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The Great Commission, #111

“Jesus came near and said to them, 

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

Matthew 28:18-20

Well now. Red Letters is now done. We’ve traversed our way through Jesus’ acts and teachings. I’m quite aware that I have overlooked much of it. I just maybe lose some sleep over this.

But I rest in John 21:25–

” And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the book that would be written.”

John 21:25

“Authority” is the key.

The Greek means “freedom of choice,” or having “the power to make decisions.” Jesus alone has that right, if we’re to evangelize the world, it must be under his auspices. We need to remain dependent on him, and serve under his authority.

Very precise instructions are given.

  • Discipleship
  • Baptism
  • teaching them to observe
  • under command
  • his presense–right until the end.

Each of these is under his authority. He’s in full control of each believer, and commissions them to act on his behalf, and under his lordship. In a definite sense we don’t act apart of him–everything we do, all of our actions must reflect that truth.

Someone wiser than I reflected that we’ve essentially changed this to “the great omission.” Perhaps that’s true for many Christians–and churches. It’s easy to do, and often we alter the express command of Jesus into our own personal improvement plan.

“I will not believe that thou hast tasted of the honey of the gospel if thou can eat it all to thyself.”

   Charles Spurgeon

The adjustment is terribly subtle, and the enemy has his fingerprints all over it. His work makes perfect sense. Stop the Church at any price. Some suggest that we’ve become a cruise ship now, instead of a battleship. I think that a simple study of the history of the Church would back that up.

“Everything God does is love — even when we do not understand Him.”

   

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Jesus Restores, #109

15 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time,” 

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.'”

John 21:15-17, (context vv. 15-19)

Peter’s denial was public one, and it was important that his restoration be public as well. It may come as a shock, but Peter needed to do this–even though it was a grief to him (verse 17.) It was necessary for him to heal. It was also a clear testimony to the others that Peter was completely restored.

Repeatedly in this passage, love gets linked to service. (Can you see this, it’s important that you do.) The Lord asks Peter if he really loved him, and most likely it was solemn affair, not something trivial or casual. The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape–this is the type of love that God has for people. It’s a love that gives 110%.

The third time the word for love is different though, the word used is φιλέω, philo–this is a type of love that a man has for others, a brotherly kind of love. Something good, but less than agape.

And each time Peter responds, he uses the brotherly type of love. I don’t mean to be confusing here, but every time Jesus uses agape to Peter, Peter responds with philo. It’s as if Peter is struggling with loving Jesus wholeheartedly. Perhaps Peter was ashamed of his denial.

Love is linked with service.

Love can’t be seen unless it has a physical aspect. Love can’t be abstract, a vague feeling, or a hazy concept–it has to be seen by others. Jesus’ sheep (and lambs) must be fed, and watched over. This is now Peter’s call to ministry.

This is Jesus’ ministry as well.

Apparently there is plenty of this kind of work to go around! Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ work in Isa. 40:11. This is now becomes Peter’s work as well.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.”

Whether or not Peter was the first “pope” is debatable. But it’s clear that Jesus focused on Peter. And isn’t it just like him to turn our failings into victories. Peter’s denial was now his ministry to others. It dealt with the pride issue, which often disrupts true ministry to his flock.

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Jeremiah 3:15

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What is Truth?, #101

 “Pilate said, “So you are a king!”

“Jesus answered, “You are the one saying I am a king. This is why I was born and came into the world: to tell people the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.””

“Pilate said, “What is truth?” After he said this, he went out to the crowd again and said to them, “I find nothing against this man.”

John 18:37-38, NCV

Not only was Jesus on trial, but it seems the truth was too. “Truth” is mention three times in just two verses (again, for emphasis). Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea, meets with Jesus to make the determination if Jesus would be executed.

Truth seems to be a focus here. Jesus understands that he was sent to declare the truth to the people. He also states that those were called would be listeners, and these would respond positively to all the Jesus had been saying. Jesus clearly understood what he must do, it was the reason he was born.

Pilate is cynical, “What is truth.” He asks the question that even today is being considered. He thinks that truth has many variations, and none of them could be understood.

But Jesus pronounces that he is the King of truth, and to Pilate that was foolish. No one person, in his mind anyway, could be the sole source. He dismisses Jesus’ statements with a philosophical idea that things are relative, nothing can be understood with any degree of certainity.

Pilate very obviously believes in unbelief.

He seems to want to set Jesus free–from his balcony he points out Jesus’ innocence. He finds no reason that Jesus should die for these statements. We see him negotiating with the Jewish people. But the Pharisees have decided that Jesus must die, we see them stirring up the crowd.

To Pilate’s credit he tells them that Jesus is no revolutionary. He presents no danger to either Rome’s empire or Judea. Being pressured, he orders Jesus to be whipped. It was also the place where a crown of thorns was put on Jesus’ head (John 19:1-5).

He tries to negotiate once more.

But the people won’t listen. It was Passover, and there would be pilgrims in the city. Scripture tells us that they’re on the verge of rioting. They declare that anyone who supports Jesus must be an enemy of Caesar (John 19:12-16). Pilate finally acquiesces and orders Jesus to be executed. C.H. Spurgeon makes the following observation about Pilate:

“Oh, the daring of Pilate thus in the sight of God to commit murder and disclaim it. There is a strange mingling of cowardliness and courage about many men; they are afraid of a man, but not afraid of the eternal God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Pilate ceremoniously washes his hands over the whole thing. He seems disturbed by the whole incident (Matthew 27:24).

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

This is our calling–and this verse exhorts us to do this in order to learn holiness, and to follow him with a complete heart.

Tradition has it that Pilate does become a believer in Jesus some years later. He is martyred for his faith by being beheaded on orders by the emperor Caligula.

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Love Like a Disciple, #93

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

The believers in Jesus must carry the credentials of Jesus. To be authentically his demands evidence–proof that you’re really are real. It never comes by one’s own words, personal declarations, or by affiliations or preferences. Jesus is crystal clear on what is true and what is not. To him, it’s black or it’s white.

“Where’s the beef?”

A few years ago that was the ad line of a particular fast food chain. It was catchy, and soon everyone smiled. The company only did it because it worked. Three old ladies looked at a competitor’s hamburger and made the announcement that something was terribly wrong.

Jesus made it clear that there would be evidence that everyone would see. “Love one another” is used three times in two verses–not only that, but in verse 35 we hear him tell us that “all people will know” what disciples would look like. To follow Jesus you must love like Jesus–to be like him, you must love like him.

We dare not minimize this. It’s now the believer’s credentials, the proof that they were real, and not just posers. We’re called to be more than religious exhibitionists, who somehow have an affinity for nice sounding words that only touch the outward. Jesus states that our love is now the true declaration of something super authentic–and very tangible.

So where’s the love?

The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape. It’s the ultimate kind of love–the love that God himself has for lost people: it’s not the love one has another sexually, that word is eros. It’s not the love we have for our brother, that word is philo. But it is agape, a love that has no limits, and the best and clearest definition is found in 1 Corinthians 13.

Maybe a better grasp of the verses in John 13 can be had by reading the Message translation:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

(vv. 34-35)

“Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.”

   Andrew Murray

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To Seek and to Save, #87

9 “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:9-10 (context, vv. 1-10)

The Jewish people regarded salvation simply as being a child of Abraham. Faith was not necessary, but being saved was simply genealogical. It was the exclusive privilege of every Jewish man and woman. It was the sole position of anyone who was descended from Abraham.

There were exceptions however. If an Israelite lived outside of the Law, they forfeited their salvation. If they cooperated with the Gentiles, or if they committed some heinous crime, they couldn’t be a true Israelite. You were saved, just because you had descended from Abraham.

Zacchaeus couldn’t be saved. He had essentially had renounced his salvation when he cooperated with the Romans as a tax-collector. He had made the choice of a living his life outside of what was acceptable to the religious norms. In short he chose to be damned. He had decided to walk the highway to hell, but that was his decision.

When Jesus called up the tree to Zacchaeus, and invited himself to dinner, Jesus was committing a forbidden act. You must understand that Zacchaeus was unclean, a sinner, and any contact with was regarded as a grossly evil action. In short, Jesus had allied himself with an unclean man. Thus Jesus must be unclean as well.

The “righteous” Jew would never ever have anything to do with Zacchaeus. That is why they had such an issue with Jesus’ decision to eat with him. And that’s why Zacchaeus was thrilled to have such an eminent teacher as his guest.

Jesus was seeking to save the lost.

Zacchaeus invited all of his “evil” friends to come and come to join in the feast. It’s funny, when it came to “evangelism,” he did all the work!

Zacchaeus would prove himself as a “child of Abraham” by his amazing repentance. The presence of Jesus in his home sparked life in his heart. Zachaeus’ repentance was remarkable and truly spontaneous. And probably more astonishing was Jesus declaring that Zacchaeus was now a true child of Abraham.

When we finally decide we can mingle with the lost, just like Jesus did, we can expect to see miraculous things. We won’t contaminate ourselves–it doesn’t work that way. When we reach out, we can count on the “Jesus” who now lives inside of us to touch the outcast. He wants to, and all he needs is for us to find the lost, and be with them.

I must implore you to “seek and save” those who are outside the norm. Ask Jesus to lead you to them–and quit worrying about what other Christians might say and think.

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.”

   James H. Aughey

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Being Short of Stature, #86

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”

Luke 19:5-6, (context, vv. 1-9)

I see no problem with assigning this story to a Sunday school lesson. It’s imaginative, witty and seriously funny. Kids enjoy the story, especially when the teacher decides to use flannelgraphs. If the teacher is any good at all it can verge on the hilarious. I must admit I enjoy it far more than Leviticus or Numbers.

Just moments before, Jesus–who was travelling the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, had just healed a blind man (Luke 18:35-43), who was wildly enthusiastic about receiving his sight–a crowd had stopped to watch and wonder. The road was a busy one to begin with, so the clog of people was definitely unusual.

Then there was Zacchaeus, “a head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.” (Luke 19:2-4, Message).

There something funny here. First–he’s so short that he looks for a way to see Jesus. That tells me that he’s a true seeker, and he’s resourceful. Second–he climbs the tree in a robe, which is a bit challenging I suppose. It does seem he’s lacking in the dignity department. But he really doesn’t care what others think of him.

For years I’ve thought about this story. I’ve come to see some things that have blessed me, and I hope they will somehow help you to climb the tree of discipleship.

There are many branches on a sycamore tree, which made it easy to climb. I would suggest something to you. I’d like to think of these as the ways we see Jesus. The different disciplines are attached to a singular trunk, perhaps that’s obvious.

Perhaps that trunk is our prayer life. It seems that each of the list below will have that in common. In all of these branches that make-up our discipleship, prayer is truly our definite beginning point. Below are the branches we can climb out on, but remember, they’re all attached to prayer:

  • Meditation
  • Fasting
  • Fellowship
  • Chastity
  • Submission/Obedience
  • Evangelism
  • Solitude
  • Self-Examination
  • Silence

Let’s be very clear. Zacchaeus climbed the tree only to see Jesus. These disciplines are not the Christian’s life. Zacc. only climbed to see Jesus; he didn’t get attached, or find a comfortable spot up there. He didn’t build a tree fort. He only used the branches to see Jesus.

Fasting, or prayer or meditation are incredibly useful. But they’re only ways that we can see him. There comes a point where we come down to be with Jesus, and have a feast with our Lord. When he calls our name, it’s time to climb down. (Luke 19:5-6).

“I wish there were more of us who did not mind being laughed at if only what we did helped us to see Jesus.”

(Maclaren’s comments)

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Disheartened, #83

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Mark 10:21-22, ESV

Let’s be clear–Jesus really did love him, and that explains a whole lot. In verse 17, we see this man running to Jesus, and he kneels right in front of him. I suppose that this man desperately wanted the Lord’s full attention. He had to know–he must understand. He was a driven man with some very deep questions.

To be wealthy was the clear evidence that God really did love you. If you were rich, you must have God’s approval, and if you happened to be richer than rich–he must love you even more than that. That big bank account was the proof that you were set apart, and completely accepted by God. (Not a whole lot has changed, has it?)

All of this must be understood before we can go any further.

The rich young ruler was suddenly jolted by Jesus’ words–he simply had to give away all his money–and then, to start to follow him. I don’t think anyone had ever dared to confront him like this. Jesus spoke so clearly–and so concisely. The things that came out of Jesus’ mouth cut him like a knife, and then, smashed him like a hammer–they wallopped him hard, and quite honestly, nothing had ever hurt so much.

But dear one, remember this; Jesus always uses a rubber hammer.

The passage told us earlier that Jesus, “loved him” (10:21). Jesus lists five of the 10 commandments, but interestingly enough, the ones that Jesus spoke were the ones written on the second tablet–the ones that dealt with how we treat each other.

Did this man really keep them? Perhaps he may have–maybe yes, maybe no. But knowing human nature, and looking through the lens of God’s word, it was clearly impossible. He may have been seriously conscientious, and maybe he really tried his best to live righteously, but scripture is clear, “all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The text tells us that when Jesus spoke to this man, he issued an invitation, but it also doubled as a command, “come, follow me.” I don’t think that following was as simple as it sounds–and it seems it was the one thing that the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t do.

He’d certainly made a valiant effort to be holy, no one could dispute that. But he had to know he was really saved, and he was desperately afraid he wasn’t. This man had a questions that weighed him down–but he must know for sure–he was tied by a golden rope to a heavy treasure chest, and that was something he couldn’t leave behind.

“The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.”

Billy Sunday

This man seems to have been ruled by fear. And that is something wealth will do to people. The richest people seem to be the most afraid, and although I admit that seems strange, and perhaps even a bit judgmental, scripture tells us that having possessions often leads one into mortal danger–it’s just the cheese in the mousetrap, (Psalm 49:5).

He ended up “disheartened.” A simple definition of that word means “having lost determination or confidence; dispirited and afraid.” That pretty much describes this man’s state of mind. Jesus had issued a command, and the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ever meet the terms of Christian discipleship.

Money can be a useful servant, but it’s really a terrible master. That false god–Mammon is an idol, and a deadly one. And that evil god intends to destroy you, if you can’t release your wealth to God. and to others.

“He also did not choose to love God more than his wealth, even though Jesus specifically promised him treasure in heaven. The man was more interested in the earthly treasure of men than in God’s heavenly treasures. This man was essentially an idolater. Wealth was his god instead of the true God of the Bible. He put money first.”

David Guzak

“Most people fail to realize that money is both a test and a trust from God.”

Rick Warren

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Mary Knows Best, #73

“The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42 but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, (context vv. 38-42)

I grew up in America’s rural dairyland–the great state of Wisconsin, with its cheese and bratwurst. Our high-school classes included Agronomy and Animal husbandry. We were taught how to judge cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. I know the differences between a holstein and a brown swiss. To this day, I know what to look for if you need to buy or breed farm animals. Amazing, huh?

I remember our field trips to visit the different farms. I remember once seeing a cow who had a plexiglass “window” that you could see into a cow’s four stomachs, and watch hay as it was being digested. Useful stuff.

The sisters both loved Jesus, of that, I have no doubt. But Martha did the work, and Mary only sat and listened. It was Jesus who understood what was going on. He discerned the frustration of Martha, and knew the eagerness of Mary. Jesus saw inside. He understood them both completely.

He understands your heart, and mine. His sees us as clearly as one would look through a window pane, and he knows everything there is to know. And yet–he will never condemn you. His love for you is limitless, and forever; it won’t ever change, even on your worst days.

One thing means one thing. Not two things, or three. One thing.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

“When Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “You still lack one thing…come, follow Me.” 

Luke 18:22

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 3:13-14

We must discern what is best. We must look, decide, and judge what needs to take precedence over other things. How and what we decide determines everything. We each get to pick, and to choose, and then we get to live with the consequences. The repercussions of our decision reverberate throughout our whole life, and into the lives of others.

“The one thing needful evidently is that which Mary chose — that good part which should not be taken away from her. Very clearly this was to sit at Jesus’ feet, and hear his word.”

CH Spurgeon

Our decisions determine our destiny. You and I will make a choice. Will you work, or will you sit? You must decide what you should do. I strongly suggest that you decide wisely.

Will you decide to sit at his feet today?

“The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary, and afterwards you may work with Martha.”

CH Spurgeon

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To Fall, Like Lightning, #71

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.”

Luke 10:17-19, (context vv. 17-20)

All seventy-two returned, not one had been eaten by the wolves. It was a good day, and the disciples are filled with joy. They came back to Jesus with stories to tell him, and with each other. I’ve no doubt that they were truly excited, astonished at what had happened.

The Bible mentions Satan falling four times, and each time it’s a dramatic plunge from a high place. There’s no question in my mind that the disciples, obedient to Jesus, brought to a end Satan’s claim on this planet. The Church had arrived, and the world was now at last a very different place.

The success of the disciples was the downfall of Satan.

Like the cavalry that finally arrives at the last possible moment, these followers of Jesus enter the scene, and the balance of power shifts. Their work has irrevocably disturbed the forces of darkness, and Satan has fallen. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Who can really fathom what really happened at this particular moment? There must’ve been something significant that shook heaven when the disciples obeyed Jesus. Satan was no longer in a position of authority–something was permanently altered in the universe when his Church became faithful.

Jesus transmits his authority to his own, he never will leave them defenseless. Serpents and scorpions, figuratively speaking, are not eradicated. They’re still very much alive and well, but they can no longer harm the believer–they’re rendered harmless and impotent. They can never hurt us again.

“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

 C.S. Lewis

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The King’s Work, #70

 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 

Luke 10:3, (context, vv. 1-12)

What happens when lambs are attacked by wolves? My simple guess is that they tear them up. Jesus doesn’t paint a rosy picture of ministry. He’s very clear what the seventy can expect. There shouldn’t be any illusions about the work, it’s not entirely easy, or pleasant. There maybe casualties.

This passage is crucial, not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for the harvest. Seventy-two are selected; they’re given clear instructions on the work ahead–what they must know, and how they need to act. The kingdom of God must be announced, that’s imperative. His rule extends over all, and that dear one, is markedly good news.

They’re given them supreme authority over demons–that’s going to be a necessity for doing his work. There’s an awful lot of darkness out there, and they will engage it head-on. Satan rules temporarily, but God triumphs forever. The disciple’s ministry is to step into this, and extend the kingdom of God. This is now your work.

Doing this means they have to follow his detailed instructions. The disciples are going to move into both the physical and spiritual, and the wolves are coming– the seventy-two have been warned. The world will hate, but the believers still have to preach.

It’s not just a message to preach. There’s more.

Words are not going to be enough. They’re also to have a ministry of physical healing. They’re to touch the sick, and God will heal. But please, don’t misconstrue the work, bloodshed is a real possibility. The wolves are coming in packs.

Jesus is not only training, but he’s extending the Father’s rule by sending them out. He is duplicating himself, and the seventy-two are clearly extensions of him, they’re to be his witnesses, doing his work. Essentially that’s what true ministry is, doing what he would do if he were in your shoes.

The kingdom comes–“thy kingdom come, thy will be done” is the believer’s prayer. We’re committed to this, and we follow our king’s example. The world will be ruled by him, and we have the incredible privilege of being his witnesses–we are his healers, and proclaimers of his gospel.

“The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God.”

Leo Tolstoy

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