“Who do you say that I am?”

In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asks his disciples, who do you say I am? How would you answer him?

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Is Jesus here testing his disciples asking, “Who do people say that I am?” Or is he opening the door for discussion? Is this Jesus the Man asking, really wondering, or is this Jesus the Divine, teaching? Or, perhaps, little of both, for Jesus was both man and divine.

Jesus asks a central question that applies now as much as it applied then. In His time, there was much uncertainty who this Jesus of Nazareth was. Today, I think we can say there is still uncertainty. There are so many various preachings about Him, around the idea of what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes, you can hardly reconcile the preaching with the man or the divine. When you run into a “Christian”, who do they say He is?

This is an important question in your formation as a Christian. Who do you believe Jesus the Christ is? Is He the prosperity Christ some have come to preach? Is He the condemning Christ some preach? Is He the selfish Christ some represent? Is He the anti-this and anti-that Christ, the exclusionary Christ we hear preached? Is He the Christ of hate and bigotry we see on our streets?

Who do they say He is? Who do you believe He is?

We live in a divided world. Is that perhaps because we don’t know who Christ is?

Jesus makes clear in the Gospels some very central messages:

  • Love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. Your neighbor is everyone you meet.
  • Pray for your enemy and forgive those who trespass against you; judge not.
  • Take care of the needy, the least among you. If someone asks of you, give to them; if they ask for a little, give to them even more.
  • It’s not enough to observe the law; give up earthly treasures, provide for the needy and follow Christ.
  • Do not be sticklers for the letter of the law but observe the intent of the law; if you are angry with someone you are as liable to the law as someone who kills; if you lust for another you are as liable to the law as someone who commits adultery.
  • God does not bring calamity upon us, he brings us healing; calamity is not punishment but healing is for the glory of God.

God loves us. God loves us so much, He became man, lived among us and taught us how to live with one another, and then died for us. He loves us so much, He died a painful death for us that He might conquer death and rise to Heaven. He loves us so much, He prepared a place for us in Heaven so we might follow Him.

Jesus was never about the power of becoming wealthy; he preached against wealth. He was never about hating others; he preached love. He was never about excluding others; he lived and preached among sinners, the sick, the disabled, and the excluded. Jesus was never about judging others; he refused to condemn sinners. Jesus was about love. Jesus was about establishing a closer relationship with the Father.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Glory to God!

Advertisements

“Let the children come to me”

In Matthew 19:13-15 Jesus asks to be with the children. Perhaps that’s what we need more of in today’s troubled world.

Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

Especially recently it seems, we live in troubled times. Danger lurks everywhere. Evil is popping up on every street corner, populated in every group. Talking with our ancestors, they might have said the same thing. The friend of my friend is my enemy.

There is another way of looking at other people as Jesus looked at them. He had a special affinity for children. They were innocents, not yet jaded in their view of the world nor had they become wise to the ways of the world.

Deep down inside each of us lurks a child. He or she is protected by a shield of experience, and we use this shield to ward off people we see as bad or evil or dishonest or dangerous. Some of them, of course, are any or all of those. But most are people like us, hardened by a view of the world steeled either by direct experience or by a vision suggested by others. In many ways, we need to dig deep down inside to recall the essence of that child within us to make us more approachable to others.

Now, in today’s reading, Jesus was literally talking about letting the children come to Him. He wanted to touch them and bless them and give them grace. And in our world, it is important that we introduce our children to Jesus the Christ that He may touch their lives, bless them, and give them grace. But we as adults need to let Jesus touch the child within us as well.

There is a lot of mistrust or distrust between people and peoples of the world. A good example was seen in the clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend. There were people of ill will marching in that city. People who wanted to do bad things. But there were also people with them who are hurting and misunderstanding and distrusting because of their experiences. In the clashes in the city, no one was listening to one another. It was a seething disorder of anger.

It’s hard to deal with people intent on doing evil. If that’s what they are there for, that’s what they will do. But not everyone was there to do evil. Some where there to address grievances. Some were there to protest the evil. Some where there to protect others.

What Jesus wants us to do is let Him touch that child within us, that child with the open heart, the child who listens, and reach out to the person with grievances. That person who misunderstands. That person who has been deceived. That person who is angered but can be calmed. Those people have children within them as well, children who can be reached within their shields. And if we let Jesus work through us, maybe He can reach down through that shield and touch their hearts, bless them, and bring peace to them.  “Let the children come to me.”

Protests often come to clashes because no one is talking and no one is listening. Of course, some are more stubborn about it than others. But if we go with the peace of Christ intent on letting Jesus do the work, maybe there would be less clash and more peace.

There was a “freedom protest” in Boston this weekend involving many (not all) of the same groups as appeared in Charlottesville. The evil groups were far outnumbered by the peaceful groups. Perhaps there, Jesus was given access to the “children”, because clashes were few and minor, and everyone had a chance to “protest” in peace.

Glory to God!

“Rise, and do not be afraid”

In Matthew 17:1-9 we learn that God doesn’t want us to be afraid, he wants us to love Him and be loved by Him.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, 
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them; 
his face shone like the sun 
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, 
then from the cloud came a voice that said, 
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes, 
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone 
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Two important messages rise in today’s passage: The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And the Son says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

Unlike in the Old Testament, when the Jews were taught to fear God, in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to not be afraid. And the Father says, listen to Him.

Of course, the Father was speaking more generally of listening to His son. But how interesting that these words appear together here. The Father and Son as one, reassuring us we are not to fear God but to love Him.

When we misbehave, or break rules, our earthly fathers get mad at us, and often we are afraid of their anger and punishment. The rules we break against the Heavenly Father can be even graver and it’s natural to fear His fatherly anger and punishment. But Jesus tells us, don’t be afraid. Love God. Repent — have a change of heart. God loves you.

It’s also natural when someone does something to us, including a parent, to be angry with them. It can be hard to forgive them. In this same way, Jesus tells us to not be afraid. Love God. Forgive them in His love. And love them.

There’s a beautiful movie called The Shack (2017), which I watched on DVD the other day. It’s about a man who has experienced great pain during his life, and he blames his dad, himself, and God. He has an encounter with God — an unorthodox vision of God in some ways, but as you watch it you come to realize it’s very much like the real God. And God’s message in that movie is about love and forgiveness. God appears as three loving persons, and they are full of love and reassurance. There is never any moment during the film when you are called to fear God, only to trust Him and let Him love and care for you. It answers the question, why does God let bad things happen to people. I’ll let you watch the movie to find the answer.

In a world that is filled people who want vengeance, who want revenge, who want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, even for the smallest infractions, who want to stoke fear, isn’t it refreshing to turn to God and hear the words, “Rise, and do not be afraid”? God is almighty and all present. If you don’t need to be afraid of Him, why should you be afraid of anything else? If God can forgive our worst sins, can’t we forgive each other even our smallest infractions, if not our greatest faults?

Rise from your fears, and do not be afraid. It is God. God is love.

Glory to God!

“Whoever has ears ought to hear”

In Matthew 12:36-43, we get a warning and an invitation. Do you hear it?

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The first seventeen lines are fairly self-explanatory as Jesus gives light to his parable. There will come an end of ages – a time when Jesus will return to earth and there will be an accounting for the lives of the good and the evil – and only the good, the righteous, will find a home in heaven with the Father.

That last line – “Whoever has ears ought to hear” – is a humdinger. It’s a warning and an invitation.

There are many who are preached the Gospels. Some even read the Gospels. But many do not “hear”. Many simply do not listen.

It is my witness that an emphasis for many “Christians” is on the Old Testament and the New Testament outside of the Gospels. If you can ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?), if you’re a “Christian”, why would you not read and give deference to the Gospels?

Showy “Christians” want to display monuments to the Ten Commandments in the public square, but do they make a monument to Jesus’ command to obey the two most important commandments, to love God and to love neighbor? Have they heard?

Self-important “Christians” admonish people who receive food stamps to “get a job” (most do have jobs) or want to take health care away from the vulnerable because they haven’t earned it (many are disabled and can’t work, or elderly and retired and have earned it, or working multiple low paying jobs and still can’t afford it). Did they hear Jesus say, “Feed them yourself”? Did they hear how Jesus cured the sick, without requirements?

Self-righteous “Christians” castigate the unmarried for living together and homosexuals for wanting to be married, get think little of leaders who have sexual affairs or multiple marriages. Did they hear Jesus say that marriage after divorce was adultery or that lust for another while married was adultery? While pointing out that homosexuality is an abomination to God, did they not also hear God say that eating pork and shellfish and piercing the body are an abomination (check Leviticus 18:26-29, where it says all these practices are an abomination)? They complain about menu Christians, and yet, here they are selecting which sins they themselves can overlook.

Most “Christians” get their Bible, their Gospels, listening to someone preach about it. They often hear a line or two, not a whole chapter, so they don’t get the whole context of a story. What they get is the preacher’s version of God’s word, which often comes at the expense of an agenda. The only way to know what God is saying, to hear God, is to read it in full. And if you’re really a Christian, the only way to know what Jesus is saying is to read the Gospels, in full.

That’s the warning. And now for the invitation. Jesus wants you to hear Him out. He wants you to get what He is saying. And He wants you to live the Gospels. He wants you to stop judging, He wants you to love God and your neighbor, and He wants you to start caring. He wants you to hear … that you might shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father. Go for it.

Glory to God!

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in field”

What are your plans for the future? Are they to enter the kingdom of heaven, the treasure Jesus explains in Matthew 13:44-46?

Jesus said to his disciples:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

There were two choices for today’s reading and I chose the shorter of the two, for a reason. I think it has a message that gets lost in all the angst over sin and repentance, as important as that message is.

What can we glean from this short passage?

First, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure.” What is a treasure? It’s a valued thing. It’s an amazing thing. When discovered, people will do almost anything to possess it.

Second, it’s “like a treasure buried in a field.” It’s hidden from us but it’s discoverable. And when we discover it, when we unbury it, we want to possess it. We want to take it in and make it our own.

Third, it’s a buried treasure “a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A person may literally sell all that he or she has for the sake of attaining heaven or a person may do so metaphorically in the sense that he or she divests themselves of their earthly attachments and ways to seek it.

In the second example, heaven is like the valuable pearl the merchant gives his all to purchase. A person who finds the treasure that is heaven divests him or her self to seek it out.

Science and medicine are spending a lot of time and effort to extend life. That’s laudable in a sense. But some take it to the extent that they believe one day they may be able to extend human life indefinitely. If you don’t believe in a heaven, that might make some sense, but if you believe in heaven, a valuable heaven, a worthy goal, then you have to wonder, why put off seeking eternity with God?

Shouldn’t we as Christians be eager to get to heaven, to be in the presence of God? Shouldn’t we not worry so much about death, because that leads us to resurrection and the kingdom of heaven?

Heaven is a treasure because it is an amazing reward for a good life. And reaching heaven is eternal life in the persistent presence of the almighty loving God.

Forever life on earth is a forever existence among the wicked and the insincere, in sickness and poverty, among people who seek wealth and attachment to things at the expense of others, enduring disasters and wars and the ravages of nature. Certainly, there will be those who will seek to help, but we will be at the mercy of those who don’t and those who twist the word of God to their own greedy ends.

I understand the attraction to furthering life on earth. Earth is a beautiful oasis in the universe. There are many attractive things that come from living in the now here. And if you get good at living here and in the now, you can live comfortably, perhaps complacently. Why not just keep it up? Because Jesus tells us there will be an end of ages. We don’t know when — we can’t know when. Even Jesus didn’t know the when.

We need to be thinking about what happens after the end of ages. Where do we want to go? Heaven is a treasure. It’s discoverable. It’s attainable. It’s glorious beyond all the treasures of earth combined.

Jesus tells us in the longer version of this reading that the angels will separate the wicked from the good. The good will enter the kingdom of heaven. And who are the good? They those who listen to Jesus’ teachings and act on them. They are those who love God and love others, who treat others, especially the least among us, with respect and care and kindness. They are those who seek not wealth for the sake of wealth but share all to the glory of God.

Sure, we could try to live forever on earth, but what’s the point? There is no treasure on earth that can surpass the treasure that is heaven. Jesus teaches us that should be our goal.

Glory to God!