedes them all. We might seem foolish to some, we may be called to go hither and yon, leaving behind the comforts of this life, but ultimately we are bringing glory, not to our name, but to our Father in heaven. Does it matter what others call us? Or even what we think of ourselves? In the words of Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” How much more does your Father in heaven know this? He has a plan for you. He wants a relationship with you, and truly, it began long before you were ever named. No matter the expectation, or lack thereof, attached to our name, there is truly only one name that matters under heaven: The name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:10-12) because it is the only name by which we are saved. Like Joseph, it is now our time to play our part, hold onto Jesus, and carry the Son wherever we’re called to go.

-Aaron Winner

 

Aaron Winner is a worship leader and a middle school teacher in Upstate South Carolina.  He has been married to his wife Jennifer for 13 years today – yay!  Aaron is also a songwriter, currently working on his fourth album, “Wonderful”.  Additionally, he hosts his own blog at elattruthfillintheblank.weebly.com, which combines thoughts from his work at school and church; however, he is happy to write for us this week at the start of our 2019 Bible study!

A Royal Mess

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Day 1 of your new Bible reading. You are psyched! You are committed. You brew a cup of coffee, clean off the kitchen table, and pull out a new set of highlighters.   You grab your large-margined Bible and you open up to your first reading:  Matthew 1. This is it. Your moment of great revelation, and then…you are instantly deflated. Genealogy. Blah. Wait…No…You are committed to do your reading.  You have new highlighters after all! Okay. Here we go. A couple verses down, and…still nothing worth highlighting. “Maybe I will just skim this,” you say to yourself, feeling a compromise is essential to keep up your determination.  The sea of names continues. Sigh. “I think I got the gist, I’ll just go to the end.” Although you made it through Chapter 1, you feel a bit defeated. No highlights; no underlines. You have made a royal mess of your reading.

 

So what is the significance of Matthew 1 anyways? Why not just hop into the Christmas story?  The answer: context. This genealogy of Jesus through his earthly father, Joseph, is to establish the pedigree pointing to Jesus as a descendant of the ruling class of Israel.  God’s so purposely positioned Jesus that there should have been no doubt remaining that Jesus is the Messiah or “The Anointed One”, the one who would reestablish the throne of David.  A fact made instantly clear upon the arrival of the Magi and Herod’s petitioning to and response from the scribes (Matt 2:1-6). As much as God was at work in these plans, He did so in spite of many actions taken by those who make up the family tree.

 

How did the ancestors of Jesus depart from the ways of God? A few quick examples. Abraham laughed at God. Jacob, and subsequently his son, Judah, both betrayed a brother.  David, God’s chosen King, is mentioned alongside his mistress (later turned wife), Bathsheba, and the man he murdered, Uriah. Among the other names are hidden even more wayward actions (idolatry, stealing, lying, etc.), culminating in Jeconiah, who did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 24:9), which leads to a curse that cuts off the line of David, seemingly forever (Jer 22:30).

 

If you only looked at part of their story, collectively, it would seem like a pretty hopeless lot.  Thankfully, many of the these men and women wrestled with, fought for, and maintained their relationship with God.  In the midst of sin, reputation, or nurture, they connected, repented, and praised God. They were a royal mess, a line of sinners seeking God and putting their hope in his promise of redemption and restoration.  It is no surprise that we find many of their names in Hebrews 11, among those who are waiting to receive their promise (v. 39,40) of a hope and heritage found in Jesus Christ.

We are equally “messed-up” and have fallen short of the standards set by our King (Rom 3:23). When we struggle with sin, our history, or circumstance, it makes us feel unworthy of the faith and hope we have. Don’t give in.  Remain Psyched. Wrestle. Fight. Maintain. You may be a mess, but you are a royal mess, an heir according to the promise, directly tracing your spiritual heritage (the only one that matters) to Jesus Christ.(1 Pet 2:9; Amos 9:11) Having these roots means, we receive a special connection to God through His Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17) and are covered by grace when we miss the mark (Eph 2:8,9).  Today, spend some time examining the stories behind these names a bit more closely, but also look at your own faith story. Whether you relationship is God is slightly disharmonious, somewhat distant, or completely disconnected, you are not disowned; your heritage is Jesus Christ. He will restore the throne of David, and He will restore any mess appealed in His name.

-Aaron Winner

The Kingdom Treasure

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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

Why Mercy?

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Matthew 12:1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

This passage deals with an incident that happened on this most holy day of the week. The Sabbath was everything to God’s people under the Old Covenant. The Jews had extensive regulations for how to properly keep the Sabbath in order to abide by God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy and dedicated to him. The encounter is between Jesus (and his disciples) and the Pharisees over the meaning and significance of the Sabbath. Jesus and the Pharisees saw the purpose and observance of the Sabbath in completely different ways.

After being critically questioned by the Pharisees when Jesus’ disciples picked grain and ate it on the Sabbath as they were walking through a field, Jesus responds by explaining their misperception in what the Sabbath truly was. Jesus did not dismiss the appropriateness for Sabbath observance; that was good and necessary according to the law given by God (cf. Exod 20:10).  However, the Jews had the wrong idea altogether about the significance and meaning of the Sabbath. For them, the Sabbath was about never doing anything that would violate the commandment to not work on the seventh day of the week—no exceptions!

But Jesus offers them two exceptions straight from the writing of the law that they were trying to follow so strictly: David (1 Sam 21:1-6) and the priests (Num 28:9-10). But Jesus then affirms that “something greater” is now here, something even beyond the hunger of David and his men, or the necessity of the priests to offer sacrifices. These reasons to set aside strict observance of the Sabbath pales in comparison to the coming of Christ to bring salvation to all people.

Therefore, Jesus says, “if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (v. 7; cf. Hos 6:6) to point out that the Pharisees, while intently reading the law and desiring to follow its every command, had failed to realize the heart of the law. It is not that sacrifice was not important, for it had also been commanded by God, but that “mercy” (or compassion) was MORE important. Mercy and compassion are what truly characterize a servant of God, not external and outward actions only. Strict mechanical obedience to the law is not what God desires; God desires to care for people and to see to their needs.

Are there times when you are challenged to not act as a Pharisee, to not be quick to judge or claim being right? Is our heart the same as God’s heart? Is “mercy” more important than “sacrifice”? Our fallen humanness will tell us to make sure we are doing what is “right” and are not at “fault” or culpable of any criticism. We don’t want to be viewed as an accomplice or advocate for unrighteousness. But compassion isn’t about tolerating sin; it is about reaching out and helping someone where they are at, so they know that someone else cares about them. That is God’s heart. Let’s not miss it like the Pharisees did.

-Jerry Weirwille

When God Responds

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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

Call to Action

Matthew 7

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I have been taught that a good speech should always end with a call to action.  What this is depends on the type of speech.  A speech given by an election candidate will usually end by telling people they need to vote.  A product placement speech or demonstration will end with a way to buy the product.  Often a sermon will end with a life application.

As we look at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we see that Jesus ends with a call to action.  He has given us some other actions to take throughout this passage, but let’s look at this final section and see how we should respond to this sermon.

Let’s start by looking at Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, an in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

So, making the assumption that the goal is to be in the kingdom, Jesus says our action is to do the will of God.  This is obviously more than actions that we do.  Many times in chapters 5-7, Jesus talks about our thoughts, attitudes, and reasons for doing things being as important as the actions we take.

Jesus continues in verse 24 by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  Again, the key here is to act on the words that Jesus has spoken.

The call to action is to put all the things that Jesus taught into action, which includes our thoughts and attitudes.  I encourage you to spend some more time reading through Matthew 5-7, and reflect upon seeking God, his righteousness, and his kingdom.  As we seek these more, the actions will follow.

-Andrew Hamilton