Matthew 17: “A Great Place to Be”

There have been many moments in my life when I could say, “This is a great place to be!” It’s typically with my family, and it typically involves weather that’s, you know, perfect. I can remember one such event when my wife and I met my in-laws at Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas. I couldn’t tell you how we found this particular restaurant, but we were on the water, the sun was setting in front of us, the weather was perfect, and it truly was, “a great place to be.” The thing about great places is the fact they’re typically associated with great experiences.

In our reading today we come across one of those such events that would even lead Peter to say, “(v. 4) Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here!” The event was the Transfiguration and according to many scholars it was the event that began the end of Jesus’ life/ministry on earth. As I was reading the details of the transfiguration, I couldn’t help but look at it from the perspective of the three disciples who were there. Although there’s a lot of research regarding the spiritual significance for Jesus, and especially the connection between Jesus’ and Moses’ transfiguration in Exodus 24, lets consider the connection this moment had to Peter, James, and John.

Peter, James, and John

How incredible do you think it would have been to witness the transfiguration of Jesus? To see Jesus’ face shine like the sun, and his clothes become as white as light (v. 2). Peter, James, and John were privy to one of the most incredible moments of human history. If it wasn’t enough that they saw Jesus transfigured, they also saw Moses and Elijah; OH, and they also heard God speak! All in the same moment! But why these three?

Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “These three were very special persons. Some say that Peter was one of them because he loved his Master much; that John was another because his Master loved him much; and that James was the third because he was so soon to die, the first of the apostles who should become a martyr for the faith of Jesus Christ.”

We find in the gospels many accounts that point to the importance of these three apostles. It was Peter, James, and John that Jesus took in the room to heal Jairus’ daughter, and it was these three who Jesus invited deeper into Gethsemane. We just read yesterday that six days before this event, Jesus looked at Peter and declared that the church would be built on his back! Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

We would tend to think that Peter, James, and John were just lucky, but it wasn’t about luck, it was about openness.

Be Open to His Glory

Peter, James, and John weren’t lucky, they were open. Open to follow Jesus no matter where he went or what he did. There’s a difference between those who are open than those who aren’t. If you’re open to all that God has for you, then you’ll be more likely to see Him move in glory and power. If you tend to stay farther away from the Lord, how do you expect to behold him in his glory?  I don’t know about you, but I want to be as close to Him as John was at the Last Supper. Scripture tells us that John was so close to Jesus that he literally laid his head on Jesus’ chest. If I can challenge you, stop hanging back and get close to him today!

I started today by challenging you to think about how incredible it would have been to witness Jesus’ transfiguration, but the real challenge is to stay close enough to Jesus not to miss those incredible moments. Are you walking close enough to Jesus today that he would invite you to join him on the mountain?

Matthew 16: “Upon This Rock”

 

I want to introduce you to Simon, actually his full name is Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning, Simon, son of Jonah, but you may know him as Peter. Sometimes we see him listed in the scripture as Simon, other times he’s listed as Peter, and even sometimes we see him listed as Simon Peter. But the most important thing is to know that Peter’s name means everything.

Something interesting: Whenever you see Jesus refer to Peter as Simon, it is often a signal that Peter has done something that needs correction. It’s like when you’re mom uses your middle name.

Something else interesting: “Peter” was sort of a nickname. It’s literally translated “Rock.” Petros is the Greek word for “a piece of rock or stone.” The Aramaic equivalent was Cephas.

Peter tended to make promises he couldn’t follow through with. He was the type of person that would plunge head first into something but bail out before finishing. He was the usually the first one in, and too often, the first one out. But Jesus wasn’t worried about who Peter was in his past, he gave him this important nick name because he wanted Peter to always be reminded of who he should be, and most importantly the way Jesus saw him.

Caesarea Philippi

Jesus took his disciples 30 miles out of their way in order to illustrate a lesson for them. He took them to a place called Caesarea Philippi, which during this time was the epicenter of evil in all of Judea and Herod’s Cities.

This area was filled with worship to some of the Greek gods. There was a huge hole that during the time of Christ was the location of a huge natural spring. The water that came up from this area was so large that educators believed it had no bottom. It literally was the place for them considered to be the entrance to the underworld or the Gates of Hades as the Greeks called it.

Matthew 16:13-15 (NLT) 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

It’s an interesting question to ask while He’s standing in the heart of worship to foreign god’s, don’t you think? While the other disciples were thinking and fearful of answering the question wrong, who speaks out? Peter of course.

Matthew 16:16 (NLT) 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter was able to see that what the world was saying was okay or normal, was neither okay nor normal. And Peter wasn’t afraid to call it what it was. This passionate revelation from Peter was soon to become the heartbeat of the early church and early Christians who were going out into a world that literally recognized that there was at least a dozen god’s in the world.

Matthew 16:17-18 (NLT) 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church… 

Wait, What? He’s going to do what? He’s going to build His church on top of this rock? Really? Because this rock represents everything disgusting, broken, and wrong with the world we live in.

Challenge

Think about what Jesus was saying to them, He’s saying, I want you to take the message and the love of God, and bring it to this crooked and depraved generation. He was telling them, I will build my kingdom here! He was telling them to build His kingdom there!

Ultimately he was saying, upon you Peter I will build by church. (v. 19) and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.  

 

 

Matthew 14: “Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude”

NO CELL PHONES, NO iPODS, NO iPADS, NO COMPUTERS… NO TECHNOLOGY!!

This was the mandate that was handed down to an unruly group of High School students back in 2011. You would have thought I was asking them to sacrifice their favorite pet! Wailing, gnashing of teeth, torture, threats of not going on this years retreat ensued. But what they didn’t know was I had a plan. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go, but I had a plan.

You see, as a youth pastor for eight years, I had enough! I was tired of missions trips, retreats, and camp being ruined by teenage drama happening at home. Every year it happened without fail; a boyfriend who didn’t go on the trip was being dumb at home, or a friend did that one thing she said she wouldn’t do without you, either way, teenage drama is an incredible distraction. I was also tired of students not being able to “unplug.”

PARENTS: Don’t let your kids take technology on events where they need to unplug! You’ll thank me later! I know, I know, but how will they get a hold of me in an emergency (Which is code for: “How will I check and see what they’re doing while they’re gone?”)? Trust me, there are plenty of people and leaders around them that will be able to reach you in an emergency. 

I also took another major risk on this particular retreat. Recognizing that kids were over-schooled (yes, it’s possible), over worked (again, possible), and over sports-ed (I see/saw it all the time), I allowed student to go back to there cabin and sleep anytime they wanted. They had to come to the services, but other than that, they could sleep the entire retreat.

In fact, I had a rule in my youth ministry, if a kid was found sleeping during service we did the unthinkable… we let them sleep! It was obvious that they needed to rest, so my staff knew we wouldn’t wake a sleeping child, but instead allow them to rest.

I get it, you’re thinking, wait, don’t teenagers already sleep too much? Actually, no. Studies have shown that teenagers aren’t getting the proper amount of rest they actually need to be healthy and even happy.

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore!” If you were being honest, you deal with the same thing. It may not be at their level, but when was the last time you were able to retreat without the distractions of life getting in the way.

Jesus’ Ministry of Solitude

In fact, when you look at Jesus’ ministry, he constantly tried to retreat, but was never able to really be alone. Jesus regularly tried to model the spiritual discipline of retreat, but was constantly bombarded with distractions.

  • (Matthew 4:1-11) Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and He was alone there for 40 days, except when the devil showed up!
  • (Matthew 14:13) Jesus was trying to mourn the loss of his cousin John the Baptist, so he got in a boat to be alone… but the crowds heard where he was going and followed Him!
  • (Matthew 14:23) Not forgetting the necessity to be alone, Jesus dismissed the crowds to pray by himself.
  • (Mark 1:35) Jesus would often get up early in the morning, or some would say he never slept, and would find quiet places to pray alone.
  • (Luke 4:42) Again, an example of Jesus going off to a desolate place (meaning, no people).

I tell people all the time; As much as we see Jesus wanting and desiring to be around people, we see him equally desiring to be alone and away from people. So I say to you: As much as there’s a call/mandate to serve people around you, you need to equally desire to be alone and away from people.

Matthew 14 for me has always been a sad chapter in the Gospels. Sure it holds the story of the Feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus/Peter Walking on Water, but read around those stories. Read about a man who knew he was powerless unless he “un-plugged” from the world and “plugged” into his Heavenly Father.

The Results

The Fall Retreat of 2011 holds a special place in my heart. It was a retreat where students truly were able to retreat. Afterwards, both students and parents came with tears in their eyes thanking me and my team for a true spiritual retreat. And yes, we did have a couple of students sleep the entire retreat, to which one mother said, it was the best investment she made for her son that weekend.

Matthew 13: “A Mustard Seed and Yeast Community”

Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32 (NLT) 31 Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field.32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.”

The first thing we learn through this parable is that God’s Kingdom started very small. In fact, it started with the birth of a tiny baby, in a tiny town, in the middle of nowhere. From there it grew to a whopping 12 people. That’s Kingdom Economy.

In fact, Jesus was so concerned about their growth during his ministry that he deployed the worlds worst church growth strategy: He challenged his disciples to (John 6:53) eat his flesh and drink his blood. The outcome was incredible… (v. 66) many disciples turned back.

Jesus made it hard because he knew living in a Kingdom Culture is hard! When you live in a Kingdom Culture you are automatically living Counter Culturally.

The parable also teaches us that like a mustard seed, when the kingdom is planted it will spread. Think about it, does a seed have any other purpose than to spread? This is why Jesus was specific about using this object lesson.

Now you need to understand, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed a farmer uses, in fact, it doesn’t even grow into a tree, it’s more like a shrub, but Jesus wasn’t making a scientific observation here. He was actually sighting the fact that a mustard seed was used to show the smallest of things in the Rabbinic Proverbs.

The cool thing about a mustard shrub is not the fact how large it gets, but rather how fast it grows. A mustard shrub can grow ten to twelve feet in just a few weeks!

There is something to be said about becoming a part of a community and earning the right to be heard, but equally there’s something to be said about getting into a community and being a radical agent of transformation.

Jesus wanted His disciples to know that although they were few, they would become a part of the greatest Kingdom to ever set foot on earth.

Yeast

Matthew 13:33 (NLT) 33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

In other bible passages, “yeast” is typically used as a symbol of evil or sin, but not here in this passage. In fact, both Paul and Jesus used yeast as an influential agent of change.

While we see the mustard seed growing, Jesus wants to communicate to his disciples that growth is great, but it can’t be without transformation. When yeast is mixed into anything, whatever it gets mixed into is chemically changed. Yeast changes the very substance in which it resides. Once yeast is introduced you cant sort it back out!

One thing that gets lost in this parable is the sheer amount that Jesus is referencing. To us, 60 pounds of flour is a lot, to a first century listener of Jesus’ parable 60 pounds of flour is obnoxious! That amount of dough would serve around 1,000 people. The most common of people would never have made that much bread on a daily or even weekly basis.

So what is Jesus trying to say to us?

  • In our cultural reality most growth happens by land acquisition or conquests.
  • In God’s Kingdom growth happens from within.
    •  Living as agents of change in a culture
    • Living among, within, through, spreading throughout culture. This is Kingdom Culture.    

Without yeast, bread wont rise; and without agents of transformation living out the Kingdom of God, God’s Kingdom won’t rise.

 

Matthew 12: “The Unforgivable Sin”

Everything Except

I always love asking an absolute question and getting a sort of absolute answer. For example: To my son, “Did you clean your room?”

“I did, except my floor…”

“So you didn’t clean you room?”

“No! I did!”

It’s a funny conversation, but it’s so true! We hear it all the time! I did everything you asked, but… Well, then you didn’t do everything I asked.

This feeling above is the same feeling I got when I read Matthew 12:31-32 (NLT) 31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.

This is one of those passages that we typically just want to skip over because one, we don’t get it, and two, we don’t want to get it. What do you mean there’s a sin that God can’t forgive? What about the scriptural promise found in 1 John 1:9? If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALL unrighteousness (NIV).

But there’s nothing untrue about Matthew 12 and 1 John 1. Truthfully, the answer to Matthew 12 is found in 1 John 1. All we need to do is look at the first five words of verse 9, IF we confess our sins. 

Listen: The only sin God can’t forgive is the one that is unconfessed. In Matthew 12 Jesus is speaking to the evil in the heart of the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that their utter contempt for who he is will keep them from experiencing Heaven.

The Denied Dove

I was speaking with a wise sage in my church. He passed onto me a great analogy of the way it was taught to him. He said, “If we picture the Holy Spirit like a dove, the Pharisees were figuratively denying the dove the ability to land in their hand. In fact, they weren’t just denying the dove, they were toying with it, almost taunting the Holy Spirit.”

This is a helpful analogy to understand the heart of the Pharisees at this point.

The “unforgivable sin” isn’t about God’s inability to forgive sin, but the Pharisees inability to seek God’s forgiveness. 

This isn’t the first time we see God issuing a warning regarding the unforgivable sin. All of these things connect to the word of God found in Deuteronomy 29:18-20 (NLT) 18 I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.

19 “Those who hear the warnings of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin! 20 The Lord will never pardon such people. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them, and the Lord will erase their names from under heaven.

Where do we go from here?

It’s not uncommon for a young Christian to live in fear that they have committed the “unforgivable sin.” It’s important again to understand the point in context: As the IVP New Testament Commentary reads, “the sin is unforgivable only because it reflects a heart too hard to repent. Those who desire to repent, troubled by the fear that they may have committed this sin, plainly have not committed it!”

Matthew 11: “His Yoke”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Found only in the Gospel of Matthew, these words from Jesus have stood as an incredible point of both hope and promise. There’s hope in knowing that there is rest for the weary, contrary to the popular phrase. There’s also promise in knowing that Jesus will give us this rest.

Not one to shy away from a good metaphor, Jesus this time uses the imagery of farm equipment to teach, well you guessed it, a group of people who farmed for a living. I don’t know if this would be helpful for you, but when I read passages, much like this one, I tend to ask the passage questions. Almost like I’m talking directly to Jesus and allowing him to answer me. Here’s what it looks like for me:

“Come to me, (Who should come to you?) all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and…(Why should I come to you?) I will give you rest. (How will you give me rest?) Take my yoke upon you. (That doesn’t sound easy.) Let me teach you (Why should I let you teach me?), because I am humble and gentle at heart, (So what?), and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When you carefully place yourself in the context of the story, you find yourself allowing Jesus to speak directly to your heart. I have to believe that there are some who are reading this today and you need to allow Jesus to speak directly to your heart.

Takeaways

There’s a couple of things that we can learn from this passage today. Obviously one of the most important is that only Jesus can provide rest for our souls. Notice that Jesus doesn’t give us rest from our work; this passage is not referring to the physical, but instead focuses it’s attention on the spiritual. However, Jesus’ “rest” does includes placing a “yoke” on our shoulders. This is interesting…

Yoke

When a yoke is first placed on the shoulders of the ox, the ox will rebel against the yoke. It doesn’t quiet feel right. But when the ox surrenders to the yoke, and puts his shoulders to the task of pulling his burden, he finds that the yoke makes the job of pulling the burden much easier than it would have been otherwise.

The listeners in this passage would have been familiar with these two forms of yoke; First the physical yoke used over the shoulder of an ox, and second the yoke, or “teaching” that reminded them of the Jewish Law. Immediately upon hearing Jesus’ words, the Jewish listeners would have heard Lamentations 5:5 (RSV) With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest. Israel’s return from slavery in Egypt is described as a release from the “yoke” of servitude. Leviticus 26:13 (NIV) “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” 

In this moment, Jesus is both reminding the people of what God did for them and their people, as well as educating the Pharisees that their “teaching” has created a heavier burden then is required.

I Wonder

I wonder how heavy our yoke is today? I’m not referring to the yoke placed over our shoulders, for Jesus didn’t say we would be without a burden, he just said it would be lighter than rules bases system of the Pharisees. Instead, I’m talking about the yoke we tend to place on the shoulders of the people around us.

I wonder if sometimes we too get caught placing a yoke on people that Jesus never intended for them to carry.

 

 

Matthew 10: “We Are All Barking Pigs”

This story comes from a book by Robert Fulghum called, “Uh-Oh,” and it tells the story of a boy named Norman.

Do you remember when you were in elementary school and you did school plays?

Well, do you remember sitting in class when the teacher would announce the name of the play you would be doing and everyone automatically raised their hand for the parts they wanted?

This is where we pick up the story from the book “Uh-Oh.”

The play for this year is Cinderella:

Well you know what happened: Every girl was like…I want to be Cinderella. Every boy was like…I want to be Prince Charming.

Realizing the not everyone could have the same parts, students started shouting, “I want to be the wicked step-mother, or I want to be the ugly stepsister” The teacher was able to get everyone a part, but of course who…Norman.

Norman was the quiet kid in the class who didn’t like to talk much, and really didn’t like playing with the other students. Really, Norman had a mind of his own and was perfectly content on with being himself.

The teacher new that Norman didn’t have a part and told him, “I’m sorry Norman but there doesn’t seem to be any parts left for you, but I am sure we can find you something.” So she asked him what character he would like to be?

Norman replied, “I would like to be the pig.”

“Pig? There’s no pig in Cinderella.”

Norman smiled and said…”There is now!”

Norman designed his own costume complete with styrofoam nose, pink long underwear, and a pink pipe cleaner tail. Norman’s pig followed Cinderella everywhere she went. When Cinderella was happy, the pig was happy. When Cinderella was sad, the pig was sad

You could tell the entire mood of the play, at that moment, by looking at Norman. During the climactic scene when the handsome prince puts the glass slipper on Cinderella, Norman’s pig went crazy dancing, and barking. During rehearsal the teacher tried to explain that even if there was a pig in the story, he wouldn’t bark.

Norman smiled and said…”This pig barks!”

At the curtain call, guess who received a standing ovation? Norman the barking pig.

Here’s a secret worth considering today: We are all barking pigs.

 You see Norman was stubborn! Norman refused to believe that he didn’t belong, or had no place! Rather then the script limiting Norman, Norman found a way to enhance the script, to fill it full of life and laughter and surprise. Norman was so like Jesus!

Listen: The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had written the script for the Messiah. When Jesus announced that he was the Messiah, the Pharisees and others screamed at him, “there’s no Jesus in the Messiah script.”

Then they gave him a list of things that the Messiah would NEVER do:

  • The Messiah would never hang out with losers
  • The Messiah would never break all the rules
  • The Messiah would never question our leadership
  • The Messiah would never make friends with drunks, prostitutes, and greedy money-grubbers.

Jesus smiled and said…”This Messiah does!”

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples it so be Barking Pigs! 

Mathew 10:8 (NLT) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

His instructions continue in Matthew 10:16-20:

  • (v. 16) I’m sending you out as sheep among wolves
  • (v. 17) You WILL be handed over to the courts to be flogged and whipped
  • (v. 18) You WILL stand trial before governors and kings
  • (v. 19) WHEN you are arrested
  • (v. 22) ALL nations will hate you because you are my followers

You too may be challenged today just as Jesus was:

  • Jesus’ disciple’s would never hang out with losers
  • Jesus’ disciple’s would never break all the rules
  • Jesus’ disciple’s would never question our leadership
  • Jesus’ disciple’s would never make friends with drunks, prostitutes, and greedy money-grubbers.

If that’s the case, just look at them and say, “This disciples does!”

Matthew 9: “Matthew the Publican”

Have you ever thought about the type of people Jesus called to be a part of his Merry Band? Reading the beginning of Chapter 9 reminded me, not of the actions of Jesus, but rather the group of people he surrounded himself with.

Christ deliberately passed over the social and educational elite! He passed over the powerful and influential, and looked specifically for the people from the bottom of societies food chain. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to us, he said in Psalm 8 that He ordained strength from the mouths of nursing infants. He told us in Isaiah 26 that He brings down those who dwell on high and brings it to the feet of the poor and needy. He exclaimed in Zephaniah and Ezekiel that it was the humble who will be exalted!

Knowing this, why would we be surprised when Jesus looks at a tax collector, sitting in his booth, and saying, “Follow me and be my disciple (9:9).” And was Matthews response? He got up and followed him (9:9)That’s it! Seriously, that’s really it, and that’s coming from the guy who wrote the story! No questions, no debate, no argument, simply, a Rabbi has asked me to follow up, I’ll go.

Matthew the Publican

Just like the other disciples, there is very little we know about Matthew. We know that he had a Jewish name. Luke refers to him as Levi and Mark calls him “Levi the son of Alphaeus.” Because of Matthews position as a tax-collector we’re pretty confident in understanding that he was probably the most notorious sinner in the whole bunch.

What little we do know about Matthew we know that he was a humble man, someone who kept to himself, didn’t make a show of things, fades into the background every chance he gets. By today’s standards, while Peter would have been the extrovert of the group, Matthew no doubt would be the introvert. I mean, he only mentions himself by name twice in his own Gospel.

But the thing he had against him was he was a tax-collector, better known as a “Publican.” They were the most hated people in all of Jewish society. Jewish citizens had a better relationship with the Roman soldiers than they did with the publicans.

You see, Publicans were men who had bought tax franchises from the Roman emperor and then extorted money from the people of Israel to feed the Roman coffers and to pad their own pockets! They often traveled with hit men to strong-arm people into paying up. Matthew would have been a vile, despicable dead beat!

You have to know: It would have been extremely rare to have a publican, like Matthew, sitting along side Simon the Publican Hunter in the same group of disciples.

Jesus Meets Matthew’s Friends

So it seems like as soon as Matthew is called by Jesus he does what all of us should do…tell someone! But here’s the cool thing! Matthew doesn’t just tell someone, he tells all of his other deadbeat, low life, scum of society friends to join him at his house. And why? Because he had a guest of honor he wanted them to meet…Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi from Galilee.

Because of Matthew’s position of being a social outcast, he wouldn’t have had culturally acceptable friends. This meant that when Matthew called his friends together they would have been a who’s-who of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.

You have to know that when Jesus called Matthew he wasn’t just calling a person, he was calling a whole community to follow him. The statement might have sounded like, “Follow Me,” but what He was really saying was, “I want you, I believe in you, I know that society says you’re an outcast and a liability, but I don’t see that, I see a child of God. No matter where you’ve been, where you are, or where you’re going, I want you to walk with me on this journey.”

Jesus needs all types of people to reach all types of people. Go today and be that type of person.

Matthew 8: “He Touched Me”

Portions of today’s reading is from “Healing of the Leper” by Pastor Alan Smith

Our reading for today takes us through Matthew 8. The beginning of Matthew 8 starts with a most peculiar interaction between a dignified Rabbi and an Unclean Leper.

Matthew 8:1-2 (NLT) Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Here was a man who had leprosy. Now in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, the word “leprosy” is a broad term which includes a wide range of skin diseases. The very worst of those diseases was what we know as leprosy today, a condition which is also called “Hanson’s Disease”. We don’t know how severe the problem of this particular leper was, but let’s assume he had modern leprosy.

Understanding Leprosy

It’s a horrible disease. It begins with little specks on the eyelids and on the palms of the hands. Then it spreads over the body. It bleaches the hair white. It covers the skin with scales and oozing sores.

But that’s just what happens on the surface. Down under the skin, leprosy eats its way through the nerves. And soon the victim loses all sense of touch and pain, initially in the fingers and toes, then spreading up the arms and legs. So, a leper can’t feel anything. That may not sound so bad. The last time you stubbed your toe when you trip over a chair on your way back to bed, you probably wished that you didn’t feel anything. Or the last time you hit your thumb with a hammer or burned yourself on a hot pot. But what sounds like it might be nice is absolutely horrible. Because without the sense of touch, a person with leprosy eventually damages his toes, fingers, and feet. He will bump into objects, cut himself, get infections — and not even notice.

It might surprise you to know that leprosy is not regarded as highly contagious disease. And today, leprosy can be treated with drugs, and it can be cured.

But there was no cure in Bible days. And so the Old Testament sets forth some very strict instructions regarding those who had the disease because there was no other way to slow the spread of a disease that led to such a horrible result.

The society in which Jesus lived went to great lengths to separate the clean from the unclean. There were clear-cut boundaries between the two.

Leviticus 13:45-46 (NLT) 45 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.

Jesus and the Leper Respond to One Another

Knowing what we know about leprosy, and knowing the “law” about leprosy, it’s interesting to see how both the leper and Jesus respond to each other. The response of the leper was to break all the rules. The fact that story tells us that the leper “approached Jesus and knelt before him” is unthinkable!

I can only imagine this man who was sick and tired of being sick and tired seeing Jesus crossing the street with a sense of determination and collapsing at his feet holding onto his garment just pleading, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” But now we must look at the response of Jesus.

Spoiler Alert: The result of the story is that the man with leprosy is healed; but that’s not the most important part of the story. In fact, the most important part of the story is found in (verse 3) “Jesus reached out and touched him.” Mark’s account tells us that Jesus was filled with compassion. Either way, Jesus’ response was to touch the untouchable, heal the unhealable, and ultimately love the unloveable. Let these words remind you today that Jesus doesn’t wait for you to be clean to touch you. As Mark indicated, Jesus is filled with compassion and is willing to not only heal you, but draw close and touch you today.

He Touched Me

He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.

Matthew 7: “20 Mile March”

In the book Great by Choice, Jim Collins tells the story of two adventurers who set out to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. The year was 1911. The location was the South Pole, where temperatures reach 20 below in the summer.

One team was led by Roald Amundsen. The other team was led by Robert Falcon Scott.

342px-Nlc_amundsen
Roald Amundsen ca. 1908

Scott

Robert Falcon Scott

Both men were roughly the same age and had comparable experience. They both started their 1,400 mile journey within a few days of each other. They both endured the same conditions.

But the two teams had dramatically different strategies.

Scott led his team based on the current conditions. If it was good weather, he might march 30, 40 or even 50 miles. On bad days, when gale forced winds made traveling far worse than normal, he would travel less, or not at all. He let the environment determine his distance. In the process, he led his team to exhaustion

Amundsen, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. He decided that he would march 15-20 miles, regardless of weather conditions.

On good days, he went the same distance, even though some on his team challenged him to go further. On bad days, he led his team exactly the same, even though many complained. He didn’t let the environment, or the suggestions of his team sway him. They would march 15-20 miles, and rest, even if they didn’t feel like it.

I’m sure you’re wondering who won the race. Amundsen, who went a persistent distance on a daily basis, won the race. And he won big.

Amundsen on his last day was only 34 miles away from the South Pole and in good weather, but did he stretch it out and go all 34? No, he of course did 17 on one day at 17 on the other.

Scott reached the south pole 35 days later, and on the return trip, he, and every person on his team died. So what was the difference? The difference was persistence. Amundsen never deviated from the persistent plan of keep going.

How is prayer any different?

Think about your own prayer life:

Do you have an Amundsen style prayer life?

  • Consistent, persistent, faithful, staying the course one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Do you have a Scott style prayer life? 

  • Erratic, inconsistent, varies depending on life’s circumstances. One day it’s a ton, the next it’s non-existent.

You see, prayer is a habit to cultivate. It is a discipline to be developed. It’s a skill to be practiced. While I don’t want to reduce praying hard to time logged, if you want to see an increase in your prayer life, you have to pray…and sometime… pray hard.

Keep On Keeping On

Matthew 7:7 (NLT) Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

I like the NLT of Matthew 7 because of it’s consistent usage of “Keep on.” The reality for us is we’re each on our own journey towards our Spiritual South Pole. We need to assume an Amundsen style prayer life and “Keep on keeping on!”

I’ve heard this saying, and I think it’s a good one: If you pray through, God will come through!

Praying hard is going twelve rounds with God. A heavyweight prayer bout with the Lord Almighty can be excruciating and exhausting, but that is how great prayer victories are won. Praying hard is two-dimensional: praying like it depends on God and working like it depends on you. It’s praying until God answers, no matter how long it takes. It’s doing whatever it takes to show God you’re serious.

So today, keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.