Matthew 18 can be a tricky chapter. Jesus begins by saying that the greatest in the kingdom must become like little children. Then he says that it would be better for someone who causes any of the little ones to suffer to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Then Jesus goes into a discourse on the necessity for mercy. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by a story about the brother who sins against his other brother. He says if that brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he refuses, you should take one or two others along with you. If he still refuses, the brother is to be brought before the church.
Then Jesus tells them, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19, 20 ESV). This verse has been used out of context to “prove” that it’s only necessary for two or three people to be present to worship God. But that is far from the point of the passage. The point is that there is power in the witness of two or more people. Whether we are disciplining, worshiping, or praying, there is power when two or three gather.
This is important for those of us who pray for others. James says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Christians need to work together, not isolated from one another. When we work together God is present and powerful!
Jesus told his followers that the kingdom is coming, but not in ways that can be observed. In other words, only God knows when it’s coming and we shouldn’t be focused on the proper time. Instead, knowing that the kingdom is coming for sure, we should be focused on how we are living right now. When Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come, he said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20, 21).
Similar to the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus was warning people not to look back. When you are gone is too late to repent. Focusing on the past won’t move you into the future. Plowing and looking back will lead to disaster. You get the point! Jesus was clear that when the time comes, the time comes. It is unstoppable. There is nothing anyone can do to change it. He mentioned the day of Noah. People were eating and drinking. Life went on as usual. Then, unbeknownst to them, the flood waters turned on and didn’t stop until they were gone. Similarly, Sodom and Gomorrah had the same fate. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Then on the day Lot went out of the city, fire and sulfur rained down, destroying them all. Jesus said, “So it will be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (vs. 30).
Then he said 3 chilling words, “Remember Lot’s wife” (vs. 32). His point was that on that day whoever is saved will be taken and whoever is not will be left behind. Don’t look back. On that day is too late to save others. There is a critical sense of urgency that Jesus is giving his followers to act now. Live life as if the kingdom is here now. Remember Lot’s wife.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal is a younger of two sons who asked for his inheritance early. He took it and spent all that he had recklessly. When a famine hit, he hired himself out to someone and was feeding pigs. We often miss the grotesqueness of this image because we don’t consider pigs “unclean” like Jews did. It was highly offensive for someone to work for a farmer who raised pigs. Yet the prodigal worked among the pigs and even longed to eat from their trough.
The scene Jesus paints is one of embarrassment and despair. The prodigal had hit rock bottom. He wore shame like a blanket. Luke records, “When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against haven and before you” (Luke 15:17-18 ESV).
The prodigal did, in fact, return home. When he was a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him. He ran and embraced him. Then he told his servants to kill the fattened calf and dress the son in the best robe. The older son was infuriated that his father would give preferential treatment to the irresponsible brother who squandered all of their dad’s money. But the father replied, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (vs. 31-32). God is a God of grace and always prefers to see his children come back to him.
In a continuation of Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians on purging the evil person, he reiterates that people who are practicing wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. In chapter 6 he repeats the list he gave in chapter 5, while adding to it. Paul is not backing it down. He is ramping it up. The point is that unrighteousness is not to be tolerated in the church because it destroys lives and maligns the body of Christ. Paul said earlier to “cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7 ESV).
What he’s referring to are the people within the church who create division and attempt to cause others to fall away from God. You cannot have both poison and nourishment in the same body. When Paul wrote the first letter to the church at Corinth, he was addressing some very serious sin issues. Christians were extremely divided, were sexually immoral, were having drunken parties during the Lord’s Supper, and were fighting horribly over spiritual gifts. The church was in complete shambles, and Paul was issuing a stern warning that they better clean up their act.
What’s noteworthy is that Paul is less focused on working on current issues and puts more emphasis on who they were called to be. In the church today, we tend to get caught up in the past, bringing up all the issues we have with people who are causing problems. Paul has no interest in placating the Christians at Corinth. What they were is not who they are.
Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). He is reminding them that, yes, they really messed up. But that they need to repent and focus on who they are as bearers of Christ’s holy name. In other words, he tells them it’s time to get over themselves and move forward in unity.
Jesus could have preached any message he wanted. As the son of God, he came with authority to preach the word with all power. We often pay attention to what Jesus did in his ministry, but we also need to pay attention to what he said. The word of God is a double edged sword. It is powerful and effective.
So what did Jesus preach? We tend to focus on the blessings that Jesus spoke about. But what was the actual content of his sermons? Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it started with the arrest of John the Baptist. Just prior to this, Jesus was baptized then led into the wilderness to be tempted. On the heels of that, John was arrested.
Then Matthew records, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus preached repentance wherever he went. Repentance is the central theme of the New Testament. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was a message of repentance. It’s also important to note that Jesus’ message was combined with actions. He had mercy on the oppressed, poor, and heavy burdened. Jesus did not shrink back from condemning people, but neither did he hesitate to help those in need.
While we Christians need to help those in need, we also shouldn’t shrink back from a message of repentance. Repentance is essential for salvation. We should be willing to speak hard truths and call people to repentance while we model it ourselves.
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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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Our theme this year is Revival. The very core of the gospel is revival. Jesus came to save that which is lost. The central theme of the gospel is repentance–literally turning around. Jesus reached into the lives of people whose worlds had crumbled around them. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He freed the oppressed. He cared for the orphan and the widow.
When John the Baptist began preaching, he immediately called for repentance. He called out to the crowd, “You brood of vipers!” John told them to bear fruits in keeping with repentance and said that the axe was already laid to the root of the trees, meaning the people who produced bad fruit would be cut off from salvation.
Luke’s account takes a turn from the other accounts. There is an interruption and the crowds ask, “What shall we do?” (Luke 3:10 ESV). Jesus’ response in in step with Isaiah 61, which is what Jesus quoted when he stood up and said, “Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your presence.” John answers, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). The tax collectors who came to be baptized asked the same question. John answered, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (vs. 13). Then the soldiers asked the same question. John answered, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (vs. 14).
Revival is rooted in repentance. God commands us to produce fruits that care for others. We need to treat people righteously, with fairness and by meeting their needs. Revival builds up that which has been broken or torn down. John’s message began quite the buzz. People were wondering if John was the Christ. When we bless people, God blesses.
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