One who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written:

‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.


The disciples of John the Baptist are leaving and Jesus remembers and honors John.. he calls him more than a prophet and he identifies John a the forerunner of the Messiah. And in doing so Jesus identifies himself as that very Messiah. When I think of John I remember that he said of Christ: "I must decrease and he must increase". John was a humble prophet and as such he prophetically proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God that would take away our sins. He deflected attention away from himself and onto the Messiah.

Jesus then says something crazy. He says that one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than a great prophet. To me this speaks to the miracle of the new birth where people have new hearts with God's laws emblazoned on them. It reminds me that each reborn person is more than a prophet who proclaims God's message. It speaks to me about how such people are God's message. John was the last prophet of the old covenant. We who are born again are embodied by the Spirit of the Prophet Jesus.

Thank you Father that, by your grace, I have your laws written on my heart.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

This passage breaks my heart. John the Baptist is in a jail cell and he wonders if Jesus is really the one promised who will set the captives free - he wants Jesus to set him free from prison. I can hear the sadness in John's voice as he speaks through his friends. John has been expecting Jesus to rescue him and Jesus has not come. His question of Christ is a desperate cry for help and Jesus does not give any indication that he will free John.

In the same way God does not always answer our prayers. Unanswered prayers are so difficult and sometimes we can be offended that He does not come to our rescue. To John, and to us, Jesus simply says that there is a blessing when we are not offended by unanswered requests. In a sense faith is all about our reactions to unanswered prayers and we are blessed when we trust God when answers do not come.

Life can be hard Lord. Help me to keep my heart free of offence.


A few years ago I shared a message titled "Broken Hearts, Unanswered Prayers" that spoke to this passage. You can download the audio file from the link in the sidebar.

Whoever receives you receives me..

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

I wonder what Jesus saw on his disciples faces as he spoke to them about being persecuted and rejected as they traveled on this mission that he was sending them on. Perhaps these few sentences were his way of assuring them that they were being sent out as ambassadors of the kingdom of God and as such their mission was both prophetic and righteous. I think that his words are ones to remember as the scripture tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ.. we are those who carry his kingdom message.

Jesus also speaks to those who react to the message that his disciples will proclaim. He says that they will be rewarded commensurate with the disciple's reward. This speaks to me about how important it is to share the message with others. Telling people that ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ may cost us a bit when people reject that message but the cost is pretty negligible when we consider that this prophetic and righteous message comes with a reward.. and this reward is both temporal and eternal.

Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see those who thirst for the message of the kingdom.

Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

This passage reminds me that discipleship has a cost and the cost is our life. In the Old Testament the Lord was sometimes characterized as a jealous God. In these few sentences Jesus reinforces that idea and tells us that God will not take a back seat to anything or anyone - not to family members and not even to ourselves. This is a hard message but a very biblical one because of the way that these things can become idols that interfere with our relationship to God.

When Jesus speaks about not being worthy of him he is declaring that he is God and as such is worthy of their, and our, lives. If he were not God then he would have no right to claim preeminence in their, and our, lives. He speaks as God when he speaks of losing our life for his sake. Only the Creator has this right. It is something that the disciples most likely remembered when they were imprisoned and lost their lives for Jesus sake. How can we live differently? How can our message be anything less.

I am humbled Lord when I think of all that have literally lost their lives for your sake. I am unworthy because I have not fully embraced my cross. Help me today Lord to embrace and carry my cross. You are worthy Lord Jesus because you are God.

Fear Not

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

The fear that Jesus speaks to is real for those who he is sending out. The disciples eventually were put to death for proclaiming the good news. These risked all to proclaim Jesus' message. To these, and us, Jesus speaks about trusting God with our very lives. This is a tough message when persecution is at hand.. when a loved one is on their death bed.. when "those who kill the body" knock on our door. There is much to fear in life, yet Jesus tells us to "fear not".

To these disciples, and us, Jesus then speaks to how much we are loved and valued by God. He tells us that God really knows us and even numbers our hair follicles. God knows our capacity to believe when we are faced with fear laden circumstances. Jesus tells us that when we stand up to fear we acknowledge his presence in our lives. When we give in to fear we testify to our lack of faith.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Jesus' words about the consequences of our life choices in the afterlife. I do not believe that Jesus is using a fear of afterlife punishment to motivate his followers to not be afraid. And Jesus is not using the threat of hell to intimidate them or us - fear cannot produce faith. I believe that Jesus mentions hell to give his disciples, and us, a needed eternal perspective about death, persecution and suffering.

Lord, help me to have an eternal perspective. Give me grace to not be afraid.

A disciple is not above his teacher

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

These are sobering statements when you consider the way that Jesus was rejected, persecuted and murdered by people who did not receive him or his ministry. When I think about being like Jesus I think about this passage from Isaiah 53 that speaks of the messiah:
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
These words speak beautifully to the idea that being like Jesus is definitely not about externals but about having an inner strength and beauty that endures maligning persecution and suffering at the hands of others. We are not above our teacher.. we must not despair when we are rejected.. we must not lose hope when we grieve.. we must cling to the beauty that is Christ. We must remember that Christ in us is our hope of being glorious.

Lord help me to be like you. Encourage me when I am rejected and suffer. I need you.

Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The imagery of being sheep in the midst of wolves is a very scary one.. wolves eat sheep.. and ungodly leaders persecute and kill heavenly ambassadors. The stakes are serious and Jesus instructs them (and us) to:
  • be wise.. we are to use our heads and embrace the wisdom of our hearts;
  • be innocent.. we are to live from our heart and have pure motives;
  • beware men.. be on the alert in our dealing with men of ill-will;
  • not be anxious about what to say.. rather trust the Holy Spirit to give the words;
  • endure.. so needed when trials and persecution come our way.
Sometimes life is a bit scary - things sometimes seem so out of control. It is in times like these that we need to remember Jesus' instructions to his disciples. Our lives may be different than theirs but Jesus words are no less effective when we heed them.

I need you Lord. Bless me with grace to be wise, innocent, alert, trusting and enduring.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.


Jesus has just given his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal every disease they encounter. Now he sends them out on their first mission trip. A few reflections:
  • The focus was the lost people of Israel. Jesus was not eliminating gentiles
    in general but just in this specific mission.
  • When the kingdom comes it is often accompanied by the miraculous.
    In this we get a picture of what heaven might be like.
  • The ministry of the kingdom is without charge but the workers should
    have their needs met by the recipients of ministry.
  • Ministers need to be received. Too often religious people have an
    ungodly cynicism when it comes to pastors and ministers.
  • There is a blessing when we receive ministers, drop our guard and
    open up to the Holy Spirit's work through them.
  • There is a consequence to rejecting the gospel and the minister of the gospel.
    It is a serious thing to reject the Holy Spirit.
Some pentecostal folks imagine this passage, along with the command to heal the sick and work miracles, to be a template for mission trips today. In doing this I think that they miss the idea that this mission was specific and the disciples had specific instructions from Jesus.
On the flip-side others sometimes discount the Holy Spirit's working through others and miss out on the blessing that comes through the ministry of others.

Lord, help me to be open to your working through in and through others.

The laborers are few ... pray earnestly

As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Again we see Jesus doing amazing things. I can hardly imagine what it must have been liked to see the mute speaking and many being miraculously healed. And I can't imagine religious leaders saying that Jesus did these things using demonic powers.. unless I remember that religious people still question miracles today. It seems like they forget what the gospel (or good news) of the kingdom is. Here it is in Jesus' own words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
The passage tells us that Jesus saw multitudes of sheep needing a shepherd. He saw a large spiritual harvest in needed of spiritual farmers to care for the crops. He sees all of this and his heart breaks for people in need. His response is compassion. The response of the religious leaders is indifference and name calling. Maybe those responses are ones that truly delineate the authenticity of religious leaders.

Please have compassion Lord. Please send out authentic spiritual shepherds and farmers to care for wounded sheep and bruised crops. Please raise up spiritual laborers.

Do you believe that I am able to do this?

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

It is hard for me read about these blind men and not think about that time in my early twenties when my first wife Ellen was blind for three years. Those were difficult days. Ellen was depressed much of the time and our life had some really difficult moments. So when I think of these two I think of men who were desperate. They have heard of Jesus' fame. With impassioned voices they chased Jesus down and begged him for mercy. Can you feel into their desperation? Do you sense the guarded optimism in their voices?

Jesus has an interesting response to them. He does not ask if they believe that he is the Messiah. He asks them if they believe in his ability to heal their blindness.. "their" blindness. Jesus then responds saying that he would answer according to "their" faith. Do you catch the significance of how Jesus makes it personal? I do not think that he is laying down a health and wealth theological formula for healing but simply accentuating the way that we should come to God in faith believing that he is able to answer our prayers.

Lord I believe in you. Help me to believe that you are able to answer the prayers I pray.

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.

While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.

Years ago I attended an Easter musical at church. One scene featured Jesus ministering to many who were sick while a soprano sang a song that that echoed "There is hope in the name of the Lord. There is power in the name of the Lord." This moving passage rings with hope and power as Jesus responds to a man who has watched his daughter die and a woman who has suffered for many years. Compassion incarnate seems to touch everyone he meets when faith is present.

Yet there is a stark contrast shown in this passage between mockers and people of faith. Sometimes faith is shown by the way that we invite the Lord into our situation the way that the ruler did as he humbly knelt before Jesus. Other times faith is manifested by boldly laying hold of Him the way that the suffering woman did. And sometimes mockers, and mocking thoughts, need to be put out to allow faith to flourish.

Lord help faith arise in my heart and mocking be put out of my head.

Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

John the Baptist is probably in prison and his disciples are praying and fasting for his release. You can sense the mournful angst in their question. Jesus speaks to them saying that one day he will, like John, be gone and his disciples will fast in mourning. The first part of his response tries to help John's heartbroken disciples to understand why his behavior, and his disciples, is different from theirs.

Jesus then compares old and new cloth and wineskins to illustrate how there are differences in the old and new covenants. He speaks to the religious practices of the Pharisees implying that they have no place in the new covenant. He is not saying that disciplines like fasting are irrelevant. He is saying that ritualistic rites like fasting are a part of the old covenant. It speaks to me of how the new covenant is not a patch for the old but a replacement of it.

Lord, help me to recognized those old wineskins in my life.

I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I love the way that Jesus saw past the outcast status of a tax collector and called him to be a friend and disciple. Years ago I saw something similar when we transitioned some new believers into small groups and made them assistants - these folks had so much zeal and brought such an energy to the small group dynamic. Jesus has such a wonderful perspective about the nonreligious outcasts of society. He wants to be with those who religious folks do not want to be with.

On the flip-side the religious folks are all about judging Jesus and those they marginalize as "sinners". Referencing a verse from Hosea, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees admonishing them to embrace mercy. I wonder if Jesus would rebuke many today who chose to focus their energies on internal church matters and ignore the command to be merciful. I wonder how many of us need to learn what is means to embrace the sick and hurting in mercy.

Lord, I want to learn. Teach me in the ways of love, mercy and compassion.

Rise

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

The contrast of reactions to a paralyzed man in this passage is so stark. The man's friends react with faith, Jesus reacts with compassion and the religious people react with judgment. Jesus senses the unspoken thoughts of the scribes and calls their thinking evil. My sense is that Jesus was not concerned about their questioning of his authority but of their indifference to a hurting man and his need to be forgiven.

The next thing Jesus does is breathtaking. He turns from the scribes and looks the hurting man in the eyes and simply says 'rise'. Reminds me of the passage when Jesus speaks to a dead man (Lazarus) and simply says 'come forth'. Christ's simple words have such power behind them. They are so unlike my words which are many and so often devoid of power. I wonder what it must have been like for a paralyzed man to hear Jesus say 'rise' and have your entire life change in a moment.

Help me to see hurting people with your eyes Lord. Give me words to help them rise.

Go

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

Do you find it interesting that demonized men recognized Jesus as the Son of God but the religious people did not? Jesus once told Peter that this kind of blessed understanding comes not through fleshly imagination but by heavenly revelation. In truth no one can recognize Jesus as the Son of God unless God initiates. Amazing that demons speaking through these men knew this about Jesus but were blind to who he really was.

The simplicity of Jesus' reaction to the demons is mind boggling. No shouting. No theatrics. One word. Go. Last summer a man came up to Ann and I asking for money as we were sharing some pie and coffee with some friends at a neighbor outdoor place. My friend Bruce and I took him aside, talked with him and Bruce prayed. As he prayed I sensed something evil and responded by simply praying "go in Jesus name" as I placed my hand on his forehead. The man shook and I knew that something spiritual happened.

Help me Lord to remember that greater is He that is in me that he that is in the world.

Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

In the short span of time since Jesus preached the sermon on the mount he: healed a leper; healed the Centurion's servant; healed Peter's mother-in-law; cast out demons with a word and healed many others who were sick. The disciples in the boat with Jesus saw all of this.. every miracle.. and they still cowered in fear when water entered the boat. They could not imagine that Jesus, who had power over disease and demons, also had power over the weather. Their faith was small and needed to grow.

I too have seen the miraculous. I too have seen the faithfulness of God in the hardest of times. It is not for a lack of evidence that I have cowered in fear when life's storms have assaulted me. I had the same problem the men in the boat had - I responded in fear rather than faith. I think that storms come into our lives to give us an opportunity to exercise our faith.. and exercise will make our faith muscles stronger. A good thought to remember when the storms come and we are tempted to respond in fear..

Forgive me Lord when I respond in fear. Author faith in me today.

Follow Me

A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

I am intrigued by the two responses that Jesus gave to some pretty simple questions. I think that his answers hits to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. He tells the scribe that following him is not about earthly security. Many of the disciples left the security of homes and fishing boats to follow a man that had neither. He tells the second man that following him is about abandoning his earthly life to embrace a heavenly one.

The cost of discipleship is not cheap and should not be entered into lightly.
Jesus put it this way later in Matthew's gospel:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
This is a difficult message. His words speak for themselves. Following Jesus has never been easy because the cost of discipleship is losing life for Jesus' sake.

I am not worthy of you Lord. Have mercy on me. Help me to lose my life.