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.

Luke 10:21-24 – Freedom and Blessing

Ethiopian Jesus 2
Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of Jesus teaching

Then Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the people who are wise and smart. But you have shown them to those who are like little children. Yes, Father, this is what you really wanted.

“My Father has given me all things. No one knows who the Son is, except the Father. And no one knows who the Father is, except the Son and those whom the Son chooses to tell.”

Then Jesus turned to his followers and said privately, “You are blessed to see what you now see. I tell you, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you now see, but they did not, and they wanted to hear what you now hear, but they did not.” (NCV)

A healthy view of Holy Scripture is to look at it as an unfolding drama of redemption. Ever since the fall of humanity, God has been on a rescue mission to reclaim, redeem, and restore people. This human project has obviously taken several millennia; and, it still has not reached its fulfillment.

The Christian tradition understands that the climax of victory and final restoration to our true state as humans will occur when Christ returns. By warning us that divine mysteries are hidden to some and revealed to others is Jesus’ way of cautioning us toward triumphalism and self-congratulation. Yes, redemption is a reality; and, it is also not a reality. It is both here and is coming. We are delivered from sin, death, and hell – and, we still labor against the evil machinations of systemic world problems, our own sinful nature, and a demonic realm which is looking for every opportunity to exploit sin’s residue upon the earth.

What this all means on a practical basis is that the good old days for some were the bad old days for others. History is always written by the winners and those in power. The hidden voices are typically squelched. The vision of Jesus is that all kinds of people, not just a certain segment of winners, should enjoy God’s favor.

There were ancient people who longed for spiritual and physical freedom. They looked forward into history and had the hope of Messiah and God’s promises being fulfilled. History is still unfolding. People yet remain locked in personal bondage and large swaths of humanity still experience oppression and a longing to enjoy blessings which others possess and take for granted.

On this Independence Day in the United States it is important that we recognize and hold together both the blessings of realized freedom along with the limits of others’ freedom. And, with this realization, we continue to actively work for all people and keep praying that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done, here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, circa 1852

So, today, I am lifting a voice from history which exemplifies the struggle of the black experience in America. The following is a small portion from a speech by the ex-slave Frederick Douglass orated on July 4, 1852, nine years before civil war, with President Millard Fillmore and many congressional politicians in attendance:

“The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced. What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloodier than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Because history is forever unfolding, freedom and blessing develop over time and come more powerfully to some than others. True spiritual discernment, with the awareness to labor on behalf of the common good, does not ultimately come through astute observation and superior intellect; it comes by divine revelation. God will both conceal and reveal according to divine purposes and not human agendas.

Christian spirituality cannot be reduced to praying a sinner’s prayer and then maintaining a holding pattern on earth until heaven. Rather, Jesus remains present in this world through the person of the Holy Spirit and is continually interceding on behalf of those who need freedom and blessing. As Christ’s Body, Christians are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, animated by the Spirit to bring God’s ethical and benevolent regime to those who need it most.

If we are blessed, we are to pass blessing on without prejudice. For the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit.

Dear God, Creator of the universe and all that inhabit it, we come as your Church, and as individuals, in humble submission to your word and your way. God, you are the Alpha and Omega, The Almighty Judge and The Forgiver of All Sins, so we come with humility and contrition on behalf of generations past, present and those yet unborn. We ask that you forgive us and create in us a new spirit. Bind our hearts and send forth the healing power that you and you alone can give to us and this sin-sick world. Bring us into reconciliation with one another and restore us to your righteous and holy path. Amen.

Matthew 11:20-24 – “C’mon, Man!”

Jesus angry
“Christ in Majesty” by Polish artist Jan Henryk de Rosen at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (NIV)

Today’s New Testament lesson from the Gospel of Matthew, recounting the words of Jesus, are not filled with unicorns and butterflies, to say the least. We might be somewhat unfamiliar with these not so famous, maybe even infamous, words from our Lord. Before Jesus tells who is accepted in the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:28-30) he tells us who is not accepted. These scathing words are specifically leveled to the towns in which Christ had performed his ministry of healing and miracles.

We need to hear the hard words of Jesus. Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, he has laid out the birth narrative of incarnation in chapters 1-2; the preparation for Christ’s ministry in baptism and being sent to the desert in chapters 3-4; Christ’s teaching on what constitutes a genuine follower of God, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7; and, chapters 8-10, recording ten miracles which were meant to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has broken into history in the person of Jesus Christ. In chapter 11, Jesus begins leveling a rebuke to the crowd who had observed his ministry and did nothing in response to his works.

For Jesus, the height of hubris was to simply ignore his righteous works of gracious teaching and benevolent healing.

If you are not a fan of Monday Night Football, let me explain a pre-game segment each week during the season called, “C’mon, man!” Each commentator picks out a bonehead play from the previous week that would cause someone to shake their head in dismay and say “c’mon, man!” They are typically situations where the player’s head just was not in the game and they ended up, in some cases, costing their team points or even the game.

Cmon man

Reading Christ’s words sounds a lot like Jesus picking out the towns in which he performed his miracles, and saying to them: “C’mon, man!”  “You saw me cleanse a man from leprosy, heal paralyzed people and a woman with a chronic disease, calm a great storm, exorcise demons from people, give sight to the blind and speech to the mute. You saw all of this, but it has not changed you one bit. You still live the same way you always have and have not come to me as the source of your deliverance… “C’mon, man!”

Notice that Jesus’ denunciation comes not because he was experiencing opposition or persecution; he was denouncing them for their bonehead lack of response and refusal to change their lives to conform to what they were seeing right in front of their faces. The crowd heard his teaching and saw his miracles, and it had no effect on them. So, Jesus gave them a great big “C’mon, man!” Judgment becomes the lot of someone who is unaffected and unresponsive to the vast sea of human need around them, viewing Jesus as just another voice, and living a life of mediocrity in the face of opportunity.

So, what would the segment “C’mon, man!” look like today? What would Jesus say to us? Keep in mind we are people with access to Christ’s teaching. We have the Sermon on the Mount to read, study, meditate upon, and live by – yet, too many [Christians] don’t take the time to examine it with the intent of seeing Jesus and allowing him to change their lives… “C’mon, man!”

The Holy Spirit has been provided, who is the power source of the Christian life. We possess all the resources of grace necessary to step into this world and make a difference, yet so many do nothing but occupy a place in the pew [or couch] because they are too afraid to sacrifice their time in meaningful ministry… “C’mon, man!”

There are neighbors, relatives, and co-workers who are lost and lonely, in need of the kind of grace Jesus gives, yet too many of us are oblivious to them and instead are constantly worried about things that, in the end, don’t really matter at all… “C’mon, man!”

We have opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through a vast array of available ministries, yet many do not take the chance to change and be spiritually stretched… “C’mon, man!”

Today the words of Jesus are right in front of our faces, and some of us will have the audacity to read them and remain unchanged, unchallenged, and unresponsive… “C’mon, man!”

If our highest values in life are sameness, stability, and security, we may very well, at the least, miss Jesus altogether, and, at worst, find ourselves under his condemnation. These verses are for those whom Jesus has become all too familiar, as if he is just another piece of furniture in the living room – the coffee table with a dusty Bible resting on it.

Perhaps this post may seem a bit out of place on a website which promotes itself as caring. I would like to think of it as obnoxiously caring. I trust you will accept today’s writing and the words of Jesus as caring enough to confront. There are times when Mid-West nice gets us nowhere and we must have hard conversations. Yes, conversations, and not verbal rockets launched from one group to another. Jesus did not denounce from a distance; he did it up close and personal. Furthermore, he was specific and not generic about why he was speaking in the way he did.

So, may you be able to pray this prayer of repentance today with heartfelt conviction:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Sovereign Lord of the universe, Creator of humanity, we, your unfaithful children, are sorry for our sins and the lives that we have lived apart from your grace. We sincerely believe and confess in our hearts that only through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, can we obtain your forgiveness.

We repent that: in thought, word, and deed, we have committed serious offences against you and our neighbors. Through spiritual laziness and prideful lust for power, we have provoked hatred, division, despair, and hurt within our communities.

Through our greed, deceit, and indifference, we have inflicted serious damage, unnecessary conflict, and aggravated destruction to those different than us.

Through our selfishness, insensitivity, and bias (both conscious and unconscious) we have encouraged and emboldened those who inflict hurt, pain, and sorrow on those who are already oppressed and poor.

In the name of religion, doctrine, and even of Christ himself, we have wounded fellow believers and those who genuinely pursue a faith different than ours. In stubbornness, pride, and arrogance, we have caused division and strife within your church and among your people.

Mercifully send your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of order and comfort, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; to restore in us true faith in Christ which brings truth, peace and harmony; and, to help us walk together with our brothers and sisters in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of your name. Amen.