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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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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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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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Night is Coming, #69

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

John 9:4-5, (context, vv. 1-12)

Jesus now understands that his earthly ministry is ending. He’s been working a long, hard day, and night is quickly coming. He has been doing what the Father has asked him to do on planet earth–but the work has its limits. The most challenging act of obedience will soon be upon him. Can he endure the shame? Will he really go to the cross–for us?

When he really resides within us, he will glow like a light-stick does in the dark.

It’s starting to get dark, the night is creeping in, and it’s getting to the point where one can’t see to do his work. It seems there are certain limits, one does what he can, as long as he can. Jesus understands this–but there are certain restrictions that must be considered. He will only do what the Father has laid out for him. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Jesus says he is “the light of the world, and I believe him. Oh yes, the darkness is still there–sin, selfishness and pride continue their ugly work. But there’s someone who illuminates everyone around him. When he’s present, he glows like one of those light-sticks.

Peter and two others once saw Jesus catch on fire up on the mountain top, and that’s what his whole ministry was like. When he arrives we can really see–and when he has worked out his earthly ministry, he has done his job.

The most astonishing thing is that he has made believers light, a city on a hill which can’t be hidden, (Matthew 5:14). He does it, not us–never us. It seems that the closer we get to him, the more we’ll shine. And Jesus shows us how to do ministry, in its truest sense.

“If I don’t do the things my Father does, well and good; don’t believe me. But if I am doing them, put aside for a moment what you hear me say about myself and just take the evidence of the actions that are right before your eyes.”

John 10:37, the Message

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Negotiating with Jesus, #45

“Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” 

And her daughter was healed instantly.”

Matthew 15:28, (context, vv. 21-28)

Negotiating with God is not for the timid. It takes spiritual guts, and very few do it right. This chapter begins with a strong teaching on Jewish tradition and moral purity. The scribes and the Pharisee’s have cornered the market on social and religious correctness, and they have a solid grip on the Jewish faith. You must do what they say.

Suddenly there’s a noisy commotion, up jumps a Gentile woman who is terribly loud and terribly desperate, she’s caught somewhere between rudeness and hysteria. She has a disturbing need for her daughter to be released from a demon’s control–there’s a satanic oppression that wants to destroy her. Only Jesus can stop it.

The Judaism of Jesus’ day was not doing its job. Israel was meant to be a “light to the Gentiles,” and a source of healing and truth to the nations of the earth. Clearly it had become confused–its traditions and ceremonies that had nothing to do with the salvation of the world.

Perhaps the failure of the Jewish people to reach the world parallels the failure of the Church to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission? Religion has always stood in the way of God’s heart and His plan to bring salvation to everyone. I think this is the main reason Jesus hated it so.

This woman has a need that only Jesus could meet. She embarrasses herself insisting that Jesus take action. She seems almost rude to the point of being obnoxious. She is repeatedly told to be quiet, that her daughter’s deliverance was not in the plan of God. But that’s an answer she will not accept.

How honest are my conversations with God? Do I say what I really think? Do I intercede for others?

This is one of more unsettling verses in the New Testament–at least for me anyway. Everyone in this passage seems somewhat rude, even a bit boorish to me–even Jesus seems off, which really does unsettle me. There’s a stilted awkwardness in this passage that makes me want to apologize about Jesus’ attitude to all my unbelieving friends. I just don’t get all the national, racial, and social issues that are involved here.

An addendum though: Not every scripture is ever grasped once, and for all time understood. I’ve learned there are verses that reveal their layers years later. Onion-like. I think that this is probably true–for me anyway. The same verse will speak to me over and over again.

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A Definite Drunkard, Entry #34

Please think about this image for a second

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:19, (context, vv. 16-19)

What part does excessive “eating and drinking” don’t we understand? It doesn’t seem entirely ‘religious,’ especially in the thinking of us who observe the life of a pastor or a shepherd. We demand a certain restraint, a standard of separateness from common sinners. That’s seems to be our personal view anyway.

Is gluttony wrong? Is getting a bit tipsy also unacceptable, especially when it comes to “true” religion? Quite often it seems, we have a pious approach toward what we think is ‘true’ faith. We often believe that truth equates to being an ascetic, separate from common sinners. We believe if we are truly holy we will segregate from the ungodly.

It seems that Jesus doesn’t relate to, or accept this viewpoint. He’s single-mindedly serving the Father, in perfect holiness and in true connection with Him. And yet we see Him cavorting with tax-collectors and sinners. We observe Him actually sitting with those we reject as ungodly or unholy.

I must say this before you start looking for rocks to stone me with!

Scripture clearly tells us that we’re to live holy lives. We’re to be wise and have self-control in everything. We should always remember our own ‘black hole’, and begin to see our new life as really incredible. We must allow the “fruits of the Spirit” to grow inside us. And lived rightly, it’s a place of real holiness; and certainly not the ‘pretend’ righteousness of the Pharisee.

Listen very carefully: The Pharisees reject and label those who seem to flaunt the religious norms, but broken believers will truly forgive others, like those who have been radically forgiven themselves. There is a stark difference.

But think about it, aren’t we all a tiny bit ungodly?

Don’t we somehow grade people by their outward appearance and the level of their attainment? It absolutely astounds me that Jesus seems far more comfortable with the outcasts than He does with the Pharisees of His day. He sits with them, and eats and drinks in a fashion that we would regard objectionable.

Jesus loves every person. He loves the unmade, and the unvarnished. He loves being with the ungodly. Yes, He does understand the awful nature of sin; the horrible damage it inflicts on a person’s soul. And yet I’ve come to the conclusion that all my righteous and holy religion is nothing but a very bad smell in God’s nostrils.

Jesus isn’t afraid that we will somehow taint Him by our words, conduct or behavior. He passionately loves those who we deem as outside the norm of our religion. Jesus loves being with ‘nasty’ people. I think He purposefully seeks out the wrong ones!

It fascinates me that Jesus is never afraid that the leper will corrupt or defile Him. He isn’t fearful that somehow He will be contaminated. That’s exactly what the Pharisees thought. But instead it’s the reverse with Jesus. He heals us, and it’s always a one-way current. He touches us, but we’ll never ‘poison’ Him!

Just maybe our awful failure in evangelism is due to our inability to really relate with the lost. We withdraw and then wonder why the unsaved don’t understand the things of God. Have we become so religious that sinners don’t feel comfortable with us, or Him? Could it be that we’re a bit off course? Are we really filled with His Spirit?

“The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”

-Billy Graham

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Doing Jesus’ Work, #28

“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”

Matthew 10:7-8, (context vv. 5-15)

Heal. Raise. Cleanse. Cast out. What a job description for Jesus’ disciples! He truly believes that those who follow Him are ready, and it’s time for them to go to work. I suppose they could keep sitting at Jesus’ feet, just soaking up His teaching, and watching Him do His miracles. But this isn’t what they’re called to do. They’ve sat long enough.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s vital that we absorb His words to us. It’s absolutely critical that we hear His voice and really do find our rest in Him. We must intimately listen to Jesus and be filled with His Spirit. Yet it strikes me that far too many disciples think their life is an inward one; a concentration on personal growth and one’s own spiritual attainment. But I don’t think this is the case.

The disciples must go to work.

Jesus ‘commissions’ them to go out and proclaim the ‘Kingdom come.’ The labors of Jesus must be done by these inadequate (and sinful) men. Heal. Raise. Cleanse. Cast out. It’s time for them to go out and meet the desperate needs of the world. But stepping out can be a scary thing.

The works that these disciples are to do are truly marvelous. They now have an ability and an anointing to do remarkable things. Jesus is comfortable that His disciples are ready, and yet knows that when they return they will have much to learn from Him. It seems however, that we are waiting for a certain amount of “perfection” before we step out.

Most of us, I suppose, are ‘hamstrung’ by our own sin. We see know our inadequacies and deep weaknesses. Most of the time we feel completely unworthy. Seldom do we think we’re ready to spread the Kingdom news to a needy world. Our own sin, we believe, disqualifies us from ministry to others. It seems Satan is very quick to neutralize us, and to annul the “work” of the Father. He accuses us, and we listen.

We’re overwhelmed by what we see within us, and as a result we seldom see the needs around us.

It seems we shelf His work and replace our faith into some sort of personal rehabilitation program. “When we are finally holy enough, we will hit the streets.” Until then, we will try to get enough personal purity to work His miracles. Commendable I suppose, but I don’t think this is what Jesus intends. I’m convinced the work itself is a vital part of our sanctification.

“Have thy tools ready. God will find thee work.”

-Charles Kingsley

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Laborers Wanted, # 27

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.”

Matthew 9:37-38, (context, vv. 35-38)

The issue here is laborers–this is our work, plain and simple. The fact is that there isn’t enough workers. It’s funny, it seems God is constrained by our prayers–earnest prayers for a harvest to be brought into the barns. But there aren’t enough hands. The harvest will be ruined if help doesn’t come soon.

God must have our help if it’s going to get done.

The harvest seems contingent on our prayer life. We decide what is going to happen. Prayer is the work of the authentic believer and our hearts must be for the fields. We are the people who work, who sweat, and get tired. That is our call. That is the true work of discipleship.

Mother Teresa once commented that what we see in front of us is our “Calcutta.” We have got to open our eyes and look, we must see the incredible needs of desperate people that surround us. We must have eternal eyes–God’s eyes. We do our work on behalf of others. I really do believe that it will be ‘sweaty’ prayers that will move the hand of God.

I think ‘prayer’ is the real work in evangelism.

Prayer is our effort that gets combined with the Holy Spirit’s great passion of lost souls. Our “earnest” prayer for the harvest will call workers to the fields. Every generation is responsible for their own part of the field.

For some reason God has chosen to limit Himself by our decision to pray. He patiently waits for us to intercede. Everything seems contingent on us, we can point no finger at God, or accuse Him of ignoring the work that must be done. We must make the decision. Evangelism, and missions, is God’s intense passion. He now shares with us this responsibility.

All of Heaven is standing on its tiptoes, waiting to hear our pleas for the lost.

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

-St. Augustine

 

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Waiting for Our Bridegroom, Entry #22

“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Matthew 9:15 (context vv. 14-17)

I detest fasting, I really do. I blame this spiritual deficiency on the fact I’m quite slender and tall and need all the calories I can get. I don’t think that this passes muster though. But I do it anyway. God forgives me but I suppose I’m missing out on something quite wonderful though. (I hope you’re different.)

Jesus makes an announcement. He intends to leave them behind. The disciples will ‘fast’ instead of partying. They will begin to do this with the understanding that He will return for them.

True fasting will clarify the spiritual.

We begin to understand things that we have missed up to now. When we discipline ourselves like this we begin to see and discern the real and the eternal. Fasting is much like a ‘telegraph line’ to a future glory. We are learning to communicate with the throne room and it teaches us to ‘listen.’

We are being prepared for something quite grand. If we start to see this particular discipline as a way of bringing us clarity, we’ll find it much easier and more rewarding. Fasting is hard for most of us, and maybe we need a refresher course. (Just writing about fasting is easier than doing it, trust me.)

When we start to fast we’ll begin to see reality. We can visualize the return of the true King, who is now setting up our future home. We’ll begin to walk, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Bible world is the real world.

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Revelation 21:2

 

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