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.


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.


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.

Let it be done for you as you have believed

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

I love this passage and the demeanor of these two men. First we see a centurion, most likely not a Jew, who comes to Jesus not for himself but for his servant who is suffering terribly.. compassion drips from this man's mouth.. I can feel him tearing up as he speaks to Jesus of his friend. When Jesus hears this compassion he immediately responds with compassion saying that he will come and heal. Compassion is at the heart of what is happening.

The next statement the centurion makes floors me. Instead of agreeing with Jesus he tells him that he is unworthy of a visit. Do you sense the humility in this man? In humility he acknowledges Jesus authority over sickness and invites Jesus to simply speak a word of healing. Jesus then gives us a peek into the source of this man's compassion and humility when he regales the centurion's faith. A great example of what it means to be an intercessor.. allowing faith, humility and compassion to arise in us as we pray.

I need humility and compassion Lord. Author faith in me. Help me to be an intercessor.

I will; be clean.

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

There is something moving and heroic about people who touch the untouchables. I think that leprosy was the AIDS/HIV disease of Jesus' day - the disease carried a stigma and people avoided lepers because they were unclean and contagious. Interesting that Jesus does not question the leper about how he contracted the disease or cast innuendo on the man's character. He replied to the leper's request with a simple "I will".

There is something even more awe-inspiring though about a man who could speak to a disease and instantly heal it. Again, the simplicity of the words "be clean" are almost underwhelming. If it were me I might have shouted a bit. The humility of Jesus' heart shines through when he tells the leper not to advertise the miracle. Jesus' response to this leper teaches me so much about the heart of God and real ministry.

Lord, wash the pride out me. Help my words to be simple. Lead me to embrace those deemed by society to be untouchable, without hope and broken beyond repair.

Founded on the Rock

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

These verses are the last ones of the Sermon on the Mount. In a few sentences Jesus makes an amazing assertion. In a few closing sentences he discreetly tells us that the words he preached on the mount are on the level of scripture. Mind boggling because in several places he states something from the Old Testament and then says "but I say to you". Jesus can say these things because he was more than a prophet. He was God incarnate.

Jesus tells us that there are two parts to building your life on bedrock. He says that it is not adequate to simply hear what He says. He tells us that building life on solid spiritual ground requires us to respond in faith and actually do what he said. And He assures us, that if we do that, our spiritual house will stand when the winds, storms and floods of life assault us.

Thank you for your words of life Jesus. Please give me grace to hear and do what you said.

Not everyone ... will enter the kingdom of heaven

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I have had many cyber conversations with Christian Universalists that believe that everyone will go to heaven because Christ saved everyone on the cross. Verses like these seem to fly in the face of that kind of thinking. Yet I do not want to look at these verses from that angle.

These verses tell us that you can be religious and not being doing God's will. Many people do all sorts of religious things like preaching (or prophesying), counseling and doing miracles but are not doing God's will. It is interesting how Jesus transitions from doing to knowing. It is like He is telling us that the issue is not doing religious things but knowing God and Him knowing us. And Jesus brings these ideas of work and knowing together in the sixth chapter of John when he says:
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
I know many who do not know you Lord. Help them to know you.

You will recognize them by their fruits

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

The idea of the prophet that Jesus speaks of here is not really the kind of prophet we see in the old testament who goes around saying "thus saith the Lord". In my thinking those folks are pretty easy to spot - although I have been deceived by a few of those in my time. The idea of a prophet is someone who you allow to influence you and the decisions you make. It is interesting how Jesus describes false prophets to us. He says that:
  1. You cannot identify by how they look. They look the same as other Christians and often do the same religious things that many of us do.
  2. They are dangerous. Wolves kill sheep and feed off them. These people will do you spiritual harm. It is why Jesus warns us so plainly about them.
  3. You have to observe their non-religious behaviors. Often these folks will blend into religious settings and their behaviors, like fruit, may take a while to surface.
Sometimes in church settings there is not a balance between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit. Sometimes the glow of a person's teaching gift can blind us to the bad fruit in the teachers life. Often we enjoy the benefits of a person with an administrative gift who can get things done even when things are not done in accord with the fruit of the Spirit. The truth is that we are often drawn to the externals of gifts instead of the internals of fruit.

Lord, help me to not be blinded by spiritual gifts. Give me spiritual discernment.

The Way is Hard that leads to Life

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

These verses are often interpreted to infer that Jesus is speaking to his listeners about the narrow gate to heaven. And he could be saying that but I think that the context of his statements indicate that he is speaking more about finding the way to real, and eternal, life. Many often miss the fact that the eternal life that He speaks of begins on earth and many times it begins long before we die.

This passage tell us that the way to real life is narrow and hard. The context of it tells us why it is narrow and hard. The context informs us that the way is a way of:
  • humility.. the beatitudes show us the narrow way of a humble person that makes peace, shows mercy and is sometimes persecuted;
  • character.. Jesus tells us that the narrow way is all about having an internal life that is not murderous, envious or lustful;
  • persistence.. asking, seeking and knocking reveal a type of prayer that keeps walking that narrow way when prayers are not answered and the going is rough;
  • love.. caring about others and doing to them in ways that we want things done to us reveal the reality of the narrow way of love that Jesus walked to the cross.
These verses from the sermon on the mount speak to me about a transformed life. A life so transformed that it persistently walks in prayer, humility and love even when the way is hard. They paint a picture of a transformed life that reflects the character of God himself.

Lord, please transform those parts of me that are not humble and loving.

Do also to Them

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,
for this is the Law and the Prophets.

A few years ago WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) seemed to be every where. On billboards, tee shirts and bracelets we were told to try to imitate Christ. Interesting that Jesus doesn't say that here. He tells us something that is way more practical and does not require an understanding of Christian theology. In a sense six of the Ten Commandments deal with this idea of simply treating people the way that we want to be treated. No one would ever murder, steal or commit adultery if they embraced this idea.

At the core of this short verse is the idea that God wants us to love others as we love ourselves. When we treat people with love we witness to the reality that God loves us. When we are merciful we testify to the mercy that we have received. We honor the kindness of God in our lives when we are kind to others. Our actions are a reflection of the presence of these realities. How we treat people reveals the influence of God in our lives.

Forgive me Lord. Help me to love. Help me to treat others with love.

Your Father who is in heaven gives good things

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

I wonder if James was thinking about these verses when he wrote:
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
There is a deception that many embrace when bad things happen. When cancer is found some call it God's will. When an earthquake or tsunami kills thousands it is called an act of God. When prayers are not answered people give up thinking that it is not God's desire to give good things. It is important that we understand this correctly because it will affect our relationship to God and how we interact with him in prayer.

Jesus communicates to us that the Father is full of good gifts for His children and that it is our role in the relationship to continually ask, seek and knock that we might obtain those good gifts. It is also our role to trust the character of our Father with our requests and know that it is His desire to give us good things that we need and not simply crave. And that is where is gets a bit dicey - when we do not receive what we think we need.

I trust you Lord to discern what are the good gifts. Open my eyes to see them.

Do not give dogs what is holy

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

This is a difficult verse to understand if you do not understand the culture of the law and how dogs and pigs were considered unclean animals. That said I am not inclined to dig into this aspect of this verse. Consider these two verses from Proverbs 16:
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
These verses speak to me about how we must be wise not only in what we say but in who we say it to. The truth of the matter is that fleshly debate and arguments do little to advance the kingdom of God. In the same way, sharing our hearts with foolish people will often break our hearts. Knowing when to share requires discernment.

That said, I think that it would be unwise to use this verse to justify silence when we are led to share with another soul. When we are presented by an opportunity to share we must embrace the moment. In times like these we should resist the urge to wax theological and speak from our heads. People need to hear from us in transparent and vulnerable ways.
Not all are fools. Many need Jesus. He is the priceless pearl.

Lord help me to be discerning. Help me to be bold in sharing with others.

Judge not, that you be not judged.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Hard to read these words and not think of the reactions to the woman caught in the act of adultery as recorded in the eighth chapter of John's gospel. The religious folks brought her to Jesus and wanted her stoned her in judgment according to the old testament law. But Jesus challenged them saying that the one without sin should cast the first stone at her. Eventually they all left and Jesus responded this way to the woman:
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
When we judge another person we out ourselves as hypocrites and rock throwers. When we demand justice according to the law we reveal that we have impaired vision. I am not saying that all law-breakers should go free. All I am saying is that most people do not need to be judged. They need to be loved and forgiven. Jesus set the example for us.

Lord, I repent of judging others. Help me to love and forgive.

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The operative word in these verses is "seek". Interesting that he does not say seek God. He says to seek things that are in accordance with his kingdom and his righteousness. I think that it is always wise to know that not all who seek God seek him in accordance with righteous kingdom principles. I think that Paul gives us a picture of what this looks like when he says:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Interesting that Paul speaks to the issue of judging people by what they eat and drink. Jesus says it is not about food, drink and clothing. Paul elaborates about this and tells us that it the issue is walking in love. Love is the currency of the kingdom of God. Love is at the core of being righteous. When we seek first to love we seek God's kingdom and righteousness.

I do not need things Lord. I need you. Fill me afresh with your love.