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.

 

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?

Dog jumping for joy

This is a doggy version of the way I want to serve Jesus !

 

I am not a righteous person, but I want to become righteous without comparing myself to anyone else but Jesus.

I am not always right, but I want to know what is right without noticing that I know.

I can’t yet do the things that I want to be able to do, but I want to learn how to do them.

This is the reason why I read the Bible a lot and try to embrace fully what it says. I read the Bible just because it connects me with Jesus and Jesus is the only person I know who shows me what God is like so that I can worship him, please him and help fulfil his purposes for the world that he loves. It is the reason I pray a lot, because if I don’t, I will not become different. It is the reason I hang out with other people who want to serve God because I get to see things that come from God in them and get encouraged to go after what I see in them and learn from them. I hang with a particular team of people that I do life and ministry with because they are the ones who lovingly keep me accountable to the commitments I have made. I can make mistakes without shame, and I can open my heart without fear.

So I just don’t really get the lifestyle that I see around me. So many Christian people I know don’t seem to need to read the Bible, don’t pray very much, are not really accountable to anyone and don’t take responsibility for much that relates to the advance of the kingdom of God. I don’t get people who show up to the weekly meeting of the church, on average, one and a half times per month. I just don’t get that. I don’t think I am judging them; I just don’t understand how that works.

What would it take for people to feel deeply the need to connect with the Father and the Son that they were hungry for his Word and desperate for his presence? What would it take for people to just obey what Jesus said rather than be selectively obedient? What would it take for a congregation to love worshipping together, praying together and going out with a determination to obey and bringing back stories of what God did and what didn’t work?

I don’t want to belong to church in the way that people belong to the Ainslie Football Club. It is a football club, but not many people join to play football. They join because it offers them lots of ways of being self-indulgence. I hate self-indulgence. It steals from the people who need our love, our patience our support and our resources. I don’t want to run a church like the managers of AFC run their club. I want to lead people to be passionate, selfless, risk-taking followers of Jesus.

So I want to find out what we need. Then I want to run to God because we need to be there so we will run to do things because we have been there. I was with a pastor of a large church recently. It had a membership of about ten thousand people. He told me that the church had been built on two things: persistent prayer and passionate obedience. That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of.

GOSPELLING Matthew 9.1

Miraculous Healing a Signpost for Religious Leaders

paralysed

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Matthew 9:1-8 

ALL THE INFORMATION

  1. Jesus returned to Capernaum from Gadara.
  2. Some men brought a paralysed man to him lying on a mat.
  3. Jesus saw their faith.
  4. Jesus told the paralysed man that his sins were forgiven.
  5. The teachers of the law who were watching thought that Jesus was committing the sin of blasphemy by presuming to be able to forgive the man – something that was reserved for God alone.
  6. Jesus knew what they were thinking.
  7. He addressed them by telling them that their judgmental thoughts were evil.
  8. He asked them which would be easier to do: to tell a paralysed person their sins were forgiven or to tell them to get up and walk.
  9. He said he was doing this so that they would know that he, the Son of Man, had authority to forgive sins on earth.
  10. He told the man to get up, pick up his mat and go home.
  11. The man did just that, he got up and went home.
  12. When the crowd that was around him saw this, they were filled with awe and began to praise God because of the authority that had been given to Jesus.

 

THE MESSAGE

Jesus….came to his own town.

This is the shortest version of the story. We are more familiar with other versions where the man is lowered through the roof by his friends. As previously mentioned, it is not my aim to gather a composite story from all of the accounts and then draw the message from there. My conviction is that the stories in different gospels exist as stand-alone stories with their own independent (even if similar) message. We will see what happens when we let this version bring its message without adding the details we know from the other account.

If we gather all of the information from this story we know that there was a crowd around Jesus as he arrived in the boat from the Gadarene region. There were also religious leaders there, teachers of the law in point of fact. These two groups of people represent very different attitudes and agendas. The crowd are there at worst to see the “show” and at best to check Jesus out for possible Messiah credentials, or perhaps they want to be healed. The religious leaders are there to check out the orthodoxy of this rabbit from Nazareth. They are going to check him against their tick boxes to see if he passes muster for traditional religious orthodoxy. Enter four people carrying a paralysed man.

 

“Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man…”

This particular incident starts out as a straightforward healing story. We have a paralysed man who needs a miracle. We have four friends whose sole intention is to get him to where Jesus is. This action is referred to as “Jesus, seeing their faith…” Pretty straightforward and accessible. We know from reading the rest of the story that the man eventually does get healed. If that was all this story was about the takeaway message would be for us to exercise similar faith by bringing our friends to Jesus – through prayer for example, or to a healing meeting with the intention of seeing them made well. But this is where the story takes a fascinating turn. For what it’s worth, I think we ought to be looking for these uncommon twists and turns in the ministry of Jesus. They will almost always highlight the difference between the life pattern of a servant of the kingdom of God (Jesus) and the normal operations of people who have been thoroughly trained in the ways of the kingdom of this world. If we were to make the healing of a lame man or the faith of four wonderful friends as the core message of this story, what happens next makes no sense. My way of understanding the Bible is to presume that the message from heaven through the story will be the one that is consistent with the whole story, not just a few verses from the story. I was taught, and believe even more firmly, that “a text without a context becomes a pretext.” So the message from heaven contained in this story must make sense of the whole story. While faith and healing are always going to be important, I don’t think it is the primary message we should take away from this incident.

 

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?

The question to be asked is “Why did Jesus tell the man his sins were forgiven?” Just take it slowly and allow the video of this scene to be played in your imagination. The men bring their friend to Jesus and Jesus turns his attention to their need. He honours their faith. This is wonderful. If the camera turns to their faces right now, they are delighted even more hopeful that their friend being healed. Then Jesus looks down at the man lying before him and says, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” I would be willing to bet that they were all surprised but also disappointed. I may be wrong, but I can’t think of a single other situation where Jesus required forgiveness as a pre-condition for healing.

The moment Jesus uttered those words in front of the whole crowd, there was probably a gasp of shock from the part of the crowd where the teachers of the law were standing. For Jesus to speak like this was regulation blasphemy. God alone had the authority to forgive sins. Anyone who did so was making themselves out to be equal with God and that was total blasphemy. Before they said anything aloud, Jesus let the whole crowd of people know exactly what they were thinking. This was a provocative thing to do, telling the crowd that the religious leaders were harbouring “evil thoughts.” I’m sure the teachers of the law didn’t, for a moment, think that what they were thinking was evil in any way, shape or form. Quite the contrary. They were defending the faith handed down from generation to generation. The religious status quo at the time of Jesus was most certainly in error. Jesus made that clear many times, with tears. They were supposed to be the custodians of the promises from heaven to send a Messiah King to rescue and restore Israel. Not only did they twist the whole thing around to serve themselves, but their strained theological systems made them capable of rejecting and even participating in the death of that same promised Messiah. Jesus is telling the truth. They are harbouring evil thoughts.

If the context (or the whole story) is the basis for understanding the message, then the diversion from the matter of healing the paralysed man has everything to do with his love for these sincere, but sincerely wrong teachers of the law. Love, it is indeed. He is giving them a chance to get the message.  That message is: HE IS, both Messiah and God. It takes more supernatural power to heal a lame man than it does to make a pronouncement about forgiveness (where there is no necessary externally measurable evidence). Jesus is offering them the opportunity to believe and accept that he is the Messiah King.

The bottom line must be that when Jesus saw a lame man being brought to him for healing, he saw it as an opportunity to reach out to the very people in the crowd who were probably farthest from the kingdom of God at that time. I cannot tell you how profoundly that impacts me as a person who wants to become more like Jesus. Think of all the alternative attitudes that Jesus could have had toward these people who shadowed his every movement with their criticism, disapproval and rejection. Think of being in a place where there are people who like you and another group who don’t. A servant of this world’s kingdom will tend to hang with the ones who approve and draw away from the ones who don’t. By stark contrast, the greatest ever Servant of the kingdom of God (Jesus) does exactly the opposite. He acts with redemptive intent toward the people who don’t like him. He draws close to them, even if it is seen to be more than a little confronting. This love gets inside their world and gives them a chance. Even if they don’t take it, it makes no difference to the intent and generosity of the offer. What if we made a habit of being like that? It would create a Jesus-looking, loving revolution. We would get in trouble for doing good things rather than the way is common these days – Christians and Christian leaders getting into trouble for doing horrible things.

 

Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

The end of the story belongs to the crowd, rather than to the teachers of the law. There is no doubt the incident had an impact. These religious leaders, who were the focus of special loving attention from Jesus, didn’t get the message. The redemptive power of this is a remembrance etched in their minds that would always proclaim the gospel. In that sense, their lives would never be quite the same. I have heard too many stories of people who initially rejected but, like Paul, couldn’t sustain the internal “pricking” of the Holy Spirit. These men would always remember that it wasn’t just that a man was healed. It was the message Jesus was conveying through the healing.

The crowd reacted quite differently. They saw a man brought to Jesus who couldn’t walk and saw that same man get up and walk home carrying his mat. What was once a sign of his suffering became the trophy of his redemption. He met Jesus twice. Once as the rescuer from sin and again as the champion of the disabled. The crowd didn’t just see a man who could work miracles. They saw it as it genuinely was – something that made known the glory of God. They knew it was Jesus connection to God that had made this possible. That was as good an entry point to the kingdom as any.

 

WHAT IF THIS WERE COMPLETELY FULFILLED IN MY LIFE?

Jesus provides us with a beautiful display of God’s constant redemptive purpose. What we pay attention to matters. If Jesus was always operating according to what he saw his Father doing (cp. John 5), then we can assume that on this occasion the Father’s attention was drawn to these stubborn, defensive religious leaders. Probably they were only there to criticise and condemn. Not the warmest and cuddly people in the crowd. If I were in that kind of crowd, I would have probably avoided them rather than reaching out to them. It seems from the moment a paralysed man was set down in front of him Jesus was intent on giving these leaders their best shot at getting the message about who he was. It was hardly subtle, but it was intentional. A simple healing agenda became inclusive of a special outreach to the people in the space who were furthest from God.

I think I am a bad judge of who is closer and who is further from God. Besides, if you go for those who are furthest, you will, by definition also reach those who were closest. That happened in this incident. If this kingdom focus were a part my life, I would always be open to an agenda that was designed to reach those furthest from God in any group. I can remember one time when some of us who were seeking to reach people for Christ in our spheres decided that we would make a special effort to reach the “hardest” person in the given space. In my case, that started a relationship that is ongoing, close, valued and still having kingdom impact.

I’m going to look for the un-obvious agenda as well as the obvious one. I’m also going to practice looking for the unlikely people as well as the likely ones.  This is a feature of the kingdom of God.

 

HOW THE GOSPEL WAS PROCLAIMED

When a lame man gets up and walks at the command of Jesus, the gospel is proclaimed. Both the man himself, his friends and the crowd all witnessed the same work of grace and power from heaven. This gave them a clear revelation that Jesus was the Messiah, and they were able to put their faith in him.

When Jesus exercises the authority that only belongs to God by forgiving sins, and then backs it up through the demonstration of God’s power to heal, the message is the same: this man is the Messiah, the Son of God and the King of the kingdom of God.

In this instance, the ordinary people in the crowd got that message. We are not told whether or not they became believers, but we know they got the message because they saw what happened and praised God – not just Jesus. They made the connection. When the religious leaders were challenged to believe that Jesus was God through the demonstration of healing power, regardless of their response, they saw and heard the gospel.

PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL Matthew 8.6

CONFRONTING DEMONS IN GADARA

demons and pigs

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Matthew 8:24-38

 

THE INFORMATION

  1. Jesus arrived at a different place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee known as the region of the Gadarenes
  2. Two demon-possessed men came out from some tombs to meet him.
  3. They were known to be so violent that no one would come near them.
  4. They referred to Jesus as the Son of God.
  5. They asked him what he was planning to do with them.
  6. They asked if he had come to torture them before the appointed time.
  7. It happened that a herd of pigs was feeding nearby.
  8. They asked Jesus if, when he drove them out, they could go into the pigs.
  9. He told them to go.
  10. They came out of the two men and entered into the pigs.
  11. The whole herd of pigs then rushed down the embankment into the water and drowned.
  12. The workers who were looking after the pigs ran to the town and told everyone what had happened.
  13. They also told how the two men were free from demonic oppression.
  14. The whole town came out to see Jesus.
  15. When they saw him they begged him to leave the area.

 

THE MESSAGE

The region of the Gadarenes

The mention of the Gadarene region raises an issue that is important if we are to allow the Bible to bring the message to us rather than getting a message from outside the text and importing it into the text. Commentators do this all the time. They sometimes give elaborate background information, sometimes to the point where that information becomes the primary evidence for getting the message. The theological word for this is “eisegesis” (reading meaning into the text rather than “exegesis” which getting meaning out of the text). While I am not going to argue the point on this, I think we still need to be wary of the presumption that the people who have done the most historical research are the ones who will have the greatest access to the gospel message.

We just need to notice the evidence that we are given in the story. We know that there were two seriously demonized men living in a cave by the edge of the Sea. They were sufficiently demonized to make it unsafe for people to go near them for fear of being harmed. We also know that when the demons were driven out by the simple command of Jesus, and they entered into the herd of pigs it was sufficiently powerful to cause all of the pigs to rush down a steep bank and drown in the deep water. We also know that when people from the nearby town came out to see Jesus, they just wanted him to go. All of that suggests that the whole region may have been heavily influenced by a demonic presence.

As far as this account in Matthew is concerned, this is the limit of the information we are given. I have made it a practice for some time now NOT to go gathering up all the information from all of the gospels to make a single composite story. I know many of the people who write commentaries make a bit thing of this. I don’t think it is particularly helpful. We don’t usually read the Bible to prepare for a test on our accumulation of information. We read to discover God’s message so that we can embrace and obey it. And that’s why and how these stories were collected and re-told. It is our western culture that makes us want to build a single composite picture using all of the versions of this story, not having a passion for Jesus.  Among other things, it is our way of gaining control by using certain forms of analysis and then developing a system from it.[1] There are at least two unhealthy outcomes from these processes.  Firstly they create a presumption that unless we learn all of these skills we will not be able to get the message of the text and secondly, that

Here is the basis for my approach.  if Matthew is telling this story, he is not asking us to wait till Mark and Luke tell their stories so we can get the full and complete message, or compare the accounts so that we can be really clever and speculate about which account came first. These stories were told by the gospel writers so that their hearers could discover and put their faith in Jesus. Matthew’s story is a stand-alone story. It carries a message that was valued at the time when it was collected by Matthew. It was collected because it carried divine power then as it does without the help of information from other stories. Just let the story bring you it’s message. That’s what I say.

Two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met Jesus as he arrived.

This rather strange incident gives us insight into some of the operations of the spiritual realm. There are very strange things going on here. We ought to be wary of building doctrinal edifices from this information, but it is helpful to gain understanding. These two men are profoundly demonized. They don’t speak or act like normal rational people. The demons have taken over.

With the arrival of Jesus, the spiritual equation has changed. We know that when other people came near, the demonized men used their destructive power to threaten or cause harm, but from the moment Jesus arrived the balance of power shifted totally. And the demons were the first ones to recognize both the power-shift and the person who made the difference. It seems from the information we are given that the demons, aware of the power and authority of Jesus, made a beeline to him seeking some kind of compromise deal. Their initial response was to declare Jesus identity as the Son of God. Then they admitted that their ultimate doom was sealed – “have you come to torment us before the time?” Then they put their proposition: “You can have dominion in the lives of these two men, but at least let us keep a little bit of territory by going into the herd of pigs.” This is pretty weird stuff for those of us who have been born and raised with the idea that life is a matter of a material world controlled by ability and reason.

He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs,

If it is possible to put some of the strange historical detail aside and concentrate on the core activity for a minute it is clear that Jesus’ authority over these menacing spiritual beings is as simple and clear as it can be. Like his approach to healing, there is no need for long explanations or the need to say things that try to bolster greater self-confidence. He just gave one simple command, “Go.” As I have already said, there has been a sudden and amazing power shift in the situation. Suddenly the men are faced with the idea that they will no longer need to live in these tormented and destructive circumstances. They have been pawns of a tragic power play. No one knows the reason, but we all know how horribly sad it must have been.

I’m sure that many of you are well aware of the information given in other accounts of this incident. Jesus asks the demons to identify themselves and instead of running down a long list they simply refer to the number of them – a thousand, i.e. “legion.” The reason I am not using that information here is because I want to allow the story told by Matthew to tell the message intended. We can go read the other version and let it do the same another time. Whether there are ten or a thousand it makes no difference to Jesus. His authority is actioned by the uttering of a single word of command. This was the way the Roman Centurion understood the realm of spiritual authority.  The centurion (Matthew 8) could command one or all of his hundred men with the same simple command. He had that authority and they were under that authority. The same is true in this case. No matter how severe the effect had been on these two men, and no matter how long it had been going on, the solution was just the same. A single word of command from the Person who had the appropriate authority. This should be the objective for those of us who, on a scale of one to ten, are at number four wanting to get a greater sense of what it is like to exercise the authority of Jesus as he has commanded us to do.

So they came out and went into…and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.

This is where the story gets a bit sticky for some people who ask the very obvious question as to why the Son of God might ‘punish’ a bunch of innocent pigs by setting a bunch of destructive demonic spirits upon them. Let’s pick off the obvious non-answers. Firstly, there is no truth in the rumour that God hates pigs (or that he hates figs; ( Mark 11:14). Secondly, we would not presume that Jesus’ authority was limited by the fact that he was in a region that was highly demonized. The suggestion that this was God’s judgment upon Jews who were breaking the law by herding pigs is equally flawed. If there is to be an answer to this question it must be consistent with the idea that God (and therefore Jesus) was not having a “bad hair” day. This is a good God who does loving but sometimes harsh-looking things for loving and redemptive reasons. It is important that we ask every question we have, but we must not give speculation the same value as evidence. My own approach is to look for the answers within the context of the story. If there are a series of stories linked together, then we can keep reading those stories in their order to see if the context provides the answers. In this case, I think we will find the most satisfactory answer by noticing the outcome.

Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this,

The thread of the story that leads to the end starts when the demons spoke through the men, asking Jesus to let them go into the pigs. Jesus gave the word of command. They went out from the men, leaving those men free and normal. When the demons entered the pigs they became totally suicidal. That may give us an insight into the difference between the makeup of animals compared with the only species created in the image and likeness of God. Constrained by malevolent supernatural force the whole herd ran straight down the steep slope and drowned in the water. Even though we are pretty sure pigs can’t fly, they actually can swim. So the drowning was as supernaturally driven as the urge to rush down the hill.

The men who were looking after the pigs witnessed all of this. If they were witnessing a football game between the power of God and the power of the prince of darkness the score was now:

Men (X2) – free and restored;

Pigs (herd) – totally destroyed;

Demonic power – broken.

The men had witnessed a divine power encounter. They told their friends in the nearby village what had happened, not just to the pigs but to the two men. On the strength of this story the whole population of the village came out to see for themselves. Unlike the people in Sychar (John 4) who came out because they wanted to discover Jesus like the woman had done, these people came out as a protest group to object to what had happened. In both cases Jesus had made known his identity and purpose; in very different ways of course, but it was the same message. I think it is hugely informative of the Jesus way of making the kingdom known. In the case of the Samaritan woman, it was prophetic revelation and forgiveness. In the case of the Gadarene people, it was demonstrating the power of King Jesus over the forces of darkness that were occupying the region. Two men were free and in their right minds and all the pigs were dead. Even though the men looking after the pigs were eye-witnesses of all these things, it is likely that they totally missed the message. They could have taken a message that two men whose lives had been totally destroyed were free and whole. We don’t know what they said of course. We do know the effect it had on the people of the town. It seems that in this town, the liberation of two crazy guys in the tombs wasn’t important. It seems that the presence of the visitor who had the power to destroy demons wasn’t wanted. This happened in Ephesus when coppersmiths were losing money and tried to cause trouble for Paul and the church (Acts 19). There is no doubt that Christian revival does impact the economy. In the Welsh revival, many businesses selling alcohol went broke. It also caused many police to be laid off because of the severe drop in the crime rate.

So all of the people in this village got a shot at a new way of living. Jesus made the gospel of the kingdom very clear to them all. The destructive nature of demonic power was exposed and destroyed. It was plain for all to see.  Instead of rushing to embrace this message they held onto what they had and begged Jesus to go instead. Even so, the spiritual equation in the region was changed. The kingdom of God now had two transformed lives. In one of the other accounts, we are told that Jesus commissioned them to go everywhere in their region and tell their story. This is the way of the kingdom. It starts with a small seed or a tiny speck of yeast. That presence enables a mighty tree or a whole loaf to happen.

 

IF THIS WERE FULLY HAPPENING IN MY LIFE

The ministry of casting out demons seems to easily default into two extremes.  There have been individuals and churches that have specialized in deliverance ministry.  It seems to me that a lot of what goes under the heading of deliverance ministry is quite different from what we are told about Jesus or the apostles.  The other default is just as difficult.  It seems there is a presumption that demons left western society either with the enlightenment or the industrial revolution.  The presumption is that while there may be a demon or two in non-western societies, they don’t show up in the west or maybe they no longer exist.  Both of these should be avoided.  I have experienced a few occasions where I was confronted with demonic manifestations – but I remain a first year apprentice with a lot to learn.  So if what Jesus models here were fulfilled in my life, I would have a greater sense of the authority of Jesus. I wouldn’t worry if the only two people I got to meet were demonized. I would start the ministry by embracing Jesus’ vision to see the kingdom of God coming to every part of the earth and the will of God being done instead of the will of demons. I would not be dissuaded by the fact that the larger group of people rejected the message, but know that God could use the two people do did respond.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PREACHED IN THIS SITUATION?

The gospel was preached through the act of Jesus casting out the demons and sending them into the pigs. The resultant suicidal action of the pigs and their drowning ought to have been a clear sign of the destructive power of the prince of darkness and it should have drawn people to put their trust in the authority and love of Jesus rather than go on coping in the presence of severe demonic power. Although I have had limited exposure to direct demonic confrontation in evangelistic situations, I can see that this is a very powerful proclamation of the gospel and it enables people to make a choice to put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah King.

[1] To get a better idea of these elaborate systems, all you have to do is start reading books that have tried to establish original sources and inject all kinds of philosophical methods to the process of understanding the text:  source criticism, redaction criticism, form criticism, historical criticism textual criticism etc.  All of these are philosophical positions that are imposed on the story from the outside.

ANTI-ACADEMIC or PRO-REPRODUCIBILITY?

many_rabbits

I have just had an argument with myself.  I’m not going to tell you who won because I don’t want to sound either arrogant or depressed.  It has to do with the mountain range that has been built in western Christian culture through academic study.  My argument was to question whether something I was writing was going to sound banally anti-academic.  I wouldn’t be able to say that I am tribally anti-academic.  By that I mean, I don’t like reading or studying, so I belittle people who do.  I spent seven years in theological training before my ordination.  Three different institutions.  I reckon I read a new book every fortnight.  Then there are audio teaching, podcasts and the like. I would say that would put me to the right of centre on the spectrum.

What I am critical of is the idea that more study and greater learning will make a person a better follower of Jesus.  More to the point, that academic work will enable a person to be better at reproducing disciples or exercising kingdom ministry in general.  I am not convinced of that.  I see all of the places where Christian people go to learn how to serve God and find that many of the people doing the teaching are hardly serving God at all – apart from gathering, analysing and representing information.  I know, I know, it doesn’t apply to everyone who does academic work as part of their training.  I just notice that academic training, in and of itself, does not necessarily equip a person for reproducible ministry.  It often just makes them academic experts.

There is a branch of philosophy that studies epistemology.  It is researching the theory of knowing, or how we come to know things.  Its original meaning was made up of two Greek words, one referring to “justified belief” and “knowledge.”  So it studies how we know things and come to conclusions about what is true.  This is a crucial issue for Christians of course.  We are people who are convinced that Jesus is the “way, the truth and the life.” (John 14).  We also have a book that we believe is revealed truth.  My problem is that I am not sure that the epistemological process is the same for embracing Christian truth as it is for mainstream academic truth.  For example, I am not convinced anyone can discover the truth just be gaining a body of information.  My observation of the regular academic world (and I may not have done sufficiently extensive research) makes me conclude that it is possible to do academic study in a particular field nd then spend the rest of your life teaching about that area without any involvement in actual practice.

I am convinced that this is not possible when it comes to Christian revelation (knowledge of God).  At the risk of oversimplification, I would offer Jesus’ quote on the subject of epistemology:   “So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31,32).  This is my proposition. I think academic research is helpful when the researchers are willing to put into practice what they have discovered and present their findings by telling the stories of their implementation.  Until then I think academic research has limited value and can often get in the road of best practice Christian living.

The same goes for background study or elaborate philosophical speculation about the simple message that is represented in the stories contained in the Bible.  It is even worse when someone comes to read a particular incident or section of the Bible with a rigidly presumed systemic view (e.g. Calvinism, pre-millennialism, etc.).  The stories in the Bible are meant to connect us with Jesus.  When we get connected to Jesus, we gain the life and liberty that comes with truth.  When we decide to live by that life and liberty, we will know things.  The most important issue here is re-producibility.  That simple process is re-producible.  Everyone is in, and no one is excluded.  It works the same for everyone no matter how old, young, educated, uneducated, rich or poor.

So I am only interested in theories that have become practices.  There is no such thing as theoretical  Christianity.  And there is no such thing as a Christian truth that is not able to be reproduced in anyone, anywhere no matter who they are and what their capacity.

And I don’t need to tell you who won the argument.  My great humility makes it impossible.

PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL Matthew 8.5

 

violent storm

REIGNING IN THE POWER OF THE STORM

Then he got into the boat, and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:23-27

INFORMATION

  1. Having come from Capernaum to this place by boat, Jesus and the disciples got back into the boat to sail across to the Gadarene region. (see Matt. 8:28ff.)
  2. A massive storm arose suddenly. It was so severe that the waves began to break over the boat.
  3. Jesus was sleeping in the boat.
  4. The disciples woke him up.
  5. They asked him to save them because they feared they would be drowned in the storm.
  6. Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith, asking what reason they had for being so fearful.
  7. Jesus got up from where he had been sleeping and rebuked the wind and the waves.
  8. The wind stopped supernaturally; the waves supernaturally dissipated so that the sea was calm.
  9. The disciples were amazed at the authority that Jesus had displayed – extending to natural elements like wind and waves.

THE MESSAGE

A very sudden life-threatening storm

There have been some differing opinions regarding this storm. Some people think it was just a more severe natural weather event as we are accustomed to seeing in many variations around the world. It must be obvious to everyone that there are aspects of the natural order that are malevolent. They have the power to destroy. Sometimes it is human foolishness that causes death in natural circumstances – e.g. people climbing Mt. Everest. But when a tectonic plate shifts and a nine-metre wave is formed, one could hardly blame the unsuspecting people living along the coast for the horrific destruction that ensues (although there are sadly some who want to see it as God “getting even with some people he hates”). Some of those who think this was a demonic attack on Jesus support that view by the fact that Jesus “rebuked” the storm. It is certainly possible. I would think it is highly speculative and unreliable. One of the reasons I am not persuaded is because there is simply no hard evidence for it. In the cases where Jesus was dealing with demonic oppression in people, it was always explicitly named as a demon. For example, some sicknesses were caused by resident demons and other ailments were not. In the cases where a demonic spirit was present, Jesus told it to get out. In the cases where there was a malady without demonic presence, Jesus commanded healing. Simple and clear.

In any case, we are not helped in this situation by such speculations. It doesn’t matter whether it was a demon or not. It is careless to go off on this kind of speculative journey. We end up missing the pointers IN the story. What we do know is that there was a sudden storm with a ferocity that made seasoned sailors and fishermen fear for their lives.

But Jesus was sleeping in the boat

Those of us who have a sincere desire to know Jesus and serve the kingdom of God more effectively need to keep looking at the difference between Jesus and the rest. Jesus is the model of a servant of the kingdom as well as being its king. That’s the difference between a Jesus-looking king and the kings of most other kingdoms. This King didn’t come to be served but to “serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) He is, therefore, the model member of the kingdom of God.

The contrast, in this case, is spectacular. Just imagine the scene thirty seconds before Jesus was woken. The disciples were scared out of their wits. They were doing everything they knew how in the hope of survival. Regardless of their skill and experience they were not able to match the fury of the storm. Jesus was sleeping. The story is not suggesting that all of the men in the boat should have been sleeping like Jesus. His response to them, when woken, makes that clear. Jesus didn’t share their fear of the storm and was disappointed that all they could think about doing was to be afraid. Neither should we assume that the storm should have been ignored. Once again, Jesus’ response makes that clear as well.

This scene on the lake called for an awareness of the “good news of the kingdom of God.” That news was in Jesus but not in the disciples. They were in a position to choose which news they would listen to, and they chose to believe the bad news of this world’s kingdom rather than the good news of the kingdom of God.

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

There is a very different relationship contract between Jesus and his disciples than the one he has with the crowds and others. When someone from the crowd came to Jesus, he always offered them the very best of the kingdom of God: healing, forgiveness, freedom, worth. They came and went without obligation. With the disciples, there was a different understanding. They were called to follow and were expected to learn. They were the potential leaders of the next generation of kingdom ministry.  On this particular day they failed to fulfill that obligation. They were supposed to think and act as citizens of the kingdom of God and they thought and acted like citizens of the kingdom-of-this-world. These disciples are representative of all disciples of all generations. We must see our calling in theirs and these events are recorded so that we will be encouraged as well as taught. Their failure will help us to see that failure doesn’t disqualify us from continuing the journey, as is evident in their case.

Jesus would not be chastising his disciples unless it was reasonable. If I ask my six-year-old son to jump over a two-metre wall and chastise him when he fails, it is unreasonable. If it is not possible, I am the one at fault for asking him to do it rather than he for failing. In such a case it is not a matter of choice, but a matter of capability. If I ask the same son to bring his empty plate from the table to the sink, and he doesn’t do it, I am justified in scolding him because he was capable but chose not to. It is the same with Jesus and his disciples in the boat. He scolded them because they had a choice but didn’t do what they could and should have done. We must conclude that Jesus expected that if they were facing an otherwise life-threatening storm on the lake, and Jesus was sleeping, they should have realised that weather was within kingdom of God jurisdiction. The kingdom of God is God’s domain. If God created weather, it follows that he has authority over weather. As the narrative of Jesus ministry is recorded in this gospel, this was the first time Jesus and the disciples had been in a storm on the lake. They had no previous experience of Jesus taking authority over a storm. They had seen him have power over physical illnesses and demons. Apparently he was expecting them to draw the conclusion that the same power displayed over sicknesses and demons should cover things like life-threatening storms on the lake. Their amazement at what happens shows they didn’t even come close to drawing that conclusion.

 

”The men were amazed.”

As I said, the amazement of the disciples reflects the kind of compartmental thinking that all of us seem so prone to emulate. Jesus is being revealed as the King of the kingdom of God. These disciples had the kingdom of God pegged to the political status of Israel. If Jesus had walked away from his baptism in the river, gone to Jerusalem, been welcomed by the religious leaders and then miraculously set about getting rid of the Romans it would all have been entirely consistent with what they expected from a messiah. He was Israel’s Messiah and a hundred prophetic passages from the Scriptures had them convinced that ethnic and political Israel was the only group of people the this king was going to bless. That blessing would include a visitation of wrath on all Israel’s enemies. They would be vindicated along with their discriminatory attitudes and their enemies would cop a belting for mistreating them. This kind of partitioning so profoundly misrepresents the nature as well as the purpose of God. It is so incompatible with anything that could be considered Jesus-looking.

Although this incident, along with others of its kind, defined Jesus royal credentials as cosmic rather than ethnic he wasn’t just putting on a show. He was just creating a royal pathway to the next royal enterprise. In this case he was heading for the heavily demonised region of the Gadarenes. This fact is often referred to by those who want to support their speculation about the storm being demonically inspired. They suggest that it was an advance party trying to stop Jesus from going there. It is possible, but highly speculative. I think it is more in keeping with the evidence to see it as a King using royal authority to deal with everything that would stand in the way of him fulfilling his purpose. More importantly it is a challenge to all disciples of every generation who face barriers of all kinds in their commitment to complete the work that Jesus began. I don’t think it is warrant for those of us who come from self-indulgent cultures to command winter temperatures to rise, or summer ones to fall just because we feel uncomfortable. We have heard thousands of testimonies of believers calling on the power of God to rescue them from life-threatening situations. It is definitely an encouragement for them (and us) to do so.

WHAT WOULD THIS LOOK LIKE IF IT WAS HAPPENING IN MY LIFE?

As with all of the examples of Jesus being and proclaiming the kingdom of God, this is a challenge and needs to be part of a faith journey. In contrast to parts of the church that have become wholly or partially deistic [1], we should be challenged by what Jesus expected from his disciples. He challenges us to think like kingdom of God people and act accordingly. Jesus made it quite clear to his disciple that he expected them to exercise His authority – i.e. in His Name in the work he commissioned them to complete (Matthew 28:18-20 and others). In the same way we must be challenged to think and act in a way that sees God’s will being done on the earth as it is in heaven. There will be questions and mysteries around this as we make this journey, but we must not stop. When Jesus made the message of the kingdom of God known it was not some future reality for people to hope for. He healed people there and then. He forgave them, liberated them, esteemed them and provided for them. It all happened in their circumstances and at that time. We are called to do likewise.

If in the process of serving Jesus and the kingdom of God, I find myself coming up against a literal life-threatening storm or a similar threat I intend to take my cue from this and similar stories in the gospels. I am going to attack the threat by exercising the authority that belongs to Jesus the King and expects that God will intervene to remove the threat. In addition, I am hoping that if I was planning something that would fulfill God’s purpose with a high degree of risk or danger, I would not modify the plan to avoid the risk, but trust the same God who intervened in the circumstances of his Son to remove the threat.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED IN THIS INCIDENT?

Through these circumstances, the disciples were able to witness first-hand the authority and the kingdom of Jesus the King.  Sadly, the gospel has often been restricted in its scope to the idea of having sins forgiven and going to heaven. In reality, the gospel is the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah/King. That term assumes God’s dealings with Israel as revealed in the Old Testament. It is impossible to understand Messiah without having any knowledge of Abraham and his descendants. It is, certainly, possible to come to know the Messiah without knowing that history but, having come to know opens the door to what can be known. This event in the experience of the disciples demonstrated Jesus’ kingly power and authority. If a non-Jew had been in the boat, he/she would have had a revelation of the Messiah. The amazement of the Jewish disciples did not presume Old Testament awareness. But when we see Jesus doing a God-thing like stopping a storm, we will want to understand who He is and why He is so amazing. That would require us to learn about Jesus from the record of the Old Testament. Who would not want to follow and serve such a Person and complete such a purpose?

[1]      (i.e. there is no such thing as supernatural intervention OR we should not presume that God should directly intervene OR we are wrong to think that we should be able to exercise this kind of authority)

BEING INTENTIONAL !

FINDING A WAY

 

Some time ago I was sitting at a lunch gathering of leaders and opposite to me was a young man from New York who was visiting Australia.  He was a very passionate, confident young bloke and we connected well.  In the course of the conversation, we discussed some of the critical features of high-quality leadership.  He asked me this question:  “If you had to put a percentage on the importance of intention over against strategy or method how would you compare them?”

My thoughts immediately focused on how many meetings I had been to where ambitious intentions and goals were talked about but where little was actually done.  So I said that it should be twenty percent intention and eighty percent strategy, i.e. (in my way of thinking) work !

He said that I was making a distinction between real and spurious intentions.  He suggested that the matter of accomplishing a goal or task as a leader depended solely on intention.  There had to be one hundred percent intention.  If you fully intend to do something, there may be fifty different ways, and you might fail fifty times. If the intention is one hundred percent, all of those things will be relatively insignificant.  The total commitment or intention will see them as mere stepping stones or minor disruptions and simply get on with the task of finding the way to accomplish the goal.

I agree with him.  It does come down to intention.

What I had experienced so often in meetings with leaders was much more about ideas and opinions rather than real intentions.  I then realised how rarely I had been with a group of leaders who had the ability and the opportunity to see breakthrough and change who were actually willing to commit totally.  We live in a culture that is plagued by all kinds of broken commitments.  People say words but mean little.  They set out on a journey but rarely reach the destination.  I started in a class of twenty-four at theological college.  Less than five are still doing what they committed and trained to do.  Now we run on short term contracts and half-hearted commitments.

I remember what Jesus said when three people offered to follow him – he didn’t challenge the sincerity of their offer.  He did challenge their expectation and level of commitment.  In the story from Luke 9, Jesus said that the first person was in danger of dropping out because of it would be too uncertain and uncomfortable.  The other two were going to fail because they would be drawn to pitting following Jesus against family obligations.

I wonder what it would be like to have a one hundred percent intention to follow Jesus?  It would involve a one hundred percent intention to discover the fulness of everything he commanded.  There’s a place to start.  Start with a one hundred percent intention to see a single commandment completely fulfilled in your life.  Then go to the next and then the next.  Then make sure that you know what the Holy Spirit is telling you and have a one hundred percent intention of doing what the Holy Spirit says.  Don’t just make a silent private decision.  Tell one or two people who love you and ask them to help you fulfil your intention.

I am of the view that ALL Christian enterprise requires only one thing:  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT INTENTION.

PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL #8

Lambs following

Matthew 8.4        CONDITIONAL FOLLOWING?

Matthew 8:18-22

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

INFORMATION

  1. The crowds that had gathered after sunset kept hanging around.
  2. Jesus told the disciples to take himself (and the disciples) across to the other side of the lake.
  3. When they landed a teacher of the law came up to Jesus offering to follow him.
  4. He said he would follow Jesus wherever he went.
  5. Jesus warned him that following the Messiah/King was different to following regular people who had positions of status or importance. There were no perks and no guarantee of comfort. An example of this was the fact that Jesus didn’t even know where he would be sleeping the next night.
  6. Upon hearing this, a disciple (probably not one of the twelve) who had begun to follow him must have become a little concerned and wanted clarification regarding the matter of obligations toward his family.
  7. Jesus told him that he needed to make a commitment to follow without allowing things like cultural obligations to be seen as mutually exclusive, conditional or co-dependant.

MESSAGE

The other side of the lake

It is of significance to me that Jesus didn’t simply become the focus of attention of the crowd in some populist way. We know from elsewhere in the gospels that Jesus avoided cultural populism like the plague. That’s a harder call to make than we might think. In our culture popularity is seen as a kind of ultimate endorsement. The biggest groups are regarded as being further up the hierarchical scale than smaller groups. I have observed good Christian ministries measuring their success by the number of times they are mentioned in the media. It may not be the most important issue going around, but it seems of significance regarding gospel ministry. Once the job has been done, its time to move on to the next job. In Jesus’ case, that meant leaving the crowd and going across the lake later in the evening. This would be like the experience of Philip (Acts 8), who was in the middle of a successful ministry in Samaria when he was called by the Holy Spirit to find an Ethiopian man heading home across the desert.

A teacher of the law

For a teacher of the law to approach Jesus in this manner is both unusual and commendable on his part. I can’t think of another place where a teacher of the law came to Jesus wanting to follow him. We know from elsewhere that these people normally saw themselves as defenders of traditional attitudes, practices and interpretations that hindered their recognition of Jesus as the Messiah/King. They normally opposed Jesus and defended the religious status quo. This teacher obviously saw something most of his colleagues missed. He saw signs that confirmed Jesus as the promised Messiah. Like the twelve apostles, he probably thought that Jesus acted a bit strangely for the kind of Messiah they were anticipating, but may have presumed that it would all work out in the end. Jesus would show his hand, gather his army, miraculously overthrow Rome and Israel would be ushered into an even greater prominence than happened in the time of King Solomon. If all of that were true, he was offering to go anywhere and do anything to be a part of it. The presumption was that there would be status happening eventually, and he was willing to wait for that time.

Foxes have holes

This answer by Jesus has always had an air of mystery around it. Some would see Jesus’ response as being harsh or unwarranted. There is no doubt that Jesus was willing to use hyperbole to make sure the message had a sharp edge, but the stuff about foxes and birds would almost certainly have caused offence at most and surprise at least. I think the best way to search for the meaning and message here is to assume that Jesus is operating with complete consistency to the character and motives we see in him every day. He was compassionate, loving, straightforward, insightful and redemptive. His record shows that he was willing to offer all comers the very best of the kingdom of God as it was appropriate for them in a given setting.

If that is the case, then I want to suggest that this response was just as loving, just as compassionate and just as redemptive. I think Jesus was speaking to this precious man’s unspoken expectations. It is important to notice that Jesus was not rejecting his offer, just making sure the bottom line was clear. Jesus did not drop the price of discipleship to attract the numbers. This man was a teacher of the law. He had status in the society. As such he would have been accustomed to honour and privilege. Jesus was merely spelling out the fact that the kingdom of God didn’t operate the same way as the kingdom of religious tradition. The King in this kingdom didn’t know from one day to the next where he would be sleeping that night. No four-star accommodation. No lurks and perks. No regular status. The symbols of status in the kingdom of God are so radically different from those of this world’s kingdom. It is disturbing that these symbols are so uncommon when you look around. They are almost totally displaced by other symbols – the ones we see every day everywhere else in our culture but shouldn’t see in the church.

Lord first let me go and bury my father

This man is a disciple. He is there because he has already decided to follow Jesus. Interesting that he asks this question after the teacher of the law finished his conversation. He may have been a little unsettled by Jesus’ answer. Perhaps he thought there would be a clash or priority when it came to his obligations to his family.

Once again Jesus’ response would seem harsh. Was he saying that the man wasn’t allowed to have a day off to attend his father’s funeral? That would certainly be severe.

It is important that we use the biggest picture to provide a backdrop for smaller detail when a matter is not clear from its immediate context. If Jesus was redemptive, loving, merciful and compassionate, what in the world is going on in this statement? Perhaps it would be helpful to think of it in another way. If God is love, and Jesus is love, and if LOVE needed to say something like this, what sort of circumstances might warrant such a statement? My guess is that there was more than the idea of going to a funeral. Culturally, he was probably wanting to make sure that following Jesus did not cut across any of the family obligations. Perhaps he was saying that he wouldn’t be fully available to follow until his father died. Perhaps it had to do with inheritance rites?  – who knows?

Once again, the commitment to follow Jesus is being set up against family obligations as if they are mutually exclusive. It is wrong to think of Jesus as the despotic overlord whose jealous grab for power cannot tolerate any hint of a competitor. To suggest anything of the sort would be to deny almost everything revealed about Jesus in the gospels. This matter involves an entirely different principle. It is the question of getting things in the right order. In the first place, Jesus is Lord – loving and gracious but still Lord. My family and whatever loving obligations I should rightly have are also part of this Lord’s domain. If I get the ‘Lord’ bit wrong, I miss the domain as well. If I get the ‘Lord” bit right, then I can trust that this Lord loves my family and will want me to express that love in every appropriate form. But my family can’t be given the role of “Lord.” That will stuff everything up and everyone will lose. If I serve Jesus as Lord, that is a win for my family. If I serve my family as Lord, we all lose.

Jesus sums up this equation by referring to the part of society that has not discovered his “Lordship.” He rightly describes them as devoid of the “life” that only comes from heaven. They are “dead” to the experience of “eternal life.” This order within society goes on operating according to the various customs and principles that are adopted. If they continue to make that choice, it is sad, but it is also the created reality of a God of love. No free-will, no love. Love requires free-will to be love. So people can choose death. It is important that we do not operate by the principles that apply in the ‘death’ part of society. If we do, there is no way for people to see and hear and taste the message of the gospel. Jesus was lovingly challenging this to get his discipleship into order and to make sure that he wasn’t going to try to serve two masters instead of one.

WHAT IF THIS LOOK LIKE IF IT WAS HAPPENING IN MY LIFE?

If this message had its way in my life, I would always understand that trusting and serving Jesus without exception was the best thing for me and anybody around me. There have been some bad examples of this, and I have been guilty of them. We have all seen fathers, mothers, sons and daughters justify their lack of commitment to their families and others based on the fact that they were serving Jesus. I have seen this a lot among ministry colleagues and, as I said, have done the same thing. I was serving God and out every night of the week. Nola was doing the work of raising four children without my support and every time she complained I would explain that I had to fulfil my “high calling.” I had made the two most important things in my life fight each other and marriage and family usually lost. Bad, bad deal!

But the other is also a bad deal. If I decide that serving Jesus has to come at the end of my obligations to my immediate family, I have made serving him dependent on serving my family. Also a bad, bad deal. This is happening today in the church like you wouldn’t believe. Serving Jesus is placed at the end of family, comfort, career, money, holidays. No wonder the church is a sad sloppy reflection of most of the rest of our society (we are the same as everyone else except we read a different book occasionally and go to a different building occasionally). My family deserve to see a father and husband who, because he serves Jesus, is more loving, more patient, generous, wise, etc. They also deserve to see Jesus by seeing that person.

We need to seek the kingdom of God FIRST and serve the King FIRST and then everything else will fall into place – even the tensions that are created will resolve in redemptive closure. (cp Matthew 6:33ff)

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED?

The teacher of the law and the disciple who came to Jesus wanting to follow him were given a clear explanation of how discipleship worked. We have so badly stuffed this up in our churches that we can look at Jesus’ reply in both cases as being a bit harsh. That is an indication of how seriously we have compromised the idea of following Jesus. The only way it can work is for us to follow a hundred percent. That means to trust a hundred percent. The fact that Jesus is the Lord is not a threat. It is the most loving piece of reality in the whole world. Only when we trust and follow a hundred percent will we discover the full expression of who we are and why we are. It is only then that the people around us will get the flow on from that and will get to see the beauty of it. As we become more like Jesus people will get to see Jesus rather than some cheap religious substitute. This is the Jesus our western societies have been rejecting – and so they should. When we can show them endless varieties of Jesus-looking people not only will they take notice but the strongholds that keep them imprisoned will be shaken.

Jesus proclaimed the gospel in this story because he clearly described the entry point and the foundation upon which a relationship with him was to be established. This gospel is so badly needed in our self-indulgent, independent culture.

EXAMPLES OF GOSPEL PROCLAMATION #7 Matthew 8.3

 

sick-old-woman-in-bed (1)

 

Matthew 8:14-17      Healing at Peter’s House in Capernaum

When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

 

THE INFORMATION

  • Jesus came to Peter’s home in Capernaum.
  • When he arrived, he discovered that Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.
  • He reached out and touched her hand.
  • The fever left her.
  • She was immediately healed and was able to wait upon them.
  • After the sun had set, many people came to the house.
  • Some were demon-possessed, and others had various sicknesses.
  • He drove out the demons with a single word of command and healed all the sicknesses.
  • Jesus fulfilled a prophetic word from Isaiah about the Messiah healing sicknesses.

THE MESSAGE

He discovered ….. in bed with a fever

Everyone knows what it is like to have a fever. Body temperature rises and you feel like burning up. It is something that seems to take over your whole being. You feel weak, tired and miserable. Because this is often caused by some infection, you go to the doctor and then to the chemist for antibiotics. Two or three days give or take, and you are starting to feel like a normal human being again. Not so in Capernaum around 30 AD. Infection raged, and no one knew what it was. The inbuilt systems of the body were left to fight the battle and resting was the strategy for enabling that to happen. This was how it was for Peter’s mother-in-law. Whatever power this infection had to steal health and strength, it had its way. However the immune systems of the body were created to combat the infection, that was the health equation. All of that changed when Jesus showed up in the room. Suddenly the power that created this sickness was under threat. Its tenure was immediately given notice.

 

He reached out and touched her hand, and the fever left her

Wow, this is a big one. We have struggled with this particular expression of the gospel. Some people have built denominations affirming the healing ministry of Jesus and other groups have developed theological systems careful designed to oppose it. The latter group would willingly accept the command and modelling relating to forgiveness, but relegate the relief of sickness to medical science and get offended that anyone should pray for a sick person with the expectation that they should be healed. As mentioned previously, when Jesus came into Peter’s house the power of this infection was put on notice. When he walked over to her and touched her hand, it was overruled. Sickness has no power in the kingdom of heaven. As we learn from the last book of the New Testament, the vision of heaven is a place where there is no sickness or pain. It is the place where God’s rule is unopposed. Jesus is the presence of that kingdom. He speaks from the perspective of that fulfil and does things that cute the kingdom of God to come.

 

When evening came….many were brought to him…..and he healed all

I don’t make a practice of defining one version of the story from information given in another, but in this case, I think the reason these people came after the sun had set was because they waited until after the Sabbath was over. It finished around 6:00 pm. Where people were troubled by demons, those demons were evicted by the power of Jesus. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, those who were sick were all healed. Without wanted to repeat things previously stated, the bottom line here is that whatever power and authority demons had under normal circumstances, that power was lost when Jesus spoke a single word of command. Whatever power sicknesses had to invade and ravage a human body, that power was overruled by the word of Jesus command. The centurion in a previous story had the understanding of how faith operated. The first thing was that a command had to come from a superior authority to a lesser or dependant authority. In the case of Jesus, the kingdom of darkness was invaded by a word action from Jesus. The lesser authority had no choice or opportunity to resist.

 

Fulfil to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet…..

The compelling fact was that God finally had a representative on earth who perfectly represented his presence (i.e. Jesus).  Jesus succeeded in being the “son” that the nation of Israel had failed to become.  We the church have also failed so badly so often.  This manifestation of authority over demons and sickness marked Jesus as the One and only promised Messiah as described throughout the Old Testament, but in this case, by Isaiah. Here is the quote in its original context:

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.

Isaiah 53:1-5

This is a very well-known passage for Christians. It was written at least seven hundred years before Jesus came. It contains a series of prophetic, poetic songs called the “servant songs.” These songs paint a unique picture of the promised Messiah (king) who would come to rescue Israel. The problem for traditional interpreters was that their picture of that king was one who would suffer and be rejected and killed. Not everyone’s idea of a hero and no one’s idea of a conquering king. In the midst of this passage is a reference to the idea that this Messiah will deal with sickness and pain. It is not simply a sign of his power, but of his redemptive purpose. When those who knew the words of Isaiah saw Jesus healing sickness and delivering people from demonic oppression they recognised him as the one identified by the prophetic message of Isaiah. It was a simple observation, but one that identified both the personality of the Messiah as well as his redemptive purpose.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THIS MESSAGE WERE FULLY EMBRACED?

There has been so much conjecture about Christian healing ministry. No one thinks people should be sick but a lot of people approach this with fear or high-level caution. A lot of people pray for healing, not as many expect that the person will be supernaturally or immediately made well. Those of us who have taken up the battle against sicknesses and who have held healing meetings have to live with a very poor “batting average.” Some people get well. Sometimes people are immediately made well. At other times we see small changes that are above and beyond natural healing process. Some people’s sickness or conditions get worse, and they die. So we are left with an expensive choice. We have to rationalise the fact that Jesus healed so many people and say that it was just part of his credentials, and it was not meant to be transferred to further generations of his followers. Then we have to contend with the fact that people were healed through the ministries of the apostles – in spectacular fashion. Otherwise, we have to take the approach that we are not prepared to let sickness go uncontested, but will pray and cry out to God regardless. There is a restoration needed here. Interestingly the reports of Christian ministry among those people-groups who are not westernised, more people get healed, and there are more testimonies of supernatural intervention. So we conclude that there are aspects of western culture that somehow rob us of the simple ability to exercise faith.

I am sure the many stories that follow in all of the gospels will confirm the fact that we must re-discover the way to exercise faith for God to heal people and live with the things that make such a journey difficult. I think if I fully embraced the message carried by this story I would say that Jesus is the King of the kingdom of God and that he has the power to overrule sickness and pain. We are the ones who carry his authority, and we have to learn how to embrace that so that we also can exercise the same authority over sickness and pain.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED?

In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, she experienced divine love in the form of healing presence and power. It gave her the opportunity to believe and trust that Jesus was the Messiah and king. The same was true for the people who came for healing and deliverance. They came into direct contact with the presence of the King, Jesus. When they did, they either received healing for themselves or saw their friends or loved ones being healed. That gave them the opportunity to know who Jesus was and therefore to put their faith and trust in him. It is an entirely valid way for people to meet and respond to Jesus. As they respond and put their trust in him they will be born again. Those who see or experience the same manifestation of the divine nature and purpose but choose not to trust in Jesus as Messiah and King will not be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. That is the nature of every kind of gospel presentation.

STORIES THAT DEMONSTRATE THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL #6

CENTURION

 

Matthew 8:5-13        The Centurion’s Servant

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “ I will come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

THE INFORMATION

  1. This happened when Jesus had returned to his home base of Capernaum
  2. A Roman centurion came to ask him for help.
  3. He told Jesus that his servant was suffering from some form of paralysis.
  4. Jesus responded by offering to come to his house and heal the servant.
  5. The centurion replied by telling Jesus that he was not worthy to have Jesus come to his home.
  6. He explained that it was not necessary.
  7. He said that Jesus just needed to speak the word of command, and the servant would be well.
  8. He added that he understood how authority worked from his military experience.
  9. In the military realm, when an officer gives an order it is obeyed because of the authority vested in the officer’s rank.
  10. Jesus was amazed at the statement made by the centurion.
  11. He said to the people who were around him that this Roman military officer had shown more faith than anyone he had seen, even more than those from among the people of God, Israelites.
  12. He added that there would be many people like this who would come from distances and people groups far away from the covenanted people of God, and they would enjoy the celebrations of God’s people because of their faith,
  13. There would be others from among those who were supposed to be close to God who would miss out because of their unwillingness to believe.
  14. Their choice to be separated from God’s goodness would be made permanent.
  15. Jesus told the centurion to go home.
  16. He pronounced healing over the servant.
  17. When the centurion arrived home, he discovered that the servant had been made well at the time Jesus had declared the healing.

THE MESSAGE

A centurion coming to a Jewish rabbi ????

The compassion and fear arising from serious health problems know no ethnic, social, political or religious boundary lines. Much about this is unusual.   One is the fact that this centurion cared about his servant. Slaves were commonly regarded merely as property – like a piece of furniture that could be thrown away and replaced without a single twinge of regret. This Roman officer not only cared about his servant but was prepared to humble himself by approaching Jesus publicly and asking for help. That is a big number any day anywhere in any cultural setting. When you add to that the initial part of his response to Jesus offer, “Lord I am not worthy…” we become conscious that this centurion was no ordinary centurion. This kind of encounter is not an isolated one in the ministry of Jesus. We are various accounts of people who would have been considered “covenant outsiders,” even enemies got the Messiah message about Jesus when the insiders didn’t. Jesus declared this to the people who were around him. The centurion and his faith became a stern object lesson for the religious leaders in Israel, but also to Israelite people in general.

It is something all of us who follow and desire to serve Jesus should notice as well. If you were drawing up a list of people in Capernaum who you would consider being closest to God, the chances are you wouldn’t have picked the centurion. And according to Jesus, he was the one who turned out to have the greatest faith. I doubt whether anyone would have picked it, even Jesus. The question is not to try and pick the “great faith” people so that you can bypass the “little-or-no-faith” people.  The question worth asking about the centurion is, “How did he come to have that measure of faith?” He wasn’t a disciple; he hadn’t been through the training school. We don’t see him showing up to previous teaching sessions by the lake. The only valid assumption is that it was the testimony of Jesus ministry in and beyond Capernaum that attracted the centurion’s attention and then reached into his heart. There are two things to say about this. We need to be open and unashamedly expansive in our declaration of the gospel. No doubt this centurion had watched and listened. It was his job to keep order in the area so that he would have taken notice. What no one knew was the fact that when he saw or heard about Jesus and as the Holy Spirit encouraged him, his heart was opening up.

But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

It is important and instructive to have a think about what the centurion knew. Jesus said he had not found as much faith anywhere in Israel as he saw in this man. What was Jesus referring to and how did the centurion come to have that kind of faith?

  • He had extraordinary compassion for his servant.
  • He knew that Jesus was worthy of honour – whether or not he acknowledged him as Messiah
  • He knew that Jesus could heal people.
  • He was aware that Jesus was someone who had compassion toward all people
  • He knew that Jesus exercised dominion over the powers that caused human sickness.
  • He knew that Jesus only had to speak a word of command and the powers causing human sickness would have no choice but to obey.

We are forced to the conclusion that the centurion held these convictions before this encounter with Jesus. He got them from somewhere else sometime before. We may assume that he had heard, maybe seen things that Jesus did. Jesus had already made Capernaum his home at that time and had already called disciples from among the fishermen, and no doubt knew his reputation based on the information given to us in the previous stories in this chapter. Without jumping to too many speculative conclusions, it is clear that this information had convinced the centurion about the integrity and authority of this rabbi from Nazareth. We only have to look at the way other authority figures reacted to Jesus to see the options that were open to this particular man. It was controversial, to say the least when anyone, let alone a Roman official decided to see Jesus as having legitimate power and intrinsic worth. Considering the jump in his thinking to become convinced that the realm of sickness and health was one that operated by an authority structure similar to the Roman military sphere is astounding. For him to be convinced that Jesus was the commanding officer when it came to the well-being of human bodies. That is exactly how he saw it. And he saw it the way it was. Before we get carried away with this, we simply need to note that the centurion saw sickness as an outworking of a power exercising illegitimate authority in a spiritual realm of which Jesus was the rightful or legitimate ruler. As rightful ruler of a domain, a king would put down the rebellion of an unlawful insurgent. This was the understanding of the Roman officer about the authority of Jesus. And Jesus described it to those around him as a greater measure of faith than he had seen anywhere among the people of God.

Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places …. in the kingdom of heaven.”

This comparison is not isolated among the recorded events of the three-year ministry of Jesus. The list includes this Roman officer, a woman from Syro-pheonecia, a Samaritan woman and Jesus honours the kindness of a Samaritan man in a parable. Jesus says even more about the stubborn unbelief of those who were supposed to be the people of God as Jesus berates the religious leaders and weeps over Jerusalem’s costly rejection of its Messiah. It is important for us to understand the Biblical notion of “the people of God.” Sadly that term when applied to e.g. Israel the aspect that is highlighted is the one that wants to set this group apart as God’s favourite people. I don’t think the Bible will sustain the idea that “chosen” means “favourite.” This becomes apparent when Jesus stood within the precincts of the temple in Jerusalem and said, “My house was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:17) In other words, the chosen-ness of Israel related to the fact that they were to be God’s missionary people to the nations, bearing the message of his love and displaying that message in the way they lived. The temple that was meant to represent that love, e.g.. As a pinnacle of intercessory commitment had become the very opposite. It was not just an exclusive club for one nation, but it had gone even further away from its mandate by using its distinctiveness as a means of making money. The reason this is important has nothing to do with an attitude to Jews. It will be the same for anyone who becomes a “son or daughter of Abraham by faith.” That doesn’t make such a person especially loved, or privileged. It opens the door for them to “serve and to give their lives as a ransom for many” as they follow the modelling of their Lord. It is not about getting a ticket to heaven. It is about serving the redemptive purposes of God who wants a “people of God” who will fulfil his purpose and ensure that “every family on the earth will be blessed. The outcome of such a plan will be heralded by a continuation of one of the most tragic phenomena in all of human history namely, those who are closest to the revelation of the God who is love are free to reject it, and those who are furthest from that revelation can accept it. This is the outcome of a world built to operate by love. If there is no free-will, there can be no love. If there is love, there must be free-will. If there is free-will, it must be possible for every person to accept or reject. Sadly there must also be consequences in each case. We experience aspects of this every day as we choose or refuse to love and be loved.