Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral virtue, and in your moral virtue,
knowledge ;

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Matthew Chapter 18 part 1

Chapter 18 is a famous , well known chapter of the bible. The "must come as a child" verses are here as well as the "cut off your hand and feet and pluck out your eye" verses and the forgive "seventy times seven" verses. All of these topics have been debated, written about, and over analyzed for years. My goal is to help you remember  that these verses can be found in Matthew Chapter 18. As always, I will do my best to give you something to think about that will hopefully help you remember.
The literal beginning to Chapter 18 is "In that hour". The same hour that Peter pulled the tax money out of the fishes mouth (Matt 17:27). The disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Just to give a little back ground, we are told in Mark 9:33-34, that when the disciples arrived in Capernaum, (which is where our narrative in Matthew picks up) Jesus asked them what they had been discussing on the way. Verse 9: 34 in Mark  says that they kept silent because they had been discussing which of them was the greatest.
This is one of those passages where if we do not remember that these men were human beings with sinful, frail natures, just like our own, we will miss some very important teaching points in this passage. 
The disciples had prideful ambitions. They were still waiting for Jesus to set up His kingdom on earth, they knew that He would be putting together His government and they were starting to try to guess where they would personally fit into Jesus's plans. In Matthew 20:21 we see the mother of James and John asking if her son's could sit at  the Lord's  right and His left when He established His kingdom. According to Eerdman's, it is clear that she was not asking this for her sons to be honored with this after their deaths. She was asking for this honor to be bestowed when Jesus set up the earthly kingdom which they all thought was eminent. Nope, this was self seeking, worldly ambition on the part of the disciples.  
Jesus does not address the problem with them directly. Instead, to answer their question about who was the greatest, He calls a little child to himself. It was probably a child able to run to Him but still small enough for Him to easily gather the child into His arms (Mark 9:36).  He then tells  the disciples in Matthew 18:3-5,  that unless they are completely changed and become like little children, they cannot enter the kingdom of God and that they needed to become humble, like a little child, if they wanted to be the greatest in heaven.
Try to get the mental picture here. He takes a a small child and sets it before a group of big, strong, full of their own importance, men and says, become like this and then you will be the greatest. 

Besides raising 5 children of my own, I teach a Sunday school class, almost every Sunday. The children in this class are between the ages of 3-7. They come into class at 3, very uncivilized and leave at 7, able to sit through church with a list of big kid questions to answer. The 3 year olds need mom just about every other Sunday and are only staying, (on the Sundays they do stay), for the popcorn and cookies. All of them in this age group are honest, they never hide their emotions. They are exuberant with their praise and their love of the grown ups in their lives. They clearly love the idea of going to heaven (because all things are possible) and are very willing to pray for forgiveness of their sins and accept Jesus as their savior. 

An older sibling in the class once pointed out to me that his younger brother, who joined the class at 3, had not accepted Jesus yet. When we discussed it again , he waited anxiously for his brother to give his answer to the question of accepting Christ.

They are humble to a fault. They know that they don't know everything. They take the word of God at face value and listen attentively especially if there is  some amazing detail in the passage I'm reading to them. They are little sinners, but forgive and easily forget transgressions against them and transgressions that they have committed. I look at them and think "this is how God wants me to be before Him"

Verse 18:5 is amazing. Jesus says " whoever receives one such child in my name receives me". I am not a Greek scholar, so I use a Greek lexicon to look up words and meanings. I also use Eerdman's Pulpit Commentaries because he literally gives the Greek  meanings of the passages before the commentaries.
That said, the important word in this passage is "receives" . The words first literal meaning is "to take by the hand". According to Eerdmans, this means to truly love, to show tender affection, to provide for in every way. Emotionally, physically and spiritually.
 At first this verse did not seem to go with the rest of the passage but as I thought and prayed over this I could see that Jesus is telling us that this is where His heart is. In Luke 18:15 it tells us that they were bringing babies to Him so that He might touch them. It says that the disciples were trying to keep the little children away. In Luke 18:16, Jesus says, "Permit the children to come to Me and do not hider them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (18:17) Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter at all"
"They are greatest in the kingdom" "The Kingdom of God is made up of such as these""whoever does
not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter at all". Is it possible that Jesus was reminded of  His heavenly home when He saw little children here on earth ? That  when we look at little children here on earth,  what we see is  as close as we are  going to get to seeing what we and the others are going to be like in heaven?

This would explain why the heart of God seems so caring toward the orphan and the fatherless child., and why He pronounces such a sever punishment on any who would stumbles them. In  Matt. 18:6, Jesus talks about a millstone being put around the neck and being cast into the sea for stumbling a little one. We lose a lot in the translation of this verse because of the times and the cultural differences. It literally says, the millstone that has to be pulled around by an ass. Jesus is making a point here about the size of the millstone. The Jews did not execute their people this way, but the pagans did. To be drowned with a millstone around your neck to keep your body from floating up, would be an abhorrent death to the Jews. For your family not to be able to bury you would be considered the worst of tragedies. The Jews have very strict traditions they follow when a loved one dies, including some one sitting with the body until it is buried, which needs to be within a short time because they do not approve of any kind of embalming.  They have many traditions that are strictly adhered to to honor a dead loved one. It is actually very interesting reading, but the point here is that Jesus was giving them a scenario of the worst possible death for a Jew to endure.
Jesus knows that little children need love and care. They are easily damaged by the grown ups in there lives and He makes it clear how serious an infraction this is. Little children are His people. The kingdom of God is filled with people like them. 
This is getting long and I haven't even addressed the amazing verse about " their angels continually beholding the face of God". (18:10) I think that will have to come later.

This will have to be Part 1 of Chapter 18. Keep reading your bibles ladies! God speaks through His word. I am praying for all you. Practice you memory tools as you go to sleep, or as you wait at a stop light,  or anytime you are waiting. We spend a lot of time in America hurrying so we can wait . Turn that time into God's time.
I'm not sure what we will use to remember this chapter yet. I will post it when I figure it out.
Much love

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Earthen Vessel

The first time we see Mary, she is seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him talk and teach of the things of God. (Luke 10:38) Luke says that Martha, her sister, had invited Jesus into their home. There was a problem because Martha was working hard to serve everyone and Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him instead of helping her sister Martha. We all know this story and if you think that this is another teaching about the Marys and the Marthas in the world, you are mistaken.

I want to challenge you to think of Mary as the flesh and blood human being that she was. Her brother, Lazarus, was  a personal friend of Jesus in a different capacity than the disciples.We don't know how Jesus knew this family or for how long  He knew them before the recorded events took place. We can say for certain that Mary was drawn to Jesus and knew that He was incredibly special. She knew that he was capable of healing the sick because the next time we see her in scripture is in John11. Here we find out that the two sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus when their brother Lazarus gets sick.   Jesus does not go to them right away and Lazarus dies. When Jesus does  arrive in Bethany, Martha says " Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died" It also says that Martha went to meet Him but Mary did not. Is it possible that Mary and Martha were a little upset with Jesus? They must have known that He could have made it to them quicker than He did. They knew where He was and knew how long the journey took to get to them.  Remember, they were people, women, just like us. It is possible that they had discussed the fact that Jesus had not made it to them in time. Where was He when they needed Him?
At this point in John 11, Martha professes that she still believes that God will give Him anything He asks for and that he is the Christ, the Son of God, but her words in between those professions do not seem to prove that she really believed them .
 She calls Mary and tells her that Jesus is asking for her. When Mary gets to Jesus the scripture says she falls at the feet of Jesus, her grief overcoming her. She speaks the same words that Martha had said to Jesus. "Lord , if you had been here, my brother would not have died"

The Scripture says that Jesus was very moved  and asks them to remove the stone in front of Lazarus's tomb. At this point  Martha, the one who had just told Jesus that she believed that He was the Son of God , protested loudly that by now her brother's body would surely stink. It appears that Mary just watched the whole thing unfold. 
Jesus prays to God the Father that those around Him might believe that He was indeed sent by the Father and He calls Lazarus to come out of his grave. 
Now, fast forward to John 12. Jesus is again eating with Lazarus and his family. Mary comes with a pound of very costly perfume. Mark 14:3 says she "broke the vial and poured it over His head". 

According to Unger's and what I could glean from the internet. This vial or jar, would have been either a family investment, or part of a dowry given to Mary by someone intending to marry her. This pound of pure Nard had great significance. The fact that she broke the container open meant that there was no going back. There was no resealing this container to use on another occasion or to use for another purpose.  Either this was a family decision to honor Jesus or Mary was making a very personal statement to Him. It seems to me that the statement was very personal to Mary. After all, she wipes His feet with her hair according to John 12. 

Is it possible that Mary was very fond of Jesus in every way? She was just an ordinary woman who was fortunate enough in her lifetime to meet the King of Kings. When I started dating my husband, he was a believer in Jesus. I was not. As I got to know him, I could see that he had something that I didn't have. I could tell that there was something different about him so I asked him to take me to church. Now I know that it was the Holy Spirit in his life and it was very appealing. I for one, think that Jesus our Lord, full of the Holy Spirit in human flesh, would be very appealing to the heart of a woman. He was kind and caring to a fault. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and brought her own brother back to life. And in Rev. 19, He is described as the quintessential "Prince" Coming on a white horse for His bride and it says His name is Faithful and True. (which by the way, is where we get all of the stories of the prince coming on a white horse.) What woman does not want "faithful and true"?

I am not writing this to suggest that anything transpired between Mary and our Lord. I'm doing it to make a point. It is very possible that Mary was completely and totally devoted to an earthly Jesus at this point. She could have seen Him as her future. Her all in all. It is also possible that she had her life and future all worked out in her mind. She thought of many scenarios for herself and all of them seemed good if Jesus was going to be in her future. I am basing this on what I would have been thinking if I were her. I would have had the plan all worked out in my mind.

Then what happens? Her Lord, her life, her love,her King of Kings is cruelly murdered. After the death of Jesus, many Marys are mentioned in the scriptures but historians agree that none of them are her. There is no factual basis to the stories that she and Mary Magdalene are the same person. No, after the dinner and the pound of Nard, she fades into obscurity.  

But what if we could see what her life was like after the crucifixion. It is possible that she was completely  devastated. The Chief Priests were plotting to kill her brother (Matt12:10) as well as Jesus and they had succeeded at least, with half of their plan. She and her family would have been put out of the synagog for their relationship with Jesus. Basically, her world would have fallen completely apart. She knew in her spirit that she had been right where God wanted her. She knew Jesus had the words to eternal life and yet, things were  horrible now. Nothing had worked out the way she thought it would. Her life was not going to be what she thought it would be. 
Sound familiar? 

I like to think that Mary heard of the resurrection very soon after it occurred. That she was present for Pentecost and that she, very soon was able to give her Lord and savior the proper place in her life. 
Jesus needed to become the King of her eternity not just the King of her heart.  Hopefully she soon realized that whatever the King of Kings had for her, was enough. That her life was in Him now, seen or unseen. 

It has to be this way for us too. Jesus has to be enough for what ever is happening in our lives. Coming to this point in our relationship with Jesus is a true milestone to measure in our growth as a Christian.

I remember when the Lord spoke His word into my life as I stood in the hallway of a hospital where my youngest daughter lay in intensive care. I was having a discussion with one of her Drs and a nurse rushed out and said that I needed to come right away because my baby was not doing well and they were afraid that she might not live. The situation was dire. I needed to rush forward at that moment but my legs would not move. I was not sure that they would even hold me up much less let me hurry forward. I heard the verse from Job spoken into my heart . "Though He slay me , I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15)

My girl, doing her favorite thing.
At that moment I realized that He was enough for me, not just enough but He was all I needed. He was my King.  He holds my past, present and future in His hands with a greater love than I will ever know from anyone else. 

He gave my baby back to me.When I was finally able to hold her again there was nothing more wonderful. She is 11 now, and we have been through many more hospital stays and surgeries since that day. I still pray everyday that the Lord will complete her healing. But, His love, His sweetness, His power is enough for this woman's heart. "Though he slay me,I will hope in Him"