Matthew 9:2-13 – Why Jesus Came

Healing by Russian painter Ivan Filichev

Some men brought to Jesus a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When he saw their faith, Jesus 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 paralyzed 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.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)

The late Abigail Van Buren, better known as the newspaper columnist, “Dear Abby,” was the person who made famous the phrase: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints.” That quote is an accurate reflection of what Jesus was doing and saying. We occasionally need words like Dear Abby’s to remind and reorient us toward why the church exists.  

The church of the Lord Jesus does not remain on this earth solely for our benefit, any more than a hospital exists for the benefit of the doctors or insurance companies! Rather, the church lives to extend the mission of Jesus through proclamation of good news with the restorative touch of grace. The church’s calling is not to find others who can help them with their tithing and keep warm seats in the pew. Instead, the church is the community of the redeemed, gathered and sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.

Some who are reading this are not healthy. Some are sick with sin; others are heart-sick; yet others are plain sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired. Jesus came neither to condemn nor heap a pile of unrealistic expectations on us. Christ points us to the source of healing and change and invites us to admit our need and come to him. 

Conversely, many others today are healthy, spiritually alive, and well. It is our job to roll up our sleeves and serve, participating fully in the mission of Jesus to the world. The question I want us to grapple with is this: Why did Jesus come to this earth? The answer to that question is to also answer the question of our own purpose and existence as followers of Christ.

Jesus came to forgive sin and transform sinners.In today’s Gospel healing, it was a case where the person’s sin was connected to his paralysis – and the paralytic found in Jesus not only physical healing, but new spiritual life.

The religious insiders observed the healing. Yet there was no rejoicing by them about the transformation. Instead, they became hung up on Jesus claiming to be God. Granted, this was a hard truth for them to get a hold of. But Jesus labeled such thinking as evil – the inability to see and perceive the situation as a divine intervention, and that Jesus really is the Lord who graciously did it. Because they wrongly discerned who Jesus is, they wrongly interpreted the situation. 

Therefore, it is important to see Jesus as the Human One who extends compassion and forgiveness. If we fail to see this about Christ, we will get caught up in all kinds of silly matters of personal preference and ridiculous power plays, based in how we think things should go, rather than the gospel.

Jesus came to forgive sin. Healing the body is good but not enough. Just focusing on the physical well-being of individuals was not why Christ came. At the heart of the human condition is spiritual brokenness, and Jesus is all about taking away guilt and shame, creating a new person and a new community. It is a radical vision which seeks to encompass all persons – which means Jesus touched many people overlooked by others.

Jesus came to call the despised people of society, the “sinners.” He called Matthew, a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated. They were corrupt characters who extorted money from innocent people. Jesus not only called the despised Matthew but had dinner with him and all his unsavory buddies. This kind of behavior by Jesus was deeply offensive to upstanding citizens.

However, Jesus did not back down. He responded by saying that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And he backed up his social actions with Scripture by encouraging offended folks to meditate on what this biblical phrase means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

hosea 6:6, niv

It is possible to engage in outward rituals of worship, do all the right things, fulfill our duty, yet still miss the heart of God wants for humanity. Mercy is what God wants. Jesus knew this. So, Christ entangled himself with sinners to bring spiritual healing and restoration.

When Corrie Ten Boom sought to bring deliverance of the Jews from the Nazis during World War II, she had to entangle herself with Jewish refugees. When Christian missionaries seek to be the light of Jesus to people, they must entangle themselves with the people’s culture. If we want to see God deliver people from their situations, we must entangle ourselves with them, into complicated lives that are not pretty, with persons who have been tainted by sin. 

Lots of people are in awful predicaments. Christians, like their Lord, will need to get their hands dirty and their feet wet to extend Christ’s ministry of mercy and forgiveness. The gospel was never intended to be proclaimed from afar, but up close and personal through entanglement in people’s lives. If the merciful mission of Jesus is to occur, it requires the following three activities:

  1. Intimacy with Jesus. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, giving, fasting, reading, and meditating on Scripture are the activities which help us to know Christ better and know and how to respond with mercy.
  2. Intimacy with fellow believers. We are hard-wired by God for community. Superficial relationships can only provide superficial community. Christians need to help one another with spiritual growth. They must hold one another accountable for the mission of Christ.
  3. Intimacy with “sinners.” This world is filled with sick, needy, hurting, lonely, unhealthy people who are locked in unhealthy patterns of living. They need a merciful change of life that comes from the merciful Jesus acting through merciful Christians. 

Mercy, not judgment, is at the heart of all change. If we desire others to be different, we will need to be acquainted with the mercy of God.

Most merciful God, we confess we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, and by neglect. We have not held fast to your commandments and have strayed from your teachings. We turn from our self-centered actions and pride. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us so that we are released from anything that seeks to keep us from delighting in your presence. Empower us with your wisdom, revelation, and discernment so that we might be your merciful hands, feet, and words to one another and those who do not yet know you. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Jesus by Macedonian artist Armando Alemdar

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9, NIV)

It is quite possible that in reading this account of Christ’s transfiguration (or metamorphosis) that this all seems very strange, even confusing.  Maybe you just have no categories of thought to explain such an encounter.

In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus were lying on their backs looking at the sky. Lucy says, “If you use your imagination you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you think you see, Linus?”  Linus replies, “Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean… That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor… And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen… I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side…”  Lucy responds, “Uh huh… that’s very good… what do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown sheepishly says, “Well, I was going to say a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind.”

Perhaps your spiritual life seems more like Charlie Brown than Linus. Compared to the experiences of others, you may not have had any defining moments of ecstasy, no shining Jesus right in front of you, or no spectacular vision of Christ. Maybe your life seems rather mundane and ordinary considering the many stories we have in the Gospels of Jesus doing the miraculous. 

Most of life is lived in the daily grind. In the week in and week out monotony of life, especially when one is sheltering in place, we need a bit of hope, maybe even a lot of hope. In fact, we need an occasional mountain top experience because those are glimpses into the future of what it will be like someday when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness.

The account of Christ’s transfiguration comes after a hard frank discussion Jesus had with the disciples about his impending death. Jesus clearly taught them that he must suffer, be rejected, and killed. But in three days he would rise again. The disciples did not want to hear that, and Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying it. In response, Jesus said to them all:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35, NIV)

Jesus identified himself as the Suffering Servant, as the One who must suffer and die. However, he is also the One to be glorified. For Jesus, there had to be suffering before glory. And it is the same for us: There must be suffering before glory. The Christian life is filled with the difficulty of walking through the valley of the shadow of death but is also punctuated with mountain top experiences that give us hope to keep doing what Jesus did. In other words, we must listen to Jesus and follow him. The nature of our Christian walk is up and down. Both the mountain and the valley are spiritual realities of great importance.

We may have a lot of questions about Christ’s transfiguration. Jesus had a metamorphosis in front of the disciples’ eyes. Why?  What is the significance of this?  Was it just a demonstration to get the disciples’ attention?  Why are Moses and Elijah there?  What is really going on here?

Jesus intentionally took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to have this experience. Up to this point, a lot of rumors had been circulating about Jesus – that maybe Jesus was really Elijah come back, or some other prophet, perhaps even Moses himself, since no one knows where his body was when he died. Moses and Elijah showing up next to Jesus meant that Jesus is not them. 

In the Old Testament, Moses was the person used by God to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land.  Centuries later, when the Israelites had been in the land for quite a while, Elijah was the person used by God to bring about a great repentance of the people from the false god Baal, and a mighty revival to the exclusive worship of the Lord. 

As good as Moses and Elijah were back then, having them with Jesus on the mountain meant that it gets even better with Christ. Jesus is the Messiah, the True Deliverer, who saves the people from their sins. What is more, Jesus is the Ultimate Revivalist, bringing the true grace and love of God to people and calling them from legalistic religion back to the true worship of God.

Deliverance and revival were what Jesus was all about in his ministry. And he expects those who follow him to do the same. In the ministry of every believer, there will be suffering because we must take up our crosses; and there will also be glory, experiencing and seeing the deliverance of sin that comes from genuine revival. 

When I was a college student, a group of us Christian brothers met each week for encouragement and prayer. For a solid two-year period, at least one person a week was added to our group, having had a dramatic conversion to Christ. That was an incredible time of being on the mountain with Jesus and seeing him manifest himself in all his glory through changing people’s lives.

Yet, inevitably, the valley must come. What goes up must come down. And what we do when we are in the valley is crucial and important. It seems effortless to be a Christian on the mountain. It is a different thing altogether in the valley. Coming off the mountain can lead to all kinds of temptations, like wishing you were back on the mountain – looking back to some Golden Age where everything seemed to go great and people were enthused and excited about God. But the revival fires may have waned, and the glory departed. Then what?…

“This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!”

mark 9:7, ceb

Here is what Jesus said…

“The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Change your hearts and lives, and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15, ERV)

“Come, follow me! I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish.” (Mark 1:17, GW).

 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NRSV)

“The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they do not have deep roots, they do not last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:15-20, NLT)

“Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” (Mark 4:40, MSG)

“Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate?… It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.” (Mark 7:18, 21-23, CEB)

“All things are possible for the one who believes.” (Mark 9:23, ERV)

“So, you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, MSG)

“I tell you the truth, you must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a little child, or you will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15, NCV)

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three days he will rise alive.” (Mark 10:33-34, MSG)

“The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.” (Mark 10:45, CEV)

So, I tell you to ask for what you want in prayer. And if you believe that you have received those things, then they will be yours. When you are praying and you remember that you are angry with another person about something, forgive that person. Forgive them so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins.” (Mark 11:24-25, ERV)

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15, NRSV)

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  If you have had a mountain top experience with Jesus, let that encounter with him give you the drive and the hope to keep carrying the bucket through the valley, without living in the past. If you have never been on the mountain, today is the day to listen to Jesus and follow what he says. For us all, the answer to what is vexing us is found in Jesus Christ. 

May we all go to Jesus, listen to him, and obey what he says. May we know the Word of Christ, and bank on it. May we understand that our light and momentary sufferings will result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Mark 1:14-20 – “Come, Follow Me”

Welcome, friends! The call of Jesus to his disciples two millennia ago remains the call for us, as well. Click the videos below and let us orient our lives around the gracious call of God…

I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin

May the Spirit of truth lead you into all truth, give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and strengthen you to proclaim the word and works of God; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Luke 6:27-31 – Love Your Enemies

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” NIV)

“Maturity is looking at every person we meet and saying to yourself, ‘I will never, God helping me, do anything to harm you: not by angrily lashing out at you, lusting over you, faithlessly slipping away from you, verbally hitting back at you, or even justifiably disliking you.’”

–Frederick Dale Bruner

Here are a few rhetorical questions, considering the astounding words from Jesus to love enemies: Have you ever had someone not like you?  Offend you? Purposely say or do things that upset you? I once had a next-door neighbor who was plain mean. Once, when my dog accidentally strayed into her yard and left a package, she picked it up and placed the package directly in front of my backdoor. 

When such things happen, it is tempting to respond in kind with the same behavior as the obnoxious person.  Many of us have sly passive aggressive tendencies of getting back at others when they do or say offensive things, and we consider them an enemy.

The situation with my neighbor was frustrating, yet quite benign. It is an entirely different matter trying to love someone who has deeply hurt us. Their words of malice or actions of abuse are evil, and we naturally seek to defend and respond by hurting them back. This is no trite saying of Jesus to proclaim that we are to love the enemy. It will be hard to love a villain apart from the grace of God, and Jesus knew what he was asking of us.  He does not ask of us anything that he himself has not already done.

We are often pleased with ourselves if we love our family and friends, because even that is a struggle for us, at times. We need to treat all people with respect and kindness, even active love, because that is what God does.

Jesus did not say anything new in calling for neighbor love. The Old Testament clearly says to do so: 

You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, CEB)

Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say to hate your enemy. However, over time, the idea became popular that if we are told to love our neighbor, then we must hate our enemy (who is not our neighbor). Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The conclusion to that parable is that everyone I encounter is my neighbor, and so must be shown mercy when they are in need. (Luke 10:25-37)

Jesus let us know that when we walk in the way of love, we will sometimes be treated harshly by the world (Matthew 5:10-12).  When that happens, Christ says we must not exact revenge or retaliate. Even more, we are to respond with overt gestures of love, rather than simply ignoring them.

We are to pray for our enemies. It is hard to hate someone or a group of people when we are devoted to praying for them. Pray the Spirit would open their eyes so they can see the error of their way. Make sure to leave the judgment to God, for that is divine business, not ours.

We are to love because God loves. To love those who offend us emulates God’s benevolence. When we love our enemies, without expecting anything in return, we imitate God’s character as children of God:

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He did not love to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1-2, MSG)

If we have no love for our enemies, then we are no different from them. Christians are to be distinctive because of the way they treat others, especially outside the faith. We are to model our lives after God’s love, not by the standard of niceness to those who are nice to us. God does not expect us to live as followers of Jesus by only showing reciprocity, that is, just giving back to those who already have given something to us. Instead, we give even when we are persecuted. We do this because God shows no distinction in the distribution of sunshine and rain. Showing basic respect and goodness to all people, no matter who they are, can be God’s rain and sun toward others.

“To return evil for good is devilish. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is divine. To love as God loves is moral perfection.” Alfred Plummer

Grace, undeserved kindness, is not something we can just conjure up, as if we might will ourselves to love our enemies. It is not natural – it is supernatural, and so must come from a supernatural Being. 

During World War II, a Lutheran pastor, imprisoned in a German concentration camp, was tortured by an S.S. officer who wanted to force him to a confession.  The pastor did not respond to the torture.  His silence only enraged the officer to such a degree that he hit the pastor harder and harder until he finally exploded and shouted at him, “don’t you know that I can kill you!?”  The pastor looked him the eye and said, “Yes, I know – do what you want – but I have already died.”  At that point, the officer lost power over the pastor.  All of the officer’s cruelty had been based on the idea that the pastor would hold onto his life as his most valuable property and would be willing to give a confession in exchange for his life.  But with the grounds for his violence gone, torture had become a ridiculous and futile activity.

Our human relationships may easily become subject to verbal violence, bitterness, and destruction, when we make enemies of each other and treat people as properties to be defended or conquered instead of precious gifts to be received. If we have nothing to defend, then we have no enemies who can harm us.

Jesus, Prince of Peace,
you have asked us to love our enemies 
and pray for those who persecute us.
We pray for our enemies and those who oppose us.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, 
may all people learn to work together 
for the justice which brings true and lasting peace.
Holy Spirit of God, we ask you for the strength and the grace to love those who harm us, that we may shine as beacons of Christian light in a world of revenge, retaliation, and darkness.

We pray for those who have hurt us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who hate us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who insult us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who have stolen from us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who will not hear us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who have hurt our church.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.  Amen.