More Than Meets the Eye

Matthew 13:31-33

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. [32] It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” [33] He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

While the Kingdom is “the smallest of seeds,” it grows “larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree” (v. 32).   Likewise, the leaven hidden in the flour works its way through all the dough (v. 33).

When I was a kid, I used to watch the Transformers cartoon. The theme song ended with the words: “Transformers, more than meets the eye!” The idea is that while that car looks like a car, it is in fact a giant, awesome robot with lasers. Yet when we look at our Christian lives, all we see is a minivan with no A/C. We wonder, “Where are the lasers?”

One of our major problems is that we have a very low standard for awesome. Our culture defines “great” as fast, easy, and fun. However, the reality is, Jesus does not promise us fast, easy, or fun. In fact, He can get in the way of such things. But ask yourself, what is better than fast, easy, and fun? What is truly awe-inspiring? What can take your breath away?

Perhaps you thought of a groom seeing his bride for the first time on their wedding day. Or maybe a natural wonder like the Grand Canyon. Or the birth of a child.

Notice what all these wondrous things have in common. They all draw our attention completely away from ourselves. So often the Kingdom of God is unimpressive, boring, and even disappointing because we are still looking at ourselves. We have gone far too long without gazing at Jesus.

God does better than give us a better life now. Rather, He frees us from our obsession with ourselves so that we can see and experience something and Someone truly awe-inspiring. As you seek His face, may the Son of God take your breath away.


You Are the Light of the World

You are the light of the world…

– Matthew 5:14a

Before talking about what we do, God talks about who we are.  Jesus makes the same distinction in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole.  He begins with the beatitudes (Matthew 5), describing the Christian’s hopes, loves, and character and only after this goes on to particular aspects of life and conduct. Jesus talks about being before He talks about doing.

People rarely talk about what type of person they want to be in the future and consciously pursue these traits (i.e. loyal, reliable, compassionate).  More often we focus on what tasks we want to do or the things we’d like to one day have.  Talk of our futures revolves more around our circumstances (marital status, occupation, living situation) than our hearts.

But Christ is deeply concerned with who we are much more than what we do.

To Believe Him or Not

John 10:17-21

[19] There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Whenever anyone makes a statement, we have two choices.  Either we believe them or we do not.  Whether it’s me telling you I can fly or Jesus saying He is the Good Shepherd, our options are that simple.

The Jews in John 10 are sharply divided.  After Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd some do not believe Him.  His claims are so incredible they call Him demon-possessed and crazy.  Others are not so sure.

We may be tempted to scoff at their unbelief but are we so different?  God consistently declares things that are difficult to understand, hard to believe, or outright outrageous.

Is Matthew 6:33 “reasonable” advice in the midst of financial crisis?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Is Luke 9:24 true when we face physical, not only metaphorical danger?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Is the life Jesus offers us in John 10:10 actually possible or just a pipe dream?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Is Romans 8:28 true all the time?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Jesus’s opponents were proud, selfish, and greedy, but they understood that Jesus meant what He said.  At times, we find ourselves rationalizing or spiritualizing to make it seem like Jesus did not mean what He said.  Fear, doubt, and selfishness can drive us to this.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances and gray areas, but often we are given two simple options – to believe Him or not.

May He give us the grace of faith that we might believe Him, the grace of forgiveness when we do not, and the grace of perseverance to continue to fight despite our stumbling.

The Divine Warrior

Show Them No Mercy
Tremper Longman III

The first voice we hear in the New Testament is that of John the Baptist, sounding remarkably like the Old Testament prophets of phase 3:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:7-10; see also vv. 11-12)

John expects that the one coming after him will fill the role of the violent warrior who will rid the land of its oppressors. Imagine his shock later when the one he does recognize through baptism preaches the good news, heals the sick, and exorcises demons. As a matter of fact, we have a record of his reaction in Matthew 11:1-19. John is now in prison and hears reports about Jesus’ ministry. His doubts lead him to send two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the skeptical question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11:2).

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)

Through his actions, Jesus informs John that he has in fact chosen the right person. However, Jesus is also subtly changing – indeed, enriching – John’s understanding of his mission. In a nutshell, Jesus is the divine warrior, but he has intensified and heightened the battle. No longer is the battle a physical battle against flesh-and-blood enemies, but rather it is directed toward the spiritual powers and authorities. Furthermore, this battle is fought with nonphysical weapons.

The exorcisms of the New Testament are a case in point. Here we see the violent nature of the conflict. Matthew 8:28-34 (see also Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) narrates the story of Jesus’ ordering the demons in two demon-possessed men to enter into pigs, which then throw themselves into a lake and are destroyed. The climax of phase 4 is violent but in an ironic way. Paul looks back on the crucifixion and pronounces it a military victory over the demonic realm:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

Jesus’ ascension into heaven is also described in military language, indeed by the citation of a holy-war hymn from the Old Testament, Psalm 68:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8)

Jesus defeated the powers and authorities, not by killing but by dying!

God is Awake

Sarah Albrecht

When we respond to our fears by trying to take on the attributes of God – like, for example, omniscience and omnipresence – we will be plagued by restlessness. We think we are taking control by thinking about all the possible precautions against robbers (and there is no harm in being responsible in locking our house – so long as our trust and hope is in the Lord and not in a deadbolt) breaking in or by staying awake and looking in every place. Yet, in reality, instead of controlling the situation, we become controlled and enslaved by fear.

Omnipresence and omniscience aren’t the only attributes of God that we are tempted to take on.

We try to control situations by demanding perfect justice when we are wronged. We refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit can and is working in the hearts of men. We sacrifice relationships because people do not meet our expectations.

We try to be self-sufficient – planning for ever possible circumstance or by refusing help when we really need it. We judge people who can’t get it together. We miss out on being blessed by God through others.

We try to be perfect and good and never sin on our own accord. Instead, we become self-righteous. We are controlled by what others think of us and keeping up the image of perfection rather than trusting in Christ for our salvation. We know deep down that we are fakes. We worry that God knows this and is out to get us.

When we try to be God, we will always fail. We will quickly grow weary, and our souls will not be at peace. We feel the burden of the ultimate sin of pride when we think that we can do God’s job better than He can.

The Bible says, in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Are We Still Listening?

[1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” [3] He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?

– Matthew 12:1-5

As Jesus walks with His disciples, the Pharisees are suddenly and deeply offended.  Jesus’s disciples are breaking the Sabbath.  Sabbath-keeping is the fourth commandment.  Exodus 20 is clear.

[8] “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, [10] but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…

In the Old Testament, breaking Sabbath was punishable by death.  So to avoid breaking Sabbath, the Pharisees had many rules.  There were rules about how far you could walk, how many letters you could write, and so on and so forth.  Eventually, they began to think that they had a complete set of rules regarding the Sabbath.  They had figured out Sabbath-keeping.

But then in v. 3-5, Jesus bursts their bubble.  Jesus is speaking to Bible scholars who had most of the Old Testament memorized, and He is playing them when He asks, “Have you not read?”

See, the Pharisees felt that they had figured out faith, that they had even figured out God.  They were arrogant and so they stopped listening.  We too can imagine that we have many things figured out.

We have relationships figured out.  We have parenting figured out.  We have finances figured out.  We have our list of needs figured out.   We have the future figured out.  And when we believe this, not even God can tell us we are wrong.

When was the last time God told us that we are wrong about something very important?  Are we still listening?

Son of Mary, Savior of the World

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

– Matthew 1:16

In the world’s eyes, Jesus is the illegitimate child of an unwed, teenage mother. Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth, a backwater town. They are poor and very likely uneducated. The names of Jesus’s ancestors from Joseph to several generations prior include no one of any particular importance.

This is unexpected. One would expect the King of Glory to have a royal lineage. Another surprise in Jesus’s lineage is the inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. What do these people have in common?

They are all women? Sure, they are all women but other Old Testament genealogies include women. They are all sinners? Sure, but there are certainly plenty of other sinners in the genealogy.

The thing that is completely unexpected, especially for a Jewish Messiah, is that all four are Gentiles. Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites. Ruth is a Moabite. Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

In verse one, Matthew calls Jesus the “son of Abraham.” When God spoke to Abraham, His promise was that through Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

When Jesus is born into the world, He is the son of Mary whose ancestors are Gentiles (people traditionally believed to be cut off from God). This Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel or the Christ of Western culture, but the Savior of the world!

Son of David, King of Glory

[1] The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…

[6] and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah

– Matthew 1:1, 6

King David was the greatest King in Israel’s history. He was a warrior who destroyed their enemies and brought peace and prosperity to the nation. Matthew shows David honor in calling Jesus the son of David. Yet at the same time, Matthew draws attention to David’s failures.

In verse 6, Matthew points out that Solomon is the son of David and the wife of Uriah. This is an odd introduction, something along the lines of “this is Tom who beats his wife” or “this is Rachel who cheats on her taxes.” Matthew could have named Solomon’s mother as Bathsheba but he makes certain that we understand that David unlawfully took another man’s wife. Even the greatest king of Israel was a sinner and a failure.

In verses 7-11, Matthew lists the kings of Israel after David, from Solomon to Jechoniah and the kings get worse and worse. There are a couple good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah but many more terrible kings. Ahaz burned his son as an offering to false gods. Manasseh filled the temple with altars to Baal and other demons. Things have gotten so bad by the time of Jechoniah that God sends the nation into exile. As a whole, the kings are one sorry disappointment after another.

We too spend most of our lives serving disappointing kings. Perhaps our “king” is pleasure, money, or prestige. These kings promise us the world but turn out to be ugly disappointments. These kings cannot save us or give us life.

In contrast to the ugliness of earthly kings, Matthew presents to us King Jesus. He is the eternal Son of God who washes the dirty feet of wicked people. He is the voice who spoke the world into being yet He knows our names. Jesus is the God who comes to save us, whose justice, holiness, mercy and steadfast love is more radiant than a million suns. He is the king we have been waiting for.

Dining with Real Sinners

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

jesus-eats-with-sinners[10] And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. [11] And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [12] But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [13] Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13

At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.

The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church.  His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners.  They had done nothing to merit salvation.  Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them.  On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.

If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agenda, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would feel His acceptance and forgiveness.  For “experiencing God’s love in Jesus Christ means experiencing that one has been unreservedly accepted, approved and infinitely loved, that one can and should accept oneself and one’s neighbor.  Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor” [Walter Kasper].

Matthew the Publican

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

It is interesting that whenever the evangelists Mark, Luke, or John mention the apostles, they call the author of the first Gospel either Levi or Matthew.  But in his own Gospel, he always refers to himself as ‘Matthew the publican,’ never wanting to forget who he was and always wanting to remember how low Jesus stooped to pick him up.