Category: Matthew (page 1 of 20)

Closer Than You Think

You are familiar with the warning etched into the bottom of the passenger’s side-view mirror on your car: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This authoritative statement is located on the passenger’s side-view mirror, but not the driver’s side. Why?

Your driver’s side-view mirror is just a standard flat-surface mirror. Your eyes are less than 18-inches away from that mirror and there’s hardly any angle. You can see almost everything behind you on that side through that mirror. But a normal mirror doesn’t work on the passenger’s side. The driver’s eyes are at least six feet away from that mirror and the angle is extremely sharp. A flat mirror would only allow you to see a tiny sliver of what is behind you on that side. So those mirrors are convex in shape. To compensate for the increased distance between you and the mirror and the severe angle, the passenger’s side mirror bulges out in the middle and curves away toward the sides to give you a wider view. You can see much more with the wider angle, but it comes at a price. The wider focal point compresses the image so it makes the objects appear to be smaller and farther away than they really are. Hence, the warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you are reminded that what you are seeing on that side is a lot bigger and a lot closer than you think. That’s what the warning is all about. This thing in the mirror is closer than it looks. It will impact you sooner than you think. You need to act on this, and your response is important. Time is short. The gap is small. It’s closer than it appears to be.

There is a similar warning for us  in the Bible. It should probably be heard or read as a comfort.

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” ~Romans 13:11-12

It feels like night. It has for a while. We were told at the end of March that we only needed 15-days. If we shut everything down for 15-days, we can flatten the curve and avoid any real crisis. Fifteen days and we’ll be good.

That was nine months ago. And we’re not good. I’m not good. Are you? I feel like I’m in a fog. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure anybody really knows.

We have a vaccine now, praise the Lord. It seems like a miracle we’ve received the vaccines so quickly and we should be thanking God for this answer to our prayers. But most health officials are saying the darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead. And now a new strain? It feels like nobody knows what to do and nobody knows when it’s going to be over.

Our salvation seems like a smaller thing in the face of all the suffering and loss that surrounds us. The dawn of a new day feels a long way off in the suffocating darkness of the present.

We all have questions as we head into the new year. When will the coronavirus crisis end? How will the vaccines work? Is 2021 going to be better than 2020, or will it just be more of the same? Will handshakes and hugs ever be normalized again? What about my own peace of mind? My own sense of well-being? Lots of questions.

Romans 13 reminds us of what the Bible affirms for us over and over again: that we belong to a God who does his very best work in the dark and his deliverance is always closer than you think.

What we see right now can throw us off. You know, it is possible to focus too much on the coronavirus and develop a distorted view. We can pay too much attention to the experts. We can watch too much news and get sucked into a false narrative. We can scroll through too much Facebook, we can read too many emails and websites, we can easily lose sight. Our salvation can seem much smaller than it really is. And farther away. The presence and power of our God can appear to be smaller and farther away.

We need an authoritative statement on the fronts of all our phones and etched into the bottom of all our screens: God’s presence and power is closer than it appears! God’s rescue is closer than you think!

New life always begins in the dark. A seed in the ground. A baby in the womb. Jesus in the tomb. A church in a pandemic. A Christian in despair. We can believe the night is nearly over and the day is almost here. You can have faith in the middle of your fears. You can be calm and certain through your anxieties. You can experience true life even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Because we know what the prophet Micah knows: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” And we know what our Lord has promised: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Which is closer than you think.

Peace,

Allan

A Faith Issue

Some have attempted to make the wearing of masks a matter of faith. My brother-in-law has recently made me aware of the following passage from Matthew 25 in the KJV (Kingsley Janky Version).

Matthew 25

The Masked and the Unmasked

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a Walmart greeter separates the masked from the unmasked. 33 He will put the masked on his right and the unmasked on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was shopping and you followed the arrows in the store aisles, I was standing in line and you maintained six feet of space, I was a stranger and you took a wide berth as we passed by each other in a common area, 36 I needed hand sanitizer and you gave me a squirt, I was out of toilet paper and you shared a roll when there was not a square to spare, I was in public and you gave me an elbow bump rather than a handshake or a hug.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we do these things you have described?”

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those not wearing masks, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For you ignored all of the instructions from the CDC.

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the mask wearers to eternal life.”

The Devil’s Scheme

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” ~Matthew 3:16-17

Jesus is a 30-year-old man making his first independent appearance in the Gospel at the Jordan River. He’s being baptized. In Matthew, this is the very first thing Jesus does. And right out of the gate, right out of the water, God blesses Jesus. Jesus is blessed by God.

Jesus hasn’t healed anybody, he hasn’t fed anybody, he hasn’t taught anybody, and he hasn’t raised anybody from the dead. Jesus hasn’t preached a single sermon, hugged a single child, or rebuked a single Pharisee. As far as we can tell, Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. But he is blessed by God.

This is my Son. He belongs to me. He is part of me.
I love him. I am committed to him. I cherish him.
I am proud of him. I’m happy with him. I approve of him.

Jesus is blessed by God before he can do anything to earn it or deserve it. God’s blessing is not predicated on Jesus’ performance or on Jesus’ abilities to live a good life or on Jesus’ works on behalf of the Kingdom. God blessed Jesus because he is his Son. God loves Jesus because he is his Son. He commits to Jesus and he publicly affirms Jesus because he is his Son.

“This is my Son, whom I love” is a quote from Psalm 2, which is about God’s messianic King who’s going to put down all rebellion in the world and destroy all evil. “With him I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 53, which is about God’s suffering servant, the one who will die for the sins of the people. God gives Jesus his great blessing, he declares his eternal love and his deep approval of Jesus before Jesus does any of this. God’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ identity as God’s precious child is not tied to what Jesus does or accomplishes. Jesus is first and foremost blessed by God.

And the devil attacks that blessing.

In the very next verse, the opening of Matthew 4, Jesus is dripping wet from his baptism and led by the Spirit into the desert for a face-to-face meeting with the devil. And the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are, “IF you are the Son of God…”

He says it in verse three and he repeats it in verse six: “IF you are the Son of God…”

IF you are really loved by God… IF you really belong to God… IF you are really who God says you are… IF God is really pleased with you…

This is how the devil operates. This is his strategy.

God has just assured Jesus that he is God’s beloved child. God has just promised Jesus that he loves him and that he accepts him. And the devil immediately and directly attacks Jesus at that very spot.

Turn these stones to bread! Let’s see if you REALLY belong to God!
Jump off this building! Let’s see if God REALLY loves you!

The devil is asking Jesus to make God prove he really loves him and he’s really pleased with him. But you don’t need to ask God for demonstrations or proof unless you doubt. And that is the devil’s main goal. He wants Jesus to doubt the certainty of God’s unconditional love. He wants Jesus to lose the assurance of God’s eternal blessing and his approval. He wants Jesus to question it.

Do you see how the devil works?

It’s brilliant. And evil.

Peace,

Allan

Just Say the Word

A Roman centurion approaches Jesus in Matthew 8 and asks him to heal his servant back home. “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof,” he says to Jesus, “but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus observed that this soldier had great faith.

This Roman officer recognizes the power of Jesus. He calls Jesus “Lord” twice. This commander of men addresses Jesus as Lord when he was sworn to reserve that title for Caesar. You can’t serve two masters; there can only be one Lord. And this military officer says it’s Jesus. He recognizes Jesus as the superior and sovereign King, the true One, the only One, who can heal his servant. He recognizes Jesus’ power over nature and the elements, his power over demons and sickness and death. He knows Jesus’ power: Just say the word.

Here’s a commander of a hundred men in the Roman army. He’s stationed at a garrison just east of Capernaum. This officer has total control over the men in his company. He tells them when to come and when to go. They don’t use the restroom without his permission. Not only that, he controls all the Jews in this land they’re governing. With just a word, this centurion can order any Tom, Dick, or Larry on the street to march a mile or dig a ditch or carry a cross for a condemned criminal. This guy understands power. And he says to Jesus, “Just say the word.”

“Lord, just as easily as I tell Private Ted to clean his shield or mop the floor or drop and give me twenty, that easy, just say the word and my servant will be healed. I know that whatever you say happens. You just say the word and the forces that have paralyzed my servant will let him go. I have the authority to issue commands. My authority to make things happen comes from a higher power, from a general, from Caesar himself. But you, Jesus, you receive your power and authority from Almighty God in heaven!”

This commander’s faith is not great because he has confidence that Jesus can heal. His faith is great because he knows Jesus’ power comes  from God and Jesus has the authority from God to issue commands on God’s behalf.

Psalm 107 says, “God sends forth his word and heals.”

This army officer has picked up on the fact that Jesus is God’s Word, sent by God to heal.

Jesus tells this commander, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And the Gospel says his servant was healed at that very hour.

This is the beautiful reality in Jesus as the Son of God. The reality is he is almighty, he is all powerful, and he alone has the authority and power to heal and forgive and provide and protect. That’s the reality. And he willingly went to the cross to make that reality ultimately true for anything and everything that’s going on in your life today.

Just say the word, Jesus.

And he did. In the garden.  “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”

And he said it on the cross. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus would rather die for you than live without you. And he trusted himself to God, he put his own great faith in God, so the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven can be opened for you and for all who believe.

“It is finished!”

Now, there’s a word.

Peace,

Allan

 

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Three

Part One: Divorce is Sin.
Part Two: The Church has Tried to Legislate this Sin through Law.

Marriage after divorce is not a sin. Divorce is the sin. Divorce — breaking a marriage covenant — hurts people and destroys the Gospel. Getting married — making a marriage covenant — blesses people and proclaims the Gospel.

“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” ~1 Corinthians 7:10-11

The correct translation of the first sentence in verse 11 is “let her remain unmarried” and not “she must remain unmarried.” The original Greek word is menato – “let her remain.” Well, why does Paul want a divorced person to stay single? In 1 Corinthians, Paul wants everybody to be single. He truly believes that’s the best way to be a Christian. It’s the best way to serve God. He says it in verses 7, 26, 32, 34, and 40. Paul consistently emphasizes the benefits of being single; we’d be surprised to see anything different.

In verses 12-16, Paul talks about Christians who are married to non-Christians. His advice is to stay together in the marriage. Holiness is contagious. Don’t underestimate the power of God’s grace.

In verses 17-24, he gives the general counsel to stay as you are. He says it three times.

In verses 25-26, Paul talks to virgins and he tells them to stay single. He truly believes you can serve Christ better without the worries and responsibilities of marriage.

And now in verses 27-28, he says it’s not a sin for a divorced person to remarry:

“Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned.”

Again, the original Greek language is important. “Are you married? Do not seek lysin (‘to be loosed’). Have you laylysin (‘been loosed’)? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned.” Paul says it’s not a sin for the divorced to remarry. The old NIV butchered this and the new NIV makes it worse. For some reason the NIV uses two different words to translate the same Greek word used twice in the same verse like it’s two separate things. But most every other translation since Paul wrote it uses the same word twice to mimic the Greek. Check the KJV, the New KJV, ASV, NASB, NEB, Alexander Campbell’s Living Oracles Bible from 1835, Webster’s translation from 1833, the Rheims translation from 1582 (older than the KJV), and the Revised Challoner-Rheims Version put out by the 1950s Catholic Church, perhaps the most conservative when it comes to divorce and remarriage. It’s not a sin for the divorced to remarry.

We cannot object to plain Scripture because we think Jesus said something different. Jesus is answering a specific question about a detail in the Law of Moses and, as Christians, we see the Law of Moses differently. Jesus tells the lepers to show themselves to the priests; nobody’s arguing for the sick to do that today. Jesus says to lay your gift at the altar; we don’t make animal sacrifices in our worship assemblies anymore and nobody’s saying we should.

But what our Lord says is very important. Do not read me as discounting the words of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus reminds the people about the certificate of divorce. The certificate is what gave the divorced woman the right to remarry. Everybody who was listening to Jesus assumed that divorced people can remarry — that’s the whole point of the certificate! All of Jesus’ listeners assume divorce and remarriage are less than ideal; but they never conclude it’s impossible or that remarriage is a sin. It’s not prohibited anywhere in the Law of Moses. The right to remarry has always been an assumed result of every divorce.

Divorce is sin, not remarriage. It’s not a sin to remarry after a divorce. There’s no such thing as an adulterous marriage.

And I know God hates divorce. That’s what the Bible says. Yes, God hates divorce. The Bible also says God hates our worship assemblies when we don’t treat our neighbors with love. The Bible says God hates prideful eyes, lying tongues, hearts that devise wicked schemes, and people who stir up conflict in the community.

The Bible also tells us that Christ Jesus died to forgive us of those sins and to bring us into a righteous relationship with our God.

Divorce is not the end of the world. Divorce is not a death sentence. It’s not the unforgivable sin.

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Two

(This is part two of our sermon “Divorce: It’s Going to be OK” from this past Sunday at Central.)

Divorce is sin. And the Church has tried to legislate this sin through law.

Generally speaking — I’m using very broad and very general language in today’s post — the Church has historically taken a phrase or two from Jesus and a sentence or two from Paul and come up with complicated rules and strict laws and serious consequences for legislating divorce and remarriage.

We have said any divorce not based on fornication is an “unscriptural” divorce. In other words, divorce is only allowed by Scripture if one of the parties has had sex with somebody else. We’ve taken the words of Jesus in Matthew, his specific answer to a particular question about a detail in Deuteronomy 24, and we’ve built entire legal structures around it. You can’t divorce your wife except for marital unfaithfulness. We’ve called it the exception clause. Now, I’ll suggest that the reason Jesus’ words about divorce in Mark and Luke don’t contain this exception is because Mark and Luke are written to Gentile Christians who don’t know and don’t care much about the Law of Moses. Matthew is written to Jewish Christians who care a great deal about how Jesus might interpret that murky phrase in Deuteronomy 24. So Matthew puts it in.

Regardless of that, now we’ve got “scriptural” and “unscriptural” divorces based on who did and who didn’t have sex with somebody else and when they did it. So if a couple gets a divorce and there’s no fornication involved, we’ve said there’s no divorce. They’re still married in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter how many trips they’ve made to the courthouse and how many divorce documents they’ve signed, we’ve said God is still recognizing the marriage. It can’t be undone without sexual infidelity. So if either one of them gets remarried, we’ve said they’ll be living in adultery. They will always be living in sin.

OK. What about a couple who marries and then divorces after three years? No kids. No fornication. No sexual sin. It’s just a bad match — irreconcilable differences — and they divorce. Both of these people wind up marrying again and these two second marriages are doing well. The guy has two kids with his second wife, the woman has three children with her second husband, and both families have re-committed themselves to Christ. And then fifteen years later these two run into each other at the mall. They haven’t seen each other or spoken in fifteen years. So they talk and they show each other pictures of their children and they sit down for coffee together as they’re getting caught up. Next thing you know, the coffee leads to dinner, and the dinner leads to these two having sex together that night in a hotel room. And the angels in heaven rejoice! Praise God! These two are finally obeying the will of the Lord!

We’ve also determined that if there are “scriptural” and “unscriptural” divorces based on fornication, then there must be guilty parties and innocent parties. The guilty party in a divorce can never remarry, but the innocent party can. Which means — follow me on this — we’re saying in God’s eyes the guilty person is still married to the innocent person but the innocent person is no longer married to the guilty person. I think that’s impossible. I don’t know if it’s physics or just math, but that’s impossible.

In a “scriptural” divorce in which somebody had sex outside the marriage, the innocent party can remarry because he or she has been released from the first marriage. But the guilty person is still bound? Is this about marriage or is it about punishment? We’ve made it so that in church you’re better off killing your husband than divorcing him. We’ll forgive you for murder. And then you can remarry.

We’ve made it so that in an “unscriptural” divorce, where nobody’s been unfaithful sexually, both parties are guilty. The man divorces his wife, he doesn’t get remarried, he’s not having sex with anybody else, and we say the wife cannot remarry. She’s waiting on the guy to have sex with somebody else first. She’s waiting on it! And the church is hoping for it! Somehow we’ve said this couple is still married in God’s eyes. On what grounds, I have no idea.

What about the couple that’s “unscripturally” divorced and remarried prior to baptism? Does their Christian conversion allow them to remain married? Some have said, “No, they’re living in adultery. They have to be divorced in order to be saved.” Wait. Do we tell married people to divorce in order to please God? Do we tell them they can live together but they can’t have sex? Is that the biblical model for marriage?

If a husband abandons his wife and leaves no forwarding address, can the wife remarry? Well, is the guy having sex with another woman? And what kind of proof do we need?

Does fornication after an “unscriptural” divorce retroactively make the divorce “scriptural?” In other words, the husband divorces his wife, there’s no fornication, so the divorce is “unscriptural.” If the husband remarries, now he’s committing adultery and the first wife can remarry. So in an “unscriptural” divorce, the first to remarry is a sinner and going to hell while the second to remarry is good and going to heaven.

What if a husband is beating his wife? She’s in danger of injury or maybe even death. Can she divorce? Can she remarry? Well, she can’t divorce him if he’s not cheating on her. So maybe the Church recommends a restraining order or a legal separation. Wait. The Church recommends she be relieved of her marital duties, but not her marriage? She’s not going to submit to her husband, she’s not going to serve her husband, she’s not going to give her body to her husband, she’s not going to live with her husband, but they’re still married? This is not God’s model for marriage. Is she really still his wife? Should she be? We’re setting up false and fictitious marriages for the sake of preserving a doctrine!

Jesus says, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
Paul says the Gospel is about love, not law.

At best, we’ve developed rules and laws that are unmerciful.
At worst, we’ve punished people and monitored their salvation and sought our own salvation through legalistic works. Through law.

Peace,

Allan

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