Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 8

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Authority.

Jesus had finished His thought-provoking Sermon on the Mount. At the end of Matthew chapter seven we’re told that the crowds of people who had come to hear Him “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority”—in distinct contrast to the weak and waffling speeches they were used to hearing from their religious leaders. They sensed the challenging message of Jesus was more than the charisma of a gifted orator. There was something deeper. His words pierced their hearts, speaking truth and demanding a response from His listeners. They sensed that Jesus not only spoke authoritatively—He embodied authority. Authority like this could get a person into trouble with the ruling establishment, though—the Jewish leaders were not known for being tolerant of any competition, and Rome itself was not about to share its power. This alone was enough to attract more than a few onlookers to follow Jesus. Perhaps this amazing man would use His authority to gain political power. Who would want to miss that?

As Jesus descended the mountain, the crowd following Him began to see what divine authority in action looks like. Not only did Jesus teach unlike anyone else, He displayed power unlike anything they had ever seen. Matthew chapter eight records eight interactions Jesus had as He moved through the lakeside town of Capernaum, crossed the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee by boat, and visited the remote region known as the Gadarenes.

First, Jesus met a social outcast; a man with nerve-numbing, limb-killing leprosy fell at Jesus’ feet asking to be made ‘clean’, a term referring to the complete absence of the disease. “Be clean!” Jesus commanded the outcast’s body—and it obeyed; the man’s nerves, blood vessels, soft tissue, lymphatic system and skin were completely healed and regenerated. Jesus sent the man joyfully on his way to present himself to the religious establishment to have his social banishment revoked.

Then, as Jesus entered the streets of Capernaum a Roman military figure moved purposefully toward Him—a commander of a division of one hundred soldiers. Perhaps the crowd following Jesus wondered if Jesus’ authority would find its match here. But the centurion, like the leper, had come for help. His attendant lay at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering. The centurion asked Jesus to use His authority to “just say the word” that would heal the suffering man without having even seen him. Jesus, delighted at the centurion’s faith, replied, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would,” and the servant was healed at that very hour.

Each interaction is the same. Jesus, confronted by diverse challenges, displays His authority over every aspect of the physical world. The sick and suffering find release from their captivity. Storms are stilled. Madmen find themselves back in their right minds. Nothing confounds or perplexes Jesus.

Why is this? The only plausible answer is that Jesus, through His display of authority over any obstacle or predicament, is earth’s Creator and Redeemer. Placing Himself in situations where God the Father leads Him, He, God the Son, reveals Himself by what He says and what He does. Nothing confounds or defeats the One who has all authority. And when the time was right, Jesus would submit Himself to being hung on an instrument of Roman torture, dying and returning to life, to display an aspect of His authority that has perplexed many: He has authority to take upon Himself the moral debt of every person on this planet; He has authority over death and over life; and those who accept His authority finds themselves recipients of an amazing gift of forgiveness and relationship with God.

What is the take-home message for us living here today? Check out the evidence. Read the record of Jesus’ life and ministry in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible. See if the authority of Jesus doesn’t strike you true. Then do what any sane person ought to do: bow before the author of life, accept His gift of salvation and hope, and draw close to the lover of our souls. As we submit to Jesus daily, we find that Jesus uses His authority to lead us and to bless us, and will continue to do so through eternity.

(Photo Credit: “כפר נחום תצלום אויר” by AVRAM GRAICER – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D7%9B%D7%A4%D7%A8_%D7%A0%D7%97%D7%95%D7%9D_%D7%AA%D7%A6%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%9D_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%99%D7%A8.jpg#/media/File:%D7%9B%D7%A4%D7%A8_%D7%A0%D7%97%D7%95%D7%9D_%D7%AA%D7%A6%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%9D_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%99%D7%A8.jpg)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 7

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Instructions for House-building.

Jesus is bringing His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ to its conclusion. Endings of sermons, speeches and stories are epic; they are key to understanding everything the speaker intends. They summarize the main point—they reiterate the heart of the issue. If our attention wanders or our focus wanes anywhere, it is best that it not happen during the conclusion. We don’t want to miss the wrap-up.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is like that. It rises and falls in cycles of proposals and warnings. His conclusion brings his ideas to the apex. “Free at last!” he sings out, casting his vision for a unified country, a people no longer in bondage to racial injustice.

The conclusion of Jesus’ sermon is even more powerful. Its impact strikes the responsive listener with hurricane-like force. His words cut to the foundations of each of our lives.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus sketches for us an image of two lives. He compares and contrasts these two people, describes their common experience and their differing responses. Those who live their lives by the often-challenging ethical demands of Jesus’ teachings are building under difficult conditions. The craggy foundation is high and there is much effort in climbing its heights each day to lift another post and lay another beam on its footing. The footprint from which they must rise has a definite shape and they must conform to it. Building a house on a rock takes everything they have and more.

Meanwhile, those who live their lives as they please, choosing to believe their own inner voice is rather to be followed than the words of God, are building on something that is attractive at the time. Sand is malleable and will take whatever shape the house-builder chooses. There are no hard edges that require the builder to adjust plans. There are no high and unyielding standards to which they must conform. What could be better than a beachfront villa with an ocean view—metaphorically speaking, of course?

Then comes the storm. Tornado-like winds drive pellets of rain against all sides of the two houses and torrents of floodwaters rise from below, thrashing both buildings mercilessly. When the storm subsides the results become visible. The house on the rock stands unscathed, while the house on the sand is nothing more than a splintered wreckage of debris.

What does it all mean? The storm is death. The houses are our lives. We each are given the freedom to ‘build’ our lives as we please. But each of us will eventually leave this world; each of us will experience death—there is no escaping it. What God gives us is the opportunity to prepare for the life hereafter in such a way that the experience of death will not harm us. That, says God in numerous ways throughout Scripture, is wisdom.

Here, at the end of Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus gets specific about how to build our lives wisely. He explains that the wise put His words into practice. Jesus will many times during His life and ministry explain that every word He speaks completely conforms to the Father’s words and will. He is God in the flesh. When people like you and me practice what He preached we express our faith in Him. At times that faith is painfully stretched because practicing Jesus’ commands is hard work. But that, Jesus is saying, is what building on ‘the rock’ involves.

Our life choices matter for eternity; they reflect either obedience to Jesus’ words or careless disobedience. There is no middle ground. Hearing a sermon or podcast, scanning a blog explaining Scriptural truths, even reading the Bible is not enough if we don’t put Jesus’ words into practice in our lives. On the other hand, the simplest life lived in obedience to His words is able to build an indestructible edifice for eternity.

That’s good news and it is accessible to all. Now the challenge is to take advantage of it. We need to go back and take another look at the words recorded in Jesus’ sermon (Matthew, chapters 5-7), find His commands, and start doing them. There is enough in there to keep us busy for a while. It’s hard work, but it will be worth it, because there’s a storm coming.

(Photo Credit: Jose, M.B. [[File:Wave santander 2014 001.jpg|thumb|Wave santander 2014 001]])

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 2

 

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 2

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

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The last thing on earth we want is to be poor. Admit it. Every billboard’s message screams our right to wealth, self-indulgence, security and ease. While we may have tempered that notion with moderation, few of us would admit poverty is on our ‘bucket list’.

So, what is this ‘poor in spirit’ concept all about? I don’t believe it’s talking about asceticism here; this goes much deeper than the pocketbook. But we may learn something from the billboards that is relevant: the basis for this world’s quest for self-indulgence is that cunning vice each one of us harbours deep inside. Pride. Proverbs 6 places it at the top of the list of “six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him”. It used to be known as one of the ‘seven deadly sins’. Pride is the primary mindset that separates us from God; it causes us to imagine ourselves as gods, uncaused causes, having the right to rule ourselves.

But the kingdom of heaven is where reality reigns. God is sovereign, glorious, and enjoyed by all who are granted life in the kingdom. If we wish to be part of this kingdom, we must submit to God. We must humble ourselves before Him, accept His authority over us and worship Him. Humbling ourselves before Him, here on earth, means, humbling ourselves before His commands. It means obeying His Word. It means earnest application of His revealed ways. Jesus puts this maxim at the top of the list of eight for a reason. He will go on to spell out applications of this humble mindset throughout His Sermon on the Mount, so He wants to make sure we have grasped this apogee of fitness for heavenly existence. It is the sine qua non of living in God’s kingdom.

In Part 1, we suggested the idea of praying the Beatitudes. How interesting that Jesus’ ‘how-to’ example of prayer later in His sermon (see Matthew 6:9) begins with an expression of spiritual humility: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To pray is to admit the sovereignty of God, to hallow His name, to yearn for His will to be done here on earth. The kingdom of heaven is where His will is done.

Today, let’s pray for poverty of spirit, as counter-cultural as that may be. Let’s pray, “your will to be done here in my life as it is in heaven”. This is what it is to be blessed. This is about getting ready for kingdom living.

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES

PRAYING THE BEATITUDES, PART 1

Matthew 5:1-10

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 We’re in the midst of a desperate struggle, you know. On the surface of this earth’s old crust it appears as if the material is the only reality, but it goes much deeper than the simply observable. Important things always do.  Our Life Trainer, Jesus, calls us to trek up a mountainside with Him for some essential training; it’s a sort of boot camp. We call it the ‘Beatitudes’, eight pithy directives that set the tone for His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’. These eight maxims form the essence of the principles of living in the kingdom of heaven; this eternal kingdom, unseen as yet, requires elements of living foreign to earth’s fallen principles of ‘might is right’. Each begins with a revelation, the elements of true blessedness (say happiness if it helps you see the relevance) and couples it with an eternal reward.

It’s easy to read through the Beatitudes without thinking too much of their significance; there’s a rhythmic cadence about them that is a bit mesmerizing. Blessed are people with such-and-such characteristics, for they will receive so-and-so rewards. Memorizing the list can leave one a bit confused as to which reward goes with which characteristic.

I think it’s time to wrestle. Not only with the maxims, but it’s time to wrestle with God regarding them. No disrespect intended. The patriarch Jacob wrestled with God and was blessed for it. He was finally desperate enough to desire God’s blessing more than anything his grasping character had ever wanted before. Let’s take this training to a similar level. Let’s work through each of these eight directives in a way that brings us into the presence of God. Let’s move from discussion and memorization to wrestling with God Himself regarding these life-changing directives. Let’s pray the Beatitudes.

Read what the Gospel of Matthew records of the Beatitudes. Read them again. Mull it over in your mind. Taste the words, their sounds, their usage and their flavour.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Begin to pray for wisdom regarding their truths. Then we will begin to wrestle with them one by one. May God bless our endeavor.