Archive for April, 2016

Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

Wheat and tares

Matthew 13:24–30 (NLT)
24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
28 “ ‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“ ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
29 “ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’ ”
No one likes to talk about judgment anymore.  We like to focus on the blessings.  We try to forget that there is such a thing as judgment in God’s economy.  When was the last time you heard a preacher preach on Hell as if it was a real possibility?
The parable of the wheat and the tares is another example of a story that Jesus has developed into an allegory.  It appears only in the Gospel according to Matthew.  Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  (v. 24)  The setting is similar to the parable of the sower, but it develops in a different way.  The plot turns sharply with the entrance of an enemy at night, who sows weeds among the wheat.  While this might be something that someone might doo, it cannot be described as typical.
Tares or darnels or weeds translates the Greek word zizinia, a type of weed that looks similar to wheat (or corn in the KJV) in its early stages.  It can only be differentiated when the head appears on the stalk.  Zizinia serves no purpose and is in fact poisonous to humans and domesticated animals, because it harbors a poisonous fungus.
Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable to the disciples in private (vv. 24-32).  Jesus, the Son of Man, is the farmer who sows the seed.  The field is again the world.  The seed represents the people of the Kingdom.  The weeds represent the people who belong to the evil one.  The enemy is the Adversary, the devil.
In the world the Church, the children of the Kingdom, grow up in the middle of the sons of the evil one.  The allegory is about the Church that will arise from Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.  The Church will be quickly attacked by the devil.  The result will be a Church in which the children of the Kingdom will co-exist with the children of the evil one.  These will look so similar and so closely intertwined that it will be difficult to distinguish them.
Jesus suggests that we should not spend much time trying to purify the church.  Violent efforts at purifying the church are counterproductive in that they could hurt the authentic believers.
Vv. 40-43 provide a clear picture of the final judgment.  The weeds will be pulled up and burned in the fire.  (v. 40)  The angels are the servants of the Lord who will be sent out to weed out the wicked.  The wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (v. 42)  The reference is clearly to the children of the evil one, but v. 41 suggests that the final judgment will be larger and more comprehensive than just the condemnation of sinners.  Jesus declares that everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be judged.  In contrast, the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.  (v. 43).  Jesus places the responsibility on those who hear the message, in other words, on those who are reading these words in the Gospel of Matthew.
It has become fashionable in American Christianity to deny the final judgment.  Our focus on the message of the Bible:  Love for God and love for one another as we love ourselves, has been reduced to sentimentality.  Surely is God is love, then a loving God would not condemn anyone.
If that is the case, then why does God condemn any evil?  If this is the case, then our detractors are correct.  If God does not condemn the wicked, then our God is not just.  If God is not just, then God permits evil either because God is too weak to do anything about it or because God is in fact evil, or a moral monster.
No.  There must be a final judgment in which God judges all evil.  The cries of the martyrs requires justice.  The cries of those who have been harmed by evil requires God to judge the unjust.  The cries of the poor, the oppressed, the widows and orphans, the homeless, and the immigrant require justice in the final judgment.
This is one of the emphases that has been downplayed in America.  Even in popular theology, America is always the good guy.  Why?  Because we realize that this judgment might fall on us.  We have been in the position of the powerful and the oppressor. We are afraid that we might be the ones who are judged for our treatment of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – all those whom the Bible calls blessed.  In contrast, the majority world has suffered as a result of colonialism and globalization. They have suffere
God forbid that we fall as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” (the title of a famous sermon by Jonathon Edwards) God is angry and God’s wrath and justice demand that there be justice in the end.  This is the clear teaching of the parable of the wheat and the tares.  The ultimate
What should our response be?  We should repent and seek God with all our heart.  We should desire to be counted among the children of the Kingdom of God.  The only way to avoid the judgment is believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Only in this way can we escape the judgment of God.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:1–9 (NRSV) The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

 

Jesus’ interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (vv. 18-23)

Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (the Gospel) is the setting for each of the 4 types of soil.  The emphasis on the interpretation is not on the Sower (Jesus), but on the quality of the soils on which the seed (the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ) is sown.  The various types of soil represent the spiritual condition of those who hear the Good News.

Jesus is like a sower who sows the good seed (13:37).  The field is the world.  He is like the farmer sowing seed in the hearts of the people of Israel.   The seed represents “the message about the Kingdom” (v. 19).  Matthew summarizes Jesus’ preaching as “the Good News about the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (vv. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14)  The seed is good seed.  The different responses to Jesus’ preaching is on the quality of the soil, that is those who hear the message.

By extension, anyone who preaches the Gospel is also sowing the seed of the Gospel.  The preaching of the Good News, provided it is grounded in the Word of God is always good seed.  The Good News is always good.

Hard hearts (13:19)

The seed that fell on the road is like hard hearted people.  Because of the hardness of their hearts, the seed never has a chance to even begin to grow.  In vv. 14-15, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to indicate that these hard-hearted people are like the people of Israel to whom the prophet Isaiah ministered. Some in the crowd have hardened their hearts against Jesus’ message.  The hardness of heart prevents the seed of the Gospel from taking root.  The devil, the “evil one,” snatches them away just like the birds eat up the seeds that fall on the road.  They are like the Pharisees and scribes who were against Jesus from the start.

Shallow hearts (13:20, 21)

The seed sown in the rocky soil represents those who immediately receive the message with gladness, but never develop any depth in their faith.  The life of the Good News is in the seed, not in the soil.  When the environment is suitable, the seed will sprout.  In this case, the growth is only superficial.  These are those in the crowd who make a superficial commitment to Christ, but the Gospel message never develops any depth.  When hard times come, they stumble in their faith and fall away.  In fact, the Good News dies in them.

Thorny hearts

The third type of soil is crowded with thorns.  This type of heart receives the Gospel with joy.  The seed sprouts up, but the person who receives the message of the Gospel has his or her growth choked out by the competing priorities of this life.  The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth combine to choke the life out of the this person.  Tragically, they lose whatever benefit they might have received from the Good News.  Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount about the power of wealth (Matt. 6:19-24).  As a result of the combination of worry and wealth, the faith that sprang up so hopefully in the beginning is choked out in the end.

Receptive hearts.

Only fourth soil is called good.  This represents the person whose heart is receptive to the Gospel.  They not only hear the message of the Good News, but understand it and allow it to take full root in his or her heart so that it can produce fruit.  This soil represents a true believing disciple.

The evidence that they are true disciples is that they bear fruit.  The fruit of Kingdom life reveals the character of the tree (7:15-20, 12:33-37).  There may be varying amounts of yield in each person, but there must be a yield.

Some soils produce yields of 100 times, 60, or 30 times what was sown.  The emphasis is not on the amount of yield, but on the miraculous, gracious life that is present in the seed.  God blesses the growth, as Paul would later say.  (1 Cor. 3:5-9)  Seed sown on good soil will produce the maximum results that it has been created to produce in good soil.

Who is responsible for the hardened heart?  When Pharaoh rejects God’s command to “let my people go,” Moses ascribes it to his hardened heart.  Jesus lays the responsibility directly on the people who hear the message:

Matthew 13:12 (NLT) To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge.  But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

In our modern understanding of knowledge, we believe that knowledge is enough.  That is all we need.  Jesus said that even the demons believe.  They have knowledge, but not saving faith.

Those of us who are reading these words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are like the crowds.  We are faced with the choice of either hearing the Word of God spoken to us through the Holy Spirit or reject it.  What Jesus implies in this parable is:  What kind of soil are you?  How will you respond to this message of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Will you follow Jesus or reject Him?

Reader, if you have never known the grace of God in Jesus Christ, then I invite you to turn to Him, to repent of your sins and follow Jesus, and make Him the Lord of your life.  And then find a good church in which to grow in faith.  See more at:  https://www.cru.org/how-to-know-god.html

Lord, I pray for those who are seeking you today.  I pray that you would remove the stones from our lives, remove the thorns and help us to respond to your call to faith.  You send the Good News about Jesus Christ, scattering it on the field of the world to everyone.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

Strengthen those upon whom the Word has found good soil and sprung up.  Help them to grow in grace through daily reading your Word and prayer.  Help them to find a church in which to grow in the faith with other believers.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

Parables of the Kingdom

Kingdom Parables

Matthew 13:10–17 (NLT)
10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets* of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’*
16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.
In Matt. 13, we have another collection of Jesus’ teaching.  The focus of the teaching here is on Parables of the Kingdom.  The question that Jesus is answering in these passages is “How will you respond to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
The term first appears in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2).   The expression is typical religious language of Judaism.  It is found only in Matthew’s Gospel (33 times).  The “Kingdom of Heaven” is interchangeable with the expression “Kingdom of God,” which is found in the other Gospels.  Matthew’s use of Kingdom of Heaven reflects the Hebrew expression malkut samayim, found in Jewish literature.  The reverence which the Jews felt for the name of God (Yahweh) led them to be hesitant to even inadvertently express the name of God.  Heaven was one of the typical expressions for the name of God.

V. 1 orients us to the type of teaching that Jesus used.  “He told many stories in the form of parables.”  The Greek word for parable (parabole) translates the Hebrew mashal.  Mashal describes many kinds of sayings from proverbs to illustrations to allegories.
Jesus speaks privately to the disciples and tells them that the reason he teaches in parables.  (vv. 10-17) He is revealing to them the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The teaching that the apostles received was different than Jesus’ preaching to the crowds.  He is preparing them for the mission of leading His ministry after He returns to Heaven.  (v. 11)
“The Parable of the Sower” appears in all the synoptic Gospels (Mark 4:1-12; Luke 10:23-24) In modern literary terms, “The Parable of the Sower” is more like an allegory.  The interpretation by Jesus is given privately to the disciples (vv. 18-23).  This interpretation gave rise to the allegorizing form of biblical interpretation.  Early Christian commentators sought to find a deeper moral, theological, and spiritual meaning behind almost ever text in the Bible.  But not every parable is an allegory, and clearly we should not try to find allegorical meanings behind the straightforward narratives of the Gospel, for example, or the teaching of Paul, for example.  Modern biblical interpretation has rejected allegorizing method of interpretation.
Since the work of C. H. Dodd (1884-1973), the focus of the 20th century was on the historical setting of the parables as a key to understand the details of the parables and the context of Jesus’ original preaching about the Kingdom of God.  The grammatical-historical method has dominated modern approaches to interpretation.
The weakness of the historical approach is that it tended to reduce parables to pious moralisms, while ignoring the artistic elements and psychological features of the parables.  There is a dynamic tension between the text and the interpreter.  The reader, just as the original hearers of the parable, is brought to a moment of truth most effectively when the Holy Spirit confronts him or her with the parable as Jesus intended it for his hearers.

The Lord of the Sabbath

The-Lord-Of-The-Sabbath

Matthew 12:1–8 (NLT) A Discussion about the Sabbath

At about that time Jesus was walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”

Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’* For the Son of Man* is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

In this first controversy over the Sabbath, the Pharisees observe the disciples plucking some grains from the field as they walk along the road on the Sabbath.  Deut. 23:25 permitted this as long as they did not use a sickle to cut the grain.  However, the Pharisees had a stricter definition of work than the Law.  The issue is whether this “work” was permitted on the Sabbath.  Essentially the Pharisees are arguing that Jesus is a lawbreaker and a false teacher who leads others astray by teaching them to break the Law of Moses.

From the perspective of the Pharisees, the Law about keeping the Sabbath holy was one of the key symbols of their nation and religion.  The keeping of the Sabbath made Israel unique from all the nations around it by connecting Israel with the God who observed the Sabbath after completing His work of creation.  Failure to keep the Sabbath was one of the reasons Israel had been judged by God and taken into captivity (Jer. 17:27; Neh. 13:15-18)

Jesus response is to remind the Pharisees of 2 examples.  First, when David ate the showbread from before the tabernacle.  The showbread was the consecrated bread that was placed in front of the altar, which only the priests could eat.  David did something unlawful only to satisfy the hunger of his men.  And David as the type of Christ, when faced with an urgent need, was not condemned.  Secondly, the priests in the Temple break the Sabbath by working on the Sabbath every week, yet are innocent.  One greater than David was standing among them, and the One who is greater than the temple was in their presence.  The purpose of the Temple was to bring people into the presence of God.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was God in the flesh, God’s presence immediately before them.

The third response from Jesus appeals to Hosea 6:6:  I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  Jesus suggests that the Pharisees are in the same category as those to whom Hosea was speaking.  The word translated “mercy” in Greek LXX, translates the Hebrew word “chesed”.  Chesed is one of the key Hebrew words for God’s grace, mercy, steadfast love and loving kindness.  God’s desire is for mercy and grace rather than sacrifice.  In Hos. 6:6, God contrasts His mercy with sacrifice, and the knowledge of God with burnt offerings.  The Pharisees have missed the point of the Law of Moses.  God’s desire for grace is greater than His desire for ritual fulfillment.

The conclusion is that Jesus is “Lord even over the Sabbath.”  Jesus is superior to His ancestor David, to the Temple, and He reigns even over the Sabbath.  The word Lord could be a simple honorific as Mister or Master.  But it was also used to translate the Hebrew word Adonai, Lord.  In this case, Jesus is making a claim that only God could make.  Jesus claims the authority to create, direct, and use the Sabbath as He sees fit.  He claims authority greater than the Pharisees, who only interpreted the Law of Moses, and even greater than Moses who gave the Law to Israel.  He claims the authority of the One who wrote the Law on the tablets of stone.

Lord, even as Jesus taught us that He is Lord of the Sabbath.  As we begin our day, help us to remember You who are Lord over all our days.  You know the count of even the seconds of our lives.  Help us to live daily in the light of eternity, and so redeem the time.  Amen.

Recovering Evangelistic Fervor

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Matthew 10:5–16 (NLT)5 Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, 6 but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. 7 Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.* 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.

11 “Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. 12 When you enter the home, give it your blessing. 13 If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. 14 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. 15 I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.

Jesus chose 12 of his many disciples to send out as apostles (10:2-4).  These 12 would be the key leaders of the Jesus movement.  Jesus would spend some three years closely with them.  As they followed Jesus, he would teach them both through his actions and words.  The apostles were ambassadors or messengers authorized and sent with the authority of Jesus Christ (v. 1) “to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.”

Now Jesus sends them on a mission.  They are to go only to the towns of the Jews.  Later, when Jesus is leaving to return to heaven, he commissions them to take the Good News to the whole world (Matt. 28:19, 20).

Specifically, at this point, they were sent to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.  Sheep are lost as a result of the neglect of the shepherds.  The shepherds of Israel, the priests, scribes, and leaders of Israel, were bad shepherds in contrast to Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).  The fact that Jesus is going first to the Jews is not a matter of discrimination, but of strategy.  Jesus’ strategy from the beginning has been to go to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles.

The mission of the 12 is the same as the mission of Jesus.  They will preach the same message that Jesus and John the Baptist preached:  “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”  (Matt. 3:1; 4:17; 10:7).  The miracles that the 12 perform are the same as those that Jesus had accomplished.  They will heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and deliver people from demons (10:8).   These miracles are signs that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  By doing these signs, the 12 demonstrated that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

The principle with which they minister is “Freely you have received, freely give.”  (v. 8)  The disciples had freely received the grace of the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ ministry.  It was not given for them to possess or keep for themselves.  It was given for them to give away.

The disciples ministry was modeled after the ministry of Christ.  They would not take any money, or even supplies for the trip, but would depend by faith upon God to provide for them through the hospitality of those to whom they are being sent.  The reason that they can trust God is that the worker is worth his keep.  (v. 10)

They would trust to the hospitality of strangers (v. 11).  But this means that they may also be rejected.  To any place that refuses to welcome them, the disciple was to shake off the dust of his feet when leaving, as a prophetic sign to them.  (v. 14)  Jesus says that it would be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment.  Part of the wickedness of these cities was their rejection and mistreatment of the messengers sent from God (Gen. 19).  To reject the disciples and their message was to reject Jesus Christ.

Ch. 10 is an important discourse in helping us to understand the mission of God.  God the Son sends out these 12 disciples on a mission, just as Jesus was sent on the mission of God.  John 1:14 “So the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”

In this first mission trip, the disciples are sent out to fulfill God’s promises to the Jews, but later they will go to the whole world.  They will continue this mission until Christ returns (10:23).

The disciples will be equipped with the authority of Christ.  And the ministry that they will do is essentially the same as that of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth:  preaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and delivering people from the power of evil.

Each of these ministry acts present themes for the mission of the church today.  Preaching the Good News is still central to the mission of the church.  The ministry of the church is to “go” and so we are sent to “make disciples of all the nations.”  But this is one of the most difficult aspects of the mission.  Many people decry the decline of the church in the United States.  In the United Methodist Church, people cite many reasons for this decline.  From my perspective the number one reason for the decline of Methodism in the US is that we have lost our evangelical fervor.  We have built ourselves comfortable churches with comfortable pews and invited people to come.  But that is not the command.  The command is for us to “Go!”  We have forgotten the “Go!” of the Great Commission.

Now, as it was in the 1st Century, we must go to the people.  We cannot expect them to come.  Attractional ministry still has a place.  We need facilities to do the work of “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and teaching these new disciples to obey all the commands” Jesus has given to us.  But we cannot rely on “Open Doors” to attract new people to the church.  We must find ways to reach those in the community around us.

And the primary way that that happens is much the same as it was in the 1st century, as it was when Methodism spread throughout the entire United States by the early pioneers.  A Christian family moved into an area to live.  They would tell their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors about this Jesus Christ, who they have come to know as Lord and Savior.  They would tell them about the change that has come into their lives as a result of an encounter with the living Lord.  In response to Peter’s first sermon in Acts, the multitude asked, “What should we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:37, 38)

Lord, help us to recover the evangelistic fervor of John Wesley and Francis Asbury.  Help us to remember our heritage of faith and to be faithful to the ministry to which you have called us.  Help us to understand how to reach the lost sheep around us.  Help us to minister in the same power of the Holy Spirit as did the 12 that we may see people healed, resurrected, cleansed, and delivered.  Give us the boldness of our faith, so that we can reach those in our circle of influence:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.  Amen.

The Faith of a Roman Officer

faith_7787c

Matthew 8:5–13 (NLT)
5 When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer* came and pleaded with him, 6 “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”
7 Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”
8 But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.
In Matt. 8:1 to 9:34, Matthew focuses on miracles that reveal the identity of Jesus.  In the first two miracles in this section, Jesus heals in response to the faith of the person asking.  All of these people are those who are on the margins of society.  Jesus heals a leper (vv. 1-4), and the servant of a Roman officer (vv. 5-13).  The Roman centurion was a Gentile.  Ministry to this Roman officer would have evoked strong resentment from the Jewish leaders, Pharisees, and nationalistic elements of Jewish society.
The Roman centurion was an officer of the Roman Army who had command of a 100 soldiers.  The Roman officer uses a tender word to describe his servant, “my child”, that demonstrates a tenderness toward this servant.  The servant was more than a slave, the centurion is genuinely concerned for this servant.  The condition of the servant was dire, he was lying paralyzed and tormented by suffering in terrible pain.  Jesus immediately expresses His willingness to go and heal him.
The fact that Jesus is willing to touch a leper to heal him (v. 3), and to go to the house of a despised Roman centurion demonstrates that He was not concerned with becoming ritually unclean under the Law.
However, the centurion dissuades Jesus with an explanation that shows he has a deeper understanding of who Jesus is than even Jesus’ closest disciples.  The centurion understands the concept of authority.  As a Roman officer he can speak a command and expect that it will be carried out.  He understands that Jesus also has authority.  Later in the chapter, 2 demoniacs name Jesus as “the Son of God.”  If Jesus is truly the Son of God, a word of command is as effective as a visit to heal the servant.  At it’s heart, this miracle acknowledges Jesus’ identity.
Jesus’ response is astonishment (v. 10).  This Gentile has demonstrated more faith than anyone of Jesus’ Jewish followers.  Faith, in this context, means confidence in who Jesus is.  Jesus heals in response to the faith demonstrated by the leper and the Roman officer.
In vv. 11 and 12, Jesus indicates that many Gentiles will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, while many Jews (who by their descent from Abraham consider themselves heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven) will be thrown outside.  Why?  Faith in Jesus Christ is the defining criteria.
The significance of these verses goes beyond the Jewish-Gentile hostilities of the first century.  Up to now, the missionary sending countries of Europe and North America have considered themselves to be the blessed.  There are some in the United States who consider Americans to be the new chosen people of God.  They conflate being American with being a Christian.  Jesus says that there will be many in the Majority World who will enter the Kingdom of God, while those who trusted in their birth will be excluded.  Many of those on the outside looking in will have been considered good church members.  Neither being born in the church, nor filling a pew, nor having your name written in the church rolls makes you a Christian.  The only thing that counts is having your name written in the Book of Life.
Lord, help us to repent of seeing ourselves as God’s chosen people as a result of the accident of our birth.  Truly you have blessed us in the United States.  But help us to recognize that to those who have been given much, much is required.  Help us to recognize that the accident of our birth in a country with such great resources as the US makes us accountable for how we use the resources which we have been given.  Help us to recognize Your authority, Jesus, that you are the Son of God.  And help us to respond in faith, trusting You with all that we have and all that we are, that we will not be on the outside looking in on that last day.  Amen.

Good, Good Father

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Matthew 7:7–11 (NLT)
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
This is the second teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7).  In ch. 6:5-15, we have the Lord’s Prayer.  The teaching in ch. 6 is primarily about avoiding showiness in prayer, but rather taking the posture of humility (Matt. 6:5-6), and about the content of prayer (vv. 6-15).
v. 7 suggests persistence in prayer:  asking, seeking, and knocking.  To ask naturally indicates prayer, but seek and knock are verbs which are metaphors for prayer. Ask indicates coming to God with humility and consciousness of need, as a child comes to their father.  Seek links one’s prayer with pursuing after God and the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).  Knocking reminds me of the passage in Rev., where Jesus says that He is the one who is knocking, seeking entry into our hearts.  (Rev. 3:20)  The triple word play here suggests the intensity ad persistence with which we are to pray.
But v. 8 is a promise.  Everyone who asks receives and everyone who seeks finds and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  Our God is not like a negligent parent, but rather like a good parent.
I worked in a maximum custody prison for many years.  Even these hardened criminals would often be very loving and kind toward their children.  They would write letters to them, call them on the phone, hug them and hold them on visiting days, and try to maintain good relations with them to the best of their ability.  Even evil people will not be cruel to their own children.  How much more will our heavenly Father, who is a good, good Father, be good to His children?  God’s desire for HIs children is for the best.  We need to be assured in our hearts of this.
This picture of God as a good, good Father contradicts the view that many of us have of God.  Those of us who grew up with an abusive parent struggle to see God the Father as loving and kind.  Instead, we see Him as harsh and cruel.  Yet, God desires us to know that He loves us, and desires the best for us.  The knowledge of God’s essential goodness underlies Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  And we have this knowledge also:  We are privileged to call God, “Daddy!” or “Papa.”  That is the sense of the address in the Lord’s Prayer.
Chris Tomlin sings a song I love entitled “Good, Good Father.”  The song, written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown, finds its roots in Tony’s story of growing up without a dad. The only person he’s ever called father, in his life, is God.
The same was true for me.  I grew up in a home with an abusive man.  My mother had gotten into a relationship with this man who abused us sexually, physically, and mentally.  I was abused from age 5 to 13.  After his death in 1975, my grandfather who I love deeply also died.  I felt lost and alone.  I was in the attic of our house considering suicide.  As I sat there in the dark crying because I had never known the love of a father, I heard God speaking to me out of the darkness, “I will be the Father you never knew.”  In that moment, I felt the love of God the Father flood my soul.
Good, Good Father
I’ve heard a thousand stories
of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father,
It’s who You are.  It’s who You are.  It’s who You are.
And I’m loved by Yopu
It’s who I am.  It’s who I am.  It’s who I am.
Thank you, Lord, for being our good, good Father.  You promise to never leave us or forsake us.  You promise that you love us and will give us good gifts.  Even so, Father, give us the Holy Spirit.  Amen.