GOSPELLING Matthew 11.1 Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

 

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Disciples of John the Baptist Come Asking a Question

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”                                                                           Matthew 11:1-6

 

ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. Jesus finished instructing his disciples.
  2. Jesus went to preach and teach in the towns of Galilee.
  3. John was in prison and heard about the things that the Messiah (Jesus) was doing.
  4. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether he genuinely was the promised Messiah, or was there going to be someone else.
  5. Jesus told them that John’s question would be answered if they were willing to tell him what they had seen and heard – referring to the miracles of healing and deliverance.
  6. The added that this amounted to good news being proclaimed to the poor.
  7. He challenged John and his disciples not to be offended or forsake their trust in him.

THE MESSAGE OF THIS STORY

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

This is a profound example of the way cultural assumptions can stir fear and doubt. Remember that John was the signpost man. His one job was to prepare people for Jesus and then to identify him. He fulfilled that calling faithfully and forcefully. Just think what it must have been like for him to know that one day soon the Messiah would stand before him. God would give him a supernatural sign – a dove hovering above him. Then one day Jesus stood there, and he knew that his mission was almost over. He could say with great confidence, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When the crowds started following Jesus rather than hanging around with him, he was even more exuberant. When someone suggested he might be jealous, he could only say, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” No wonder Jesus gives him such a wrap (in the next part of the story).

Remember that even though John was a prophet he was also a child of his generation and therefore fitted in with the traditional teachings that saw the Messiah as a political and military ruler who would kick the Romans out and raise Israel up to be the power centre of the nations of the earth. Not only does Jesus NOT seem to be heading in that direction, but it also appears that he was hanging with all the wrong people and saying all kinds of un-PC things. Even though the religious establishment was more than a little skeptical about John, at least he did keep the kosher traditions. Then something worse happened. Not only was Jesus failing to gather an army and whip the people into a David-looking fighting force, but John was put in prison. And he was left there. No Messianic shaking of the bars and no prison doors opened by angels. Just more of the same. No wonder John sent his disciples to ask a very blunt question. Imagine it, “Are you the one, or should we look for someone else?” Another way of saying that would be, “You don’t seem to fulfil any of our nationalistic, preconceived, self-serving notions of what Israel’s Messiah is like, so are you the real one?” Keep in mind that John the Baptist did not ask this question from the point of view of the religious leaders. He was asking it as a totally committed kingdom seeker. It’s just that his own notions were different from what he saw happening in Jesus’ life.

Here is an incomplete list of the kind of things that Jesus did or didn’t do that were at odds with the traditional ideas people had about the Messiah

  • He was born in the right place (Bethlehem), but he didn’t live in the right place (Nazareth)
  • He was born in controversial circumstances (Mary pregnant but not yet married)
  • He chose disciples from the most dubious of backgrounds (fishermen and tax collectors).
  • He challenged traditional interpretations of the law of Moses (Sermon on the Mount)
  • He touched people who were regarded as “unclean” (lepers and dead bodies)
  • He commended Roman military officers for having great faith (centurion)
  • He claimed to be equal with God – granting forgiveness.
  • He didn’t keep the traditional fast days.
  • He didn’t keep traditional Sabbath laws.
  • He didn’t carry out the ritual washings before eating a meal.
  • He commended a Gentile (Canaanite) woman for having great faith.
  • He refused to give the religious leaders the kind of sign they were looking for to prove his identity.
  • He tells many parables that point out the failure of the Jewish religious authorities to remain faithful to God.
  • He rebukes the religious leaders for making the temple a place to rip people off when it should have been a place where all the nations were prayed for.
  • During his time in Jerusalem, he lists off a series of objections to the way the religious leaders have failed to fulfil their responsibility before God, placing themselves and the people in jeopardy.
  • When arrested and tried by the ruling religious council, Jesus refuses to take back his claim as the Messiah.

And this is just a casual list that was compiled by flicking through the chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. It is easy to understand why John might have been sitting in his prison cell having second thoughts. Things just weren’t working out as he had anticipated.

It is possible that John thought the coming Messiah was going to be a supercharged version of Elijah. If John was the forerunner, then Jesus would be like John but would complete the job that John started. Now that he languished in Herod’s prison he might have imagined that Jesus would do a “Mount Carmel” on the morally corrupt and spiritually compromised Idumean puppet ruler. It just didn’t happen. In fact, Jesus spent most of his time in Galilee which was considered a cultural and political backwater by those who lived in Judea (esp. Jerusalem). In our circumstances, it would compare to some political hopeful for Australia spending most of their time campaigning around Birdsville. From John’s perspective, it seemed that nothing was happening and nothing was going to change.

 

I have come to the conclusion that great godliness is modelled in the way Jesus responds to questions, especially this straightforward one from John’s disciples. What they wanted was a simple “Yes” or “No.” You have to ask yourself the question as to why Jesus didn’t just offer a simple affirmative reply. This is a big issue in the ministry of Jesus and with Christian discipleship in general. There is a process of learning that is based on a simple transfer of information. The one who knows tells the one who doesn’t know. Then the person who has been told tries to remember the answer so that they will be able to show that they now KNOW. But all they have done is hear and remember. They have not made any personal discovery for themselves. They may possess information, but they won’t have experienced knowing. Remembering is not knowing. That’s why the experience of truth from Scripture is of much more value than memorising the verse. If Jesus answers “Yes,” the disciples would have told John what he had said. That would have been Jesus’ information being passed on rather than John and his friends making a discovery for themselves.

This is something of a dilemma for the way we often do church. First of all, we produce a special class of professionals called pastors, ministers or priests. They are called that because they have spent some years at theological colleges or seminaries and have passed all of their exams. By the time they hit the local churches they are way ahead of just about everyone in their congregation when it comes to professional skill and academic knowledge. They preach lots of sermons and teach Bible studies and the like. They expound their knowledge, and it usually helps people to have confidence in what they say. The problem is that this process just offers more and more information and very little growth in experience. When you consider how sermon-proof the average congregational member is these days, the expensive investment will be guaranteed very little in the way of return. We have substituted information at the expense of faith-based obedience. I am not suggesting that sermons have no value. They will always have some value, and God uses everything offered to him. Sermons and teaching sessions are great for inspiration and encouragement, but they are very low on the scale when it comes to heart transformation and genuine growth and change. This system has no place to measure obedience or change, and there is virtually no accountability or the expectation that there should be. Imagine if a preacher started his or her next Sunday sermon by asking how many people put into practice the revelation from the previous week’s message. When only a few, if any, responded he could then say, “Well, I am going to preach last week’s sermon again and continue to preach this sermon until people start to embrace the message with faith and obedience.” What if he asked for testimonies of what happened when people implemented the message?

All of this is involved in this story of John’s men coming to Jesus. Jesus was not going to give them a piece of information. They didn’t need more information as such.  They needed to make their own discovery and come to their own conclusion. We need to do the same when we are making disciples. In our self-obsessed systems, when a person doesn’t learn we blame the teacher for their poor skills. Learning has much more to do with the learner than the teacher.

 

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

The response Jesus made does nothing to answer the questions posed by the list of unfulfilled Messianic expectations (listed above) that probably fueled the disillusionment of John the Baptist. I have long admired the way Jesus uses genuine and spurious questions to turn people again to the matter of what the kingdom of God IS about rather than trying to explain why it is NOT satisfying accepted cultural assumptions. The way to look at this is to answer the question, “If Jesus is describing the kingdom of God coming when he points to the things that have happened as a result of his ministry, what kind of kingdom is it?”

To put it simply, the kingdom represented by Jesus is a kingdom where human brokenness is mended and where social disadvantage loses its power to oppress (good news proclaimed to the poor). My suspicion is the “good news … proclaimed to the poor” is a summary of the five previously described acts: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers clean, deaf hear, dead raised. I have to confess that this arises from my conclusion about the Biblical idea of poverty. I don’t think poverty is just talking about economic circumstances. I think “poor” refers to people who find themselves in situations that are so deeply oppressive that no matter what they do or what decision they make; they cannot bring about any relief from the oppression. The blind person is poor because of their physical disability. So to the lame, leprous, deaf and dead. When Jesus came and removed their particular form of poverty, they were free to make choices that could bring about change. The good news for them was that the source or power that held them in that poverty was broken and they were released from its enslavement.

This brings us to the big issue. If John was hoping that Jesus would challenge Herod (and/or Roman rule) to a Mt. Carmel showdown so that they received their judgment and lost their power to oppress the people of God, he was going to be disappointed. Tragically his demise was a result of the moral depravity he accused Herod of in the first place. His stepdaughter took advantage of his indulgence and John was beheaded. No Messianic deliverer and no divine vindication. The kingdom Jesus was establishing was a different kind of kingdom. When Jesus later stood in Herod’s court, he chose to say nothing to the questioning or the ridicule he was actively engaged in building that same kingdom. This was a kingdom John the Baptist didn’t really understand. Later in this chapter, Jesus is going to tell us that even though John is the greatest of prophets, he just didn’t get the kingdom of God. Jesus said the least person who “gets” the kingdom of God is greater than John. A lot of people who connect with the name of Jesus don’t “get” the kingdom. This is a kingdom that takes broken people and destroys the power that locks them into sickness, oppression, sorrow and hardship. It is a kingdom that starts making things right on the inside of a person and then between people. This is the kingdom that will take abuse from a ruler like Herod but will deal with the power that stirs up unforgiveness. It will never be anything like the other kind of kingdom. The sooner we get hold of that the better servants we will be, and we will be better at living it, speaking it and doing it.

The sad reality is that John knew Jesus, but he wanted Jesus to be the king of a more powerful earthly kingdom. Probably the disciples wanted the same thing, at that point. Every day Jesus kept on living, speaking and doing the work of the kingdom. I’m sure they liked what he did. They were probably thinking that this was a warm up act and that one day Jesus would rise from his sleep and start being the king they all expected, building a more powerful version of the kingdom of Herod, of the Jewish religious system or even Rome. It never happened. It never will happen. Jesus did wake up one day and crush the power of the real enemy. He did it using an empty cross and then an empty tomb. That’s the only kind of kingdom he will ever rule over. It is the only way heaven gets to invade earth. This is such a hard lesson to learn, but it is lesson number one in the kingdom of God. Jesus gave that answer to John because he wanted John to gain an understanding of the kind of king he was and the kind of kingdom he was building.

 

 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”         

This may well be the most accurate summary statement of the whole of Jesus’ ministry.  From the day he stood in Galilee and said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1), the biggest challenge facing the people who heard and saw Jesus was to think beyond that failed to fulfil their set of expectations about the Messiah and what he would be like.  I’m sure you are aware that Messiah is a Hebrew word. The root meaning is “to smear” and describes the anointing of a person who will perform a special holy function.  Here is a description I found in a contemporary Jewish encyclopaedia about the Scriptural meaning of the Hebrew, “mashiach.”

The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as ‘mashiach, son of David’.  He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5).  He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example.  He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel.  He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15).  But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being.  ( http://jewfaq.org )

 

Not many people I know have difficulty embracing the Jesus revealed in the Gospels because they have been influenced by traditional Jewish teaching. We have any number of substitutes:  our ethnicity, our education, our culture, our denomination, our favourite theological system.  It goes on and on.  It is the reason why we have invented 40,000 different denominations of Christianity around the world.  We desperately want to tailor him to suit our own preferences and make sure he will sponsor our selective causes.  We will want him to conveniently fit within our preconceived boundaries and comfort zones.

Jesus offers us the same choice as he offered John’s disciples that day.  There are many things about Jesus’ life and ministry that challenge our ways of thinking, challenge our priorities and our behaviour.  We have to make a choice.  We should take a good look and see what sort of King the Messiah is and what sort of Kingdom he has established.  We need to be shaped by that discovery and be motivated by that purpose. Jesus said that the happiest people would be those who were not offended by what they saw and heard.  As we read the Bible and respond to its message we need to get over the “offences” and get on with following the Jesus we see there.            

WHAT IF THIS MESSAGE WAS COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN MY LIFE?

I am a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia. I gained that citizenship because of my birth. For the first nineteen years of my life that citizenship was unrivalled. When I started following Jesus, I began to experience a new sense of belonging. It grew stronger over time. For a time, I thought there was no conflict, but as I began to meet and work with people from different backgrounds who served and followed Jesus I discovered what it meant to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. That citizenship wasn’t something that I knew would happen when I died; it was current. I found that this new citizenship destroyed barriers of race, language, social status, education, personality, gender and age. I have changed my citizenship. I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. As a citizen, I am also a subject of the King of this kingdom, and I am its ambassador.  I am also a soldier in this army. My King has declared war on everything that wants to kill, steal from and destroy people who have been created in the image of God. So I have dedicated my life to fight this battle and represent this King.

I understand that at certain times in history other servants of this King thought they could only fulfil their commitment by withdrawing from the mainstream of the community. Other servants have made the mistake of thinking that this world’s kingdoms can be a tool that will serve the kingdom of God. Both are mistaken. This kind of commitment and this kind of identity means that although I will always be living and working in various expressions of this world’s kingdom, I have no confidence in the ways of that kingdom. In fact, I am an ambassador for my home country. More than that, I am at war with the kingdoms of this world. One of the signs of mission accomplished is when “the kingdoms of this world have …. become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Messiah.” (Revelation 11:15) That’s what Jesus started, and it is the task he has commissioned us to complete. Our message is the good news of the kingdom of God, and its power is pitted against everything that wants to steal from people what God has intended for them.

So if I get this kingdom message I have to take that role seriously. I think I would work hard to see what the kingdom of God might look like if it came to my marriage, household, family, neighbourhood, workplace, groups, etc. I would use the weapons Jesus used and become skilled in using them. I would never confuse the real enemy with anything that had flesh and blood and would keep on laying down my life through selfless redemptive love, and Holy Spirit power, to see the real enemy defeated and broken humanity healed and whole. Whole people can then build whole relationships, and whole relationships can build whole communities. That wholeness only happens when Jesus is honoured as the King of this very different kind of kingdom.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED?

I love the way Jesus can proclaim the gospel by not answering a direct question. When the twelve disciples and the other people heard John’s faithful followers asking a very sincere question and listened to the response Jesus made, they would have had the opportunity to see the difference between the kingdom presumed in John’s question and the kingdom that Jesus had come to proclaim. Giving them that choice is a gospel presentation. I only hope we will continue to hear this message until we fully “get” it. When we get it, I hope we never lose it.

GOSPELLING Matthew 10 THE TRAINING SCHEDULE FOR MISSIONARIES

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TRAINING SCHEDULE FOR KINGDOM MINISTRY

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:  “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS

To gain a better understanding of these instructions I have simply re-arranged the text according to information and subject matter without changing the words. I did this using the tools available from the multi-level function of the word processing software. I find this more useful than making presumptions about the verse divisions. By this method, I end up with five different subject areas covered and have added the headings.

INTRODUCTION

Conferring Authority

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

  1. STRATEGY

1.1. “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

  1. MESSAGE

2.1. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

2.2. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.

2.3. Freely you have received; freely give.

  1. PROVISION

3.1. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.

3.2. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

  1. OPPOSITION

4.1. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

4.2. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

4.3. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

4.4. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.

4.5. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

4.6. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

4.7. “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

4.8. “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

4.9. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

4.10. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

  1. OUTCOME

5.1. “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

5.2. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

5.3. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

5.4. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

ALL OF THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

Jesus called the twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive our demons and heal every disease and sickness.

The names of the twelve were: Peter, Andrew, James (Z), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (A), Thaddeus, Simon, Judas.

 

Jesus gave them the following instructions:

  1. They were to go only to Israelite towns
  2. They were to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God as they had watched Jesus doing.
  3. They were to heal, raise the dead and drive out demons as they had seen Jesus doing.
  4. They were to offer this ministry indiscriminately, humbly and generously.
  5. They were to trust that their work would be the basis for provision, rather than carry their own provisions.
  6. Their first objective was to find a household that was receptive to their message and to accept the hospitality of that home.
  7. If they didn’t find such a person/home, they were to move on to the next place – with a sense of sadness, not resentment.
  8. They were to be prepared to work in a hostile environment without any human status or power. Their tools would be wisdom and the absence of malice.
  9. They would be arrested by authorities, but should use the opportunity to testify to Jesus using words that the Holy Spirit would give them at the time.
  10. They would find that believing in Jesus could cause tension and division within families.
  11. Different kinds of people would hate them without a reason.
  12. They would experience persecution so intense that they would need to leave and go to another place.
  13. This opposition would replicate what they had seen in the ministry of Jesus.
  14. They were to speak openly about every revealed truth they had discovered.
  15. They would need to be more concerned about being separated from Jesus than being killed.
  16. They needed to carry the assurance that they were valued by their Father in heaven.
  17. They needed to be as willing to acknowledge their allegiance to Jesus as he was ready to acknowledge them.
  18. They needed to be prepared to face the tension created in families without compromising their commitment to Jesus.
  19. They should no try to avoid the risk of suffering but realise that God would use even suffering to shape and mould them to become the whole person they were created to be by God.
  20. When people welcomed them for who they were, those people would receive the same favour from God as they, themselves were to receive.

THE MESSAGE IN THE STORY

This is a story about Jesus training his disciples to go and do ministry on their own. I’ve been to some training sessions in my time, but I can’t ever remember a training agenda like this one. If Jesus offered a Q and A segment in a western culture context like my own, it would be easy to anticipate some of the questions. A few students in the class would have found themselves starting to feel uneasy. If an exit poll was taken as people left the room, you might have heard statements like, “It wasn’t quite what I expected,” or “this isn’t what I signed up for,” or “I think I’m going to transfer to a different course.” These are the reasons why we should pay a little more attention to the text before we glide along to the stories recorded in Chapter Eleven and conveniently leave our uneasiness behind.

Imagine being in a small home Bible Study group studying this passage. You would most likely marvel at the things that Jesus said and have a prayer time where we prayed for Christians around the world who were being persecuted and thanked God for the freedoms of our own nation. You might assume that the words only applied to professional pastors and missionaries who had received a “call.” You would easily presume that such instructions were largely for another time, another place or another (less fortunate ???) group of Jesus-followers. What if none of those assumptions was true? What if every follower of Jesus was meant to be a missionary and these instructions defined universal missionary dynamics rather than occasional ones?  We might find that the circumstances of our own neighbourhoods, workplaces and community spheres bore the hallmarks of a lack of missionary authority rather than a state of grace. We might find that our circumstances are the product of an unconscious deal we have made with the principalities and powers – a deal that amounts to appeasing the enemy rather than uncompromised opposition.

There isn’t the latitude in this current study to develop this theme fully, but my own observations here have produced some ideas that may be a tad over-analytical, but attempt to use these instructions as a window through which we can view the missionary sphere anticipated by Jesus. I have identified twenty separate instructions (as previously listed).

Twelve Disciples Chosen and Authorized

These instructions were given to twelve people who had a particular contract with Jesus. He had called each of them to follow him, and when they graduated from the training course, Jesus said that they would be qualified to “fish for people.” Up to this point, they had watched as Jesus preached, taught, healed and set people free. Now they were being sent out on their first field work assignment. In case some are tempted to see the Twelve as a special class of professionals, I challenge you to find a single qualification that does not apply to every follower. We are all called to follow Jesus. Like the twelve we are called to be with him and to be trained to serve his kingdom purpose. Whenever you read about the understanding and relationship between Jesus and the twelve disciples, see yourself and every other person who makes a sincere commitment to Him. So we are reading about a particular historical situation here, but we are genuinely reading about ourselves. The instructions apply to us. Every believer is called to be a missionary. Every believer is to be Holy Spirit empowered and every believer is called to serve Jesus as Messiah/King (Lord).

 

and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Just take this information slowly. This was another ordinary day in the lives of twelve people who had been following Jesus, believing him to be the promised Messiah. It started out like every other day. At some point in the proceedings, Jesus called the twelve people to come around him. When they did, he GAVE them authority. That authority was the power to command demons to leave a person and the authority to heal all kinds of diseases and sickness. We might call this an “impartation.” One moment they were like they always had been and the next they have the ability to set someone free from a demon and to make someone else well no matter what their sickness is. That’s pretty impressive. We have no idea how this impartation happened. Some of us would feel more comfortable if he laid hands on each of them since that’s the method we are accustomed to. But the truth is we aren’t told HOW we are just told that it happened. They left that meeting with Jesus possessing something they didn’t have previously.

The important issue for me is the fact that I desperately need more of that authority. I have some of it, but not enough. One way of thinking about authority is ability. When there is a noise in the engine of my car it is just a noise. I don’t know what causes it, and I certainly don’t know the first think about how to fix it. If I take it to a good “qualified mechanic” he has a listen, like I did. The difference is that he will most likely know what is causing the noise. He will also know how to fix it. I give the car to him, and when I go back, the noise is gone, and the car operates as it should. The only other thing that changes is that my bank balance goes down by a significant amount. Regardless of that pain, I go to him because he has the authority. He has trained for it, and he is experienced in it.

When Peter and John were going into the temple for the regular prayer session and saw a lame man begging for money, Peter said, “I don’t have any money, BUT WHAT I HAVE I give to you.” With that, he grabbed the lame man and lifted him up. Peter had authority over whatever had caused the man’s disability. He explained to the crowd that it was “faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see was made strong” (Acts 3:16). Something had happened inside of Peter to give him the confidence to say what he said. I am certain that the first experience he had with all of that happened on the day that is being described here in Matthew Chapter 10. We can quote all of the texts we like, but that doesn’t give us the authority. Only the experience of this kind of impartation will enable us to do what Jesus did and greater (John 10).

Unless this happens to us, all we have are a bunch of other people’s stories and a few Bible references. That’s not enough to expel a demon or heal sickness let alone raise a dead person. All of the instructions that follow presume this kind of authority. Only this kind of authority will challenge the legitimacy of all the principalities and powers that prevent people from experiencing the redeeming love and grace of God. We need it, and Jesus is the only one who can impart it to us. I cannot understate the importance of this. It is embarrassing to talk about this because the proof of having it is not just sprouting some words, but demons leaving, health returning and dead people coming to life. Stark, but true.

THE TWENTY INSTRUCTIONS

Given that I have already listed a summary of  twenty instructions for Christians when they take up their calling and become missionaries, I have some comments to add by way of a few more lists. I think it is helpful to see the assumptions that these instructions make about the missionary environment. We have not understood these too well. Instead of being normal operational assumptions we think of them as emergency procedures. I am using pilot language here. When you learn to fly a plane, each plane has a book with a section called, “Normal Operations.” It covers pre-flight checks, start up, taxi, take off, climb, cruise and landing. This is what you do when you fly a plane. The section before Normal Operations is called “Emergency Procedures.” It includes a whole lot of different things that pilot’s practice for but hope they never have to carry out. The content of this section includes things like engine failure, forced landing, icing, electrical failure, vacuum failure and a few others. The normal procedures are the things you expect to happen every time you fly, and the emergency procedures are hardly ever, hopefully never.

Jesus’ instructions to the twelve disciples were not “emergency procedures” but “normal operations.” When we read through them from the perspective of our own experience in a rich western society like Australia (especially Canberra), they seem more like emergency procedures. We don’t encounter most of these very often. I suggest this is a reflection of how WE have backed away from aggressive, loving missionary endeavour. So I am going to write a summary of the assumptions that Jesus instructions make about what HE presumed would be a normal missionary enterprise.

 

A Summary of Missionary Presumptions

  1. There are people we need to target first so that we will be able to complete the full task outlined in the great commission commanded by Jesus.
  2. The only message we should be bringing is the one that announces the kingdom of God as accessible.
  3. The ministry of the kingdom of God is to drive out demons, heal sicknesses and raise the dead.
  4. This ministry will challenge us to remain humble and generous.
  5. The work of ministry will always create its own provision.
  6. The first priority in a new missionary sphere will be to find people and households whose receptivity to the message will form the base for ongoing work.
  7. There will be times where we go to every house but find no one who is receptive.
  8. We will always be offering the greatest gift from the lowest and most vulnerable human status.
  9. The incumbent civil authorities and influential groups will be opposed to what we do.
  10. When a person makes a faith commitment to Christ, it will often lead to tension and even division within their own family.
  11. All kinds of people will show irrational hatred toward us because of our commitment to Jesus.
  12. There will sometimes be opposition and persecution strong enough to require you to leave.
  13. The opposition we experience will be the same as experienced by Jesus.
  14. The resident power groups in a missionary sphere will try to intimidate us so that we don’t speak out the things we have come to know by revelation.
  15. We will have to face threats of death and even be killed by those who oppose the message.
  16. Our self-worth and significance will be attacked.
  17. The attitudes and atmosphere of a missionary sphere will try and make us ashamed to openly acknowledge our love for Jesus.
  18. The tensions within families will pressure us to compromise our commitment to serve Jesus.
  19. The threat of hardship and suffering will often try to shift our focus from serving and trusting Jesus to complete his work of making us whole.
  20. The people who welcome and receive our ministry will share the same favour from God that we will experience.

Now that doesn’t paint a picture of what we would describe as “normal operations.” We need to consider whether our approach to missionary work has been compromised. I am not suggesting that we go out and deliberately try to get people to hate us. There are plenty of people doing that for all the wrong reasons. All of the things in the list above happen because an incumbent power or prevailing set of opinions are challenged. When you get a chance, just read through one of the gospels and see how the ministry of the kingdom that Jesus offered picked its own fights with various authority groups and prevailing attitudes. He didn’t go out to make himself unpopular, in fact, it was his popularity with all the “wrong” people that caused a lot of the trouble. Jesus wasn’t walking up and down outside the temple with placards, nor was he bringing petitions to the Roman procurator’s palace. He just got on with the ministry of the kingdom. And that was what challenged both visible and invisible power bases. His indiscriminate redemptive love exposed false religion and arrogant piety. He was the king of a new and different kingdom making his claim.

What Our Compromise has Done

If I had the time and space, I would take each of these twenty instructions and show endless examples of each one from the ministry of Jesus and from that of the apostles. They are also part of the experience of every missionary sphere around the world that is advancing. They are not a common to missionary endeavour in western nations like my own. Convinced of this, I am going to make some suggestions about the way compromised discipleship and lack of missionary enterprise has rendered most of the things on the list as “special circumstances” rather than normal operations.

How We Have Compromised Missionary Enterprise

  1. Instead of going to a certain group of people as a strategy for reaching all people we open the doors of our building and run programs on the off chance that someone might come in.
  2. instead of offering the invitation of a king we serve people’s ego based self-interest.
  3. instead of taking the hard option and finding out why we can’t drive out demons and heal sick people we stick to our compromised commitment to Christ and hope that God will allow us to keep our preferences but still give us authority.
  4. Instead of humbling ourselves and offering everyone the kingdom we are comforted by the idea that we are going to heaven, but impose fear driven restrictions on who we relate to let alone share the gospel with.
  5. We offer so little of the kingdom that there is little reason for people to support it.
  6. We have no strategic plan to preach the gospel to every person in any region or sphere that we don’t go looking for a person of peace or a ‘household’ of peace.
  7. We have never had a commitment strong enough to go to every house to find out that no one was going to be receptive to the message.
  8. We have such limited missionary commitment that we never do anything where we will risk disapproval or rejection from people who have greater status.
  9. We presume that doing things that are illegal to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom will never be God’s will (e.g. workplace protocols)
  10. We desperately want to follow Jesus in a way that does not create tension within our families, to the point where ‘family’ becomes the ‘lord’ and following Jesus has to fit in with family commitments.
  11. Making sure we don’t do anything that might “offend” people is driven by a need to make sure people will always like us.
  12. We avoid possible offence by modifying our obedience to Christ to avoid persecution.
  13. We have so limited our obedience to Christ that we are hardly ever persecuted.
  14. We have developed one language for our secular world and a different language for our Christian world because we have bowed to the pressure of society that says believing in Jesus is nonsense.
  15. We have no notion of what it feels like to prefer being loyal to Jesus even if it means being killed.
  16. We draw so much of our self-worth and significance from the values of this world: money, possessions, career success that we know very little about receiving them from being a servant of Jesus Christ.
  17. We have mostly become secretive about our commitment to Christ in the wider community. We are ashamed to honour Jesus in the public sphere.
  18. We easily compromise our commitment to follow Christ because of our family circumstances.
  19. We consider the blessing of God as equated with a life experience devoid of suffering. As such we avoid it and encourage others to avoid it.
  20. We impart so little kingdom ministry that few people experience its blessings because of us.

A Way Back to Kingdom Normal?

I am convinced that our major calling as the church is to represent Jesus in our community, the next community to us and every community on earth. We are called to look like him, sound like him, think like him, intend like him and implement priorities like him. I am also convinced that the Bible is the only window that will enable us to see and hear Jesus. I’m not referring to the gospels alone. My view is that the whole of Scripture is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Old Testament points to him, and the New Testament describes him. He has to be the head of the church, and his presence has to be the only reason we are different from any other group of people on the face of the earth. We need to be measured by him, shaped by him and inspired by him. We have no business inventing our own version of who Jesus is or what he is like.

In Matthew Chapter 10 we have been given a summary description of what Jesus own missionary sphere was like and what Paul and the other apostles’ spheres were like. These are not theoretical, and they are not for a few sad unfortunates. We should aspire to every one of these and allow our missionary enterprise to tell our own version of this story. So I am going to make one last version of this twenty-point missionary plan. Here are my ideas of what we (I) could do to see these things restored to the world of normal missionary operations.

  1. Find out who represents the first missionary target group, that will open the way to the full completion of the great commission.
  2. Make sure our message is the same as Jesus’ kingdom message.
  3. Find out why we don’t have power over demonic presence and sickness.
  4. Give away everything we have to everyone we can.
  5. Get workers into the harvest fields and trust the work to produce the support.
  6. Find the persons of peace (Luke 10) as the first priority in every missionary field.
  7. If we don’t find a person of peace, move to another missionary sphere.
  8. Get used to the idea of operating without status in a sphere where the people of status may be opposed to what we are doing.
  9. Respectfully disregard laws that opposed the proclamation of the gospel.
  10. Learn to respond to pressure from family by becoming a more effective servant of Jesus.
  11. Learn to get past the fact that some people will hate us without a reason.
  12. Never allow fear of hardship or suffering to modify out commitment to serve Jesus.
  13. Keep looking to the ministry of Jesus as the model for shaping our expectations.
  14. Always take opportunity to disclose the fact that you serve and worship Jesus Christ.
  15. Be more concerned about staying close to Jesus than fearing possible
  16. Draw all of your significance and self-worth from God’s love for you.
  17. Be up front and unashamed of your commitment to Jesus Christ.
  18. Don’t allow family pressures to compromise your commitment to Christ.
  19. Allow your uncompromised commitment to Christ to shape your sense of personhood.
  20. Make sure the people who accept your message know that they share your blessings from God.

TOTALLY SELF-LESS and yet TOTALLY FULL[-FILLED]

cartoon-drawing-of-an-overstuffed-man-eating-7xz7jg-clipart

I am a heart-before-head person, for sure.  Whenever I am with another person, or even attending some meeting where there are numbers of people I am always much more aware of what the heart of it is about before I engage with the rationale.  I don’t tend to notice much about physical appearance.  Some years ago now, someone spoke prophetically about me and said that I viewed people from the inside out.  I think that is correct.

This is how I look at Jesus.  When I see and hear Jesus, I know I that the heart of God is being made tangible – what we are seeing is the heart of the Father.  Since God IS love, then it is the expression of pure selfless love.  That can actually be measured.  This love is willing to be beaten, shamed and then die on a cross as the worst of criminals. It was also measured by the things that happened during the three (or more correctly thirty-three) years of ministry.

One of the ways I read that is to watch Jesus’ responding to someone who butted in on an agenda that was in progress.  Can you believe that “love” doesn’t take exception to people who butt in?  There was a man whose friends busted up a meeting in a house by ripping the roof off to let their friend down.  There was a woman who pushed through a crowd while Jesus was rushing to save a dying girl.  There was a blind guy yelling and yelling on the side of the road leading out of Jericho.  And wait, there’s more!

The truth is that I don’t like it when I have something I want to do and someone butts in.  It happened to me today.  And the more salient fact is that what I was doing wasn’t critical and urgent.  And the people who butted in were in genuine need.  There was something pathetic in me that wanted to be with them and get it over with as fast as I could.  Being fulfilled seemed to associate with doing what I wanted rather than what they needed.  I quickly realised this was a very bad deal.  Not at all Jesus-looking.  I urgently called out to God to help me to BE his heart and then I could connect with them on that basis.  It took a few minutes for the old to pass away and the new to come, but it definitely happened. What is more to the point was the fact that it was much more worthwhile and personally satisfying.

It’s one of those funny things that identifies the presence of the kingdom of God.  When we set aside self-preference and self-indulgence in order to make the heart of God tangible, the result is a sense of fulfilment that is much greater than just doing what you want when and how you want it (my rough definition of self-centredness). It becomes the story that happens when we trust what Jesus said,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it.  What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his own soul.”  (Matthew 16)

GOSPELLING Matthew 9.5 Giving Jesus Something He Can Use

Red traffic lights

Red traffic lights

JESUS HEALS TWO BLIND MEN AND A MAN WHO COULD NOT SPEAK

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”                                Matthew9:27-34

 

ALL OF THE STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. This is a further incident that happened in sequence.
  2. It probably occurred in the town of Caesarea.
  3. Two blind men were following Jesus.
  4. They kept calling out to him with the words, “Have mercy on us Son of David.”
  5. Jesus went into his house.
  6. The blind men followed him inside.
  7. Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
  8. They responded by saying, “Yes, Lord.”
  9. He touched their eyes.
  10. He said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”
  11. Their sight was restored.
  12. He warned them sternly not to tell anyone about it.
  13. Instead of doing what he said, they went out and spread the news everywhere around the region.
  14. As they were leaving a demon possessed man was brought to Jesus.
  15. The demon had caused the man to be mute.
  16. When Jesus drove the demon out, the man spoke.
  17. The people in the crowd were amazed, saying that they had never seen anything like this before.
  18. The Pharisees saw it differently. They could only assume that Jesus was using demonic power to drive out the demons.

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe I am able to do this?” “Yes Lord,” they replied.

Why did they call Jesus the “Son of David?”

These accounts of what Jesus said and did are our window into a domain that Jesus came to proclaim. He made this kingdom known by what he intended, how he lived, what he said as well as what he did. His message was the “good news of the kingdom of God,” and he was the King of that realm. It is the underlying explanation for everything we read. That’s why it is important for us to take notice when things happen differently from the way we might expect. The surprises will be like unique “peep holes” for us so that we can look through them and get a greater understanding of this kingdom and therefore be more useful as we live, serve and therefore proclaim the message in our generation.

The first little surprise is the way the blind men addressed Jesus, calling him “Son of David.” The fact that they chose to address him by his Messianic title indicates that there was something more than rank consumer motivation. Hundreds of people were healed by Jesus, but very few of them referred to him as the Messiah. It seems that the religious authorities were constantly at hand as Jesus trod the paths of Galilee and Judea. They were certain Jesus was NOT the Messiah and were trying to justify their conlcusion. They were also looking for ways to discredit him and oppose him. Later they would take steps to have him legally killed. I would think the idea of calling out Jesus Messianic title would be a little risky in such circumstances. They were prepared to make their beliefs about Jesus very clear. They were not just seeking healing; they were willing to honour the Messiah.

Three categories of followers

This is a common distinction in every generation. Think about the ways people who had connections with Jesus could be categorized.

First of all, there were those who saw Jesus as a source of healing, demon dusting and food. Jesus makes this distinction in the Gospel of John. After supernaturally feeding a crowd and returning across the lake to find the people still pressing around him, he tells them,

 “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him, God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:25-27)

They didn’t care about Jesus being the Messiah. He was a source of food. In my way of thinking, I refer to these as the “Consumer” followers. They wanted a product and Jesus was the source. Sadly, we have often championed this cause in our day by making church the dispensing portal for consumer goods. I am not talking about souvenirs. I refer to the idea that Jesus is the ultimate “self-help” source. Without getting into the whole “happiness” philosophy that has become a multi-million-dollar export business in the United States, it is sad that Christian leaders and their adherents have seemingly traded on this phenomenon and produced a generation of supposed believers who are nothing more than consumers of feel-good products.

The second kind of followers that are evident from the gospel texts are those who wanted to make Jesus the Messiah, but it was the “Messiah” produced by their culture. It was built around their tribal self-interest. Once again this is referenced in John’s gospel,

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say,

“Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14,15)

The not so subtle issue that Jesus was not prepared to entertain was the fact that if he acceded to their wishes, he would have become ‘their” king at the expense of being “the” king. He would have set aside the call to be the king of the kingdom of God to take up the role as political leader of a particular ethnic group. This kind of thing happens everywhere. We are more than capable of claiming the name of Jesus to endorse all of the preferences we have independently chosen. We can be confident that he votes for a particular political party, supports our selected moral issues and doesn’t worry about the issues we wish to set aside. Most of all he wants to promote our particular group, denomination, theology so that our attitudes of pride and arrogance can be vindicated.

The third kind of follower is also described for us in the account from John 6. When Jesus continues to speak things that are hard to understand, and people start to leave in numbers, Jesus turns to the twelve he had chosen and said,

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

These twelve people (or eleven of the twelve) hear the same words from Jesus and probably had many of the same thoughts as those who were leaving. They didn’t understand what he meant and were offended by the way he was talking. The difference between this group of eleven and the people who left was a particular kind of relationship. The others were classic examples of the two previous types of followers: consumers and tribals. These eleven had discovered the person who was the King and therefore belonged to his kingdom. Customers leave when the product no longer satisfies them. Tribals move when the agenda challenges their preferences and current identity. Kingdom servants just keep following the king and eventually discover what they don’t know. They are transformed by that discovery. That’s the way the kingdom of God works.

We don’t know for sure whether these two blind men were from this third group. All of us reading the story would like to think they did. What we do know was that they chose to approach Jesus using his rightful title: the Messiah and therefore King.

 

Why did Jesus make them wait?

Another question that rings some bells warning us that the kingdom of God is near comes from the fact that Jesus didn’t respond to them immediately. If you imagine you are watching the video of this scene it will become clearer. There is no way of knowing how far it was or how long it took from where they encountered Jesus to where he entered a (his?) house. Regardless, Jesus did not immediately respond. He walked calmly to the door of the house followed by two blind men tapping their sticks on the ground and trying not to trip over anything. All the while they are calling out to Jesus using his Messianic title asking for mercy. Why is that?

If we look at the context to give us the clues, the only piece of information we are given happens when Jesus goes inside, and they follow. At that point, Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” To which they reply in the affirmative. The corroborating piece of evidence comes from his answer: “According to your faith.”

When Jesus left the house where a dead girl was raised to life that these two blind men realized he was there and called out to him. It is likely that he was in Capernaum, and the house belonged to Peter. So the sequence started at one house and ended in another. The two blind guys began kept following until Jesus came to his house. He made no response to their plea. He just walked inside. The blind men then followed him into the house. That’s a pretty strong demonstration of faith. It seems that Jesus was not so much testing their faith as allowing their faith to be measured. He did the same thing with the woman from Syro-Phoenecia. What he was doing was not just playing hard to get, he was allowing e.g. his disciples, to see her faith. In this case, it is possible that the disciples were once again treated to an experience of watching faith happening. When John the apostle says that the victory that overcomes the world is our faith (1 John 5) he could have been thinking about an incident such as this one. The way of the kingdom of this world is to have a go and if it doesn’t work, try something else. In their case, they cried out and Jesus did not respond. He walked on, and they followed, crying out once more. He did not provide a response. They continue to cry out all the way to his house. The reason they did this was the faith inside them. They knew that healing was only going to come from Jesus and they kept on deciding that all the way until they entered his house. Faith is exposed by this kind of persistence and boldness. Jesus told numerous other stories that make the same point (e.g. Luke 18:1-8). The point is made again when Jesus asked them directly. I don’t think he was playing games. He was using their faith as an object lesson. When he asked them whether they believed that he could heal them he was asking them to confess with their mouth what they had believed in their heart and expressed by their determination to follow him. We need to do the same thing for the same reason. He stresses the point one more time when he declares that it was their expression of faith that led to their healing. They gave Jesus something he could use. Not only were they healed but the disciples learned a critical lesson about believing and not giving up.

What matters in the kingdom of God is for it to be built on a simple, non-negotiable trust in the King. As Jesus walked from the synagogue leader’s home to his home with two blind men following and crying out, he was modelling something important. In our “this-world’s-kingdom” way of doing business, we consider it a bit weird. What ‘s strange in this world is worthy in the kingdom of God. If you could imagine a few hundred angels watching all this from their vantage point of fully knowing how it works, I reckon you might be able to hear them applauding Jesus and cheering on the two blind men. Kingdom stuff was happening on both counts. Jesus was drawing them into a fuller expression of their faith, and they were rising to the occasion. That faith was not visible to the naked eye but became apparent to anyone who wanted to see and hear – the twelve disciples in particular. It would be a lesson to them when, at some time in the future, they would call out to Jesus, and it would seem to them as if he was walking away. Because of learning experiences such as this, they would do as the blind men had done. They would follow after him, calling out to him until he spoke to them and then invaded the situation with power from heaven – as he did on this occasion.

 

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

Here is yet another aspect of the story that clashes with our “this-world” way of thinking and, in doing so, calls us to notice how the kingdom of God works. When we see the huge importance placed on publicity in our world, we can be fooled into thinking that it is by publicity that our message will best be communicated. I can remember being involved in some public Christian events and feeling victorious when we got a few sentences of favourable press. And I know how huge that same issue is in the world of politics – or should I say, the world of ‘how to make sure you get re-elected.’ Sadly, it has become the same world. I get newsletters from Christian ministry organizations all the time bragging about how good they are. I only have to think of how good it would feel to tell a story of two blind people being healed in our church. I would want to put it front and centre of our web page and think that if people read it they would want to come and join our church. I could see myself thinking that if people started coming because of that story, the kingdom of God would be coming. I would be “humble” about it of course, but there would be something in me that would enjoy the whole process. There would be an incredibly subtle shift of glory from what God had done to WHO he had done it through, namely US! This is classic kingdom-of-this-world stuff.

Jesus knew full well that the kingdom of God does not come with a media release, a Facebook post or a YouTube clip, no matter how many hits you may get. Jesus was not going to accomplish his goal by way of popular opinion. Of course, the kingdom of God comes through healing, and demons being cast out. But what makes it the kingdom of God is that there is a King to be acknowledged, trusted and served. It is a relationship with the King that defines the kingdom of God. It is a plan devised by the King and dependence on the King that makes it kingdom. In this case, Jesus told them not to tell. They didn’t listen and Jesus work of proclaiming the kingdom of God was made the more difficult. These two kingdoms don’t mix and don’t match. We do it all the time, and the outcome is always that God’s nature and purpose are always compomised.

 

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Another agenda item was added to the job list for Jesus that day. Things were happening one after the other. While the two fully sighted men ran out of the house another small group were waiting, wanting to connect with Jesus.   They had come with a demonized friend. In this case, the demonic presence had robbed him of his ability to speak. Unlike the previous case, we have no information about the process. We just know that Jesus’ response to their request was to cast out a demon. When the demon left, the man was able to speak.

I don’t know how to tell when a sickness is caused by the presence of a demon and when it is not. If I get some infection and then take antibiotics and the infection goes, I am presuming that the sickness was purely physical. I have no knowledge of germ theory, but the presence of germs can be overcome by ingesting some specific chemical substances, and the germs die, and my body is healed. When we read the New Testament, we are brought face to face with sicknesses and disabilities that are caused by the presence of demons. These demons we read about in the Bible have personality and intelligence. They talk and understand and have an independent will. This is a bit hard for us to get our head around when we have been trained in a worldview that presumes a closed, materialistic system. The fact is that all of our sophisticated knowledge has great difficulty in explaining or even coming to terms with a malevolence that would destroy everything good without a reason. It seems to be the only way to account for a lot of horrible things that happen in our world. I consider evil to have a source that is both personal, totally destructive of everything that is seen as good and is entirely indiscriminate. That happens to be the very opposite of everything we know about God from looking at Jesus. The intention we see in Jesus is indiscriminate, self-sacrificial, redemptive love. So the idea of a universe that has been impacted by Satan and his accomplices makes sense to me. There is a battle for supremacy, and it is a life and death struggle.

I don’t have a method for knowing when a person’s sickness or disability is caused directly by the presence of a demon or when it is caused indirectly by the vulnerability to the effects of a broken world. I can only assume from watching Jesus that it is something that needs to be discerned at the time from a Holy Spirit revelation. Given our capacity for systems, I would warn against erecting a model based on experience or the supposed wisdom of an expert. I think these capabilities need to be developed with humility in the company of others. And I think the testimony of Scripture is that we should make each experience a one-off. Some people are too prone to “sense” demons when there aren’t any and other people are going to assume that demons were scared off western society at the time of the Enlightenment. Both are going to be unreliable witnesses.

 

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Here is another kingdom of God issue. The very presence and authority of the King of the kingdom meant that demons were commanded to leave rather than being manipulated (as was the case with various forms of exorcism practised then and now.) All the way through the gospels we see this power being exercised in a direct fashion with a one hundred percent success rate. It is of interest to note that the Pharisees were not going to argue that the demons had gone. A man who had been kept mute was talking. They recognized supernatural power. Their problem was that they couldn’t reconcile the fact that a no-name rabbi from Nazareth was the one with the authority. Their world view (correctly) only knew two sources of supernatural power. One was God’s, and the other was the devil’s. Since Jesus was not recognized by any tests of orthodoxy, their only conclusion was that Jesus was working as a factional lord within the general demonic hierarchy.

What they lost sight of was the fact that a man who had been oppressed to the point where he could not speak was free. They should have notice the fruit and then followed the spiritual trail back to the only place where good spiritual power has a source. The only conclusion, based on their worldview, would be that it came from God. Nicodemus drew that conclusion and it was the reason he came to Jesus at night (John 3). This incident testifies to the fact that the presence of the kingdom will always challenge other incumbent kingdoms. The presence of the King will challenge all others who might either pose as a king or serve a different king. In this case, we are witness to the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of traditional religion. That doesn’t just happen from outside of Christian spheres. It is alive and well within them and we shouldn’t be surprised. Religious systems will always oppose the presence of the King of the kingdom. Even though a religious system may use the name of Jesus and seem to have an allegiance to him, they will oppose the presence of Jesus because their very system is designed to operate without it. Please understand that this happens in every sector of the church. Religious “Christianity” is not far from any of us, no matter how contemporary or how ‘spiritual’ we might think we are. Just have a deep think about this. The presence of activities that don’t need Jesus to function will soon oppose the presence of the very One who said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst.” (Matthew 18:20). Talking about God without relating to him was happening in the church in Laodicea.  Jesus spoke to them prophetically through the Apostle John saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). The church in Laodicea had become religious and didn’t know that he was outside waiting to come in, and no one knew he wasn’t there.

 

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THIS WAS BEING FULFILLED IN MY LIFE?

  1. Rather than trying to do all the “faith lifting” for other people, I think I should challenge people to clarify their faith level. It would not be a natural thing for me to walk away from someone who was wanting to ask God for healing. I would be more likely to do the opposite. It seems that in the kingdom of God it is important to figure out where someone’s faith is at. It is also important to help them to give expression to whatever faith they have. In the case of the two blind men, Jesus seemed to push that to the limit. I am going to focus more closely on helping people to have their own faith rather than offering to have faith on their behalf. It doesn’t mean I should never have faith on someone else’s behalf, but I now realise that it is far better to say, “Your faith has made you well” than for people NOT to exercise whatever faith they have.
  2. In the case of the demonised mute man, I want to try and find a way to get a sense from the Holy Spirit about the source of the problem – to determine whether it is demonic presence or indirect effects through their vulnerability. If there is a demon hanging around causing trouble I would like to know how to recognise that in the way Jesus did.
  3. I also need to get more faith for dealing with demons. Since Jesus has direct authority over what demons have to do and if Jesus can just cast them out. I want to be able to exercise his authority – as he has called us to do. If I am casting out demons I want to measure their departure in some tangible way rather than blustering claims that have no tangible evidence to back them up.If the demon is really gone, something else should also be gone and the person should be fully aware of it.
  4. I want to get a clear picture of the difference between a religious activity and one that is build by the presence and power of Jesus. I think it is quite possible that I do things in certain ways where there is no relationship with Jesus and no acknowledgement of his presence at all. We just do the stuff. I will also anticipate that opposition will come to things the Holy Spirit is doing from people who say they are representing Jesus but their opposition will prove that they are in bondage to a religious system or practices and not related to Jesus. I want to make sure the difference is clear. I think the “super-spirituality” of a lot of people is just another form of religiousness. The same goes for the people who have some like belonging to club-type of church but get embarrassed if you start relating to Jesus.

HOW THE GOSPEL WAS PROCLAIMED

  1. When Jesus walked away from the blind men crying out, he was proclaiming a kingdom that required faith to embrace. That was a bold but important thing to do because it allowed everyone, including the blind men themselves to see faith happening in their experience.
  2. When he asked them if they believed, he was preaching the gospel.
  3. When they were healed, he was preaching the gospel.
  4. When he asked them to tell no one, he was preaching the gospel of his Kingly right to know what was best for them and what was strategic for the situation.
  5. When Jesus delivered the man from a demon the man himself felt the gospel, the friends who brought him saw the gospel and so did the Pharisees. It was an opportunity for each of those three groups of people to put their faith in the Messianic rule of Jesus.

LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE

less-is-more

We live in an age where the various forms of mass communication or social media have reduced the attention span of average people to smaller and smaller units.  Like all cultural trends, it has happened over a period.  As such we now assume certain things as fact which have never actually been proved.  They have just been placed before us often enough for us to presume that it must be so.  Add to that the appeal of personal convenience and you have a fully marketable product.  In this case, I am talking about truth.  It could almost be said that if something is going to have a chance at being accepted today it has to come in a thirty second to three-minute package.  It is even more preferred if it is in video format.

No a lot of this is totally understandable.  Because we ‘have the technology’ we can ram home a point in a slogan.  We can back up the slogan by a fifteen or thirty-second video clip.  We can produce a three sentence paragraph.  Not only so, but we can then work on a twenty-four-hour news cycle and create a series of add-ons so that every day for the next two weeks you will be getting our message as if it is something new.  It will be different enough to make it attractive, but it will be another dose of the same drug.

All of this targets one thing. It appeals to human convenience. Human convenience is just another form of self-indulgence.

What if there are truths that cannot be embraced by this process?  What if some things will not be grasped without deeper engagement, more thorough discussion and then practised.  Imagine trying to teach piano students in this manner.  How many people exist whose lives have been transformed in a good way have been able to do that on a diet of thirty-second grabs.  Would you like to submit yourself for brain surgery to a physician who had gained all his understanding and expertise by watching adds and door-stop interviews with other great surgeons?  I don’t think so.

It is true that more is not necessarily more.  Long-winded treatises and never-ending sermons don’t automatically qualify you for more.

But I would be just as suspicious with the “less is more” theory as well. I would be happier if we measured a presentation, training or teaching by why and how it challenged the aspects of my personhood that need to become different.  Then we could measure the same process by the fruit.

By the way, that’s what Jesus said.  “You will know a tree by its fruit,” not its thirty-second ad campaign or extra offers.

GOSPELLING GIVE GOD SOMETHING HE CAN USE ! Matthew 9.4

Red traffic lights

I don’t know if you can relate to this, but I hate successions of red lights.  It seems to be reserved for when I am running late by definition.  I will never forget an occasion when I needed to get from the Canberra City area to O’Connor and back again in a hurry.  We were doing outreach in Garema Place and I had to go back to get some leaflets.  And every light seemed to be red.  I was frustrated and complaining.  When I verbalised some thoughts about the general lack of God working sovereignly to favour what I was doing I heard one of the clearest Holy Spirit words in my life.  God said, “What don’t you give me something I can bless?”  Presumably, God hasn’t got much use for impatience, anger and presumption.  I quickly told God that I was going to do just that.  I offeren him thanks, praise, confidence and trust and a few other things.  I can’t remember whether the lights were red or green after that, I had just learned that it wasn’t important.  And I still remember it.

Here is a story where a couple of people gave Jesus something he could use to bring the kingdom of God to their circumstances.

 JESUS HEALS A SICK WOMAN AND RAISES A GIRL FROM DEATH

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Matthew 9:18-27

 

ALL THE STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. This set of incidents happened immediately following the ones previously described.
  2. A synagogue leader came to Jesus
  3. When he got to Jesus, he knelt down in front of him.
  4. He told Jesus that his daughter had just died.
  5. He declared that if Jesus would come and lay hands on her, she would live.
  6. Jesus stood up and went with the man, accompanied by his disciples.
  7. While he was walking, a woman came up behind Jesus.
  8. She had suffered from a hemorrhaging for twelve years.
  9. She had made up her mind to try and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.
  10. She believed that if she did so, her body would be healed.
  11. When she touched the edge of his cloak, she was instantly healed.
  12. Jesus turned and saw her.
  13. He said to her, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.”
  14. When Jesus came to the house, he saw people who had gathered to mourn for the dead girl.
  15. The crowd were noisy
  16. There were people playing music on pipes.
  17. He told them to go away.
  18. He said that the girl was not dead, but sleeping.
  19. The crowd laughed at him.
  20. He had the crowd put outside the house.
  21. He went to the girls and took her by the hand.
  22. She became alive and got up.
  23. The news of this spread throughout the whole region.

 

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

 

While he was saying this

It must have been an amazing couple of days. It started with Jesus arriving back in Capernaum, forgiving and then healing a lame man, calling a tax collector named Matthew, going to have a meal with Matthew’s mates, being criticised by the religious leaders, being questioned by John’s disciples and now the local synagogue leader coming with the news that his daughter was dead. If we do a stocktake of kingdom ministry proclamation it will look something like this:  a) Jesus is God because he has authority to forgive sins; b) Jesus has come to give sinners the opportunity of being rescued, not to validate self-righteousness; c) the kingdom of God message heralds a brand new structure rather than being an ‘add-on’ to the old structure. To put it in a simpler fashion: Jesus is God and king, he will build his kingdom with forgiven sinners and institute a new kind of kingdom.

We should consider the flow of these events to notice just how Jesus proclaimed the kingdom differently in each situation, but everything that happened was in response to what was already there. Jesus’ started at the point where people found themselves. First, it was THEIR story. Then there was HIS story, and when they embraced his story, their story had a kingdom of God ending. In other words, he was providing the kingdom-of-God ending to a kingdom-of-this-world story. That’s the process of the gospel. Our job is to notice someone’s story, see what kind of ending the kingdom of God would enable, offer people that ending and trust God to bring it about.

 

My daughter has just died, but come and put your hands on her and she will live

My hobby is collecting insights about how the kingdom of God works and allow them to shape the way I think, the things I desire, the priorities I choose and the things I say and do. I am a desperado more than a casual hobbyist if the truth be known. The story that starts with a synagogue ruler kneeling in front of Jesus and pleading with him is the first “kingdom thing.” It is a kingdom of God experience because this man had super status in his community. Without all the background knowledge we can see enough to know that he is a person of high status. We are aware from reading around the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that the religious system responsible for his status was widely critical of Jesus. In fact, in this connected sequence of events, both the Pharisees and even the disciples of John had come to question and/or criticise what Jesus was doing. This man wasn’t thinking of his career as a leader when he came to Jesus. His daughter had just died. As we know from some of our own experiences, something like this has the power of reorienting one’s set of values.

But it wasn’t just desperation that was on show in this instance. I suspect that what drove him to Jesus and his knees was faith, not imploding hopelessness. We are given an insight into his private heart-world. I am not aware that there was any precedent for the measure of faith inside of this man’s heart. As far as I know, no one had been raised from the dead by Jesus to that point. This was new territory. I am sure he was acutely aware of sick people being made well and demons being cast out. If this was Capernaum, then we have all of these things on record. When he watched his daughter’s life slip away and saw her last breath he came to a very powerful conclusion: if he could get Jesus to place his hands on her, the same hands that had overcome sickness and disease in other people could also bring life back to this precious girl. His subsequent attitude and actions can be traced back to this point. It is a kingdom moment. When we look more closely at the things recorded about the ministry of Jesus, we will soon discover kingdom of God moments happening among people before they ever got to be where Jesus was. It remains as a warning to those people whose idea of God is as some transcendent puppeteer manipulating the strings of every situation according to a pre-ordained script. That is not supported by the evidence. People make choices. On this occasion, the leader of the local synagogue looked at his dead girl and was confident that if Jesus placed his hands on her, she would be made well. The rest of the story is the testimony of faith and hope that came to life in the midst of the sadness and death. We all have to make choices, and this man chose to honour and trust the defamed man from Nazareth.

 

Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

I love the way Jesus allowed his day to be interrupted. It happened all the time. I also like the fact that Jesus seems to run his program by responding to the initiative of others rather than ramming home his own agenda. I think about it this way: Imagine breakfast on the side of a road somewhere and the disciples asking Jesus to outline the agenda for the day. Now there clearly is an agenda. We learn that from various things Jesus said. He had an agenda to go to all the towns and villages. Jesus intended to preach the message of the kingdom of God. He was going to offer sick people (unrighteous) the opportunity to become well (made new). He obviously went to villages and preached in their synagogues, but when we read the gospels, we don’t have a list of the sermons he preached in those synagogues. That may have been an entry point, but it was hardly where the action took place. We do have a sermon, but it happened on the side of a hill. Almost everything else happened on roads, marketplaces, in boats, at the seashore or in someone’s house. It was Jesus’ commitment to the goals (as stated above) that placed him in a succession of these kinds of normal human spaces. Once there, the ministry flowed by responding to what he found. His response was to invite them to embrace a “kingdom-of-God” ending to their “kingdom-of-this-world” story. The more commonly known phrase is, ‘preaching the gospel.’

 

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.

Interruption number two came in the form of a woman. I think I could produce enough evidence to prove that faith will trump whatever else is going on every time. It was the faith of friends that interrupted a meeting in a house when they busted through the roof. On this occasion, Jesus is in the process of responding to one expression of faith when he encounters another. This is another example of the same kind of kingdom moment experienced by the leader of the synagogue. In this woman’s case, she had this terrible debilitating condition. You can read in some of the back story books that such a condition would have declared her “unclean” by the definitions of traditional Jewish law. For her to plough through a moving crowd must have been physically and socially risky. As in the case of the synagogue leader she was not just desperate. Desperation and faith do not presume each other. In the grim isolation of her own home, she made a few decisions. In contrast to the leader, she didn’t opt for the idea of getting Jesus to place his hands on her. Not only was it considered social and religious taboo, but she also didn’t even want Jesus to see her let alone touch her. Self-esteem was limited and shame, oversupplied. But faith finds a way. She knew that Jesus had the power to heal. That power was associated with his presence. Since she was too ashamed to ask, she created a way for her faith to connect. She would sneak up behind him in the crowd and the moment she touched just the hem of his clothing she knew that she would be healed. She hadn’t learned or seen it anywhere. She invented the idea. When she did, she found that she was able to believe both Jesus and the plan to give expression to her faith in him. Sure enough, she did, and it happened. Healing flowed from heaven through Jesus, and her bleeding stopped forever.

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

She made a decision to trust Jesus. She invented a way to act on that decision. She implemented the plan and got through the crowd and touched Jesus cloak. She was made whole. Then Jesus saw her and made a wonderful public announcement: She was affirmed as having the status of a family member and the plan to exercise faith that she had invented was honoured and vindicated.

I’ve noticed that people who do ministry in Jesus’ name often get too focused on the method at the expense of the relationship. I have been guilty of this and have experienced others who were also guilty when they offered ministry to me. They seem to end up with a regimented way of doing ministry that has no justification from the gospels. We have even formed whole denominations around such practices. We have denigrated and despised one another on that basis. Against the testimony of the gospel stories, it is shown to be so blatantly religious and ungodly. The Roman centurion whose servant was very sick thought Jesus could just give a remote word of command. The synagogue leader thought Jesus should come to where his daughter was and lay hands on her. This woman with a bleeding problem thought that if she touched the bottom of his cloak, Jesus authority would heal the damage to her vascular system. A remote word of command, the laying on of hands and a single momentary touch of Jesus’ garment. All of those ideas were invented as an expression of the author’s faith. And Jesus responded simply and directly to each of them without a hint of amendment. In two of the three instances Jesus specifically commended the choice of action.

 

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.”

We are looking at these stories from the Gospel of Matthew to get a fresh idea of how the gospel of the kingdom should be proclaimed. I have hinted earlier that one of the markers to look for is to see what Jesus says or does or what someone else says or does that seems counter-intuitive. We have a form of intuition that exists because we have been trained from the time of our birth to think, feel and respond according to our particular culture. Those cultures, regardless of how much they may have been touched by Biblical truth remain intact as expressions of the kingdom of this world. What is intuitive to someone from Australia will depend on Australian cultural norms. The kingdom of God works totally differently. It operates according to the nature and purpose of the Creator God as revealed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

When Jesus arrives with the synagogue leader at his home, community grief was in full swing. It is different from my culture where we tend to be quietly sad. In this culture, sorrow was loud. The wake was fully operational. It seems that many of the people who make comments about this story take the view that Jesus was getting them out of the house because of their unbelief. The assumption is that the presence of numbers of people who represent unbelief have the power to hinder the purposes of God represented here by Jesus, his disciples and the synagogue leader. That is definitely possible. I am certain that unbelief in a person can totally stop the good purposes of God happening in the life of that purpose, e.g. seed on the pathway, the religious leaders and the rich young ruler. There is little evidence to suggest that a crowd of unbelievers can stop a single believing person from exercising their own faith in God and seeing the fulfilment of that faith. A family who does not believe can’t stop a member of that family believing. I know that. I can’t think of anything Jesus did or said to suggest that it was so. I know that in Nazareth there was such a profound level of unbelief that few miracles happened, but my assumption there is that few people were willing to exercise their faith in Jesus to receive a miracle. That was the reason there were few. The “few” probably referred to the people who DID reach out to Jesus.

It is the way Jesus talks about the girl to the crowd that stretches our understanding. I doubt that we could assume that the girl was genuinely sleeping. The father (and mother) would have known and so would the crowd. Remember what happened here. The girl had died, the father had gone looking for Jesus, and the neighbours had already come and started customary grieving activities. I don’t have a satisfactory understanding to produce a decent conviction, only a few guesses. My guess is that he was deliberately provoking them based on the fact that, (a) he wanted them and their noise gone from the house and, (b) to let them know that she would be “waking up” (coming back to life) very soon. I could believe that to describe her as being “asleep” was a metaphorical way of speaking about the kingdom of God ending that was about to happen. Jesus, the King, was about to exercise his sole authority over death. In the context of that realm her current state of death was better described as temporary or, therefore, sleeping.

After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

When Jesus clears the space and the room with the dead girl is quiet he takes her lifeless had and life from heaven flows into every part of her body, and she arose from her “sleep.” The fact that she was the daughter of an important family in the town meant that the news went everywhere. This is core to gospel ministry. We should allow ourselves to be tutored by the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, not by our experience or the lack of faith.  Such unbelief that has turned western discipleship and therefore Western churches into cultural cliques or congregational clubs.  Jesus intended a church to be capable of much more: “on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16). It is supposed to be a heavenly force that has the firepower to overcome even the most strongly defended parts of the kingdom of darkness. In these two cases, darkness had locked a woman in isolated shame and degradation, and the family of a community leader had been plunged into despair through the death of their daughter. When we gain that faith and find our own ways to exercise it, as the two people did in this story, we will find that the gospel proclaims itself because of the mighty things that are done by the authority of the King of the kingdom.

 

IF THIS MESSAGE WAS COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN OUR LIVES

I would be obeying the command of Jesus to go to the spaces of my world with the intention of representing his redemptive purposes. I am capable of being a lot of places and totally forgetting that I am a son of God and a servant of Jesus. By the job description given by Paul (2 Timothy 2) I am a soldier who should not forget that I am on a battlefield with a battle to win and the firepower to do it. It is still far to easy to get involved with civilian matters and forget that this war is devastating households, neighbourhoods, cities and nations.  You and I cannot afford to act as if I am on permanent R and R. I can’t remember who said it, but we often use a saying that helps us focus on this matter. If we are anywhere at all, we simply say to God and ourselves, “I am open for (kingdom) business.” I only wish we could be as willing to do business as some of my friends were when they were involved in multilevel product marketing and were ready to use their friendships as business opportunities. We are one step better off than they were. They were selling something. We are giving something away. They wanted to sell stuff to us to make money. We can offer people a kingdom of God conclusion to their kingdom of this world heartache.

I would be practising listening and watching people see where God’s kingdom offer could intersect with their human story to bring them into the presence and work of the King.

I realise that I lack in a measure of faith. Healing sometimes happens for me, and I have a score of zero out of two as far as raising the dead is concerned. When I read the Bible, I am fully confident that, despite my lack of equivalent experience, there is a heritage here for me and that I have authority in Jesus name to do what Jesus did. I am committed to gaining that authority and the only place I can get it is from God and the only place I can exercise it is with people. So I am going to push ahead in both of those directions.

 

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED IN THIS SITUATION

The beginning of the gospel happened when a synagogue leader decided to dispense with his status and risk losing all of that because he was able to believe that Jesus could come and enable his daughter to live again, although she was dead. The woman with the bleeding problem did the same. That decision was an encounter with the Holy Spirit. I need to rely on such experiences when I set out to proclaim the gospel to people I haven’t met or don’t know. God is working before I get there and will be working after I leave.

The further proclamation was when Jesus fully acceded to their request and honoured their faith.

It was further proclaimed when a woman’s bleeding was stopped, and a young girl was raised to life.

It was further proclaimed when the story of these things spread around the region.

@Kindomlookingchurch

 

@Kindomlookingchurch

God is calling people to plant the seeds that will restore the church as a living proclamation of the kingdom of God.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Ephesians 3

picture1

if we are to look to the new testament information about what a kingdom looking church would look like, here are some of the answers.  They are a summary of two small pieces of new testament research.  The first list is from the sermon on the mount and the second is a summary of the specific teaching, given by Jesus, about the kingdom of God – as applied to a group of believers (we).  The summary in each case is a description of what the value might look like if a group of people adopted it as part of their collective calling.  In essence, it becomes something of a “confession of faith.”  It may also be viewed as a “pictur” of how God sees you and your fellow believers.

KINGDOMSNAPSHOTS                                        (Matthew 5-7)

  • We need to depend on God every day for everything (5:3)
  • We grieve for everything that is separated from God. (5:4)
  • We fulfill our own calling by helping others fulfill theirs (5:5).
  • We want righteousness only as a gift from God (5:6)
  • We show mercy to everyone whenever they mess up. (5:7)
  • We are more concerned about the purity of our heart than how we look to others. (5:8)
  • When people are separated together we work to find the way to bring them together in oneness. (5:9)
  • We don’t care what unjust or hurtful things other people might say about us or do to us as long as we get to be more and more like Jesus. (5:10,11)
  • We are determined that people will know about God because they know about us 5:13-16)
  • We want to discover God’s intentions so we can embody them and serve them (5:17-20)
  • We don’t stay angry with anyone or allow divisions to remain. (5:21-26)
  • We only have sexual desires for the person to whom we are married. (5:27-30)
  • We hate divorce and will do all we can to strengthen marriages. (5:31,32)
  • We honour all our spoken commitments (5:33-37)
  • We find ways to bless the people who give us a hard time. (5:38-42)
  • We find ways to love people who are against us. (5:43-48)
  • We are generous without any need to be acknowledged. 6:1-4)
  • We pray and fast to relate to God not to impress others (6:5-18)
  • We want the kingdom of God to come much more than caring about money or possessions. 6:19-34)
  • We are always more aware of our own failings than those of others.(7:1-6)
  • Our first priority is to ask and seek God and trust what comes from him. (7:7-11)
  • We treat other people the way we would like to be treated. (7:12)
  • We don’t care how difficult something is. What matters to us is going after more and more of the life God gives. (7:13,14)
  • We measure leadership and discipleship by its fruit, not by its words. (7:15-20)
  • Knowing Jesus better is more important to us than any other relationship. (7:21-23)
  • We discover what God has said by doing it, not just by hearing it.(7:24-27)

KINGDOMWORX

  • We are prepared to set aside what we currently think in order to trust what God says (Mark 1:15 Jesus begins ministry )
  • We depend on Holy Spirit power not human ability, even if it is consecrated ability. (John 3 Jesus and Nicodemus )
  • The transformation we seek is that which begins inside a person when they choose to follow Jesus as King. (Luke 17:20 religious leaders ask when the kingdom will come )
  • We want our personal and corporate lives to reflect more of what is happening in heaven. (Matt. 6:9 Lord’s Prayer )
  • We know how to challenge every different kind of incumbent earthly kingdom. (Matt. 11:1ff Jesus and John the Baptist )
  • We have authority over demonic presence and influence (Matt 12:22ff Jesus accused of using demonic power )
  • We want God’s word for become our life experience (Matt. 13:1ff the sower )
  • We want to be different to but not separated from every part of our community. (Matt 13:24ff weeds in the crop )
  • We start with what is small and unseen but with an irresistible capacity to influence the whole (Matt. 13:31ff mustard seed )
  • We are willing to trade what we already have in order to gain what we have never experienced from God (Matt 13:44ff treasure in a field )
  • We take complete responsibility for doing our part, but completely trust God to do his part – and know the difference. (Mark 4:26ff the farmer sowing seed )
  • We serve the highest cause from the lowest human status (Matt 18 the greatest in the kingdom )
  • We work on the basis of forgiveness, rather than blame and guilt. (Matt. 18 unforgiving servant )
  • We treat everyone among us with the same honour and receives the same reward (Matt 20, workers in the vineyard )
  • We do the work with those who are the most committed, not the most talented (Matt 22, the wedding banquet )
  • We are looking for and ready for God to make his presence known regardless of how it impacts personal preference or convenience. (Matt. 25, ten bridesmaids )
  • We only gain more authority by fully implementing what we already know and understand from God. (Matt. 25 the talents )

 

GOSPELLING Matthew 9.3 NEW OPERATING SYSTEM

Windows 10

A GOSPEL MESSAGE FOR RELIGIOUS PEOPLE

 

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins? If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”                                 Matthew 9:14-17

 

ALL OF THE STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. Disciples who had followed the leadership and message of John the Baptist came to Jesus with a question.
  2. They asked Jesus why he and his disciples did not practice the traditional days of fasting that they and the Pharisees did.
  3. Jesus told them that the current circumstances did not call for fasting for the same reason as people did fast when celebrating a wedding.
  4. He said his presence among the disciples paralleled that of a bridegroom accompanied by his guests.
  5. He added that when he, the “bridegroom” would be removed from their presence there would be circumstances that would warrant the keeping of a fast.
  6. He illustrated the principle by using two metaphors explaining the fact that a new era could work if it were seen as an extension of the old era. In fact, they represented entirely different features which could not be joined, e.g.
  7. an old garment could not be patched with new cloth
  8. old wineskins could not be used to store new wine.
  9. In both cases, the piece of clothing would tear again and become worse, and the new wine would be spilt.
  10. New wine needed new wineskins, and new cloth was not suitable as a patch for an old garment.

THE MESSAGE REPRESENTED BY THE STORY

Then John’s disciples came

Whenever I think of John the Baptist and the disciples who gathered around him, I regard them with a deep sense of honour. For hundreds of years, there is no clear word from heaven. For John to start preaching in the Jordanian wilderness is massive. It accelerated the already heightened sense of expectation. John was about six months older than Jesus and approximately thirty years old when the Holy Spirit identified Jesus as the Messiah John had been preparing people to receive.

John and his disciples were not just custodians of a message that was intended to point people to Jesus, but they were also sons of their own age and pious adherents of traditional Jewish religious practice. As such they conducted their lives by those practices, including the regular fast days. If we were to research the matter, we would discover that the most pious Jews fasted twice a week on Monday and Thursday. But we don’t need to know about that to get the message of this story. There were other solemn days for fasting, e.g. the Day of Atonement. The issue here is that Jesus and his disciples did not observe these fasting days.

It must have been a surprise to John’s disciples. Interesting that John still had disciples who didn’t leave him to follow Jesus.  There would be a piece of serious logic suggesting that John’s task was finished the moment Jesus walked out of the river.  We know from John’s own comments that he was glad for his own ministry to diminish and that of Jesus to increase.  There was obviously a rather strange identity challenge for both John and for his disciples.  Whatever the circumstances, they  were shocked that Jesus did not keep the traditional fast days. This news reached the prison cell where John the Baptist was confined.  They were concerned enough to send a deputation to Jesus to resolve their questionings.

How is it that…….your disciples do not fast?

There is a sense that they were offended or felt that this was unworthy of someone presumed to be the Messiah. Surely the Messiah, of all people, would do the things that were considered to make a person righteous? You have to ask yourself the question as to why Jesus and the disciples didn’t maintain this practice, or at least fast on some of the days. Just imagine the situation at home in Capernaum on the Day of Atonement when almost the whole village is fasting, and the only people who are not involved are Jesus and his disciples (along with individuals who were considered to be “sinners”).  Not a good public relations move one would have thought. This is supposed to be the Messiah. He is expected to be totally righteous, but he doesn’t stop eating like the rest. If Jesus were running a local church, I could imagine members of the Elders’ Council having a discussion and agreeing that it was better to keep at least some of the fast days just to avoid unnecessary controversy and disapproval. They were getting enough flack for all kinds of other things. Why not just do it to keep bad press to a minimum. I can also hear them suggesting that the matter of fasting or not fasting was a minor issue and, as such, was not worth the trouble it was going to cause. Why not save that for the more important matters?

These kinds of questions were made all the more poignant by the fact that it was the disciples of John who came to Jesus about this, not the Pharisees or other systemic religious leaders. It may be one thing to attract the criticism of the religious system as, for example, in the case of Matthew’s party (previous incident). In this case, John the Baptist was one of the ‘good guys.’ Jesus made that point very clear on some occasions. So here was Jesus leading his followers by deliberately NOT fasting at  those times when all devout Jews were fasting. More to the point John had apparently taught his disciples that these fasting days were to be regarded as sacred.

The question that remains for us is:  Why DID Jesus choose to take this path? In previous times I would have attempted to answer the issue at this point. I have learned that there is a better way. That is to allow the context to provide the answer as much as possible. So we will wait and see if the answer will be provided by the information still to come.

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

As often happens with Jesus, he doesn’t answer the question directly. He responds by using a metaphor involving a different question. It seems that Jesus seeks to lead his hearers  to discover the answer to their own question rather than offering a proposition for debate. Here is how the implied dialogue might have sounded:

Question: Are occasions such as a wedding times to be happy and celebrate?

Answer: Yes

Question: Do people celebrate happy occasions by deciding to abstain from eating?

Answer: No

Question: Are there other times and circumstances in life where there is sadness and hardship?

Answer: Yes

Question: At those times, might people reflect that sadness or hardship by going without food?

Answer: Yes

Conclusion: Fasting is a practice that should be associated with sad, hard or perplexing circumstances rather than being a religious practice that has no association with the attendant circumstances. Worse still, fasting is entirely inappropriate at times when people who love and serve God are celebrating joyful occasions.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, …… Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins?”

Now comes another reason Jesus taught his disciples NOT to observe the regular fast days even though it was bound to attract criticism. The two metaphors Jesus used about patching old clothes and storing new wine declared that what was going on in and through the ministry of Jesus was not just a renewal of the previous covenant made between God and the people of Israel but an entirely new covenant that needed to be understood as new, not an adjustment to the old. Remember that the book of Hebrews states clearly that the former covenant is made obsolete by the new version (Hebrews 8, especially verse 13).   Jesus was completing a story that had begun in the Garden of Eden and continued through Abraham, Moses and David, by introducing a completely NEW arrangement. This was not just an update to “Windows 10.”  This new operating system means that “Windows 10” would no longer be supported or used alongside the new version.  The old operating system has to be deleted and the new system installed.

The new operating system Jesus proclaimed was the “kingdom of God,” not just a reworked version of the kingdom of Israel. It was his message from the first day of ministry to the last. He lived it, taught it and demonstrated it. The climax was his victorious death and resurrection. It’s “publishing date” was marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon every believer gathered in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, closely followed by three thousand who responded to Peter’s message.

Jesus lived and proclaimed this gospel every day of the three years of ministry. It was proclaimed by the fact that he and his disciples chose NOT to keep the religious fasts. These fasts belonged to a dysfunctional version of the  superseded covenant. By focusing on the outward observance as having righteousness in and of itself they had trashed the idea of fasting being an expression of a relationship with the living God. So the contemporary practice was locking people away from God as well as burdening them with empty and useless obligations. None of those had any meaning in the new covenant of the kingdom of God. There would be fasting, but not this kind of fasting. Jesus had talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount, pointing out that fasting was a something that happened between a person and God, not a sign to everyone of how comparatively “righteous” someone happened to be (cp. Matthew 6).

To try and make the new covenant fit into desecrated old covenant categories or structures would only destroy everything. The garment would experience a worse tear than before, and the new wine would be spilt. This is such a salutary message for every follower of Christ and, even more importantly, for groups of people who follow Jesus. The matter is further taken up in other parts of the New Testament. It was an issue that plagued the ministry of the gospel from the beginning. It threatened to split the church as conservative Jewish believers tried to press the cause of Jewish traditions onto other Jews and Gentile believers. Galatians and Hebrews are two books that are given exclusively to the issue. There are movements within the church today who seem hell bent on re-imposing the Jewish festivals and other traditions as marks of greater righteousness. They also hold a brief for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus so clearly said that the magnificent temple of his own day would be pulled down, and he would build a new temple as the new community of faith.

 

 

IF THIS MESSAGE WERE TO BE COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN OUR LIVES

We would refuse to foster empty religious practices that had nothing to do with a relationship with Jesus.

We would know the difference between unimportant matters of conscience where there was plenty of room for different views and those issues that should not be compromised because of the fact that they threaten the integrity of the gospel.

We would put every religious or spiritual activity to the test by asking, “In what way does this act or practice enhance, reflect, enable my relationship with God and my capacity to serve and honour his presence and purpose?” As such we should not be fearful of spiritual disciplines or practices per se. We would only want to avoid empty religious disciplines and practices. We would be looking for the fruit of our growing relationship with the Father and the Son (by the Spirit) to be the testimony that these practices were valid.

In the sense that Jesus did not make his decision to teach and practice NON fasting a private affair, we should also not fall foul of the scourge of western individuality by relegating these matters to the personal and private world. We should openly live by practices and disciplines that enable us to know Jesus and enjoy, no celebrate his presence. Remember that engaging in an activity that involves the presence of God without experiencing, depending on and honouring that presence is the way religion replaces a faith based relationship.

 

HOW THE GOSPEL WAS PROCLAIMED?

This incident and practice of Jesus and his disciples of ignoring the traditional fast days was, in itself, a proclamation of the new covenant. When Jesus had said, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the gospel” he was, in part, referring to this. He was directly challenging decayed and destructive religious practices that were happening under the shadow of the old covenant but were in fact opposed to the genuine old covenant. The old covenant was meant to point to Christ, but these practices not only didn’t point to Christ, but they hindered people from coming to Christ. So it is with a lot of religious practices today. They inject us with enough of the poison to make us immune from the real thing. Imagine that. Something that is supposed to represent Jesus Christ is causing people to become immune to him and thereby reject him. So Jesus was proclaiming the gospel when John’s disciples came and asked the question. To respond to what he said would have given people the opportunity to trust in and connect with Jesus and the new wine of the gospel of the kingdom.

SEE WHAT YOU HEAR

Mass-Advertising

Good communication is in the ear of the listener

 

Communication is a universal issue and one that has challenged humanity for as long as there has been humanity. I don’t know whether cavemen and women traipsed off to the local marriage counsellor for lessons in how to communicate better, but I’m sure the problem existed. One distinctive of the era in which we live is the incredible means of communication we have developed. My own lifetime has seen unbelievable change. I can remember the time when our fragile phone lines would go down, and we would have to hop in the truck and go over to the neighbour’s house if we wanted to talk to them.

Now we have so many options: mobile phones, wifi, computers, television that enables you to look through the window of a house in Syria where a rocket has just exploded. The fact is that more and more people don’t even have regular phones anymore. They are fast becoming outdated technology. It doesn’t mean we are better at communicating of course. It proves the point that the “medium is not the message” (cp 1964 book by Marshall McLuhan) That is as much a problem now as it was for the cave men and women.

I had a funny experience of this a few years ago when I was travelling on the tram that links Glenelg with the Adelaide CBD. I was involved in a conference held in the city. I used to catch the tram during the early part of the peak hour. The first day I found myself sitting in a carriage with people sitting with their backs to the wall of the carriage looking inward at each other as they travelled. Then I noticed that every single passenger had earphones in their ear and was listening to music (or something) on their mobile phones. Lots of people but not the sound of a human voice could be heard. Only the rattle of the tram on the tracks. Now I am a country boy. It was, and remains part of my personal culture. I like talking with people. Not so much talking as listening. I like engaging with other people and listening to their stories. I became slightly annoyed. Here I was in a small temporary pocket of humanity and everyone entering the carriage had already or immediately built walls to avoid communicating with anyone.

Eventually, I decided to take a preemptive strike in the cause of maintaining the dignity of basic human recognition. I bumped the man next to me on the arm and said in a sufficiently loud voice, “Hey mate, would you mind giving me your phone number so we can have a conversation?” Fortunately, he had a good sense of humour. He pulled out his earphones, and we laughed together and then had a great conversation for the rest of our journey. I still remember that journey, just because I had a conversation rather than it being just another soul-numbing example of the pathetic individualism spawned by Western cultural values.

Our culture has created another communication problem. It comes from the fact that we have made a virtue out of self-centeredness. The challenge for anyone who would venture to communicate in our society is that we have loaded up either the communicator or their means of communication with the largest part of the responsibility. If some communication happens, it is because the communicator has said something creative and interesting enough to grab our attention or has used a method of communication that has caught our attention. I am told that people in western societies like mine will be attacked by between 4,000 and up to 10,000 messages each day. It seems that we will notice less than a hundred of these. It is the primary challenge of marketing companies to offer people wanting us to identify their products to attract our attention. That problem is escalated by our growing capacity to build an “attention wall.”

In the light of all this modernity, it is interesting to hear something that Jesus said. It is a funny statement when translated literally from the original Greek. In Mark 4:24 he says, “See what you hear.” He is saying, “pay careful attention to what you hear.” Instead of laying all of the responsibility for communication on the speaker or the medium of communication, he is challenging those listening to take responsibility for what they have heard. In the twenty-first century context, he could well have said, “Make sure you pull down your attention wall and, among the four or five thousand messages you year today, make sure you listen and think carefully about what you are hearing from me.”

As much as at any time in history we need to step out of the mainstream of our culture and make some deliberate choices about what we hear. There are so many options. It is so easy to opt for the message that entertains us when we should be opting for the one that produces quality of life. There is a crisis in the church and therefore an even greater crisis in our community. People inside churches have made the mistake of being passive hearers. We only hear things that grab our ever changing palate for passive entertainment. We sit like blobs in front of TV screens and allow unworthy messages to sate our appetite. We hear everything that won’t matter tomorrow and won’t build anything of value for anybody. We similarly set aside the opportunity to hear from Jesus – not only hear but be careful to think and consider what we have heard. We can also treat what we hear from God in the same way as we treat rubbish that comes to us through mass media.  It becomes the next fix in a dependence that will ever be wanting to hear but never receiving anything of value.

Here is the full text from Mark 4.

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

CHRISTIANS – THE REAL, THE PHONEY AND THE DIFFERENCE

Counterfeit Fifty Dollar Notes

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

First John 2:3-6

As with all things that have intrinsic value, Christianity has its share of fakes and counterfeits. What is more interesting than the fact is the motive. I know why someone would go to the trouble of making a real-looking hundred-dollar note, but why would anyone want to pose as a Christian? Well, there are a few well-known suspects. Some people as old as I am might remember the Oscar-winning performance of Burt Lancaster in a movie called “Elmer Gantry.“  It was the story of a slick car salesman falling for a lady revival preacher and discovering that there is money to be made as well as a girl’s heart to be won in small town revival meetings. It was Hollywood’s sad comment on the many revival preachers who combed small towns, especially in the southern states of the US.

It is evident from the words written by the apostle John (above) that fakes were not a late inclusion in Christian history. In the Roman world of the later first century, there must have been people who showed up among Christians whose commitment to Jesus Christ was false. What is notable is the only test he puts forward to tell the fake believers from the real ones was the degree to which they were Jesus-looking. If you have a closer look at what he says, it is obvious that a Jesus-looking process doesn’t happen just because someone wakes up and breathes. Becoming more like Jesus depends on two things: loving Him and therefore obeying his commands. Many will have had some exposure to books that talk about different “love languages” (The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). He lists the following:  gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch. Jesus also has a love language. It is obedience. Three times within the one discourse he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14-16). It’s not just obedience, it is love and therefore obedience. I think the reason for this is because there are many things that we need that don’t come naturally, but are necessary for our hearts to be transformed.  Obedience gets us from the place of no experience to some experience. When we obey it is not just a dutiful act, it is an action that gives expression to faith. Based on that faith we are supernaturally changed by God.

Getting back to fakes and phonies, if John is telling the truth, then being a Christian is not just about a momentary commitment any more than marriage is just about what you say in a ceremony. When we see people who may well belong to churches, speak Christian language and even be involved as leaders but who are not lovingly obedient to Jesus, we can only assume that they are not Christians at all. We have no authority to be judges (i.e. draw final conclusions), but we are entitled to be fruit inspectors. I think we need to be very clear that not everyone who claims to be a Christian IS a Christian. Genuine believers will be those who, when observed by others, demonstrate their faith in Christ by the fact that they are lovingly committed to obeying what Jesus has commanded (e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount) and who are therefore actively and deliberately becoming more and more like Jesus. We must expect that there are people who want to tell us that they are Christians, but their lifestyle will simply declare that they are not. We are not talking about a state of perfection; we are talking about a journey and a direction. Most of the people who want to claim Christianity but don’t have the lifestyle aggressively avoid any form of accountability. Those whose commitment to love Jesus is genuine are glad to know about things that need to be transformed and will foster their own ways of being accountable.

Churches in western culture places like Canberra, where I live, not only foster disobedience but encourage it by the pathetic way they produce never ending programs that are devoid of moral standards and geared to satisfy self-gratuitous consumers. When we encounter false disciples, it is not our job to judge them, but to lovingly expose and challenge them – as Jesus did with the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law during his three years of ministry.  This confrontation was entirely motivated by redemption, as ours should also be.