Christianity 201

October 15, 2021

If It’s All Greek to You…

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Today’s article is less devotional and more about Bible study methods. Good and thorough study methods. The page Christ’s Words – The Mysteries of Jesus’s Greek Revealed is probably the most detailed verse-by-verse analysis of the New Testament in the original language that I’ve come across in years of sourcing material online. I searched for an author name, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and credit this to Gary Gagliardi, who describes himself as a “techno-linguist” who started his work studying ancient Chinese.

In the general introduction to the site he says,

Jesus’ words are unique for three reasons.

  1. His words were spoken, not written. Spoken language is inherently different than written language.
  2. His words changed the meaning of words, determining even how later NT authors’ used the Greek.
  3. His words were the basis of a unique historical revolution in the way people think.

What you’re about to see is only about 20% of the entire analysis of the verse in question, just to whet your appetite. And if you know someone who is a seminary student, you need to alert them to this website.

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory,

Spoken to:

Apostles

Context:

A parable about the final judgment of the sheep and the goats.

Greek :

Literal Verse:

When, however, he comes, this son of the man, in that acclaim of his, and all those messengers of his with him, then he will seat himself on a judge’s bench of his acclaim.

My Takeaway:

When it comes to a final judgment, Jesus chairs the meeting.

KJV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

NIV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects:

“Glory” is a word that means “recognition” and “reputation”. Translations as “glory” or “splendor” are found primarily in translating the Bible. The word “acclaim” comes closest to capturing the way Jesus uses the word.

“Throne” is from an untranslated Greek word that means “chair” but came to means “throne” (as the Greek source of our word). It also means the “chair” of a teacher, the “chair” of a state official, or the “chair” of a judge. Our English word “chair” is used in all of these ways as well. Jesus almost always uses it in the context of acting as a judge, so “judge’s bench.”. This is certainly its use in this story.

Related Verses:

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come

Mark 8:38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me…

Luke 9:26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words,


The article then continues with an analysis of all the Greek words used, an analysis of the English words used in the KJV, and an analysis of the English words used in the NIV.

Remember that what you just read is done for each verse.

Again, this is the link: Click here.

May 14, 2021

The Gift or the Altar on Which it is Placed?

Matthew 23:19, NLT: “How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Two devotional sources for you today; and three readings in total. First…

My investigation into Matthew 23:19 began in March with a devotional from Magnficent Life Ministries which I had bookmarked to return to. They post insightful thoughts on a daily basis from their offices in California. Click the next line to read this at their site.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


I decided to check out one more source for you. BibleRef.com is unique in that in addition to providing commentary on the verse in question, each page displays an overview of the verse context, along with an overview of the whole chapter. You need to click the header that follows to see what I mean.

What does Matthew 23:19 mean?

Jesus has called the scribes and Pharisees blind guides (Matthew 23:16), blind fools (Matthew 23:17), and now simply calls them blind. Their ranking of some oaths as binding and others as non-binding shows their complete lack of understanding about what belongs to God and what it means to swear an oath (Matthew 23:13–15).

Using a traditional scheme of loopholes and technicalities, these religious leaders have declared that swearing by the gold of the temple or swearing by the sacrifice on an altar requires a person to keep their word. In contrast, they say, swearing by the temple or altar themselves is somehow non-binding. Jesus has pointed out that the temple that makes the gold sacred, just as the altar makes the sacrifice sacred. The scribes and Pharisees, of all people, should understand that all these things come from God and belong to God. These supposedly learned men don’t have any basis to declare one sacred and another not.

While not stated directly, this “woe” also underscores Jesus’ prior criticism of using oaths to enhance a promise. Why encourage anyone to take an oath, to swear by something sacred, for any reason? Why not just teach people to keep their plain word when they say “yes” or “no.” Anything more than that, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, comes from evil (Matthew 5:33–37).


Bonus Devotional

I decided to share today’s item from Magnificent Life Ministries with you as well, even though it’s a different topic. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and visit often, or if you want a shorter devotional (than what we do here) for another part of your day, subscribe. Click the header below to read at source.

Contentment!

“Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

More is never enough, seeming to be the motto for life in this world. You have seen it and probably felt it too. The world philosophy as related to things is, “If I can afford it, get it; and if I can’t afford it, charge it!” This craving for possessions (especially things we don’t need) has resulted in too many ruined lives, devastated families, and a vulnerable nation.

God has a better idea. He calls His people to godly lifestyles. In this passage, Paul coupled the call to live in godliness with the spirit of contentment. Ultimate satisfaction and sufficiency can only be attained by abiding in Christ. He alone is the all-sufficient One. When godliness and contentment are wedded in the hearts of God’s people, blessings abound. However, godliness without contention is dangerous to our health, happiness, and well-being.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper.”

Do not seek what the world has to offer, for it is never enough—and it will never lead to true contentment. All of those things are not real as they were; the devil has just made it seems genuine in people’s sight. Until we recognize that true riches and inheritance are not in this world, humankind might not stop chasing the world and won’t be contended.

Seek the God of heaven, and seek to further His kingdom on earth. Allow Him to develop His character inside you as you find your sufficiency in Him. Focus your attention on the pursuit of the “mystery of godliness” that Paul described (1 Tim. 3:16) rather than on the pursuit of all the “stuff” that the world holds valuable. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He, Himself, has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:
1. Father, help me truly know who You are and find true contentment in my relationship with You.
2. Psalm 119:36: Oh Lord, “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.” in Jesus’ name.

 

April 23, 2021

Some of Jesus’ Statements We Call Hyperbole Are Still Truth

Can you imagine the crowds listening to some of the more outrageous statements made by Jesus and saying, “Oh, there he goes again!” Despite the sensational nature of some of the things he said, the phrasing is also the reason we remember them, like the one in today’s devotional.

Our online travels today took us to For Christ’s Sake Fellowship which is run by Pastor Daniel Harlow. This online ministry describes their goal as: “We aren’t necessarily looking for a congregation as much as we are trying to help establish a strong, personal, and life long connection between you and Jesus Christ.”

Click the header which follows to read at their site.

Cast Off Your Hand

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30

Temptations abound in this world. You can’t turn on the tv or even drive down the road without being bombarded by beckoning sin. Even the smart phones we hold in our hands create an open doorway for all kinds of evils. What is a good person to do?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said that if your eye or your hand causes you to stumble, it would be better for you to pluck the eye out or cut off your hand and cast them away rather than to have your souls to end up in Hell.

What Jesus is saying there is not about hurting yourself, it’s about being willing to do whatever it takes to keep your eyes and your mind on Heaven. Aim for your righteousness and it will help yourself and others.

I do say “yourself and others” because you have more power and affect on other people than you realize. There is truly no such thing as a personal sin. Sin hurts and people who think much of you will follow your lead. You will take many souls with you wherever you go, either to eternal peace in Heaven or to eternal death.

Jesus mentioned the right hand for a reason. It is an example of your strong side. For most people, you get the greatest benefit from using your strong hand. That being said, even if something is benefiting you, it may also be what is doing the most damage to you in the long run.

There are many things in this world that are OK to do, but are they leading you somewhere good? Has the Holy Spirit been knocking on your door recently about something? Do you pray? Do you spend time in the scriptures? Do you use your tone wisely to help others?

I like to fish and I enjoy watching TV now and then. A few little relaxing pursuits are OK, but not when they consume my time. Even OK things, lawful things that benefit us, can get in the way of our eternal salvation. Moderation is key in many cases, but some things, even small seemingly insignificant things can take you away from the life God has called you too.

Jesus Christ suffered and died so that you can be free from sin. All of those bad things you’ve done are gone when you accept His payment on the cross. He died and rose again to give you an abundant life not only in Heaven for eternity, but here on Earth as well.

Use your abundance, whether it is food or money or strength or whatever, to help other people. Don’t use your time and earthly pursuits to chase sin. And make no mistake about it, if you are not actively chasing Heaven, you are slipping back down farther towards hell.

Jesus said there are only two roads. There is a wide one with a large gate that’s pointed in the wrong direction. Many people are on that road, heading for destruction. However, there is another road, a straight and narrow path that leads to an eternity of love and peace. Few find that road.

Which one are you on right now?

Once again, I’m not telling you to ACTUALLY cut off your hand. Please don’t! But I am telling you that we must be ready and willing to cut things out of our lives to gain God’s kingdom and blessings. Even if those things in our lives are OK and lawful, maybe they even benefit us sometimes, but if they harm us and cause others to stumble, then those things must be done away with in our lives.

If you do this, God has promised blessings and peace for now and forever. So stay on that straight and narrow path. It’s worth it.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9

God’s blessings to you.


Bonus item: Here’s a short devotional from the same author/site. Check out “Refire!”

January 9, 2021

Persecution: A Promise and a Prescription

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds – James 1:2

Again today we have another new writer to feature. Bob James has been writing at Daily Enduring Truth since December, 2012. His goal is that the site “will lead people to grow spiritually by encountering the Enduring Truth of God’s word on a daily basis.”

Bob has been doing a series on the Beatitudes and in the two posts which follow looks at persecution — I hadn’t considered that Jesus mentions this one twice —  considering the blessing God promises and the attitude with which we should respond. You need to click on each of the headers which follow to read each at source.

In the Midst of Persecution, Look Forward

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10

Persecution can take many forms, and it can occur for many reasons. Often persecution happens because of nationality or ethnic origin. While there is never a good reason to persecute people, Jesus was talking about a different kind of persecution: persecution that happened because someone was living as though they’re in a good relationship with God.

It seems strange that in a society that asks us to let people be who they want to be, those who have a relationship with the living God are often singled out for scorn. Perhaps the reason for that is that Christians see absolute right and wrong in a world that has no absolutes. Righteousness begins with our relationship with God, and it’s revealed by a life that honors God by living according to His absolute standards. That goes against the grain when the rest of the world makes the bold claim that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.

Christianity has always gone against the grain of society, and that has engendered persecution because we’re “not like them.” Our “not like them” lifestyle should happen because we’re living for God and according to His moral standards. While that may bring persecution, the persecution will be nothing compared to the reward of the kingdom of heaven.

Oh Lord, may I always live in a way that honors You. If that life brings persecution allow me to stand strong as Your servant knowing that the kingdom of heaven is a far greater joy than any amount of pain or suffering I may endure.

Rejoicing in Persecution

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5: 11,12

Jesus elaborated on His previous blessing about persecution. Perhaps we see it mentioned twice because He knew persecution would come to His followers. This time, He noted that the blessing comes when any of us are persecuted, as if all His followers should expect persecution as opposed to just those who are persecuted for righteousness sake as mentioned in verse 10. Persecution is coming and it’s coming because of our devotion to Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest parts about going through any difficulty is the belief that we’re going through the problem by ourselves. Jesus made it clear here that not only are we all going to be dealing with persecution, but it’s always happened; God’s prophets have always been persecuted. If we’re joining the prophets’ club of those who have been persecuted, then we’re doing so because we’re being faithful to God.

The early disciples recognized that they went through persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ and that it was a spiritual badge of honor. They rejoiced because they were considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41) Perhaps they remembered that Jesus told them to rejoice when they were persecuted. Jesus warned us that trouble is ahead and that we can expect persecution, so when it comes, remember two things: 1) you are not alone in being persecuted, and 2) rejoice that you have become a member of that select group who are persecuted because of faithfulness.

Oh Lord, I have to admit that I would prefer that persecution not come. But if the choice is avoiding persecution or being faithful to You, give me the strength to be faithful to You in all circumstances.

used by permission


Second Helping: Sometimes we introduce a new author and before the six-month window is up, we see another article we wish could share. Michael Wilson has written an interesting study on the differences between the poverty with which Jesus had some acquaintance, and the funding of the ministry supporting himself and his twelve associates. Check out Was Jesus Born Into Poverty?

August 9, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

 One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate.  –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

August 8, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore Then he told them many things in parables… Matthew 13 1-3a NIV

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.This is why I speak to them in parables… Matthew 13 10-13a NIV

Yesterday we introduced “the five discourses” in Matthew, namely, “the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.”

If this is what you think is meant by The Parabolic Discourse, you’ve come to the wrong page!

The third of these, The Parabolic Discourse, has nothing to do with parabolas, in case you were wondering. Rather it is a section consisting of consecutive parables.

■ Take time now to read the entire section in Matthew 13.

R. K. Bingham, writing at GraceOfOurLord.com introduces these.  The points below are excerpted from Matthew 13 – Parabolic Discourse1

  • Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36…
  • He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts
  • This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables…
  • The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth…
  • The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large…
  • The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it.

Jeff Bryerley, writing at Burnside Family Church’s Bible Study page has some more extensive notes on the latter part of the discourse:

Why did Jesus ask if the disciples understood his parables (13:51)?
The disciples were chosen so that they would themselves be teachers (cf v.52 “scribes”) of others. Jesus was only too willing to give further explanation if needed. However, they replied that they understood. They understood (a) the importance of receiving well the kingdom (soils); (b) the humble growing / permeating of a great kingdom (mustard seed, yeast); (c) the consequences of receiving / rejecting the kingdom (wheat and tares, good and bad fish); and the priceless value of Jesus’ kingdom (hidden treasure, pearl of great price)… [L]ater events showed their understanding was not perfect, but it was growing and would be used fruitfully later.

What did Jesus mean “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (13:52)?
We believe this is referring to both the Old and New Testaments. The OT is an old treasure in revealing the Word of God and pointing to the coming Messiah. The NT is a treasure, revealing who Christ is, how He fulfills God’s promise of salvation and wraps up history with its eternal consequence. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching shows how the old is to be understood by the new. Michael Wilcox, in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, provides further background. The Greek word “oikedespoles” translated here as “householder”, is not just referring to someone bringing out old and new treasures to gaze upon and return to its safe location. The oikedespoles was someone who brought treasures out to be used fruitfully, such as dividing his estate among tenant farmers or to pay wages to his laborers. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be workers “who correctly handle the Word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Why did the people of Nazareth disbelieve Jesus (13:53-58)?
These verses show that Jesus was indeed fully human as well as divine. Before he began his ministry, Jesus led a very quiet ordinary life, albeit “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Indeed, this gives rise to evil suspicion among the townspeople as to the source of his wisdom and mighty works. This was not unlike the Pharisees who with blasphemy attributed the source of his power to Satan (12:22-32). The townspeople declared that Jesus was trained as a carpenter, (not as the student of some great rabbi). Also they note that he comes from a very ordinary poor family. They name his family members including his mother “Mary”, a quite common name. We believe the inference was that he cannot be genuine, that his power was not from a godly source and that he must be some sort of conjurer, an ordinary person contemptibly acting beyond his station in life, in an attempt to dupe them for some ill purpose. Their unbelief limits Jesus’ ability to do mighty works…

Returning to our first author quoted as to why the passage ends as it does:

…The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.


1Many of the blogs we use are now running rather firm copyright notices that are leaving us running scared of quoting material as we’ve done for over ten years now. I think this is a great overview and encourage you to read it in its original form, but I was nervous about simply re-blogging the entire post.

August 7, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read Matthew last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing they offer that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of his instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”  (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

July 16, 2020

Not “My,” But “Our” – A Refection on the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy. – Matthew 6:9

by Clarke Dixon

Prayer is a very personal thing. If we are being honest, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” show up a lot in our prayers. Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we are to address “our” Father in heaven. Throughout the Lord’s prayer we also encounter “us,” and “our” a lot, but never “me,” nor “my.” This is important and reminds of three important facts as we learn to pray.

First, when we pray our Father, we are reminded that God is Someone we experience together. Faith is personal, but it is not something we create for ourselves, it is not something we possess and control or change for our own purposes.

If we began our prayer with something like “my personal cosmic being” we could then perhaps conjure God up as we desire. However, Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father in heaven.” God is not someone we can change to suit our tastes. God has been experienced by a very large community of faith over a very long time.

If you ask my three boys what I am like, the facts they relate will need to fit with each other, plus fit with what you know about me. They might point to the obvious and say that I have blue eyes and and more grey hair today than yesterday. That would be true. Actually, my eyes were blue long before they came on the scene. We won’t mention my hair colour. You get the point though, that what is true about me is true about me whether you asked my boys or not. They cannot conjure me up, rather they experience me through my presence in their lives.

What is true about God was true about God long before you or I came on the scene. God is God, and that would be true even if there were no Church to speak of Him. God is not “my father, conjured up in my mind to suit my preference,” but “our father,” the one with whom humans have had a relationship for a long time. He is the one who revealed himself to his covenant people. He is the one who has revealed himself in Jesus. He is the one the community of faith has experienced and has spoken about. He is the one we meet in the Bible. He is our father, someone beyond us and experienced together by us.

When we pray “our father,” we are reminded that God is beyond us, experienced by a whole community of faith, and therefore can be discovered by us, but not conjured up.

Second, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we are part of a large family which is part of an even larger family of faith. Faith is personal, but it is not practiced alone.

The local church is a family of believers and so we can properly refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

Within our own church family I feel rather badly for those who have come from a tradition where one is taught to enter the sanctuary with quietness in order to prepare for worship. That simply does not happen at Calvary as there is a lot of chit-chat which goes on before and after the service. But as I like to say, God loves a noisy church for it shows that relationships are happening. Yes, we gather to worship God, however, we gather to worship God together. As a family of believers we do not gather at the church, but as the church.

Of course we have an even bigger family to think about. The believers that would normally gather at the church down the street are also our brothers and sisters. As are the believers across the town. Even if we think they are weird. As are the believers across the world.

We are a huge family brought together not by our efforts at thinking alike, or even by liking each other, but by God loving us alike. We do not need to agree with our brothers and sisters to be family. We just need a relationship with our father. When you enter into relationship with God, you automatically enter into a family relationship with many people you might consider a little odd, or even a lot wrong.

When we pray “our father” we also think of the many generations of Christ followers which have gone before. God was their father too. Actually, God is still their father! The dead don’t cease to be God’s children!

Third, when we pray “our father in heaven” we are reminded that we share something fundamentally important with all people, for God is the Father of all humankind. Faith is personal, but it does not not cut us off from the public.

I once heard someone make a distinction between Genesis 3 and Genesis 1 Christians. If we are Genesis 3 Christians we tend to see people first-off as fallen, as having suffered the consequence of the Fall. We may not even see people at all, we may just see sinners. Genesis 1 Christians on the other hand see people, first-off as being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. In that sense all humans are children of God. Praying “our” father reminds us of that.

However, we may wonder about those times the Bible speaks of people as being alienated from God, or even enemies of God. Is that not evidence that not all people can be called “children of God,” that from the Christian perspective they cannot be considered part of one big family?

Imagine you can go back to the days of slavery in the Southern States. If you met a slave, would you say “slave is an appropriate term for you for that is what you are, this is where you belong,” or would you say “slave is a tragic term for you for you were created to be free. You were created for something better. Slave fits your current situation, but not your identity. You are not currently where you belong.” So too, with those who would live far from God. There are terms, like stranger, and enemy, which accurately describe their situation due to sin, but those terms are tragic. All people were created in the image of God, for relationship with God. He is calling them to come home. In his grace he is offering forgiveness and a new start through Jesus. They are his children, but children may end up living with zero relationship with their parents. This is tragic. Do our hearts break?

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that God is father to all humanity. We are reminded to have the same kind of love and longing for all people from all peoples as God has. Our hearts will break for those who are far, even as God’s does.

When we pray “our father” we are reminded that family dynamics are always changing. Every person we meet can potentially also desire to pray this prayer too someday. Those far from God can come home. Faith is personal, but it is not private. What we call “evangelism” is often seen as unethical in our day of privacy and individualism, however, evangelism is unavoidable when we pray “our father.” Our father desires that all His children come home. Given that we are family, we would love to see them come home too!

“I,” “me,” and “my” may show up a lot in our prayers and that is fine. Prayer is personal and we approach God as individuals. He relates to each of us on a personal and individual level. However, let us remember that Jesus taught us to pray addressing God as “our” father. Let that be a reminder that,

  • God is a very real Someone that an entire faith community has experienced, and continues to experience.
  • we are part of a big family, in fact a huge and complicated family of faith.
  • We are part of an even bigger and even more complicated family, which includes even those who would rather not be in the family at all, whom God loves and is calling home.

May we ever be mindful that God is not just “my father,” but “our father.”


This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” at Clarke’s church You can also watch the reflection here.)

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 11, 2020

Do Unto Others

by Clarke Dixon

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (NRSV)

If we all did unto others as we would have them do unto us, the world would be in much better shape. Just imagine how the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 could have been avoided. On a more serious note, just imagine how race relations would be much different now had we been “doing unto others” all along.

“Do unto others” sounds like a simple concept, and it is . But it is not easy. We have a way of turning things around to still be about us. The selfish path is always the easy path.

But can the “Golden Rule” ever be followed in a selfish manner? Yes, let me give an example. Suppose I found that peanut butter squares give me great comfort during this pandemic. Wanting to do a good thing, I may want to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and send all my neighbours peanut butter squares. But what if my neighbours are allergic to peanuts?

You see, I have just done unto others as I would have them do unto me as if they were me. I have not been sensitive to their situation and needs. I still managed to make it about me and my needs. Instead, I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me, if I were them, walking in their shoes, living their lives.

We can think we are “doing unto others,” yet still be oblivious to the needs of the others. To actually put into practice the teaching of Jesus we need to be sensitive to those needs.

There is therefore a step, which is not explicitly stated, but is necessary to fulfill the spirit of what Jesus is teaching us here. It is taking a step down a path of understanding. This is necessary if we want to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were in their shoes, in their skin, with their history, with their experiences of life.

I don’t know what it is like to grow up in a home with alcohol abuse, or abuse of any kind. Being white, I don’t know what it is like to be man of colour and face racism. Being a man I don’t know what it is like to be a woman and face sexism. Being straight, I don’t know what it is like to be a gay person and face discrimination or bullying. I don’t know, and I can’t pretend to know, but I can set out on a journey of understanding.

With the COVID crisis and church gatherings being cancelled I had the opportunity to deliver the video version of this sermon from somewhere I have never delivered a sermon. I “preached” it while sitting in a pew. Sometimes we preachers need to sit in the pews. We need to grow in our understanding of the Bible, yes. We also need to grow in our understanding of people. People have sat in those pews who understand what it is like to live in a broken home, with an abusive partner, or with an alcoholic parent. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to experience racism or sexism, or both. People have sat in these pews who understand what it is like to be attracted to the same sex, and to pray for a change that never comes.

The path of understanding requires a posture of learning. Learning requires listening. Listening requires not speaking. Listening requires that we all get down from our pulpits, for we all preach, and listen intently to the people in the pews, and those who would not dare enter the sanctuary. Listening may require closing our Bibles for a moment, so that we give others our undivided attention as they teach us about themselves. Only then can we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, if we were them, in their shoes, in their skin, living their lives.

Doing unto others is the more difficult road, the “road less travelled,” to borrow an expression. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus says next:

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:12-14 (NRSV)

We are trained to automatically think of salvation in terms of eternal life when we read about the narrow gate and wide road. We then ask if we are on the narrow road that will get us to heaven. But consider if Jesus is telling us about a salvation that includes abundant life as well as eternal life. The question then becomes whether we are on a narrow and difficult road that leads to a greater experience of life in our world, or are we taking the easy road, the self-focused road, the one that leads to harm?

When we travel down that path of understanding others, it leads to greater life, in all areas of life. It lessens our tendencies toward racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. However, when we go down the broad road of self-centredness, an easy road that many take, we find that it leads to destruction within relationships and so much more.

Doing unto others is the more difficult path, the path Jesus took for us:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

You could say that in Jesus, God came down from his pulpit, and spent time in the pews. God understands our brokenness, our inability to get back to God. He brings us back to Himself. He took the difficult journey of the cross. He did unto others, He will do unto you.

“Do unto others” is not just a nice platitude we hang on a wall. It is difficult and narrow path, a journey of understanding that requires a posture of learning. It requires getting beyond ourselves. It is loving others as God has loved us.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the calmest person I know. (I just thought that was worth mentioning!) His wife and three teenage boys are currently riding out the pandemic in a small town east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 29, 2020

Ask and You Shall Receive?

Readers: This week Clarke provided an extra article which we ran yesterday and this one, which picks up where we were last Thursday in Matthew 7.

by Clarke Dixon

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

Does it ever seem like Jesus is telling us a big fib here? We ask for something, and it is not given to us. We are not talking about asking for something obviously foolish, like a million dollars suddenly appearing in our bank accounts. Nor are we thinking of something that would be selfish. We could be asking for something good, something that will benefit everyone, like, say, a a quick end to this pandemic. Or we can pray for years for something that would have a really good impact on a loved one. But nothing changes. Was Jesus telling a fib? Is our faith misplaced? Is our faith too weak?

When we dig into the teaching of Jesus here, we will discover that the truth is better than we think and God is greater than we conceive.

If we are being honest, we often conceive of God as being like a computer. It may be subconscious, but we can often relate to God as if He were a computer, especially when Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock.

Ask a computer to do something, it does it. Do a search on Google, you start finding stuff. Enter the right password, you will get in. Ask, seek, knock. When our computers are functioning and the internet is up to speed, we are used to these things happening, and quickly.

This speaks to the kind of relationship we have with a computer. We don’t have one. Well perhaps some of us do. The computer I am typing this on is now eight years old and is showing its age in sometimes not keeping up. I do speak to it when it bogs down saying “okay computer, let’s go.” But that is hardly a relationship.

If we can speak of having a relationship with a computer, it is one of the computer serving and being obedient to us, the operators. A relationship which makes God obedient to us is not the kind of relationship Jesus has in mind when we tells us to ask, seek, and knock. It is a good thing it is not!

Computers are so good at being obedient to us, that they are very good at messing things up at our command. I can delete very important files with a few clicks of the mouse. I have the power to make a big mess! The computer gives me that amount of control.

If God always answered our prayers the way we want Him to, when we want Him to, we could create a big mess. God is God. We are not. We do not comprehend the good things God is accomplishing in our lives, the lives of others, and in our world. We do not see how God is shaping everything in His providence even now, even despite our freewill, to deliver a desired future. When we pray, we might be asking God to delete his good laws of nature, or the work he is doing in people’s lives, or even our own lives without even knowing it. God is not a computer. He gives us freedom, but will not give us that amount of control. Job said “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” Job 42:2 (NIV). When God says ‘no’ to us, it is because God is good.

God is not obedient to us, like a computer. However, God is good to us, like a good, good Father. Jesus goes on to teach us about that:

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)

When Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, Jesus is speaking to us about the father/child relationship we can have with God. So when our foolishness starts getting us into trouble, let us ask, and we shall receive a good father’s wisdom. When we lose our way, going down the paths of apathy and hatred instead of the path of love, let us seek, and we shall find the better path, for our Father will shine a light on it. When we have wandered far from home, and sheepishly come home, let us knock, and the door will be opened.

When Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, he is not telling us that God will answer every prayer the way we want, no matter how good we think that prayer may be. He is telling us to trust God as a good father, having confidence in Him and His provision. God is not obedient to us, but He is good to us.

God is not obedient to us, but He is good to us.

God may seem to be unpredictable. God may seem to let us endure more trouble than we think He should. God may hold back from intervening in our day to day lives more than we would like. Good fathers are actually like that. God is unpredictable, yet faithful. God is unpredictable as good fathers are, letting us endure through difficult circumstances for our growth and maturity. Yet God is faithful, in walking with us. I would not enjoy motorcycling now if at some point my Dad did not let go of the bicycle. God sometimes lets go of the bike. We learn to ride. God pushes us out of our comfort zones, yet keeps us safe.

Good fathers rescue their children when they face grave danger. God rescues us from the consequence and power of sin through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God will let go of the bike as we learn to ride. We may fall down. God also stands between us and a cliff.

When Jesus says “ask, seek, knock . . .” he is not inviting us to manipulate God, to have control over God, to expect God’s obedience to us. He is inviting us to enter more fully into a father/child relationship with God Who is a good, good Father. Do you need to ask, seek, or knock?


Pastor Clarke Dixon loves music, motorcycles and ministry, though not necessarily in that order. His wife and three teenage boys are currently social distancing about an hour east of Toronto. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

January 23, 2020

Kicked to the Curb? (Blessed Are The…)

by Clarke Dixon

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the . . . ” Matthew 5:1-3 (NRSV)

If we were to come up with our own beatitudes what might we come up with? We might say “blessed are the rich and famous, for they have no worries.” Or, “blessed are those with many Instagram followers for they will be popular and never be lacking for friends.” Or, “blessed are the Canadians, for they typically receive decent medical care.” Being quite shy, as a teenager I would have said “blessed are the outgoing, for they will not be overlooked.”

If people in various times and places could come up with beatitudes what might they come up with? Perhaps “blessed are the slaveowners, for they themselves are not slaves.” Or, “blessed are the males, for they will have more opportunities, earn more money, and will never face sexual harassment.” Or “blessed are the white people, for they will enjoy privilege.” Or, “blessed are the straight people, for they will not get beaten up or put to death for their sexuality.” Or, “blessed are the atheists, for they will not be shunned in their academic circles.” Or, “blessed are the religious, for they will not be shunned in their families.”

Going back to the days of the New Testament, if the people listening to Jesus were to come up with beatitudes what would they come up with? They might say things like “blessed are the Romans in Rome, for they will collect taxes from Jews in Judea.” Or “blessed are those who have the power and authority to crucify others, for they themselves will not be crucified and will have control.” Or, “blessed are those who cozy up to the Romans, for they need not fear being hung on a cross.” With such in mind, let us hear the beatitudes Jesus shared:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10 (NRSV)

Keeping in mind that the first hearers of these beatitudes were downcast and grieved at being occupied by the Romans, meekly putting up with the status quo, experiencing the injustice of being controlled by an unrighteous and often unmerciful empire, being asked to mix loyalty to God with loyalty to the emperor, and under threat of violence and persecution, we could summarize these beatitudes as “blessed are those who get kicked to the curb and look to God for help, for God will take care of them.” That would resonate with a people kicked to the curb by the Romans.

In that context, the beatitudes of Jesus were reminders that things were not as they seemed. It seemed like the powerful were the fortunate ones, but in reality those who look to God to act in power are the blessed ones. It might seem like the Romans are in charge, but in fact, God is. While “Caesar is lord” was a popular saying, it would later become evident that Jesus is Lord. Indeed the very symbol of Roman power, the cross, was to become a symbol of God’s love for the weak. While it seemed like the Romans were the blessed ones, truly God’s people were the blessed ones as they looked to, and trusted in, Him. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb, who look to God for help.

As we consider the idea of “blessed are the kicked to the curb,” there is a twist:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 (NRSV)

It is not “blessed are you when the Romans persecute you because you are Jewish,” but “blessed are you when people persecute you because you follow me, Jesus.” Also, when we consider the persecution of the prophets, the identity of “they,” the persecutors, is not the usual list of Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. The prophets were persecuted by their own people. God’s people in Jesus day were being kicked to the curb by their own people, the religious elites. Jesus will go on to contrast His way with the way of the religious leaders in what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It might seem that the fortunate ones are those who are able to attain religious perfection according to the standards of those who think they are perfect. But in fact the blessed ones are those who look to God’s perfect love. It turns out that you are not in a good situation if you are depending on your own ability at being good. You are blessed if you look to the goodness of God, if you are aware of your need of His grace. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Jesus teaches us in the beatitudes that things are not as they seem. It might seem that the powerful Romans are the blessed ones, the ones who can lord their power over the weak, but in fact, Jesus is Lord. It might seem like the religious leaders are the blessed ones, the ones who think they can earn salvation and shun everyone who cannot, but in fact Jesus is Saviour. Both these point to the cross, where the political and religious elites, the so-called “blessed ones,” combined forces to put Jesus to death. The death of Jesus seems to confirm that the Roman and religious leaders are the blessed ones. However, the resurrection of Jesus shows a different reality. The blessed are those who look to God. The blessed are those who look to Jesus, the Lord and Saviour. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb and look to God for help.

Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan, the outsider willing to help someone left for dead at the side of the road. The so called “blessed ones,” the religious leaders crossed the road to avoid him. They were on their way to the temple and so needed to stay pure to stay blessed. Or so they thought. The one kicked to the curb was the blessed one when the Good Samaritan went above and beyond to be helpful. Have you been kicked to the curb? God is the ultimate Good Samaritan. Cry out, He’ll cross the road.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article kicks off a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

October 25, 2017

The Householder

Today we conclude our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor.

The Householder

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
-Matthew 13:52

This brief parable begins with a question Jesus asks His disciples. “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they replied (Matthew 13:51). They heard these parables and could possibly recount each one of them, but did they understand them?

Did they understand that some of the seed sown in the field will ultimately come to nothing? Did they understand that alongside the good seed, there will be weeds sown by an enemy, which will threaten to choke the good? Did they understand that the mustard seed, though small in its beginnings, will grow into a tree that may appear impressive, but is a distortion harbouring evil? And just as yeast permeates a loaf, did they understand the kingdom of heaven on earth will be contaminated on every level by sin?

The first four parables teach the reality of human failure within the kingdom, and the disciples needed to understand that this is what will be true. Despite the discouraging images as the world will see the kingdom of God, there is an understanding from God’s perspective that is very different. Do the disciples realize that regardless of setbacks, hardships and difficulties, the treasure is going to be obtained, and that the pearl is purchased by Christ? Did they know that the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad fish will be separated at the end of the age?

Their reply was, “Yes.” If they have fully understood these things, Jesus said they will be like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. They will never give up, for despite the difficulties and opposition, they know there are always new and old treasures to bring out. If treasure here is equal to the treasure of the fifth parable in the hidden treasure, then there will always be new and old treasures coming forth; new people for whom Christ died to be brought to Him as Saviour and also established believers to be nurtured and brought to maturity in their walk with Christ.

There are no grounds for disillusionment or disappointment if we see things from the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is always confidence, always hope, always new treasures and always something to do. If we see the kingdom of heaven, not through the eyes of the world, but through the eyes of God, and submit to the Lordship of Christ, we are going to shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for these wonderful teachings. I pray the kingdom of heaven is seen through Your eyes, drawing new treasures to you and strengthening established believers. Thank You, Lord.

October 18, 2017

The Fishnet

We’re continuing our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor. We have just one left after today!

The Fishnet

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. – Matthew 13:47-49

Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen who had dropped everything when Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV). The symbolism used in the above parable would naturally be very familiar to them.

The casting of the net into the sea would seem to represent the evangelistic ministry of the church. The net is the large dragnet, drawn along by two boats or with ropes from the shore. All kinds of fish and creatures of the sea, good and bad, are caught in the net and hauled up together. This picture may be particularly apt in forms of mass evangelism where crowds are confronted with the Gospel and invited to receive Jesus Christ.  It becomes easy for people to make the same outward response to this invitation, but for varying motives. Hence, the good and bad become mingled together in the one net. True as that picture of evangelism may be, the catching of the fish is not the main point.

Jesus gave an interpretation which focused entirely on the separation of the good and bad fish. “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50).  This is similar to what Jesus said of the weeds and the wheat. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and… there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.” (13:41-43). The final image is of the good seed stored safely in the barn where they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. In this parable, addressed to the disciples, the final image is throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (13:49-50).”

To the crowds, Jesus emphasized the prospect of heaven, but to the disciples he gave a vision of hell.  The prospect of hell is unambiguous in Jesus’ teaching and we dare not belittle the reality and seriousness of it. However, Jesus is not primarily teaching about hell, but showing that ultimately the separation of the good from the bad will take place. No matter how compromised the earthly expression of the kingdom of God appears, the day will come when there will be a separation of the good from the bad, and an in-gathering of the true kingdom of heaven.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am grateful that there is no deceiving You, and look forward to the day when Your kingdom will be made righteous and pure. Amen.

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