Matthew 11:16-19, 20-25 – Following Jesus

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let us consider the words of Jesus together.

You may also view this video on TimEhrhardtYouTube

Click Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn) by Keith and Kristyn Getty, the song mentioned in the video.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, today and always. Amen.

Following Jesus

Walking with Jesus

The disciple and evangelist Matthew, the former tax collector, purposefully arranged his Gospel of Jesus to emphasize what it means to truly follow Christ. Matthew knew a thing or two about discipleship and following Jesus, having walked away from a lucrative business because Jesus called him. However, the hardest thing for Matthew was likely not giving up the money, as it was daily facing people who knew his past and many who held it over his head – except Jesus. Only grace has the power to change our lives and make us willing to face anything, for good or for ill.

For Matthew, the first sermon of Jesus, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), was meant to move the massive crowd of people physically following Christ to spiritually, ethically, and with heartfelt devotion following Jesus as committed disciples embracing the true way of righteousness – mercy, purity, and peacemaking.

In chapters 8-10 of his Gospel, Matthew narrates amazing events of miracles and healing including: the blind receiving sight; the lame getting on their own two feet and walking; those with leprosy being cured; the deaf hearing; the dead raised to life; and, the good news of God’s benevolent reign preached to the poor. Jesus was not only inviting people to be disciples; he was developing disciples through the sheer force of mercy. This was no sign-up sheet Christianity. This was deliverance from physical and spiritual oppression to a life of walking in the gracious way of Christ, no matter what the cost.

This was beautiful and wonderful ministry. It was life-changing and earth-shattering. However, most of the crowd who followed Jesus around observing the divine interventions were unfazed. In my mind, I picture the crowd like a bunch of social media followers who troll through others stuff and offer little except criticism when they see something that they do not like or agree with.

Jesus had his own comparison. He asked the crowd: To what can I compare this generation? Christ was angling for his listeners to consider the current state of the people and the society. He answered his own question with a saying that the people were familiar with: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” (Matthew 11:17)

The saying Jesus quoted pertains to weddings and funerals. He was saying that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works up close and personal, are like people who have their backs against the wall during a celebration dance at weddings. They are also like people who show no grief and don’t cry at funerals.  In other words, they are dull. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they do not see him because they are expecting someone else.

Most of the people could not get over the fact that Jesus hung-out with people who were not like them and kept focusing his ministry on folks who need it the most. Jesus was giving a stinging rebuke – and they knew it. Jesus was essentially calling the unmoved crowd a bunch of bratty little kids who sit around waiting for their idea of Messiah to come along.

Bottom line: Jesus had no acceptance for them simply because they were not willing to accept him on his terms and in his way. So, Jesus then clearly communicated who is accepted with him: Those who need him. They are accepted because the Father has revealed Jesus and truth to the least and the lost. Little children were always overlooked and forgotten people in the ancient world – low on the totem pole of human hierarchy and viewed mostly as potential adults who would someday contribute to society.

Kids need to be cared for. And that is the key to why Jesus spoke of becoming like little children: kids need the care of others or they will not make it. They know it. The plan of God is to bless those who are poor in spirit, not those who think they “already know all that stuff” and have no need for a Messiah who only meets the needs of immigrants, people of color, the aged and the infirm. Those who know their need for a Savior come to Jesus asking for help and find the open arms of God. Those who only know their spiritual pedigree and how much others need them, are glad they are not like people beneath them, and ask for nothing – these are the people who will find themselves looking at God’s back.

The needy are accepted because they humble themselves and come to Jesus and exchange their yokes. Christ’s invitation goes out to all those for whom religion and church has become a grind, for whom trying to always be a good Christian is like carrying a heavy burden. We are invited to replace our heavy yoke with the yoke of Jesus.

Simon and Jesus by Nicholas Mynheer
Jesus and Simon by Nicholas Mynheer

A “yoke” was a rabbi’s set of rules based in his interpretation of the Law. The disciples of a rabbi would follow him around everywhere and continually listen to his view of how to live the Scripture in everyday life. There were rabbis whose yoke weighed people down with endless rules on every detail of life. Jesus would later say about such teachers:

“They tell you to do things, but they themselves don’t do them. They make strict rules and try to force people to obey them, but they are unwilling to help those who struggle under the weight of their rules. They do good things so that other people will see them.” (Matthew 23:3-5)

Jesus, contrary to other rabbis, taught the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount as his yoke, which was a form of living from the heart, and not just to put on a good show for others.

Jesus said “learn from me” because he is gentle and humble in heart. Jesus is not going to turn us away when we sincerely and humbly come to him; in fact, he invites us to come so we might bask in God’s acceptance:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NCV)

If faith has become all too familiar, if you have lost your sense of awe and wonder about God, if you desire something more than just keeping up with the Christian Jones’s and fulfilling a checklist of Christian duty, then there is an invitation for you to come to Jesus – offered by Christ himself. We get to walk with Jesus.

3374b-thetable

For Christians everywhere throughout the world for two millennia the Table is the place to come in remembrance, communion, and hope. We remember the once for all sacrifice of Christ which unburdened us of our heavy load of sin. We commune with this same Christ now in the present. We anticipate our future hope with confident expectation that Christ is coming again. The Table is an invitation for us to eat and drink of Christ. The words of Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townsend’s “Communion Hymn” capture Christ’s acceptance of us and our need to receive such grace:

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us – and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Torn for you – eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you – drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, – and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King.

Amen.

Who Is Your Master?

oversize backpack

We all carry an invisible backpack. Sometimes it is light, sometimes heavy. At other times, the backpack becomes a crushing load. We are unable to carry it because we kept adding things to it and did not take the time to unload anything. Every day, many people lug such an invisible backpack around everywhere they go. Over time, the backpack begins to smell because unacknowledged grief, unawareness of emotions, and the pile up of life’s difficulties become like a pair of stinky gym socks that got tossed in the backpack with hard feeling after hard feeling caked on top of it.

Something unfortunate then happens: The backpack becomes our Master. It begins to influence the way we talk, what we do, and do not do. It becomes a heavy and even crushing load because rather than Christ, the Spirit, and the Scriptures informing and influencing what we say and do, the invisible backpack calls the shots. It is the weight of sin.

The dominate word for “sin” throughout the New Testament means to miss the mark or to fall short.

It is not a word meaning some terrible egregious wrong committed against another. Rather, it is the most common form of sin there is – simply failing to deal with what humanity needs to deal with – and so, out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, those items are never out of the heart’s view.

The Apostle Paul’s way of framing this situation is this: Do not offer our lives to wickedness but offer ourselves to God (Romans 6:12-23). When we have become so accustomed to the invisible backpack as our master that we cannot imagine life without carrying it around, we must take it off. We need to carefully unpack each item we have stuffed into it and allow ourselves to face the pain and hurt and take up Christ’s easy backpack, his yoke.

Since we are redeemed people, baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, we no longer need nor ought to carry a load of sin any longer.

We were meant to have a Master and to carry a backpack – just not the backpack of our shortcomings and failures. Instead, we are to throw over our shoulders the backpack of mercy and righteousness and follow the Master, Jesus Christ. Who is your Master? is not meant to be a scolding question. It is an encouraging question, an invitation to unburden ourselves.

Jesus Christ, by his grace, took the backpack of sin that you and I were carrying and took it upon himself.  He took the crushing weight of our backpacks of sin for us.  Jesus took out those stinky gym socks; they were then nailed with him to the cross. We no longer need to carry this smelly load of sin any longer because Jesus already carried it for us and took care of it. Yet, so many of us still insist on taking up the invisible backpack and keep putting stuff in it.

Therefore, we must deliberately and intentionally take off that invisible backpack. Since the backpack is invisible, most of us would never guess that another carries such a heavy load. Instead, what we do see is the backpack causing another to work himself into the ground so as to continue ignoring the hurt, to keep everything completely clean and in control on the outside because on the inside it is emotional chaos.

What appears on the outside may not be true of the inside.  

For example, when you see my ten-year-old grandson you would never know on the outside that his brain is having immense struggles with epilepsy and seizures on the inside.  And when we look at one another in the church and the world, we cannot assume that just because everything may seem okay on the outside that the inside is fine.  Our stronghold of secrecy and invisibility needs to be broken and pulled down in Jesus’ name!

Brothers and sisters, Jesus took on your backpack for you – you need no longer carry it.  Take it off, unpack it, and let the healing of Christ’s cross bring you freedom from your weight. It is time to put off the backpack of sin and put on Christ’s righteousness.  It is time to say with some flavor, “I will not carry you any longer, old Master, because I belong to God!”

light backpack

Often our struggle is with opposing forces operating within us: righteousness opposed to sin; freedom opposed to slavery; and, a gift opposed to wages. The main point is one of mastery: Who is your Master? The hard work we must do is the ongoing work of confession and offering our lives to God:

  • “I will not carry a load of ignored items any longer because I belong to God.”
  • “I will not carry an unresolved load of pain any longer so that I continue using my tongue to gossip and slander and backbite another, because my tongue is not my own. My tongue belongs to God.”
  • “I will not be burdened by the clock and let it control my life, because my time is not my own. My time belongs to God and I will steward it wisely.”
  • “I will not carry the troubles of my job with me by working myself into the ground, because my job belongs to God and my Master calls me to a Sabbath rest.”
  • “I will unload this backpack of pain and deal so that I do not keep compulsively spending my money, because my money belongs to God.”
  • “The invisible backpack no longer has any power over me because I have unloaded it, grieved my hurts and losses, and have moved to taking on Christ’s backpack. I belong to Jesus Christ!”

Show me a miserable Christian, and I will show you a Christian who is carrying the crushing weight of an invisible backpack that informs and influences every decision and each action.

So, take up Christ’s backpack of grace, without trying to serve two masters: law and grace. There is always a temptation to try and make deals with God – to unload some of the backpack but not all of it. We might also have a kind of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome which has affinity with the old master, even it was abusive. Holy Scripture never advocates an attitude adjustment or behavior modification; it talks of doing away with the backpack completely because Christ has already taken care of it.

Watchman Nee was a twentieth-century Chinese Christian leader and a contemporary of Chairman Mao in China. In exhorting his fellow Chinese to live for Christ, he said,

“The trouble with many Christians today is that they have an insufficient idea of what God is asking of them.  How glibly they say: ‘Lord, I am willing to do anything for you.’  Do you know that God is asking of you your very life?  There are cherished ideals, strong wills, precious relationships, much-loved work, that will have to go; so, do not give yourself to God unless you mean it.  God will take you seriously, even if you did not mean it seriously.”

We are meant to deal with the pain and the hurts we have accumulated but have not lamented over. There is no spiritual growth and development apart from doing this. We cannot have Christ as our Master until we get rid of all competing masters first. In fact, what has the backpack every really done for you?  What benefit do you receive from lugging it around everywhere?  The wages of continually carrying the non-confessed load on our backs will eventually catch up to us. But the gift of God is freedom from sin and a life under the new management of Jesus Christ.  Praise be to God!

Keep It Real

take up your cross

Keep it real.  The only true path to Christian discipleship is through being a real person.

You know the disingenuous type.  The dude who sits in the church pew looking like he’s never passed gas in his life.  The lady who can purse her lips so tight she looks like her head’s going to implode.  The poor kid who wants to break it down in the church aisle, but Mom and Dad are so into how it all looks that they shush him like a steamroller over marshmallows.

Then, there’s the pastor.  Sometimes he (it always seems to be a he, not a she) is either so stiff and bashes on every people group on the planet except his own that you wonder if the guy’s ever been seen in public without a chaperone, or he’s overly trying to be hip and cool to the point of looking like a hippo stuffed into skinny jeans.

C’mon, man, let’s just keep it real, okay!?

How about we drop the pretense, the preening, the posturing, the positioning, the pedigree-ing, and any other p-word we can come up with?  Let’s try on something else on for size: humility; vulnerability; authenticity; genuineness; and, being real.  That’s the cost of discipleship.

Let’s consider Jesus for a minute.  I just can’t bring myself to ever picture the Lord of the universe looking like any of the dubious aforementioned persons in the church.  But I certainly can envision him just the opposite of them all.

I’m not trying to make Jesus in my image.  I’m just attempting to gain a glimpse of the unfiltered Jesus, minus the weird white-European-I’m-stuffing-all-my-emotions-down-to-my-intestines Jesus.  The unvarnished Jesus we see in the New Testament Gospels is a God-Man who gets angry at injustice, cries with others over a death of a loved one, has unbounded words of grace for marginal people, heals those who know they need it, and has no problem knocking down proud Pharisees to size, instead of cuddling up and trying to make them happy.  The Lord I see is a complicated bundle of emotions, paradoxes, seeming contradictions, and eagle-eyed and laser-focused on doing his Father’s will.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Jesus, not anybody else.  I want to learn to love with abandon, teach like I mean it, be secure and confident in my own skin, and constantly commune with Father God.  I want to get rid of anything that gets in the way between me and doing God’s will, and to speak with authority without being a jerk about it.

Maybe you, like me, are concerned for all the “none’s” out there, that is, the persons who don’t affiliate themselves with any religion, much less Christianity.  I feel like I understand them.  In a way, I feel like I’m one of them.  I find myself having a zero tolerance for pretentious “Christians.”  The fact that I keep sensing the need to put adjectives in front of the word “Christian” tells me that something is terribly awry in the church – “real” Christians, “fake” Christians, “authentic” Christians, “Pharisaical” Christians, “grace-filled” Christians, “legalistic” Christians… on-and-on ad nauseum.  Sometimes I get fed-up with the adjectives and just want to start labeling myself a “fartknocker” Christian just to keep everybody on their toes.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m finally going to get around to quoting some Scripture.  Jesus said:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NRSV)

“I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62, NRSV)

“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22, NRSV)

“Those who serve me must follow me. My servants will be with me wherever I will be. If people serve me, the Father will honor them.” (John 12:26, GW)

And the Apostle Paul said:

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NRSV)

“You imitated us and the Lord. In spite of a lot of suffering, you welcomed God’s word with the kind of joy that the Holy Spirit gives.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, GW)

Christians are people who follow Jesus, period.  They live into the words and the ways of Christ.  Many of the “none’s” just can’t reconcile their experience of church and their observations of Christ, so they jettison the church while finding Jesus compelling.

But what if they found church compelling, as well?  What if, instead of seeing pursed lipped women, uptight men, and restricted kids they instead found a bunch of fartknockers just trying to discover Jesus and live for him?

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, or perhaps I’m ruffling some peacock feathers.  It could be that I’m being too banal with sacred things, like some cornfed yokel.  But it might be that I’m not being hackneyed enough and need to go further into the ordinary.  Maybe we have come to the place of so much bromide religion that we are left with a vapid soul.  In short, we’ve lost our way.

Well, if that’s the case, Jesus is the only person who’s going to save us from our humdrum life and platitudinous pandering of kitschy Christianity (there I go with the adjectives again).  It’s likely high time we leave it all behind, get real with ourselves and follow him.  Wax figures sitting in pews can’t follow anybody – only real blood and guts people with actual insides can do that.

Lent is almost over.  If you haven’t gotten around to reading one of the Gospels, hurry-up!  Get to it!  Okay, I’ll throw you a bone: The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four.  For the compulsive overachievers out there, Luke is the Gospel for you.  Whether you need to get up earlier or stay up later at night, I encourage you to make it happen.  I’ve never known anyone who has read an entire Gospel in one or two sittings and not walked away profoundly changed in some way.

If you do it, come back and tell me what it was like to read a Gospel. I’m curious and wonder what you get from it.

And give it to me straight.  Keep it real.