Posts Tagged 'Just say yes'

Just Say Yes, Part 7

Many people in the New Testament said “yes” to Jesus, and none of them regretted it. Saying “yes” to Him is essentially what faith is all about. These people said “yes” to Jesus and they got what the needed because saying “yes” to Jesus is not only an expression of faith, but it is also obedience to God’s Word. When we say “yes” to the Lord, we are creating the conditions necessary to receive the promises of God and answers to our prayers.

We’ve looked at six people who said “yes” to Jesus:

• A couple of blind men gave the “yes” of faith to Christ’s offer of mercy and healing, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples said to “yes” to Christ’s question of teaching, Matthew 13:51;
• The Syrophoenician woman replied, “yes” to being a dog – a lost soul in need of healing and salvation, Matthew 15:27;
• Martha, Lazarus’ sister, said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• In all, three times Peter said “yes” to the Lord when asked, “Do you love me?”, John 21:15, 16;
• While on the island of Patmos, John said “yes” to Jesus’ statement that He is coming soon, Revelation 22:20.

Fine examples all of people who said the right thing to Jesus. But I’ve saved the best “yes” till the end. It wasn’t just followers of Jesus who said “yes” to Him, He said “yes” to Somebody, too.

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus saying “yes” to the Heavenly Father. It’s actually a very rare glimpse into one of Jesus’ prayers. Tasker wrote,

Here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography to be found in the synoptic Gospels. It shows that the dominant characteristic of His Incarnate life was obedience to His Father’s will.

A discouraged prophet

It all started with a question:

Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2 | NIV84)

A very discouraged John the Baptist was losing faith. He sent some of his friends to Jesus to ask that very question. He had been stuck in prison for a while and he heard some puzzling things about the Man he introduced to the world as The Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he still in prison? Why was Jesus showing no signs of Messianic activity, like judgment of the wicked that Jesus Himself had promised to do? He had some serious doubts and Jesus.

It’s hard to believe that a man like John the Baptist could ever have doubts. He was tough. He lived an austere life. He was devoted to his singular mission: to pave the way for the Messiah. If a stand up guy like John the Baptist could have his doubts, don’t be too hard on yourself or fellow believers if doubt floats into your heads. Even the most courageous and faithful of God’s servants experience doubt from time to time. But we can take a lesson from John: He essentially confessed his doubts to Jesus; he didn’t keep them bottled up inside. Doubt is the very beginning of faith, if you play your cards right.

If John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus, Jesus had no doubts about John!

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a | NIV84)

But our Lord said more than that. He reassured John that He was the Messiah, not by giving him the “proof” he was asking for, but evidence. Faith is NOT about proof; it’s about evidence. God is His own proof and faith is accepting that fact. Here’s the evidence Jesus gave John:

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.” (Matthew 11:4 – 6 | NIV84)

It may not look like it to you, but Jesus is paraphrasing Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1 as evidence that He was the promised Messiah. The evidence was that He was fulfilling the ancient prophecies about what the Messiah would be doing when He arrived on the scene. The Messianic Age had arrived because Jesus was doing exactly what the promised Messiah would be doing!

After giving John comfort; reassuring His cousin that He was truly the Messiah, Jesus paid him the highest compliment in front of everybody: Nobody was greater than John the Baptist. But then, Jesus says this:

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11b | NIV84)

That’s a highly contested verse. Chrysostom and Luther believed that “the least” refers to Jesus Himself. Jesus was “least” in the sense that He was younger than his cousin, that John came first, that it was John who baptized Him, and that for a while, John was more famous thanHe. That could be what Jesus meant. Or it could be that Jesus was referring to the “least” Christian. The “least” Christian is greater in privilege than John because John was still part of the Old Testament dispensation.

What Jesus said next is startling:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12 | NIV84)

That’s a powerful verse, and it would have been something John the Baptist needed to hear. The kingdom of Heaven is coming; nothing can stop the Kingdom from advancing – from taking over this world of ours, and only those who are determined and devoted and committed can “lay hold of it,” or enter it, or be a part of it. Sitting in prison, feeling sorry for himself, John the Baptist was not the “forceful” man he should have been; the “forceful” man he always had been. This is Jesus trying to buck up his cousin. John the Baptist was better than this and he knew it.

The essence of verses 12 and 13 is found over Luke’s Gospel, but in the opposite order:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 | NIV84)

It takes an effort to keep the faith. You can’t be lazy in walking the road of faith which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s no room for people sitting around watching the grass growing.

Jesus’ estimation of the world around Him

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16, 17 | NIV84)

A lot of people found fault with John the Baptist; they thought he was a little weird. But these same people thought Jesus was off His rocker, too, even though His way of life was drastically different from that of John.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ (Matthew 11:18, 19 | NIV84)

There was literally no way anybody could please these immature child-like adults. The people of Jesus’ day were like kids playing around at life; they were not serious people. They didn’t take John the Baptist seriously and they didn’t take Jesus seriously, either.

Not only the Jews, but the rest of the world was lost.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20 | NIV84)

A person pays a high price when they witness the evidence that Jesus is Lord but then refuses to do the right thing. Their’s was a singular privilege; Jesus was living among them. His headquarters was there. He was preaching and teaching in those cities. He was performing miracles there. Yet they rejected Him. Verse 24 is one of the harshest statements ever made by Jesus Christ:

But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:24 | NIV84)

This whole paragraph stands forever as a warning to all who have witnessed and experienced the presence of God and seen His power manifested but who refuse to repent. People like that, and make no mistake there are many of them, will be doubly condemned for their rejection of the light they have received.

Jesus is talking about godless cities, but John the Baptist was still on our Lord’s mind even as He rebuked and denounced the people who saw the evidence with their own eyes but still rejected Him. Jesus didn’t want His cousin; His friend; His co-worker to end up like the cities He rebuked. John the Baptist’s doubts couldn’t become more; they couldn’t take over the Baptist’s heart and soul.

Jesus and the weary

And that gets us almost to Jesus’ “yes.” Here’s what He said to God the Father just before He said “yes”:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25 | NIV84)

Even though Jesus was rejected by these proud cities, He was accepted by what we might call, “the common folk.” This is the first time in public that Jesus referred to God as His “Father,” but He also refers to Him as “Lord of heaven and earth.” That takes us right back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, where we see that God is the Lord of heaven and earth; He created all that exists and He is the Father of Jesus Christ! And Jesus Christ is the revealer of God the Creator. And the only people who saw what Jesus was revealing – what John the Baptist began to reveal – were “little children,” that is, just simple, regular folks. They got it! John the Baptist got it!

And that was God’s plan all along, and that’s what Jesus said “yes” to:

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

This was something Paul understood well. He was a highly educated rabbi and theologian, but he completely missed the Messiah. He never noticed Jesus until the risen Lord confronted him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25 | NIV)

Jesus said “yes” to all that. But John the Baptist was still on His mind. This was what John, sitting in prison, needed to know; what he needed to remember. Even in prison, John was the privileged one, not his jailers. John the Baptist was tired. He was weary. He needed strength outside of himself. Everything Jesus said and did here were with His cousin in mind. Even this passage:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30 | NIV84)

John the Baptist needed to hear those words. And maybe you do, too. Maybe you feel overcome by the world. Maybe you feel squeezed and pressured into a corner by circumstances of life. You know Jesus. You love Jesus. But, like John, maybe a doubt or two have rushed into your head. God’s got everything under control. Jesus has more than enough strength to keep you strong. All you have to do is go to Him, says “yes,” and accept the rest He offers.

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Just Say Yes, Part 6

In the New Testament, a significant number of people said “yes” to Jesus Christ. We’re looking at a handful of them in this series, and so far, we looked at five of them:

• A couple of blind men, followers of Jesus both, said “yes” to Jesus and were healed of their blindness, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples replied “yes” to the teachings of Jesus, even though they weren’t quite sure what He was talking about. In their case, “yes” was a statement of faith, Matthew 13:51;
• That Syrophonecian woman – a foreigner – agreed with Jesus’ designation of her as a “dog,” and immediately received exactly what she needed from Him, Matthew 15:27;
• When her brother Lazarus died, his sister Martha said “yes” to Jesus, as the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• Peter, the impetuous apostle, said “yes” to Jesus not once, but three times, pledging his love and devotion to the Lord, John 21:15, 16.

Saying “yes” to the Lord is showing Him and others that you have faith – faith in Him and in His Word and abilities. As we learn to say “yes” to Jesus, we are living in obedience to God’s will and we are creating the conditions in which God will bless us and answer our prayers.

Not only that, from the moment you said “yes” to God’s gracious invitation to salvation, at least four simple blessings began to flow into your life:

Peace

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… (Ephesians 2:14 | NIV84)

Jesus Christ has “made the two one.” In other words, by saying “yes” to Jesus’ gift of salvation, He has immediately made peace between you and God. God’s not angry at you anymore. His wrath, previously directed at you because of your sin, is gone in a moment when you said “yes” to Him.

Purpose

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 3:10 | NIV84)

When you start living for God, He gives your life purpose. Once you lived for yourself – and that’s the loneliest way to live – but now you live for Him, and that means blessing others as God has blessed you. It means planning your days and nights around HIS will for you. It means consciously looking for all those “good works” God has prepared for you to do.

Fellowship

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household… (Ephesians 3:19 | NIV4)

Saying “yes” to God put you in a whole new family! You are now members of God’s family; and it’s a huge one! You are bound to believers from all time from all walks of life by the blood of Jesus. Not only that, when you said your first “yes” to God, you became a citizen of Heaven and enjoy all the rights and privileges that citizenship gives you.

Focus

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 3:18 | NIV84)

Do you realize the profundity of that single verse? Because we said “yes” to God, we can enter His presence by His Spirit. We can pray with assurance that He hears our prayers. We can be guaranteed that He knows our needs and our desires. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are able to focus on God because we are in His presence and we are made aware that He is our Sole Provider.

Peter wasn’t the only apostle who said “yes” to Jesus; John also said “yes” in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20 | NIV84)

Not only is that verse from the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, it also contains the last promise of the Bible and the last prayer of the Bible.

And, actually, there are two “yes’s” in that verse. Jesus said “yes” and John said “amen,” which is essentially as saying “yes” to what Jesus had just said “yes” to. Let’s take a look at John’s very consequential “yes.”

A profound book

The book of Revelation is truly profound. We call it a book, but really it’s just a long letter to seven churches, which are named for us in the first three chapters. This letter, or book, contains admonitions to those seven churches and it contains something else:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1, 2 \ NIV84)

When we read chapters 4 – 22, we are reading “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that we are reading something that God showed Jesus, which He in turned showed to John, and John in turn showed to us through what he wrote to these seven churches. What God revealed to Jesus was nothing less than what the future holds for Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. It’s a book of prophecies concerning certain events that will take place, including the Second Coming of Jesus, and how those events will touch the lives of God’s people.

Every book in the Bible is just as important as the other, but Revelation is the climax and consummation of God’s Word to man. God has told man everything he needs to know to live the “good life,” and Revelation simply confirms everything the previous 65 book of the Bible said.

John put Jesus’ revelation from God to paper. John was an apostle, who also wrote the Gospel of John and three other letters. He was also a prophet and a leader of the churches in and around Asia Minor. He was the son of Zebedee and he and his family were very successful and prosperous fishermen. John was particularly close to Jesus, along with James and Peter. Even though he was mentioned only three times in the whole book of Acts, John was a key figure in the early Church. Tradition says that John eventually settled in Ephesus, where, under the reign of Domitian, he was arrested and banished to a small island known as Patmos to work in the mines there.

Revelation was one of the last parts of the New Testament written, some time in the 90’s. When you read the first three chapters, you can get a sense of how complacent the church had become during its second generation. It’s sad that most of those seven churches had already forsaken the beliefs and convictions of their fathers.

There are different ways to interpret the book of Revelation, and the purpose of this study is not to teach those differing schools of interpretation. Instead, I want to focus solely on the last few verses of the last chapter, which make the epilogue of the book.

The last words of the angel, 22:6 – 11

The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” (Revelation 22:6 | NIV84)

This angel had been with John throughout the book and among his final words are words of reassurance John had heard before, and likely needed to hear again. The “words are trustworthy and true,” that is, the amazing things John had seen and heard are dependable – these incredible prophecies may be counted upon to take place.

God had given His Son His program for the future of mankind and Jesus gave that program to John to give to the churches. That program is profound and far reaching and so phenomenal, we need this reassurance that God will, as He has always done throughout history, keep His promises.

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10, 11 | NIV84)

The angel told John not to “conceal” or “hide” what he saw. It’s interesting that, given the dramatic similarities between this book and the Old Testament book of Daniel that Daniel was told to do exactly the opposite!

The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future. (Daniel 8:26 | NIV84)

Why? In Daniel’s day, the things he saw – essentially the same things John saw – were a long way from being fulfilled. But now, in John’s day, “the time is near.” Many of the things both Daniel and John saw concerned the early church. Some of those prophecies have already come to pass, in part or in whole, during the days of the Roman Empire. And yet, there are other prophecies that have a continuing fulfillment throughout the centuries. There’s a reason why history repeats itself. As Sherlock Holmes said in “The Valley of Fear,”

Everything comes in circles. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.

That’s the way it is with some of the prophecies of Revelation and Daniel. But all the prophecies of Revelation, the partially fulfilled ones and the ones being continually fulfilled, will be completely fulfilled in the future, by the time Jesus comes back.

The time of man’s dominance on the earth will draw to an end; the age of grace that we are presently enjoying, the long probationary period, will be over:

“Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:11 | NIV84)

That’s a curious verse. What it simply means is that even in the very end of days, people will continue to live as they always have. Good or bad. And for those not repenting, it will be too late. That’s a scary thought. There will be a day when God’s patience and grace will run out.

The last words of Jesus, 22:12 – 16

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus talking and it’s exciting. We all know about salvation by grace. We all know about the Second Coming. But now we hear about rewards He will be bring with Him when He comes back! Salvation is entirely a work of grace, but rewards are based on our works.

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:11 – 15 | NIV84)

We don’t talk much about that, but rewards are a pretty big deal that should be talked about; they are a great motivation for living right. Don’t you like gifts? Jesus is coming back and He’s bringing rewards with Him.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16 | NIV84)

There you have it; that’s how we got this book of Revelation. Jesus sent that angel who was hanging around John all the time, to give the apostle “this testimony,” or the revelation to the seven churches. Everything John heard and saw came from Jesus. None of the visions or prophecies came out of John’s head.

This is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. He’s the “Root and the Offspring of David,” thus the true and promised King of kings; the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel. He’s the “bright Morning Star,” because Jesus Christ IS the new day and the new dawn. To every believer, Christ is the Promise of new day. He shines today as brightly as in the day of John on Patmos. Jesus Christ: He doen’t set and He doesn’t fall.

The last words of the Spirit and the Bride, 22:17

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 | NIV84)

Those are the words of the Holy Spirit and of the Church, collectively, crying out for the Lord to return, and crying out for those who are in need to come and receive the “free gift of the water of life.” Only Jesus can meet the needs of your heart. His gifts, His ‘water of life’ always satisfy; always give you what you need.

The last words of John. 22:18

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:18 | NIV84)

John quotes Jesus; the Lord is coming soon. To everything that he has seen and heard, John says “Amen,” he says “yes.”

• “Yes” to the last words of the angel: everything in the book of Revelation is true, reliable, and dependable. In fact, ALL of God’s Word is true, reliable, and dependable!
• “Yes” to the last words of Jesus: He IS coming soon; He IS bringing rewards for His people; He is the genuine, long awaited King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
• “Yes” to the last words of the Spirit and the Church: Come Lord Jesus! Come all who need Him! Jesus Christ, the soon coming King is also the Source of everything you need – everything you will ever need!
• “Yes” was John’s final word to everything he saw and heard and to the promise of the Second Coming.

Yes! Amen! Those should be our final words, too.

Just Say Yes, Part 5

Martin Luther King famously said this:

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

Of course, he’s right about that. And what is true about forgiveness is also true of our ongoing commitment to God. Our faith must be lived daily, wherever we may be. Every day, in many small and big ways, we need to be manifesting our commitment to God before an unbelieving world. Being in a committed relationship with God is not unlike being in a committed relationship with our spouse. When I think about my marriage, it’s obvious that when the minister asked me to say, “I do,” he should have said, “Say I do, I did, and I will! All the time!”

Part of that commitment to God is learning to say “yes” to Him. I say “learning to say ‘yes’” because it’s not natural for us. And it’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes saying “yes” to God means saying to “no” to ourselves or other people, and most of us are not predisposed to do that. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, but developing the godly habit of saying “yes” to God does two very important things in our lives:

• It reaffirms our commitment to Him.

If I as a Christian husband always said “no” to my wife, what kind husband would that make me? What if I always did what I wanted to do at the expense of doing what my wife wanted? How would that make her feel? The more we say “yes” to God, the more we are telling Him and showing the world how seriously we take our commitment to Him. It demonstrates to God that He is important to us and that our relationship with Him is more than just a “word-only” relationship.

• It shows that we are available to Him.

If you’ve invited somebody to some important event and they never showed even though they said they would, you know how most Christians treat the Lord. We declare our love for Him and we promise Him the world, but then we don’t bother to show up when He needs us the most. What does that tell God? That we have better things to do? That other people are more important than He? Before you say, “I’d never do that,” stop and think about how many times you’ve skipped church lately. Can you imagine? You’re too busy to give God an hour or two one day a week! That’s despicable. But a lot of Christians do that without giving it a second thought.

Saying “yes” to God is part of the faith that we claim to possess. And living in obedience to God’s Word is saying “yes” to Him. So far, we have looked at four people in the Bible who said “yes” to Jesus:

• In Matthew 9:28, two blind men said “yes” to Christ’s mercy and they were healed.
• In Matthew 13:51, some disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus.
• In Matthew 15:17, the Syrophoenician woman said “yes” to being a dog; a sinner in need of the kind of help only the Savior could give.
• In John 11:27, Martha said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection.

In each and every case, the people saying “yes” to Jesus were manifesting their faith to Him and to others.

Peter is our fourth example of somebody who said “yes” to Jesus:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” (John 21:15 | NIV84)

In fact, in the story, Peter said “yes” to Jesus three times. Let’s take a closer look at why Jesus asked Peter what appeared to have been the same question three times and why Peter said “yes” three times.

An odd chapter

John chapter 21 is an odd chapter. Some Bible scholars don’t even think John wrote it. It seems almost out of place. These “scholars” point to chapter 20 as being a more fitting end to the Gospel.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30, 31 | NIV84)

Well, they may have a point; a slender one, no doubt. Those verses do seem like a good way to end a story – a biography of Jesus. But do they really? There is a handful of threads of “unfinished business” in the life and afterlife of Jesus that chapter 21 ties up.

Seven of the disciples had returned to their previous lives. That’s almost anticlimactic when compared to what came before.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:2, 3 | NIV84)

Why wouldn’t they go fishing? These men who had been through so much in recent weeks needed time to think; time to work things out. Sure, Jesus rose from the dead; that worked out good for Him. Sure doubting Thomas isn’t doubting any more. But what do they do next? It’s human nature to do what’s comfortable when you don’t know what you should be doing. That’s why people eat to feel better. Or they crank up the heat when it’s drizzling outside even if it isn’t all that cold. These men knew fishing. They understood fish. So, with Peter as the default leader, they all went fishing. How familiar were these guys with fishing? How comfortable were they with going back to their former lives? John refers to “the boat,” not “a boat.” This is the boat they used, perhaps, dozens and dozens of times before.

So that sets the scene. After the incredible events of the death and especially the resurrection of their Lord and after fellowshipping with Jesus after He rose from the dead, these men beat it back to the boat to catch some fish.

A long night

They fished all night and caught exactly no fish. It’s not that they were bad fishermen. Henry David Thoreau hit the nail on the head:

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

These men weren’t looking for fish. They were looking for some direction. Maybe they forgot something Jesus had mentioned earlier, or took it the wrong way:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | NIV84)

Perhaps they thought they were apart from Jesus, or He was apart from them. They, like a lot of Christians, weren’t bad guys or rebellious men. All they needed was a nudge to get them moving. Well, here comes the nudge:

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:5, 6 | NIV84)

Jesus showed up, giving them the direction they needed. John was the first to recognize the Man on the beach, but impetuous Peter was the first to get out of the boat:

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. (John 21:7 | NIV84)

It would have been so cool if Peter had actually walked on the water to get to Jesus this time, but apparently he didn’t. No doubt Peter was excited to see Jesus, as all the disciples would have been, but maybe Peter was hoping for something. He’d let his Lord down badly. Maybe he was looking for some kind redemption.

Instead of that, Jesus made breakfast for the boys. A careful reading of the story reveals something fascinating:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (John 15:9 – 12 | NIV84)

There are all kinds of allegorical interpretations of this passage floating around. Early Church Father Jerome taught that this was truly a miracle catch. At that time, there were only 153 varieties of fish in the world, and these fellows caught one of each. The net remained intact, symbolizing the unity that must characterize the church as they fish for men. But to me, the most interesting part of the story is that Jesus had cooked breakfast for them before they brought Him the fish. In other words, He didn’t use their fish. He fed His friends the way He fed the hungry crowds. He did it His way, with His own resources.

Redemption and Restoration

As soon as breakfast was over, it was time for Jesus to finish some unfinished business; to tie up some dangling threads. Turning to Peter, our Lord asked Peter some questions.

• First Question

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 | NIV)

To this first question, Peter answered “yes.” But I have a question about the question: What did Jesus mean by “these?” Did He have in mind the disciples (“Do you love me more than these disciples?”) or did He have in mind the fish, the boats, the nets, and life in general? Perhaps Jesus was being ambiguous for a reason. What our Lord was looking for from Peter was complete consecration and dedication. That’s what Jesus wants from all His people.

• Second Question

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16 | NIV84)

Jesus wanted Peter to know the seriousness of the question. Not just love, “true love” is what Jesus demands of Peter.

• Third Question

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17 | NIV84)

This last question did it for Peter. He was “hurt.” Wouldn’t you be, too? Jesus did indeed know the man; He knew Peter’s heart but He also knew Peter by he did: He had actually denied Jesus three times. Therefore Peter’s restoration needed to be complete, hence the three denials demanded the three affirmations of love and service. Peter declared his love and loyalty and Jesus accepted his confession.

But a positive confession of faith is not enough. Following each affirmation of love, or confession of faith, Jesus gave Peter a commission:

• Feed my sheep
• Take care of my sheep
• Feed my sheep

Part of Peter’s redemption and restoration involved his doing something for His Lord that had nothing to do with fishing for fish! Henceforth, Peter would care for of Jesus’ sheep: feeding the young ones, shepherding the stubborn ones, and caring for the old ones.

Peter’s healing was complete when each time he said “yes” to Jesus.

And your healing will be complete when you learn to say “yes” to Jesus, too.

Just Say Yes, Part 4

Faith may be defined as saying “yes” to Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with the old nighttime prayer said by children, written by Joseph Addison in The Spectator, dated March 8, 1711:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self up to His Direction,
Amen.

Now, if that sounds the slightest bit off, you’re probably thinking of the version that would appear a little later in The New England Primer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

That’s not a bad prayer if you mean it when you pray it. Otherwise it’s collection of words that are easily said because they are easily memorized.

But I prefer the words of Gerhardt Tersteegan. Not sure who he is? You’re in good company. Tersteegan was born was born in Moers, Germany in 1697. As a young man, he was a very successful merchant, but gave it all up to move into an isolated cottage to search for God.

In 1727 a revival took place and Tersteegan’s time of solitude took a new direction as people from all over began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move out of his small, isolated cottage and into a large house that suited his ministry. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. One of his teachings was glommed onto by Kierkegaard, who popularized it and it’s simply this: Christians are simultaneously great and small, rich and poor at the same time because they are in a relationship with God. Our greatness, our wealth, our wisdom, our righteousness comes from Him.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Here are some lines from one of his classic hymns, “Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God”:

Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.

Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes
To every dear command of Thine.

And that pretty much sums up the idea of saying “yes” to Jesus; “yes” to God’s will. You can’t go wrong when you say “yes” the Lord.

Previously, we looked at the blind men, followers of Jesus, who said “yes” to God’s mercy (Matthew 9:28); the disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 13:51); and the foreign woman said “yes” to being a dog! In other words, she said “yes” to Jesus’ estimation of her: she was a Gentile – one who needed Him and was in desperate of what only He could do for her (Matthew 15:27).

The fourth person who said “yes” to Jesus was a hard-working woman whose name was Martha:

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

That’s something you and I would have no trouble saying. It’s obvious, after all. Jesus Christ IS the Son of God. We all know that. But Martha didn’t. She didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian culture to fall back on. She didn’t have hymns and sermons to remember and she didn’t have the Bible to read or K-LOVE playing in the background to constantly remind her that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. She came this conclusion all on her own. And she came to this conclusion after the worst week of her life: Her brother had just died.

The death of Lazarus, John 11:1 – 16

We all know about Lazarus. Every kid who ever went to Sunday School knows the old, old joke: “Jesus called out: Lazarus, come forth! Well, he came fifth and lost the job.” That was James Joyce’s paraphrase of the story. It’s funny but not at all accurate in the case of the Biblical Lazarus. He did come forth, but he came forth a winner; he came forth alive after being dead for days.

This has been described as the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life and career and it illustrates perfectly what our Lord Himself said in the previous chapter:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 | NIV84)

The story is found only in John; none of the other Gospels records it. In fact, Lazarus, who was apparently a good friend of our Lord’s, isn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Of course, Jesus raised other people from the dead during His earthly ministry: Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, but here the stakes were high.

Having heard about the dire circumstances of Lazarus, Jesus’ reaction was, to say the least, curious indeed:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5, 6 | NIV84)

Lazarus is what Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to as “the McGuffin” in the story. He’s totally passive; the only reason he’s mentioned is because he was sick and died! His sad end was merely an excuse for Jesus to teach an important lesson, which had nothing to do with Lazarus, but everything to do with Jesus and the two sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s all about them.

The dreadful sickness of Lazarus is really the condition of every single human being without God. The sickness of the human race is sin and everybody is afflicted with it.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

Every human being without God is dying, and there is no hope for them.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in a Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Some people with tender hearts have real difficulty with what seems to be a paradox. If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, why did He not rush off to see him? We are people who are mired in sentimentality, but our Lord was not. Everything Jesus did and said were designed to teach people something. One scholar noted this and remarked:

Because the Lord loved the family He went at the exact moment when His visit would be most fruitful, and not just when He was invited.

God’s timing is always perfect. When we pray about something, we expect God to hop to it and answer it, post-haste! But that’s not how He works. God knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you don’t. For example, in this story, Jesus knew this:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4 | NIV84)

But of course, Lazarus did die, didn’t he? So what was our Lord getting at? Simply this: Jesus knew the death of His friend was merely temporary for He knew what God would do. Second, Lazarus was sick and would die temporarily to glorify God. And, lastly, the cure administered by Jesus would result in the people seeing God in action, giving Him the glory.

Another tidbit about this incident, and it’s only noted here in John’s Gospel, is this:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place c and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48 | NIV84)

The raising of Lazarus was a catalyst for the occasion of Jesus’ trial and death. There’s a big picture we never see. We may have our needs and offer up our prayers – as we ought – but there is a much bigger picture that we can’t see, but that God sees.

Saying “yes” when you don’t want to

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 | NIV84)

Jesus finally got there, but by all appearances He was too late. His friend was long dead and Martha was not happy, but she still had faith.

Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21, 22 | NIV)

Martha had faith – even though Lazarus had died, she knew that he would rise again at the resurrection. That’s the equivalent of saying, on the occasion of a loved one’s passing, “I know I’ll see him in heaven.” It’s one of those sentimental elements of faith we bring up at the right time, but we otherwise don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not real to us most of the time. But to Jesus, all elements of our faith are important. For Martha, her faith exceeded her grasp. In other words, she knew the words – she knew the right thing to say – but it wasn’t real to her. In a few days, she’d stop thinking about Lazarus like that and accept the fact that he’s gone.

Jesus, though, wouldn’t let this go, though. And that’s the whole point of the story.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26 | NIV84)

Jesus needed to make Martha’s faith real. She needed to know that she was in the presence of the Resurrection. Martha thought the resurrection was an event that would happen at some time in the future; an event at which everybody would be passive participants; that the Lord would do the work of bringing us all back. But the resurrection is not just an event. The Resurrection is also a Person, and He was standing right beside her. It is impossible for death to prevail in His presence. This is not a doctrine or an idea or a hope. It is a personal reality. Anybody, Lazarus included, who has faith in Jesus Christ, is living eternally already. He may pass through something called “physical death” but it is impossible for him to die eternally because of Jesus Christ. As Godet wrote,

Jesus means: In me the dead lives, and the living does not die.

The question Jesus put to Martha penetrated to the heart of the matter. Like so many others, she may not have grasped the total meaning of what Jesus had just said, but she accepted Him. She confessed that Jesus is the Christ.

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

So while we give Martha credit for giving the right answer, Mary and the others weren’t quite there yet, as evidenced by what happened at the tomb:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:32, 33 | NIV84)

Jesus wasn’t upset that Lazarus was dead. He shuddered and was full of grief and even anger because of what He saw: All of Lazarus’ friends and Mary, weeping and full of sadness and sorrow and grieving for no good reason. He was standing face-to-face with people who had no hope because of unbelief. Jesus didn’t cry because He loved Lazarus so much. He knew Lazarus was on his way out of the tomb, alive. He cried because of what unbelief had done to these people.

Unbelief is what kills hope and robs faith of its power. Lazarus fared well. He left that tomb alive. His sisters and his friends realized who Jesus was. For Martha, all it took was a simple confession of faith and saying “yes” to Jesus.

Just Say Yes, Part 3

Doing the will of God is saying “yes” to Jesus. Obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. The more we say “yes” to the Lord, the more prayers He will answer. Don’t believe me? It’s true. Here’s just one example:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 | TNIV)

Many of the blessings of God are conditional – some aren’t, but most of what God promises to do for believers depends on them doing something to receive them. Being obedient is the very least condition we should be fulfilling.

We’ve looked at the case of the two blind men who were following Jesus. They asked for mercy; they responded “yes” when Jesus asked them if they believed He could show them mercy, and in a moment their eyes were opened and they could see (Matthew 9:28).

Jesus had been teaching a group of His followers some things about the Kingdom of Heaven. He asked them if they understood His teachings, and some of them answered, “yes.” It’s incumbent on all believers to accept the teachings of Scripture. You may or may not understand them all the time, but by faith you need to accept them and practice them.

Those first two examples of saying “yes” to Jesus are pretty easy to accept. This third example is a little more difficult to swallow. It’s found in Matthew 15:27 –

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (NIV84)

The part that’s difficult to swallow is that she was saying “yes” to being a dog! What’s worse is that it was Jesus who called her a dog! Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

Our Lord would probably be sued today for calling a woman a dog! It would be headline news on CNN: Jesus Calls Foreign Woman Dog. But, as usual, something else is going on behind the scenes, so let’s take a closer look as just why Jesus called this woman a “dog” and why she agreed with Him.

The context

The key to understanding Matthew 15 is a verse back in the Old Testament:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

It all began with a conflict between Jesus and some religious leaders who had come to see and hear Jesus. They weren’t fans, they were on a fact-finding mission to check out this popular rabbi – His teachings and His activities. Here’s how they began their investigation:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 | NIV84)

It’s not that these religious teachers were concerned about personal hygiene. They weren’t. They were perplexed that Jesus’ followers seemed to ignore the ritual hand-washing before eating. Jesus’ answer to their criticism was nothing less than breathtaking:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 | NIV84)

Jesus accused them – these stalwart religious leaders; these guardians of tradition and decorum – of breaking the law of God with their tradition; their made up rule about hand-washing. Is it possible to make up religious laws that actually go against the teachings of Scripture? According to Jesus, it is! Religion is man’s way to reach God. Obedience to the Bible is God’s way for man to reach Him.

To help them understand where He’s going with His accusation, Jesus gives an illustration about how honoring one’s parents, which is a Biblical admonition as old as the earliest teachings of the Old Testament, includes financially supporting them:

For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

These clever religious folks got around God’s Word by concocting a “work-around.” To get out helping out their parents financially, all they had to do was deem their money as a “gift to God.” That’s despicable. They invented a pious way out of honoring their God-given responsibility of taking care of their parents.

In case you think that doesn’t happen in the Church, you’d be wrong. It happens all the time. Not just with money, but Christians are experts at justifying doing things contrary to what they know God wants. We invent all kinds of clever ways to get out of doing God’s will, all while claiming to love Him. For example: How many Christian students use “studying for an exam” as an excuse to get of going to church? How many Christian parents obsess over getting their kids to football practice or dance class but can’t be bothered to get them to Sunday School?

If that’s the way you live your Christian life, Jesus’ estimation of you is about as bad as it gets: You’re a hypocrite. That’s a terrifying word in the Bible. There’s no appellation equal to it. In Jesus’ day it was used to describe somebody pretending to be somebody else. We’d use the word “actor.” So people that invent clever ways around obeying God’s Word are actors – people playing at being a Christian.

But Jesus isn’t finished with this bunch yet. He goes even further:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:10, 11 | NIV84)

This is a spiritual principle here that a lot of people miss completely. The disciples did, so Jesus continues to push the knife of offence in even further:

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13, 14 | NIV84)

Of course Jesus isn’t talking about botany here any more than He’s been talking about washing your hands and eating the right foods. The word “plant” here means “system,” as in “religious system.” So what Jesus told His followers, including the religious leaders listening, is that every religion or religious system not founded upon the Word of God will be exposed for what it is, and destroyed as one would destroy a weed.

And to twist the knife one more time, Jesus referred to the religious leaders as “blind guides.” They weren’t just “actors,” but “blind guides.” In other words, these religious leaders were not only useless but dangerous.

Did Jesus really insult a foreigner?

The disciples were dull people. That’s not my assessment, it’s what Jesus called them. They just didn’t get what their Lord was getting to. Giving it one more go, Jesus said this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:19, 20 | NIV84)

That’s why the key to understanding this part of Matthew is an ancient verse from Isaiah:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

This was what those religious leaders were doing and what they were encouraging religious people to do. And it’s what religious people do to this very day. Their worship and devotion to God is a show – it’s a drama they perform for public consumption. Like the second of our “Just Say Yes” messages and our brief look at the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13, not everybody in the Kingdom of Heaven or not everybody who goes to church is what they claim to be. Anybody can call themselves a Christian; anybody can hold a hymnal and sing a hymn; anybody can bow their head in an appearance of humble prayer and contrition, but those are not the things that a believer genuine. Going to the right church or reading the right books does not make the Christian. Jesus is teaching here that a person is not defiled by what he puts in his mouth. He’s not defiled by the music he listens to or the clothes he wears. The primary source of evil is what’s in the human heart. A man may “do” all the right things; obey all the right man-made rules of his church, but moral purity and spiritual soundness begins with the state of his heart, which determines the state of his thoughts and will, which leads to his actions, which are, as we are discovering, manifestations of his faith.

After His go-around with the religious folks, Jesus traveled northward to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were in Phoenicia, which is now Lebanon, which was purely Gentile territory. Ostensibly He took His disciples up there to get a little privacy to teach them some more, but in reality a woman there needed His help.

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Matthew 15:22 | NIV84)

Mark, in his account of the story adds little bit more detail about this woman: The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. (Mark 7:24a | NIV84)

So this woman was not only a Gentile but a foreigner and a heathen. Yet she came to Christ for help, addressing Him by His Messianic title, “Son of David.” Quite a contrast to the religious folk who came to Jesus, not having a clue who He was; who didn’t think they needed His help at all; and who only wanted trap Him by twisting His words around.

Even if you don’t, Matthew’s intended readers would have immediately recalled another Gentile woman in that very area whose child was healed by God through the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17. But Jesus’ disciples were simply annoyed by this woman’s persistence. He, apparently, didn’t want anything to do with her and they wanted rid of her. What they didn’t know was this whole thing was a set up; an encounter designed by God to drive home a point these thick-headed, dull-witted followers of Jesus needed to learn. Carr correctly observed,

Jesus, by His refusal, tries the woman’s faith, that He may purify it and strengthen it.

Amazingly, this woman does the unthinkable:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:25 | niv84)

In the face of the disciple’s arrogance and Jesus’ seeming indifference, she went beyond merely asking Jesus for help. She worshipped Him. She took the position of humility and worshipped this Son of David.

And then it happened. In response to her simple worship, our Lord, full of compassion and mercy, said this:

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is simply insulting this poor woman. But remember, He’s trying to teach something to His followers. In this verse, Jesus is saying that it wouldn’t be proper to take “the children’s bread,” referring to what He was bringing to His people, the Jews, and give it to “their dogs,” that is, to Gentiles. In other words, What Jesus was saying is this:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)

That’s all Jesus was saying to this woman, and to His disciples, using the vernacular of His day. It was very common for Jews to call Gentiles dogs. Of course, Gentiles called Jews bad names too. But the point is, Jesus was behaving coolly toward this poor woman to prove a point to His disciples and to stretch this woman’s faith. Jesus DID come as “King of the Jews,” but that title meant nothing if there was no compassion behind it. Yes, He was the Messiah; He was the Messiah of all people. But He was so, not because this woman said it but because He acted like it.

This precious woman would not be put off. She seized on Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny them, she embraced them and turned them back upon Jesus. You have to admire what she did. What she did, in effect, was to take Jesus’ words and use them against Him to get what she needed. She did what the Pharisees and religious leaders could never do because her heart was right. Recall what Jesus had just said to His disciples:

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? (Matthew 15:16 | NIV84)

He’s not talking biology here. Jesus is talking theology – theology of the highest order. Elsewhere our Lord put it this way:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 | NIV84)

Only evil spewed from the mouths of the so-called, self-proclaimed religious leaders. But this woman, who from all appearances was a lost soul, in fact, spoke the truth because that’s what was in her heart. Appearances could be so deceiving. The disciples needed to learn this: It’s what’s in the heart that counts.

In answer to her faith – her “yes,” our Lord said this:

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 | NIV84)

She was a dog – a Gentile – and she knew it. But that didn’t stop her from practicing her tenacious faith; a faith that Jesus marveled at.

Just Say Yes, Part 2

Faith could be defined as just saying “yes” to Jesus. Put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. Previously, we noted that when Christians say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests. A prime example of this would be the two blind men of Matthew 9. Their encounter with our Lord went like this:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:27 – 31 | TNIV)

In essence, those two blind men were saying “yes” to Christ’s ability, not so much to heal them, although they certainly had faith for that, but in His ability to show mercy to those who simply ask for it.

Those two men had been followers of Jesus. At one point, still in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them a very simple question:

Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | TNIV)

Let’s take a closer look at what these followers of Jesus had said “yes” to.

The setting

For the most part, Matthew 13 is made up of seven parables of the Kingdom. The main topic in this Gospel is the Kingdom, so it’s no wonder Matthew as the author, gives us this chapter, which represents Jesus’ uninterrupted teaching on the subject. All but one of these parables is introduced by the phrase: “The kingdom of God is like.” So in each parable, we are supposed to learn something about some aspect of the Kingdom. And herein lies a problem.

Not everybody got it or gets it. Parables are by their nature simple stories that may be somewhat difficult to understand. We might call them riddles. The purpose of parables in general, and certainly the purpose of these parables in particular, was to both reveal and conceal. Among those who had gathered around Jesus were those who had been led to trust in Him to such an extent that they by faith believed in His. Some of those teachings they understood, some they did not, but by faith they accepted them and believed what Jesus was saying. But there were also those in the crowd who, by their constant refusal to accept Him as who He really was, had hardened their hearts. The whole life of Jesus – His words and His works – were all designed to show man who He was: The One whom the prophets foretold would come. Some accepted the truth, others did not. Jesus taught in parables, not to be cute, but in order to further reveal the truth to those who had already accepted Him, but also to conceal that truth from those who rejected it. That’s the point of what Jesus said in Matthew 13:10 – 17 –

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (TNIV)

The parables

The parable of the sower, 13:1 – 9; 18 – 23

Even though most of us know this parable as “the parable of the sower,” the focus of the teaching isn’t on the sower at all, but rather on the various soils upon which the sower’s sees fall.

• Some seed fell on the hard pathways in the field. The birds came quickly to gobble up that seed.
• Some seed fell on a very thin layer of soil covering rocky ground. The heat of the noonday sun caused the seeds to both sprout quickly and to wither and die since they could not take root.
• Some seed fell on soil contaminated with weeds and thorns. The seeds grew for a while but the weeds and thorns choked them out.
• But some of the seeds fell on good, healthy soil. Those seeds grew and the harvest of grain was abundant.

That’s the parable. Jesus gives us the interpretation a few verses on:

When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:19 – 23 | TNIV)

Jesus is describing the four types of people, with four different kinds of hearts, who hear the Gospel.  What was true back in His day is absolutely true today.

• The first heart is the stolid heart – the heart that has been made hard by either indifference or the pressures of life, that doesn’t even notice the Word of life when it hears it.
• The second heart is the shallow heart – that hears the Gospel, gets all excited about it, but fails to let that Word put down roots. These are shallow believers at best who live shallow, “thin” lives. When the hard times hit, they wither and die. These kinds of people are easily offended (skandalizetai) by things and just let the Word fade away.
• The third heart is the strangled heart. These people’s lives are so full of things and stuff and people and activities that God gets strangled out.
• The fourth heart is steady heart. These people hear the Gospel and the understand it. They bear good fruit, in varying degrees. The challenge to those with the steady hearts is to bear even more fruit and better fruit.

Now, soil is passive but the human heart isn’t. Jesus isn’t being fatalistic or preaching some kind of determinism; there are plenty of Scriptures that speak of our responsibility in hearing the Word and becoming doers of the Word.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3 | NIV)

In other words, Judah and Jerusalem and all of God’s people need to remove the stoniness of self-will and spiritual hardness, and receive the Word of God and do something productive with it.

And it’s a very fluid situation. Christians need to be constantly making sure the soil of their hearts is tilled and read to receive the seeds the Lord sows there. This parable doesn’t apply to just “those people over there.” It applies to all of us with steady hearts. Whenever you think your heart is in good condition and you’re tempted to relax and coast a little, remember this little ditty:

When you get to heave
You will likely view,
Many folk there
Who’ll be a shock to you.
But don’t act surprised,
Or even show a care,
For they might be a little shocked
To see you there.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds, 13:24 – 30

This is actually a terrifying parable when you stop and think about it. It speaks of two different kinds of seeds sown by two different people: a farmer and his enemy. The weeds, at first, are often indistinguishable from wheat. When the farmer discovers the weeds among the grain, he doesn’t panic, but he remains patient. The wise farmer doesn’t want to risk losing any of his grain by pulling up the weeds before the harvest. When that time comes, he will have his reapers gather up and destroy the weeds.

The reason I say this parable is terrifying is that what Jesus is describing here is the true state of the Kingdom of God today. It’s also the true state the visible side of the Kingdom of God: the Church. The Church is full of both wheat – true believers, and weeds – believers in name only. And Satan is the one placing the weeds among the grain – unbelievers among the true believers.

The Devil is famous for using counterfeits for the things of God. For example, he uses weeds – counterfeit Christians to cause problems among genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). Satan has his very own counterfeit Gospel (Galatians 1:6 – 9). He tries to pawn off a counterfeit righteousness on the unsuspecting (Romans 10:1 – 3), and even has his very own counterfeit church (Revelation 2:9). Ultimately, at the end of the age, Satan will produce a counterfeit Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1 – 12).

The point Jesus is getting across here is that all these things are happening, yet God know about it and He is allowing it. The righteous and the wicked will continue to coexist in this age, but there will come a day when He will separate the wicked from the righteous, judging them and destroying them.

The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, 13:31 – 33

Essentially, these two parables are one. The first part, the parable of the mustard seed, describes the strange state of the church today.

Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32 | NIV)

Contrary to what you might have been taught, this is not a good thing. The mustard plant does not grow into a tree. It’s a desert shrub; a simple herb. This tiny seed should have remained a shrubby plant, yet in this parable it grows into an gangly tree in which birds roost. What happened to make this shrub grow into a freakish tree? The answer is in the next parable:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33 | NIV)

Once again, this isn’t a good thing. The woman and the yeast are not good things. We’ve seen the woman before in an earlier parable: she’s the enemy of farmer! And the yeast in this parable is the same thing as the weeds in the other parable. What we’re reading about here is Satan, sowing the yeast of false teaching, which produces false believers, filling up the church (or the Kingdom of God), making it grow all out of proportion. Nowhere in the Bible is yeast, or leaven, a good thing. It’s used almost 100 times in both Testaments and it’s always something bad, never anything good.

So the true state of Christianity today, as it has been since the days of Jesus, is not necessarily as it appears. You can look at a great big mega-church and be impressed by all the Christians that attend it, but in fact, according to Jesus, they aren’t all genuine. Only a fraction of them are. It’s not up to you or I to make that determination, however. Only He can do that, and He will in His time.

The parables of the hidden treasure and the pear of great price, 13:44 – 45

These two parables describe the true nature of the Kingdom of God:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44 – 46 | NIV)

Far from something huge and loud and glossy and spectacular, the Kingdom of God is precious – something that is hard to find and something that must be sought after and obtained at a great price. One who wants to live in the Kingdom must give his all. There’s a high price to pay to be part of the true Kingdom of God.

The parable of the net, 13:47 – 50

In this final parable, Jesus has one more kick at the can to make sure those with ears to hear, hear what they are supposed to hear.

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47 – 50 | NIV)

Almost all the parables in Matthew 13 teach the same thing. Today, the Kingdom God, as exemplified by the Church of Jesus Christ, is full both true and false believers – weeds and wheat, good fish and bad, false teaching and good. Many of the false believers have been duped by bad teaching. Some have been caught up in wanting the things of God without wanting God Himself. But Jesus’ teaching is so important, He asked His disciples the question that started this whole thing:

Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | NIV)

Well, we only have their word that they understood what Jesus was teaching.  The question Jesus asked them, He asks to you:  Do you understand the parables of Matthew 13?  Hopefully now, you do.

Just Say Yes! Part 1

In his book “Yes Man,” Danny Wallace wrote this:

Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.

That could be a true statement, depending on what you said “yes” to in the first place. For me, saying “yes” to a spicy Italian foot long sub at 11 pm is most definitely not a good thing, the consequences being dire, indeed. But for the Christian, faith could be defined as saying “yes” to the Lord. Or put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. When we say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests.

Of course, saying “yes” the Lord often involves some kind of risk; the risk of embarrassment, for example. Or the risk of being let down. Back to Danny Wallace, he did get one thing right:

maybe sometimes it’s riskier not to take a risk. Sometimes all you’re guaranteeing is that things will stay the same.

In the New Testament, there are several people who said “yes” to the Lord and they got exactly what they needed and wanted. In saying “yes” to Jesus, the lives of these individuals forever changed.

And maybe that’s your problem; maybe you haven’t said “yes” enough to the Lord and your Christian experience has grown stale. God never intended the life of a believer to be boring, and yet so many of us find it so. If that describes you, then maybe it’s time for you to say “yes” to the Lord and allow Him to make your life into something meaningful and, yes, even exciting. One more quote from “Yes Man” to set the table as we turn to the Word:

The fact is saying yes hadn’t been a pointless exercise at all. It had been pointful. It had the power to change lives and set people free… It had the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us each day can have the biggest impact.

Jesus wants all believers to be “yes men and women” when it comes to serving Him. The blind man in Matthew’s Gospel never regretted saying “yes” to Jesus, and you won’t either.

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:28 | TNIV)

Matthew and his Gospel

Nobody knows for sure when Matthew wrote his Gospel, but most scholars agree that it was written very soon after the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Like the epistles in the New Testament, Matthew wrote this Gospel to somebody, or a bunch of some bodies, probably Greek-speaking, Jewish-Christians. Anybody who went to Sunday School knows that Matthew presents Jesus Christ as “the King of the Jews,” the legitimate heir to David’s throne. And yet, when we read Matthew, Jesus comes across, not as royalty but more of a teacher. No wonder Matthew’s Gospel became the most popular of the Gospels once all four of them went into circulation, and when the New Testament began to take form, the Gospel of Matthew found its place at the head of all the other Gospels and epistles.

Matthew himself was a tax collector, chosen specifically by Jesus to follow Him. Oddly enough, “Matthew” means “the gift of God,” an interesting name for one whose career was taking money from others. Here was a disciplined disciple if ever there was one. And, because he was a tax collector, he was also despised by his fellows. Yet Jesus saw something in Matthew that He needed for the Kingdom:

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. (Matthew 9:9 | TNIV)

As far as we know, Matthew had never met Jesus, although it’s hard to believe he wasn’t at least vaguely aware of this radical rabbi. What’s really interesting is that Jesus went to where this despised tax collector was. Nobody wanted to go near Matthew, sitting there in his toll-collecting office for fear that the few dollars they may have had in their wallets would be confiscated by this representative of Rome.

But Jesus walked right up to him and said two words: “Follow me.” Incredibly, without any hesitation at all, Matthew got up and simply followed Jesus. He did what Jesus wanted him to do. Bonhoeffer wrote about how big a step this was for this one-time tax collector:

The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus).

And in case you think Matthew leaped before he thought, the very next thing he did was throw a dinner party in honor of his new life:

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?”. (Matthew 9:10, 11 | TNIV)

Matthew wasn’t afraid to invite his shady friends to a party and introducing them to his new-found friend, Jesus Christ. Of course, the Pharisees weren’t impressed. Jesus’ fraternizing with “sinners” – people with reputation problems, may have caused the Pharisees to be critical, but for Jesus, this was an opportunity to teach His disciples something very important: Followers of Jesus need to go where they are needed most. People in the dark need the light and followers of Jesus are the light-bearers. People who are sick need healing and followers of Jesus are agents of healing. People who are lost need to be lead and followers of Jesus are those who find the lost and lead them to Jesus.

A series of miracles

That’s the first half of Matthew 9. The second half of Matthew 9 concerns a group of miracles, all designed to drive home the point our Lord was trying to make. Here we see Jesus going to where He was needed the most.  The first two miracles are connected even though they don’t seem to be.

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. (Matthew 9:18, 19 | TNIV)

Mark tells us the synagogue leader’s name was Jairus and that his daughter was almost dead – she was about to take her last breath. Mark and Luke, filling in the blanks, tell us that while the group was on its way to the house, it got the bad report that the girl had passed.

So now it’s up to Jesus, not to heal the girl, but to raise her from the dead. No pressure there! But, wait! On His way, this happened:

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”. (Matthew 9:20, 21 | TNIV)

On His way to perform one miracle, an opportunity presented itself to perform another. What she wanted from Jesus is barely expressed in the word “healed.” The verb used here is sozo, and the KJV gets closer to its meaning when it translated it, “be whole.” It is used frequently in the Gospels and Acts of “physical healing.” But in the epistles, it is used almost exclusively for salvation. Here’s the interesting bit: The Greek words for “Savior” and “salvation” are from the same the root as sozo, emphasizing “spiritual health” or “wholeness.” So just what was this wanting of Jesus? Maybe both; to be saved spiritually and, if He would do so, healed physically.

What would Jesus do? How determined was He to get to Jairus’ home? Here’s the teachable moment:

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22 | TNIV)

Our Lord took the time to respond to her faith – He gave her exactly what she asked for: sozo. But it wasn’t the touching of Jesus’ robe that healed her, it was her faith. But it wasn’t her belief that resulted in her healing, it was her faith (her belief) expressed in action. She did two things that demonstrated her faith: she sought Jesus out and she reached out and touched Him. Her actions manifested her faith. Put another way, she did something to show our Lord that she had an inner belief in His abilities to give her what she needed.

Meanwhile, when He finally reached the home of Jairus, Jesus was faced with quite a display:

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes…. (Matthew 9:23 | TNIV)

It must have been quite a contrast: Calm, cool, and collected Jesus walking among a gaggle of hired mourners. They were sure it was all over except for the mourning, but Jesus viewed death as a temporary thing, and taking the girl’s hand, He lifted her up and restored her life.

News of this miracle spread like wildfire. And while most people view the miracle of a restored life as the main point of this story, the disciples are learning not only what Jesus can do, but how He viewed the human condition. Not only did Jesus go to those who needed Him, but the disciples also learned that He is greater than a long-term illness and that there is life after death – a life brought about by an act of the Lord. They are also learning something of this mysterious thing called faith. The bleeding lady had it. Jairus had it. And even Matthew had it. And now we’ll meet two blind men who followed Jesus. They had faith even though they, for the moment, had no sight.

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:27, 28 | TNIV)

Right away I am struck by the faith these blind men had. Their faith, first of all, was in Jesus “the Son of David,” not Jesus the miracle-working rabbi. Somehow these two blind men saw something in Jesus that nobody else did at this time. The knew, somehow, His royal pedigree. And that is a very big deal, especially in this Gospel which presents our Lord as the King.

The other thing that strikes me is that they didn’t really ask for healing, they asked for mercy. Filsom commented,

They accept him as the expected Messiah leader who will do wonderful deeds of mercy mentioned in Isaiah 35:5.

In case you forgot what Isaiah 35:5 says, here it is:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (Isaiah 35:5 | TNIV)

In crying out to Jesus for mercy, these unfortunate men were really asserting their faith, and in response, Jesus said this:

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:29 – 31 | TNIV)

“According to your faith, let it be done to you.” If Jesus were to come up and say that to you, what do you think would happen to you? Anything? Would anything at all happen to you? This simple statement made to these men stands as a challenge for all Christians today. Since we can have what we believe for as we learn to say “yes” to Jesus, what would happen if Jesus said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you?” Sadly, many Christians would receive exactly nothing because they don’t have faith that says “yes” to Jesus. They’re content with knowing, however vaguely, that they are going to Heaven after they die, but beyond that bit of faith, they have nothing for Jesus. How unfortunate for them; they are missing out on so much. Consider what we’ve learned about the people that said “yes,” implicitly or explicitly to Jesus in this chapter:

Matthew. He said “yes” to Jesus by getting up and following Him. He became one of the 12 apostles, lived a life of serving the Lord and wroteaa a piece of literature that has endured two millennia.

Jairus. He said “yes” by seeking out Jesus to heal and restore his daughter to health. Jesus raised her from the dead because of her father’s faith.

The bleeding woman. She said “yes” to Jesus by reaching out to touch His clothing. He restored her health.

The blind men. They said “yes” literally and figuratively and they received their sight.

There’s a pattern here, if you’d take the time notice it. Learn to say “yes” to Jesus and see what He will do for you!


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