The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 11

All of us have expectations. We have expectations of ourselves, our spouses, our kids, our churches, our friends, careers, our government, and many other things. And, for most of us these expectations are high. In general, that is a good thing. High expectations often motivate us and other people. But, what happens when those high expectations are misguided of just flat wrong? Unfounded disappointment occurs.

John’s Expectations

Matthew 11 begins with a story about an interaction between John the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus. From prison, John the Baptist sent several of his disciples to ask Jesus a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another” (11:2)? This question, I believe, tells us something about John. He was disappointed in Jesus. He had spent his life preparing the way for Jesus, and his heart had leapt for joy when he saw Jesus approach the Jordan River for baptism. He had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and had heard the voice of God from heaven after he had baptized Jesus. But now, he was in prison, and he wasn’t scheduled for release any time soon. He, along with many others, had prepared themselves for the triumphant arrival of God’s kingdom in Jesus. Prison was not part of the plan. So, he sent word to Jesus saying, “I thought you were the one. What happened? Are you really who I thought you were?”

Jesus told the messengers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (11:6). The proof of Jesus’ messiahship was in the work he was accomplishing. Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy. He was indeed the one for whom the people waited.

John’s Disappointment

John’s problem was that he had misguided expectations. He expected a physical kingdom in which God would bring deliverance for the people of Israel. He expected to be freed from prison. But, he was mistaken. He had misinterpreted the prophets. He had placed misguided and unrealistic expectations on Jesus. And now, he was terribly disappointed.

This same thing happens to us often, doesn’t it? We think that God is supposed to do a certain thing, that he is supposed to act a certain way, that he is to reward a certain type of behavior, that he is supposed to deal with hardships and struggles in our lives by either removing or lessening them. But, most often these expectations aren’t in line with what God has promised to do or congruent with the way in which he has revealed his character. The result of unmet expectations is disappointment with God. But, the issue is not with God. It is with us and our misguided expectations.

The Fix

The fix to our misguided expectations is the development of biblical expectations of God. God has revealed himself to us. We do this by studying his word and by evaluating our expectations in light of what his word reveals about his character and the way he acts in our lives. Think today about your expectations of God. Are they biblical or are they misguided and unbiblical?

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 10

imagesConflict is a part of life. Its reality. And, this is certainly the case with the Christian life. For those who follow Jesus, conflict is inevitable. Think about it. To say “yes” to Jesus necessarily means to say “no” to something else. Those who have said “yes” to Jesus have entered into his kingdom of light and grace, while those who have refused Jesus’ call to follow him remain in the kingdom of the world — a kingdom that is opposed to the kingdom of God. This is the theme of Matthew 10.

On The Job Experience

In the end of chapter 9, Matthew tells of the need for laborers to bring in the harvest of God’s grace. He begins chapter 10 with the commissioning of these laborers, the twelve apostles. Jesus gave them strict instructions to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As they go, they will face rejection, hardship, and persecution. They will not be welcomed by all. They will suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God — for the sake of Christ, the one for whom they have gone. This journey will be hard. It will be one characterized by division. What a calling! 

But, Jesus promises them grace as he sends them out. He instructs them to not be afraid, to not worry about what they will say in times of trouble and trial. They are to trust God’s provision and presence in their lives. They are to go in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with his authority and act to accomplish his will. And, they are to be encouraged by the reality of the promised reward for those who remain faithful to the calling. They are to fear God, but not man.

This experience taught the disciples a great deal about dependance upon God’s provision and a life lived in reverent fear of Him. There are times in our lives when our fear of man outweighs our reverence of God. God becomes small and men become large. What men and women think and say about us carries more weight in our lives than what God thinks or says about us. Our reputations in the world are more valuable to us than our reputations before God.

The presence of conflict reveals this tendency in our lives. It shows us where we trust ourselves more than we trust God. It shows us where we are more concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us. It shows us where our standing in our community matters more to us than our standing with God. It shows us where we are or are not dependent upon God.

Three Action Items

1. Praise God for the conflicts and challenges of our lives today. Praise him for the brokenness. Praise him for revealing our weaknesses to us.

2. Repent from our sin of making much of men and little of God and turn to Jesus in reliance upon him in the midst of our challenges, hardships, sufferings, and persecutions.

3. Be about the Lord’s business. Go forth proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God in word and deed. Pray with someone today. Encourage someone with the truth of God’s word today.

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 9

Farm-Finance-carouselI’m really starting to like this project. Reading through Matthew and processing the Scripture has challenged and encouraged my soul. I have noticed that I am developing a thirst for God’s word and the application of it in my life.

Accessibility and Assistance 

When I read Matthew 9 today, two thoughts came to mind — accessibility to God’s kingdom and people introducing others to Jesus. Every one of the seven little stories of Jesus’ interaction with people that the chapter contains has to do with the accessibility of God’s kingdom through Christ. Jesus is accessible to the paralytic. Jesus is accessible to the tax collector. Jesus is accessible to John’s disciples. Jesus is accessible to the man with the ill daughter. You get the point. Jesus makes God’s kingdom accessible to men and women, to you and me. Because Jesus came, we are able to access God through him.

Also, I noted that many received healing and restoration from Jesus because someone brought and introduced them to him. Some people brought a paralytic to Jesus, and Jesus healed him. A father brought Jesus to his daughter, and Jesus healed her. Others positioned blind men by the path Jesus traveled on, and Jesus healed the blind men. Still others, brought a mute demon-oppressed boy to Jesus, and Jesus cast out the demons. People brought the ones they loved, those who were in need, those whom Jesus saw were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” to Jesus. Jesus is the one that people need. He is the only Savior of the world. He is the king of glory. People must be introduced to him, and we are the ones who are to make the introduction possible.

Encouragement and Challenge

I take an encouragement from chapter 9 for my life today. God’s kingdom is accessible to me because God made it accessible through Jesus. I can dome into God’s kingdom through faith at any time because of his grace in Christ Jesus. I am also challenged by the  example of those who brought others to Jesus. It is my goal today to find at least one person in my life to introduce to Jesus in some way or another. May God grant me the grace to do it.

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 8

calm-watersMatthew makes it abundantly clear that Jesus brought about God’s kingdom — God’s active rule and reign. Jesus is the king. He is the one who is more than worthy of praise and glory. In chapter 8, Matthew begins to illustrate the activity of God’s kingdom on earth.

A Kingdom of Restoration 

God’s kingdom is a kingdom of restoration. The prophets of the Old Testament told of this restorative quality often. And, here Matthew illustrates it in four stories. The first two are stories of miraculous healing. Broken bodies are restored to wholeness. The third story is about Jesus calming a storm. Broken nature is restored by the powerful word of God in Christ. And, the final story is one in which Jesus casts out demons from two men at the Gadarenes. Broken humanity is restored by the grace of God in Christ.

A Kingdom of Faith

In each of the stories, faith in Jesus is front and center. The leper receives healing by God’s grace in Christ through his faith in the Lord’s ability to heal him. Similarly, the Centurion’s servant is healed by God’s grace through the faith of the Centurion who believed that Jesus’ word was powerful enough to heal. Also, Peter’s mother-in-law and others were healed through faith.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith after he had calmed the storm. This is interesting. The disciples, who were learning what it meant to follow Christ, found themselves in a boat during a massive storm. Jesus was sound asleep. The disciples panicked, but Jesus remained calm. Jesus trusted his Father in Heaven to care for him, while the disciples failed to trust in Jesus. Their panic resulted from their fear and lack of faith in Jesus. Some in chapter 8 receive the blessings and praise of the kingdom through faith and others received chastisement for their lack of faith.

Two Takeaways

I take two things from this passage for my life today. They are:

  1. Jesus is big, and he brings a big, powerful kingdom. — Let there be no mistake about it. Jesus is big and powerful. His kingdom is big and powerful. My life needs to be informed by this glorious truth.
  2. Life in Christ’s kingdom requires faith in him. — Faith is central. The restorative blessings of kingdom life come as a result of God’s grace and are received through faith. Those who faithfully rely on and pursue Christ and his kingdom receive the blessing of life in God’s big, powerful kingdom. Do I have the kind of faith that Jesus praises in Matthew 8, or am I like the disciples and fail to trust him fully in the midst of my storms?

These truths have a tremendous impact on my daily life. I can actively apply them by identifying one issue in my life today in which I struggle to submit to Christ’s reign and then bring it into submission. For instance, if I have a health issue that I is of grave concern, then I can pray that God would give me a clear sense of his size and restorative work in that area of my health. I can also trust that he will be faithful to do all that he has promised to do.

May God grant us the grace to explore our lives and find out where we fail to see him as a big, powerful God and to repent from our failure to trust him with our lives. May he grant us the grace to faithfully pursue him in his grace.

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 5

UnknownWhat does it mean to be a disciple? Jesus tells us in his most famous sermon. Matthew recorded this sermon beginning with the beatitudes and then moving into a systematic discussion of the right application of God’s law in Christ’s kingdom.

Salt and Light

Jesus’ disciples are to be salt to the earth and the light of the world. Salt brings flavor and preserves. Light brings clarity and exposure. As Christ’s followers, we are called to both season/preserve the world in which we live and to clarify truth and expose darkness/sin.

Think how you can be a seasoning and preserving agent to the world in which you live today. Think about how you can be effectively used by God to clarify his truth and expose darkness today.

This is challenging for two reasons. First, we are all aware of our own sinfulness and brokenness. We know our personal need for preservation and seasoning. We know our need for the truth to be clarified in our lives and the places where we hide in the darkness. Second, we must be a seasoning, preserving, clarifying, and exposing agent to the world in love. We don’t want to be harsh and overly judgmental in our work for Christ.

So, Jesus teaches us beginning in chapter five the importance of bringing our lives into submission to him, the importance of living a righteous life. If we are concerned with the sin in our lives, we need to deal with it. We need live in a manner worthy of Christ’s kingdom. If we are concerned with the way in which we approach others, we need to ensure that we do it in love – a love that isn’t satisfied with making people feel good, but is concerned with leading them to righteousness in Christ.

Questions of Application

  1. Do you lose your temper and fly off the handle easily? How can you begin to control your anger?
  2. How do you deal with lust? Are you prepared to take the necessary steps to address the lust problem in your life? What are those steps? When do you begin those steps?
  3. Do you get satisfaction in retaliation, in hurting those who hurt you? What is one way you can deal with the hurt without retaliation?
  4. Can you love your enemies? Do you pray for those who seek you harm? Who is one person that you consider an enemy? How can you pray for him/her?

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 4

the-jesus-boat-at-the-sea-of-galilee-miki-karniAfter overcoming his wideness temptation, Jesus called his first disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John. He then demonstrated the power and glory of his kingdom. The main point is that Jesus overcame the temptation and by doing so he established his kingdom. He gathered, and continues to gather, those whom he has chosen.

Come

Jesus is the great overcomer of sin. Where the Israelites failed to obey God in their wilderness journey, Jesus succeeded. Where I fail to overcome temptation, Jesus succeeded. He conquered sin and the Devil. And, because he overcame, he became the mediator of a new covenant between God and his people. He is our conquering representative before God. That reality beckons me to come to Christ, to come to the one who succeeded where I failed, who did it before I asked him to do it, who did it before I was born. How can I resist such grace?

Experience and Follow

The place where this text gives us an opportunity to experience life with Christ tied to the place in which it calls us to follow him. Jesus called the first disciples to leave their present lives to follow after him. He called them from a casual relationship with him to one of commitment and dedication. This life of discipleship is a great experience of faith. The disciples had no idea where Jesus was going to lead them. They had no idea what their journey would entail. They had no idea how it would end. They had to trust Jesus. They had to follow him. Their lives are a living picture of repentance. They said “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the world around them.

Jesus calls us in the same way. He doesn’t enter our lives to establish a casual relationship with him. He wants us to be completely dedicated to him. He’s not interested in a casual noncommittal (friends with benefits) relationship. He wants a lasting love relationship with us. To enter a long-term committed relationship requires trust (faith), repentance, and dedication. The following questions can help us with our practical challenge today.

  1. How can I develop my relationship with Christ? How can I trust him more with my life?
  2. Where am I seeking to maintain control of my life?
  3. Where am I withholding my heart from Christ?
  4. What are the things to which I devote the majority of my time? What are those things to which I devote the majority of my money? Are those the same things to which Jesus devoted himself?
  5. Does my life reflect a life that is dedicated to following Jesus?

The NT365 Experiment: Matthew 3

imagesIn Matthew 3, we catch our first glimpse of John the Baptist, Jesus’ first cousin. John has an important role as the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. He was the one who had been given the privilege to announce the coming of the God’s kingdom. Three words stand out to me as I read John’s story.

Announcement

John came to announce the coming of God’s kingdom in Christ. His purpose was to tell everyone that God’s kingdom was coming, that Jesus was coming. (He had been born and he was preparing to begin his earthly ministry.) John understood his role as herald. He was to proclaim the kingdom arrival and the presence of its king. The gospel is an announcement. It’s an announcement of what Christ has done.

Repentance 

John did not mince words when he preached. He called sin, sin. He challenged people to repent from their sin and to follow God. Repentance was what his baptism was all about. It symbolized a going through the waters of judgment, resting in the grace of God, and committing ones eyes upon righteousness. John told his listener that they needed to repent in order to be prepared to receive the most glorious king who was coming.

Religious Presumption

John called the religious leaders on their religious presumption. They had presumed that because they were ethnically tied to Abraham that God really wasn’t interested in the change in their lifestyles. Wrong. They presumed on the basis of God’s kindness that they had little to be concerned about. God demands holiness. He opened the door to holiness and true repentance in the baptism of Jesus. Religious presumption is a dangerous thing.

I take two challenges from this chapter. First, announce the presence of the kingdom. The king has come. Announce the good news to the world. When you make a public or private announcement of the kingdom, you are proclaiming what Jesus has already done. Find someone to whom you can be a herald of God’s grace in Christ. Second, beware of religious presumption. Be on your guard. Confess the entitlement sins you bear before the Lord. Repent from that sin. Make sure that you take spiritual inventory of your life daily.

(This is going to be difficult. Confessing entitlement sins is not fun, but it has to be done.)