This is Simple Faith and I am your host Cathy Merritt
I loss a good friend just a few weeks ago. His name was Enrique, he is the reason I started this Radio Show. I began a little over 2 years ago. My sister was also diagnosis with cancer about the same time as Enrique. Enrique died two weeks ago, while my sister died on Tuesday of this past week.
I was unable to share at my sister’s funeral except to read a text. I also have been doing a study on the Book “Torn, Trusting God When Life leaves you in Pieces.” Really an appropriate book for my season in my life. I recommend you read this book by Jud Wilhite.
One thing you will discover is that our trials and suffering do not come from God, but things happen to us here. Jesus even promised that we would suffer here. I do not believe I need to suck it up and believe more or think I am not worthy of God’s blessings.
Well sometimes people will say, it is because she has little faith she is sick, if only she would believe strongly enough, this nightmare would pass. Like blackmail it turns people away from God. God becomes someone we cannot trust. We will never be good enough. God gives us the gift of love. Some will cite the verse in Romans 8:28 “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God.” It is a verse that has sustained millions of people through difficulties through the ages.
My family and I lost someone pretty awesome this week, my sister. We find comfort in the knowledge that she has left this veil of tears to be united with Jesus. When we’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, we need to grieve it for what it is and yet take hope in heaven. In the same way, we need to be realistic about every other kind of loss or hurt.
My sister had seeds planted as a child in church and sought him out when she was hurting and found comfort in Jesus arms. We who serve God by sharing the Gospel and being people into relationship with him realize we have a mission. So in one way, I use this opportunity of my sister as a testimony to all who are hurting and lost. The Gospel will set you free.
In our text tonight Jesus is determined to make his disciples understand His mission, which is to die for the redemption of Mankind, a concept that would have been a hard one for anyone of the disciples to grasp. Jewish men were not accustomed to thinking of their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as a God who would want to redeem the Gentiles, for this went against the customs and traditions of their culture and community. To put it in modern terms, it was “radical”. I think in some ways it is hard for us to understand that God loved us so much he let his Son, Jesus die on the cross for our sins and offered us a gift of eternal life.
It was radical for another reason: Jesus was the Son of God; how could He be killed by mere men? How could God allow such a thing? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is the reason Jesus kept on bringing it up; it was hard for the disciples to fathom, especially for Peter, James and John would had witnessed the transfiguration.
Just think about it; the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah, the one whose supremacy was demonstrated so dramatically on the mountain by none other than Almighty God Himself, the one who had done all the miracles, the one who has the faith that can move mountains was going to be delivered into the hands of men who will kill Him… how can that be?
The disciples were filled with grief… as well they should be.
Do you see what they were missing?
Yes, that’s right; they were filled with grief because Jesus would be killed. They were apparently so filled with grief (and shock) that they weren’t listening to “and on the third day he will be raised to life” They were not yet ready to realize that Jesus was going to the cross, but that was not a sign of weakness, it was a sign of faith that moves mountains. It was not a defeat, but the victory that would change the entire cosmos forever.
Transition from Galilee to Jerusalem
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.(19:1-2)
With these two verses, we have a shift of scenes as well as the beginning of the transition from Galilee to Jerusalem where Matthew’s narrative will reach its climax. As you will recall, we are in a larger section in which Jesus is teaching His disciples about His mission as the Messiah, and His mission is much different than they had expected of their Messiah. I thought that we would be best served at this point, to look at a summary of the events of chapters 19 and 20 before we are caught up in the details, for often we miss the larger picture (not to mention the context) because of our expectation and traditional understanding of the details. Of course this is not to say that our understanding is wrong, but it may sometimes be slightly incomplete.
The first thing we must understand is that Jesus is going on the offensive at this point. I’m not suggesting that He lacked the initiative in Galilee, but now He is the spiritual equivalent of an invading army as He moves into Judea, challenging the very core of the Jewish tradition and ethic as it existed at the time. Make no mistake; the Jewish religious authorities will not take this assault on their position and authority lying down… and you know what happens after that.
Jesus’ first move in this match is to radically challenge the conventional values and personal rights of all people as He calls for the stabilization and preeminence of marriage, challenging a legal system that perpetuated divorce (19:3-9). This challenge seemed very difficult to the disciples (19:10), but Jesus insists that for the sake of the Kingdom, some may even be called upon to renounce their right to marry (19:11-13).
Those deemed by society to be weak and helpless, like little children, were not to be marginalized or exploited, and He even used them as models for Kingdom living (19:13-15). In a society where a person was highly regarded for their wealth and position, Jesus calls for the renunciation of possessions in favor of the higher calling of following Him (19:16-30). He tells the parable of the landowner to illustrate this graphically, reversing their values in favor of outright generosity (20:1-16). In contrast to the Gentile habit of lording it over others Jesus calls upon His disciples to be servants of all, modeling His own sacrificial mission (20:20-38). The section closes with Jesus modeling compassion for all of those why cry out in the city (20:29-34). In this way, we transition into the next section of conflict in Jerusalem, but not before Jesus has completed the task of discipling the disciples and making them aware of what sort of lifestyle will be required of them when their turn comes to proclaim the Kingdom, and of course by extension, He has provided instruction for all future generations of the values that must be predominant in the Kingdom in ages to come.
The Pharisees ask Jesus for Marital Advice
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Jesus has entered into Judea, and the Pharisees come out to “test” Him… and away we go. Their test concerns the issue of marriage and divorce. They begin with an interesting question, one that can possibly be taken more than one way. Jesus in His reply takes it in a way they hadn’t expected, for instead of quoting the Law of Moses, He goes to Genesis instead quoting Genesis 1:27 in verse 4, and to Genesis 2:24 in verse 5; it would seem that Jesus placed a higher priority on the way marriage was originally intended to be than He did on the compromise God made with the fallen state of the people in Deuteronomy 24.
The Pharisees are all about keeping the Law, and as ironic as it may sound, this was their downfall in the end, so they ask Jesus about this in verse 7. (For them, Moses = Law).
Jesus replies in 19:8-9, with an explanation similar to His teaching on the subject in chapter 5, and for more on that, see my comments in that section. Rather than rehashing that here, I hope you will concentrate on Jesus and His orientation on the whole issue: He goes right back the point in time where God ordained marriage, and not on what came later; even the Law of Moses. While the scholars argue about the details and modern day politics, we can gain an amazing insight into Jesus’ mission and ultimate purpose in these verses, for in going back to the beginning, mentioning only in answer to their specific question any “exceptions” or concessions God may have granted, Jesus tells us about His mission: can you see it?
Jesus didn’t come with the idea of maintaining the status quo of their day, not even of the Law itself, for in His fulfillment of the Law, and establishment of an entirely New Covenant between God and His people, Jesus was taking the view that the Kingdom of heaven was not only near at hand, but already a reality, with no concession to the sin that He would take away for good. Thus, the message in this passage is not about what loopholes there might be in marriage, but on how we are to live in the Kingdom. There might be a loophole or escape clause, there might be problems in the present evil age, but in its ultimate fulfillment, we will be taken all the way back to way things were before sin had entered into the picture, for sin will be entirely done away with, along with all evil, and even death itself.
For us to say that His was an apocalyptic view would be an understatement for certain; certainly it is a view filled with hope and good news in that the day will come when all of these problems are gone. Yet, here we are, still living in a sinful and wicked world; filled with heartache and pain, what do we do in the here and now? Do we take the Pharisees’ viewpoint and debate the loopholes, or do we take the view of Christ and do our best to live according to the way God intended for us from the beginning?
Clearly that is a choice each of us should carefully consider. For the disciples, it was also a complex and bewildering prospect, and they had questions for Jesus about this. We’ll see the questions and answers when we get back together next time!
Jesus, Marriage, and the Disciples’ Reaction
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
After Jesus’ remarks concerning marriage and divorce in 19:3-9, the disciples have questions obviously, as do so many others, yet they didn’t ask any of them, instead making the offhand remark in verse10, “…it’s better not to marry.”
Quite a bit has been written about this remark; theories abound, yet what we can be certain about is that the disciples assumed that easy divorce was a given, that it was part of the deal so to speak. The apparent “taking away” of easy divorce by Jesus in His reply to the Pharisees who were attempting to trip Him up would certainly appear to reflect a different teaching for Israel, but we must remember that in this section, everything is arranged to instruct the disciples, not necessarily the Pharisees or to make new laws for the people. Caution dear reader, please don’t read anything into that statement of mine that I didn’t actually say; Jesus’ comments are of importance to us as well.
In His reply to their remark, Jesus expounds further on his intent, using a eunuch as an illustration, as He makes His point clearer. There were eunuchs who were “born eunuchs” as well as others who were “made” that way, which is to say that there are some who are by physical disability, unable to “become one flesh” in marriage, as well as many in those times who were incapacitated so they could serve in a noble’s household; neither would ever marry. Then there would be those who would choose to never marry so that they could serve more completely the Kingdom of heaven, and Paul comes to mind, as well as Jesus Himself. Some can accept this, i.e. “live that way” and some cannot. If a person can live that way, so much the better, if not, then they should marry wisely. Again, the teaching of Paul on the subject comes to mind.
This is not to suggest that living a celibate life is somehow more holy than not, but it is to say that the priorities of the Kingdom should be preeminent in our lives, and for those who have the gift of celibacy, this will be an easier task (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-7).
I wonder what the disciples talked about later that day amongst themselves…
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
There are times when the disciples are quite insightful, when they really “get it”, and then there are times when they really seem to miss the point entirely, and this is one of those latter cases. I suppose that we should be hesitant to be too critical of them, since I’m sure that each of us is probably guilty of missing the point often enough.
In this brief scene, Jesus is out among the people, and they bring some little children to Him for Him to pray over, and the disciples rebuked them. Maybe they thought that Jesus was too busy at the time to deal with a bunch of little ones, Matthew doesn’t say, but whatever their reason, it would appear that they have missed what Jesus was telling them in 18:5…
And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Jesus insisted that the little ones be allowed to come to Him, and once again mentions that we must be as little children, the powerless, vulnerable and often exploited by this world, to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Yes, it would be accurate to say that little children are a metaphor for the “citizens” of His Kingdom. I have already commented on this in my post on 18:1-5, “The Greatest in the Kingdom” so I won’t repeat the whole thing again now, instead, let’s once again take a step backward to look at the whole picture.
We are still in that section of Matthew in which Jesus is educating the disciples, where they are the ones in the scene that He is primarily concerned with. Also, in this part of that section, He is teaching them the stark difference between His teaching of the Kingdom, and the traditional teachings of the Jewish leadership, so isn’t it interesting that this should happen, and isn’t it significant that Matthew has included it here?
I can’t prove this, and I can’t pass it on to you as an established fact, but I can tell you that my guess is that Matthew passed this little episode on to us because this is when they began to understand His teaching about little children; certainly, it was for the disciples’ education that these events took place when they did.
In the next scene, Jesus has a chat with a rich young man; see you then!
A Wealthy Young Man
Social conventions and customs are a funny thing; they influence most of us in a way that enables us to make sweeping assumptions concerning great truths, even eternal ones, and yet those very conventions change often through history. We should take this reality as a warning to question the social conventions of our time, and this tale is a case in point. In Jesus’ day, as in many other historical periods, it was assumed that most wealthy people were the ones favored by God; why else would they be so blessed? Yes, some were not so ethical in their conduct, but many were good, hard working people, the bedrocks of the community; surely God’s favor was upon them!
What a contrast to those little children in the last scene, those little ones that represented vulnerability and humility. Right after Jesus commented about the little ones, a rich young man walks up to Him and asks a question:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (19:18)
Here’s a guy who appears to have it all, but he apparently believes that he is lacking in the way he has led his life; there is an element of humility here that we often overlook. In the dialogue that follows, we learn more about this young man:
Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” (19:17-20)
This young man was righteous, and appears to have good intentions, and as you will see, Jesus doesn’t dispute his claim that he has kept all of those commandments. It would also appear that the man was beginning to realize, perhaps more quickly than the disciples, that merely keeping commandments as was the Jewish prevailing thought, wasn’t quite enough, after all, why else would he have asked Jesus in the first place? Yet, he still seems to have believed that eternal life was contingent upon his ability to do something. Maybe he was right:
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (19:21-22)
Jesus told the man to sell everything he owned, give money to the poor and follow Him. I cannot over-emphasize how radical this was, for the prevailing thought of those times said that the rich were blessed, worthy and most favored of all, yet Jesus told the man to liquidate and give to the poor. Notice, He didn’t say to give everything to the poor (as some older translations say) but the implication is clear enough. The story ends with the man going away sad, because he had great wealth.
Traditional teaching assumes the man did not do as Jesus told him, but I want to point out that the text doesn’t say so; maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but he was sad.
This is where we like to bash people who have more than we do; I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this in class discussions and sermons and how many times I have read it, but I would suggest that we should not go rushing into this too quickly. I have known quite a few people who are quite wealthy, rich people, and they usually discover that their wealth, while handy for sure, is also a millstone around their necks; a burden more than a pleasure. Yet once they have it, it is hard to let go of. Even so, let’s not concentrate on those who have more than we do, let’s look in the mirror instead, for there is where Jesus message, and the young man’s predicament resonate:
Suppose Jesus came to you and told you to liquidate everything you have, that’s right dear reader, sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow Him.
Would that make you happy?
If you answer “yes” to that question, then let’s take a closer look: Your home, your car(s), your accounts, retirement plans, investments, kids’ college funds, the contents of your house… everything. You show up to follow Jesus with only the shirt on your back. Hold on, the shirt on your back is also a possession, so you show up without even a shirt on your back or anything else, to follow Jesus. Are you happy?
More importantly, would you do it?
Luke 5 records Jesus calling his first disciples. In both instances, in the calling of Simon Peter and Levi the tax collector, Luke notes they “left everything and followed him.” That jumped off the page when I read it. Jesus extends them an invitation to follow him, and they drop everything and follow. Right there, on the spot. It is recorded in another place in Luke’s gospel that others wanted to take care of their affairs before they followed Jesus and Jesus basically told them they could take care of those things or follow him. But they couldn’t do both. And they weren’t insignificant things. It wasn’t like they wanted to go check Facebook one last time. No, one person wanted to bury their father, and the other wanted to say good-bye to their family.
But Simon Peter and Levi dropped everything.
Most of the time when we read that they dropped everything to follow Jesus we picture them leaving their boats, their nets, their tax collector booth, and their other possessions. And that’s all true. But they also left their families, their houses, and their careers. That doesn’t mean they never saw their families again. We know they stayed at Simon’s house as Jesus healed his mother-in-law. But they were willing to. Those who followed Jesus turned their lives upside down for three years to be near him and learn from him.
Those who followed Jesus gave up everything.
They gave up their expectations, understanding, and hopes about what the Messiah would do. We see them struggle with this even after the death and resurrection. In Acts 1, after spending time with the resurrected Jesus they ask, “Are you now going to establish your kingdom?” They still believed Jesus was going to build an earthly kingdom like they had grown up believing. But they had to give this up to really follow Jesus. In order to live into the mandate they were given to make disciples, they needed to give up trying to build an earthly kingdom.
The disciples had to give up their desires for success. We see an argument between James and John about who is greater and who will sit at the right hand of Jesus. When Jesus confronts them about this conversation, he turns their understanding of recognition and privilege upside down by saying the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
Over and over again the disciples had to give up their prejudices. Prejudices against the poor, the righteous, the Samaritans, children, prostitutes, religious leaders and themselves. When we follow Jesus we are called to give up everything.
Following Jesus is one of the most difficult things I have done with my life. And the reason it is so difficult is precisely this idea of giving up everything.
But when you give yourself to Jesus you gain everything. Money of this world, fancy cars, fancy home and luxury vacations means nothing when it comes to our relationship with God.
Our first priority is that relationship, then comes marriage, comes family and then other things. We must have a great relationship with God before all others.
God does not get even with us, he doesn’t make us sick or give us struggles because we did something wrong. These thoughts make us doubt are faith and damage our lives.
Passage where the disciples asked Jesus “Rabbi,” his disciples ask him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him”
My husband is blind, but he serves God with great conviction. He writes and shares the Gospel each day in his blog. He also has a photo blog, where he has taken many of the pictures. It is amazing what someone who is blind can do, and I never once thought he was paying the price for sin. He is like the passage says – so the power of God could be seen in him. Amen.
I believe Becky’s struggle with cancer and ultimate death shows the power of God in her and in those around her.
My sister was more than my sister, she was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend to many. She was ready to go home to be with Jesus. Not to be with family first, that would follow, but to see Jesus face to face. I know some of my family are listening tonight. I want them to know Jesus is seeking them and wanting them to come into relationship with him. I pray for all of us who are grieving and ask my radio family to pray for them this week.
I pray for all of you carrying the message of Jesus to the lost. Our Mission is easy to define, but not always easy to carry out. Sometimes those closest to us are hard to bring to the faith, but I pray that the loss of Becky this last week will open their eyes, hearts and minds to Jesus. Amen