If we actually go through the gospels and look at the glaring consistency of Jesus, we see that he was far more interested in healing than following traditions. Each gospel writer arranged their books with a specific purpose in mind. The stories aren’t necessarily chronological as much as they are thematic. In Matthew’s gospel, he arranges his stories to fit mathematical equations (he was a tax collector, after all), the discourses of Jesus to mimic the first five books of the Old Testament, and demonstrates how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Within that structure, Matthew focuses heavily on Jesus’ ministry to heal and preach. As the stories unfold, he sprinkles in stories that interrupt the flow of Jesus’ ministry. These stories are about religious leaders. For example, right after the healing of all who were sick in Gennesaret, The Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matthew 15:2 ESV).
Rather than get into a full on argument or debate (which in churches can last for long periods of time), Jesus rebukes them and goes back to healing people. He had no interest in winning arguments. That was a waste of time and kept him from ministering to people in need. The very next things Jesus did were healing a woman’s daughter from a demon, healing many along the Sea of Galilee, and feeding a hungry crowd of 4,000. To say Jesus was busy serving was an understatement.
Enter the Pharisees and Sadducees. “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Testing Jesus. Let that sink in. He was exercising the greatest form of compassion on mankind. He was healing, feeding, and redeeming people–setting the captives free and treating them with dignity and respect. And the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test him. They couldn’t help themselves. They were deconstructing what Jesus was accomplishing.
Jesus was clear that followers of him must do all that he commanded. We all are essential workers in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ clear example to us demonstrates that serving others in need takes priority over everything else. This is the fulfillment of the Law. Loving our neighbors requires service to others.
Jesus was about as clear as he could be: the type of person we are is evidenced in the type of fruit we produce. Jesus wasn’t into blending good and bad trees together, calling them all good. Instead, he made a clear distinction. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33 ESV). Jesus continued, “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:35).
Jesus said told his audience, “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Words and actions matter. They actually matter a lot. It’s easy to get caught up into feeling that we are doing good when, in fact, we are doing great harm. Jesus said several chapters prior that false prophets would be recognized by their fruits. He said that “ever healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). He also said that the tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. It’s a sobering reminder that the fruit we produce, and the heart that the fruit stems forth from matter.
A lot of people, Christians included, tout their freedom as a ticket to do and say whatever they want. But Peter, bearing in mind that fruits matter, said, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). This was in the context of living honorable lives among the Gentiles so that they see Christians’ good deeds and glorify God. Peter told them to be respectable to human institutions, even to the emperor.
The fruit we produce matters. The words we speak matter. Our conduct matters. Of course we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but our hearts need to always be set on God. We can’t turn into bad trees, producing bad fruits, while saying that we are cool with God. Jesus is clear that he has no room for that kind of behavior in the kingdom.
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What caused the church to grow so rapidly that, by 110 A.D. Pliny the Younger was writing a letter to Emperor Trajan about his concern for the “problem” of Christians? By then, most of the pagan temples had been deserted. This was in spite of strong Roman policies that were designed to squelch the spread of Christianity. It really confused Pliny, and he was requesting help from the emperor himself.
Business marketers, believe it or not, use biblical concepts to rapidly grow an sustain businesses. Think, for a moment, what it is that draws you to a particular brand or store. There is one theme that marketers begin with–commonality. A good business will find something that customers will share commonality with, something that fulfills a need or brings a sense of satisfaction. In Acts, Luke said that the believers had everything in common (Acts 4:32). Finding common ground is unifying. It’s what draws us to other people and can be a great source of finding hope.
It wasn’t commonality by itself that caused the church to grow. Of course, everything Christians did was rooted in the cross of Jesus. They proclaimed Christ, fed the poor, took care of orphans and widows, and freed the oppressed. This was their common ground in Christ. Luke said, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32 ESV). The word for common actually means defiled. In other words, everything to them was stripped of its spiritual value and material possessions were just that–they were meaningless material possessions. Therefore, they could freely share them with others because there was no attachment to things.
Pagan people were drawn to Christ because Christians knew what they stood for. They had zero attachment to physical things and, in fact, shared their money with others to help them out. Christians spent their time preaching Christ, calling people to repentance, and offering hope to people who were desperate. They did it with kindness and humility, emptying themselves of pride. They pointed people to the cross of Jesus. This was attractive to some unbelievers, and through the Holy Spirit the church began to see a major increase.
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We all heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” As ridiculous as it sounds, people throughout history have pinned the blame for their sins on other people. “He or she made me do it” sounds about as silly as “the devil made me do it.” Ezekiel wrote at length about people bearing responsibility for their own sins. God said, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4 ESV).
Throughout the Bible, fathers had a responsibility to teach their children in the Lord. Parents were expected to instruct children, and teach them God’s law. But through Ezekiel, God makes it clear that the father is responsible for his own sins, and the children are responsible for theirs. Ezekiel gives an example of a son who sees the sins of his father and does not do likewise. The son walks in righteousness while the father continues to sin. Ezekiel says, “As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:18).
Guilt by association does not hold up with God. Neither does unjust accusation. God always prefers repentance. The person who sins is not doomed if he repents: “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, she shall surely live; he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21). The reverse of that is true too: “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed for them he shall die” (vs. 24).
It’s important for us to teach our children to be responsible for their own actions. They cannot shift blame. At the same time, we need to demonstrate to them that we are responsible for our own sins too. And that God loves repentance! His grace and salvation are wonderful!
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Isaiah called out oppression and the mistreatment of the poor. There is a definite theme of repentance that runs throughout the entire book of Isaiah. God is calling out the unrighteous, the oppressors, and those who mistreat their neighbors. In chapter 66, God is saying what Jesus often repeated–that sacrifices are an abomination to God if the hearts are corrupt.
God says, “I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV).
God reminds the people that He is the one who made the heavens and earth, and that the earth is his footstool. Our destiny is in God’s hands. He also reminds us that being humble, ashamed of our sins, and faithful to his word will get his eye: “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Jesus Christ had the same message. He preached repentance and called people to humble themselves. When people are humble and contrite, God looks upon them. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love!
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Jesus, in one sentence, summed up the Law and the Prophets: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV). That’s it. This is known as the “golden rule” of the Bible. But what exactly does this mean?
Were it not for the Law and the Prophets, it would be very easy to misconstrue this rule, which is what many people do. “This is the Law and the Prophets.” It’s not like the Law and the Prophets. It’s not based on the Law and the Prophets. It’s not abstractly linked to the Law and the Prophets. It is the Law and the Prophets!
The Old Testament tells us how to care for our neighbors. It’s not some profound mystery. Truth is not something we need to go on a treasure hunt for. We don’t have to go searching for ways to be compassionate to others. The Law and the Prophets are the plumb line that keep our souls in check. If people are threatening the safety of our neighbors, put yourself in the shoes of that neighbor. If people are hungry and begging in the street, put yourself in the shoes of the hungry person. If someone is experiencing abuse, put yourselves into the shoes of the abused. Ask, what would I need from my neighbor in this time of desperation?
If we can answer that question truthfully, we are close to the heart of God. The world can use people who adhere to the Golden Rule, and we have the freedom to be those people!
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Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was celebrated seven weeks after Passover. It was one of the three annual pilgrimage feasts where Jews from all over the world made the trek to Jerusalem to celebrate. They were celebrating the first fruits of their crops and would offer up some of the crops as a way to thank God our Father.
Jesus was crucified on the Passover, fifty days before Pentecost. During Pentecost, Jerusalem was packed with people. The disciples were gathered together in one place and the Spirit descended on them, entering like a mighty rushing wind and descending like dividing tongues as of fire, resting on each one. God’s Spirit was given as a sort of “first fruits” to the Christians that day.
As the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of plentiful harvest, so the ushering in of God’s Spirit commemorate a plentiful harvest of souls. Disciples began speaking in different languages, so that everyone could hear the message in their native tongue. Peter preached a sermon on the resurrection of Jesus, a fitting message for the celebration of the new crop. Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24 ESV).
Peter delivered the rest of his message, which cut the people to the heart and prompted their question, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38, 39).
Luke says that those who received his word were baptized, and about three thousand were added to the church that day. This is the Good News for those of us who were once dead in our sins. There is a first fruit of the Spirit that waits for us, which will renew us and give us power over death. There was revival on the day of Pentecost!
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