The Father’s Point of View in Matthew 21

Perhaps the greatest joy of being a teacher of God’s Word in a local church is the opportunity to help scripture come alive in the presence of others.  It may simply be my own limited point of view, for I can’t be sure everyone in my Sunday School class felt God’s joy this morning, but as we turned to Matthew 21, and looked at the healing of the blind and the lame in the temple, we began to see the radical nature of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

It’s one of those passages that requires us to slow down in our reading, lest we miss the joy in the Gospel:

Matthew 21:14   And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15  But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple,  “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes;  have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of  infants and nursing babies

                        you have prepared praise’?”

If we were to read earlier in the chapter, we discover that Jesus enters Jerusalem with gladness and praise from the crowds, yet strangely, once He’s in the temple, we see Him immediately turning over tables and creating all kinds of enemies.  In fact, in all likelihood, the cleansing of the temple is the major event that sets Him on a direct trajectory toward the crucifixion. 

So in chapter 21 we see joy (the coming into Jerusalem), shock (the cleansing of the temple), and then, to our amazement, joy again (the healing of the blind and lame).   It’s nothing but a whiplash – a dizziness of emotion – a psychological vertigo!  What are we to think?  Who is this Jesus, anyway?  “Hey Jesus, will you make up your mind?  Do you want the people to love you or do you want them to hate you?” 

Here’s His projected response:  “I’m not interested in the people’s point of view.  I’m interested in my Father’s point of view.”  The way we understand Jesus’ actions is by transporting our minds to a radically different place – a heavenly place rather than an earthly place.  When Jesus enters Jerusalem the people immediately think of Him from their own perspective.  He is their King – the one prophesied as the Son of David!  So He rides into the city on the colt of a donkey.  Yet their paradigm of this King is entirely wrong.  He does not come to give them what they want.  He comes to give them what they need. 

What did they need?  They needed their paradigm of serving God turned upside down:  tables turned over, coins on the pavement, love of profit exposed.  The leaders of the people wanted to maintain their status quo. “We can sell the people money.  They will have to buy temple coins with Roman coins, and then we can raise the price on the sacrifices.  It’s a win, win for us, and a win, win for God’s little kingdom!  Sure, it’s a lose, lose for the crowds!  But do we really care?” 

Yet God’s kingdom is far from little.  It is meant to be a kingdom for the entire world.  So Jesus hits them unexpectedly and directly in the face.  “Money and power is not what you need.  Love for others is my Father’s heart.” 

We see that Jesus gives the authorities exactly what they need, and shows, for those who can receive it, a radically new paradigm:  He heals the blind and the lame.  Now of course at first we as readers don’t see the big deal.  “Another healing?  Jesus is always healing someone so what makes this healing any different?”  Here’s the answer:  in the Jewish tradition, the blind and the lame were not allowed in the temple (See 2 Samuel 5), much less gets healed in the temple!  Yet the Gospel is breaking in with power and authority – Jesus heals them: 

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

Few pleasures exist which are greater than the reading of a sequence of words that communicate joy punctuated with meaning, and in six little words (“came to him in the temple”) joy and meaning abound.  The lowest members of society, the people who were not even allowed in the presence of God, are not only welcomed, but lifted up to demonstrate the purpose of worship:  healing and praise (the children will praise Jesus in verse 15). 

So much more can be said of this passage.  So much more can be said of Matthew 21. Jesus has broken into our world and changed it all.  Some of us come to Him blind.  Some of us come to Him lame. Either way, we only come, and we find a new freedom and a new life from this point forward. 

Just a Little Active Reflection

One of the great joys of Christian living is the opportunity we possess to read and reflect on Our Lord.  His was a life of action.  His was a life of deep words.  Both of these elements demand our utmost attention, and I suppose, in large measure, it is why we read the Gospels.  The Christian experience has always been defined by active reflection on the person of Jesus.  So here we go . . .

In one of my favorite stories in the Bible, we read about two disheartened disciples walking down the road to the village of Emmaus.  Wouldn’t you be broken too?  The One in whom they personally trusted, the One in whom they believed would usher in God’s kingdom, the One of whom they thought would redeem Israel from captivity, had only been crucified a couple days earlier.  

It’s true that they had heard stories from some women about the tomb being empty, and the women said they had even seen a vision of angels telling them that Jesus was alive, but in these disciples’ broken state, good news about a Risen Messiah was too much to believe.  How many times have we heard people say, “If is sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true”? Besides . . . A Crucified Messiah and a Risen Messiah?  “Hey buddy, that’s way outside our paradigm!”

So Luke tells us in 24:14 . . . 

       and they were talking with each other about all these thingsthat had happened.  

If you had lived through that time, chances are you also would be talking about “all these things.” Their minds were swimming with thoughts of hope and thoughts of despair. Most certainly they were thinking about the miracles, the challenges, the teachings, and most of all in that moment, the confrontations that Jesus had with the religious and political leaders. “All these things”means “all these things,”so their minds were flooded with images and ideas over and over again. 

We can almost hear their thoughts:  “What are we to think?  What are we to believe?” And most importantly for them in that moment: “What are we to do?”  (Stop and think about that one.) Their plans were gone.  Their hopes were unrealized. 

Yet it’s in our moments of brokenness and shattered paradigms that God delights to draw near to us. It was not an accident that in the disciples’ very moment of despair that Jesus appears to them. 

Luke 24:15  

            While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.

Sometimes it’s the little words in the Gospels that open up new insights and greater heights of love, and that’s certainly the case in verse 15.  Luke tells us that Jesus “drew near” – He drew near because He loved them.  Jesus is not only a man of word and deed.  He is also a man of indescribable, inexpressible love. We also see 

that Jesus “went with them.”  “Beside them?” Sort of.  “By them?” Better. “Among them.”  Of course.  Yet our English “with” is intentionally less exact and definitely more mystical than these other prepositions.  Jesus is mysteriously and profoundly “with” us on our journey, wherever we go and whatever we experience. There is simply no getting away from Him. 

The main point from this short, little blog?   To reflect on Jesus’ word and deed from 2000 years ago is to reflect on Jesus’ life today. May He bless you as you seek Him, and may He fill your life with joy each day. 

The Tragedy of Misdirection

It was supposed be a very specific YouTube search.  I was looking for one thing, but in the small frames on the right side of the screen it was as if YouTube was calling me somewhere else.  Should I?  Should I click one of those videos that made me feel like it was made personally for me? I wanted to look for a video on Count Zinzendorf (a famous Pietist), but on the screen next to the Count was a Catholic Priest giving his perspective on Methodism.  In another video a famous Calvinist was about to criticize Arminianism. Should I or shouldn’t I?  Naturally I did – I watched them both, and even a third. 

This is not a blog about YouTube.  Most of us know the power of our video driven culture.  Rather, this is a comment about a tragedy – the tragedy of Christian misdirection.  Perhaps you’re thinking that I got misdirected by looking at random videos, but that’s not the misdirection I’m talking about.  Rather, here’s what I mean by Christian misdirection:  too many of us, especially pastors, spend our time attempting to rally the troops against other churches and other Christian denominations. The goal of course is to get people to know “the truth.”  Good pastors try to help their people know their Bibles and their Traditions. However, in our pursuit of truth (and if you know me at all, you know that truth seeking is very important to me) is it possible that we have directed people the wrong way?  Is it not possible that we have focused so much on being “right” (in contrast to other churches), that we have given our people a false idea of what it takes to enter and enjoy the kingdom of heaven? 

It’s amazing to me how many clicks some of the famous pastors have on YouTube.  I’ve always wondered how they get them, and I know that much of their popularity comes from book deals and various publications.  Large churches breed a large number of clicks, etc. That’s fine, and I want people to listen to good Bible preachers and teachers.  However, I think we all know about the power of controversy and the temptations that come by attracting a large audience.  Yet large crowds never impressed Jesus.  Again and again He focused upon personal faith and character, and He often walked away from the masses.

The real issue in the Christian life and in Christian ministry is not being “right.” All of us make errors and although it’s important to be sound in our teaching and preaching, it is far, far more important to be loving and to encourage our people to enter into a deep knowing, even an intimacy, of and with Jesus Christ.  When the Lord calls our name, He won’t ask us about our doctrine, but He will affirm or deny our relationship with Him.   Consider His words in Matthew 7:21-23

21   “Not everyone who  says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will  enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who  does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22  On that day  many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not  prophesy in your name, and cast out demons  in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I  never knew you;  depart from me,  you workers of lawlessness.’

Luke 1

Luke 1,1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that  have been accomplished among us, 2  just as those who  from the beginning were  eyewitnesses and  ministers of  the word  have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write  an orderly account for you,  most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have  certainty concerning the things  you have been taught.

The word is epistemology, and before you decide not to read this blog (a person’s epistemology is one’s way of knowing), let me ask you a simple question:  How do you know what you think you know?  Let’s face it: It has become one of the most pressing questions of 21st Century life.   We live in a world of assumptions bolstered by the growth in social media and what many call “fake news.”  That story your child told you about concerning his/her incident on the playground?  Did it happen that way?  How about that beautiful photo of your friends on Maui?  Are those people really happy, or did they scuffle between themselves gathering for the photo?   With people showing only their best and with people telling events only their way, are we ever going to get to the facts in life’s daily events?   Then we can ask this question:  are we ever going to get to the truth?

Such questions about facts and truth surround us seven days a week, and it’s not just a 21st century current event problem.  It’s a problem in the Church as Christians approach scripture.  The study of the Bible is demanding work.  It can be approached casually, and I certainly encourage any such reading.  Read the Bible, read the Bible, and read it again. Yet if a person desires to dig, to work hard at understanding, to pursue treasures in the text, with the help of the Holy Spirit the study of scripture requires much effort.

Don’t be discouraged!  Our God is an awesome God willing to help all who call upon Him, and the good news is that the Bible comes to us as a bedrock of truth.   How do we know this?  How do we know that the Bible is just not an early form of social media filled with “fake news?’  Let me suggest one simple answer among many: the writers of the New Testament were persecuted for their faith. 

Notice how Luke opens his gospel:

Luke 1,1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that  have been accomplished among us, 2  just as those who  from the beginning were  eyewitnesses and  ministers of  the word  have delivered them to us,

The eyewitnesses Luke is talking about includes the Apostles who were all persecuted and most martyred for their proclamation that Jesus is King – the King who rose from the dead.  Luke is not simply writing a casual story.  He himself is taking a personal risk numbering himself with the Apostles who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. 

How do we know the Bible is true?  We know because it came from a persecuted subculture in a hostile Roman Empire. These were men who did not write for fame and glory.  They received no earthly rewards. They didn’t get a book deal. Rather, they wrote because they had witnessed God do amazing, awe-inspiring things, and the Lord was with them in their writing so that one day the world could know the greatest truth of all: Jesus’ loves you and me.