A friend told me about a great bargain in a particular store. I was just passing near, and lo! there was the last one in my size. Paying was another issue. No-one on the tills, then a salesperson arrived, but was already seeing to a customer, who wanted to return something, but didn’t have the receipt…hunting for a record of the transaction…then entered the wrong information…had to start again… Another salesperson arrived, but the other two tills wouldn’t work…and I was now late for my next meeting…eventually had to trawl through to the other end of the store, down the stairs, and back to the far end to find another till. And late. ARRRRRRGHHHHH!!!
“If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if not, let your peace return to you.” Matthew 10:14-16 gives us Jesus’s instructions to his disciples about where they should stay on their ministry trip, and this verse 13 shows Jesus’ insight into human irritation! How easily we lose our peace, like on my recent shopping expedition. But God’s best for us, is that we stay in peace, whatever irritations assail us. When we lose our peace, it’s not like anyone else can find it, or benefit from it! And being irritated just adds to our pain of whatever problem has occurred.
But there was another principle being outlined here too. I find it hard to believe that God would be so vengeful as to punish those inhospitable towns so severely (worse that Sodom and Gomorrah) just because they slighted his kids (though I do believe he cares about it). So why would the recompense be so harsh for towns that rejected the disciples? I believe it was because God’s plan for salvation for the whole world was based on blessing the Jews – demonstrating his love and forgiveness to them, so that they could be a light to the rest of the world, the means by which they too could obtain salvation. In rejecting the disciples and their message, these towns were denying the opportunity to the rest of the world to hear about God’s love. God does not take that lightly.
Wait a minute…isn’t that the role the Church has now been tasked with – to pass on the message of salvation to the rest of the world? Do we take this work as seriously as God does? Scary thought.
I’ve just watched The Windermere Children, the moving story of how some of the Jewish children who had survived Nazi concentration camps came to UK to be rehabilitated. At the end of the film, the remarkable achievements of some of them were noted. They came with nothing, absolutely nothing. But through the kindness and patience of those who donated time, money and effort, these people were able to give back and build into the community that supported them at their point of indescribably dire need.
In Matthew 10:5-10, Jesus sent out his twelve disciples. He instructed them, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We often use this phraseology before taking up a collection, to encourage people to dig a bit deeper. But money was the last thing these disciples could give – for they had none whatsoever! Materially, they had what they stood up in, and had to hope for the generosity of others to come their way! What was it then, that the disciples had in abundance, they they could distribute? Certainty that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, the power of Jesus, and amazing experiences of witnessing healing, raising of the dead, and freedom from the demonic. They were ordinary, modestly educated, working guys who had spent time in the presence of an extraordinary, charismatic miracle-worker. They had received so much from him, and now he gave them the opportunity to pass on to others from the bounty they had obtained.
The reason Jesus told them to take no money or supplies becomes clear in verse 10 – “for the worker is worth his keep”. They were worth it! They preached the good news, and healed the sick, as instructed. We also have been commissioned with the same task. So it is not unreasonable to expect that God will meet our needs too. On one condition – that the worker ‘is worth his keep’. We can rely on God to supply every need, IF we are doing our part, and IF we are giving freely from everything we have received.
Some years ago, to celebrate her 90th birthday, my mum wrote her memoirs, in short, poignant or funny stories. As I helped edit and publish it, I did have some control over the content, so nothing too embarrassing about me found its way onto the pages (thankfully!) There were some stories she could have written that had to be omitted because they would have embarrassed others – people do not generally want their worse decisions and behaviours in print for posterity!
I applaud the apostle Matthew, therefore. In Matthew 10:1-4, he listed the names of the twelve disciples that Jesus had called. There is only one whose previous occupation Matthew mentions – his own. A tax collector. The lowest of the low in Jewish eyes. Written there, for us and all people before and after us to read.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke contain a similar list, and this detail is omitted by them – they did not choose to make it known that this particular disciple, by name of Matthew had a dirty past.
Matthew, however, chose to publish his disgrace because he no longer had reason to be ashamed. He was forgiven, free. The skeleton was out and the closet was swept clean. Matthew had no fear of his history being found out because it was out. The past had no hold over him.
I wonder, if as Christians, we overlook the power of truth. In the Christian armour (Ephesians 6), it is the ‘belt of truth’ that holds the breastplate in place, that provides a place for the sword to be kept on hand, that holds everything together. Without full integrity, it is so easy to come adrift. If there are things unconfessed from your past, it leaves you vulnerable to exposure.
In disclosing his sinful past, Matthew set himself free from any power it held over him. That was why he was able to receive the authority from Jesus to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. He could preach forgiveness of sins because he had received it himself.
It might not be huge, horrible crimes that we don’t want outed, but we all have ongoing shortfalls, inappropriate language or behaviour, bad responses… that may need to be confessed so that we can be set free from them.
Secrets have power over us. Integrity sets us free.
Look out of your window. Walk around your town centre. Listen to the news. What do you see? Is there anything that grabs you, that makes you say, “That’s not fair!” “Someone should do something about that!” Or, “Why can’t they…?”
As Jesus walked round his town centres, he saw so many, many needs – disease, poverty, loss, injustice, despair… He recognised that people were harassed and helpless. (Matthew 9: 35-38) It wasn’t fair. But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead, he did something about it. He healed the sick, and he preached good news.
What Jesus had, was compassion. He recognised need, whatever shape it came in, and it grieved him.
As you look around your world, does it grieve you like that? Does it make you want to get up and do something about it? Most of us will answer yes, but have some very good reasons why we can’t, just now.
Actually, that’s OK. For two reasons.
Firstly, to do something you need power. Go get some of that first. From Jesus. If you have surrendered your life to him, then ask him to release the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. You’ll need that if you want to accomplish anything in His name.
The second reason? You need to pray. There is no shortage of stuff to do. What there is a shortage of, is people to do it. Jesus didn’t say, “So roll your sleeves up and get the job done.” What he said was to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.
Of course there is a fair probability that you may be one of the people that he sends. But you won’t be on your own. And the task he gives you will be part of his strategy, not just launching in and flailing around. Listen out for his direction.
One of the biggest needs, is for the harassed and helpless people of our generation to have hope. They need some good news. They need to know that God loves them, that he sent Jesus to rescue them, and that he can change their lives for good. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
While you’re there, ask him for His power in your life, and listen up for your part in it.
Anyone who remembers the ‘Toronto Blessing’ will be aware that there was in the early days of that outpouring, a lot of finger pointing, and questioning, as to whether such things as shaking, repetitive movements, uncontrolled laughter, animal noises and so on, could actually be from God, or whether they were a distraction, a work of the enemy tempting us to focus on manifestations rather than God himself. The same sort of response, and worse, was seen in Matthew 9:32-34, when the Pharisees claimed that Jesus must be using satanic power to achieve such a wonder of restoring speech and freedom to a man held captive by a mute spirit.
The crowds, too, were wrong to say nothing like that had ever been seen in Israel; the Jews had recorded many works of wonder in their history – the miracle-filled stories of Moses, Elijah and Elisha were very familiar to them – just nothing from recent times.
Many works of wonder have taken place in Christian history, and are taking place currently in unprecedented proportion, in other parts of the world. Just because we haven’t seen it with our own eyes does not make it alien or ‘bad’. We might be frustrated that we don’t get to see it happening here, right in front of us, but that does not make God any less powerful, or those things undesirable.
The problem that we are not experiencing them does not render these things either wrong or impossible. God has promised us a full-measure life, and made available to us the fullness of His Spirit. Our safe, clinical, western lives don’t require us to live ‘on the edge’. Our needs are met, medicine is available, technology keeps us comfortable. For much of our lives, we don’t have a need for miracles. And we stop looking for them. We are not in the habit of calling out to God for every need, and we are not in the habit of noticing when he meets them.
The river that Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 47) got deeper the further it went. Many of us have been Christians a long, long time, but have not learned to go deeper in the things of the Spirit; our faith is not stretched, so it does not grow. We stay in the safe shallows of our faith. Then we wonder why we don’t wonder any more!
“I’m putting it in my bag then!” That was the threat my mum used to make to my kids when they were little, if there was something they didn’t want, or turned their nose up at. The idea was that depriving them would help them realise they really did want that thing after all. It did quite often work, but I sometimes wondered how she was going to put a half-eaten dinner in her bag, gravy an’ all!
I wonder if that was the sort of principle Jesus was using with the two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31). They were following, calling after him – and what did Jesus do? Went inside and shut the door! They had to come knocking, and even then Jesus questioned them – “Do you believe I am able to do this?” He didn’t make it easy for them, perhaps to increase their desire and enlarge their faith.
No doubt many people would have recognised these two, since they had more than likely spent their days thus far begging for help. So I guess it was tempting for them to disobey Jesus’s instruction to keep their miracle under wraps, and grasp at instant celebrity status. They had been ‘nobodies’ all their lives, with no chance at education or training for a trade, but now suddenly found themselves the centre of interest! No wonder Jesus wanted them to keep it quiet and give their budding faith a chance to develop. Sadly they took the blessing, but gave no obedience in return, and grabbed their fifteen minutes of fame, to the detriment of their emerging faith.
I want to be good. I want to be spiritual. I want to know my bible thoroughly. I want a wonderful relationship with my Heavenly Father. I want all the blessings. What I don’t have such a taste for, though, is the effort, sacrifice, time, laying down of my pleasures, that are required to receive these things. Then I wonder why we don’t see miracles, why my life does not have the power that He promises, why people are not drawn to Him through me. Has God withheld some of these blessings and ‘put them in his bag’ to make me want them all the more, to make me realise what I am missing? To help me want to obey and serve him no matter what? Stir my heart some more Lord!
Have you ever noticed how something might happen in everyday life that illuminates something you’ve recently read in the bible, or heard in a sermon? The twin stories of the dead girl and the sick woman in Matthew 9:18-26 did just that. Jesus was just talking about how the old wineskins were not suitable containers for new wine, when ‘while he was saying this’ a ruler approached him. A ruler. In the synagogue (according to the parallel passage in Luke 8). Someone representing the ‘old school’ approach to spirituality. This man had a pressing need – but he didn’t ask his colleagues at the synagogue for help – he risked his position and reputation, and went straight to Jesus. The old wineskins didn’t have it in them to cope with the power required to bring his daughter back to life.
Then along came a woman who had no business being there! With her bleeding condition she was considered unclean, untouchable by the laws they’d followed to date. Her weary, worn-out body would have had no help from them, but revolted rejection. And a patch-up job would not have helped anyway. She needed a touch from Jesus – power not just to make life bearable, but to bring her a brand new life, to be whole again.
Both of these two people went way outside their comfort zones, driven by desperation. The God-given Old Testament laws were not wrong – but the way they were practised had distorted them. And men had supplemented them with their own additions, making them unwieldy, burdensome and impossible to keep.
Jesus showed us a new way – that God’s laws are not meant to be a hindrance full of demands, but a way to have a joyful relationship with a powerful Father-God, in a safe, secure community, where people look out for each other, and put each others’ needs before their own. In other words, LOVE.
Sometimes it takes a desperate situation to drive us to consider the unthinkable. These two had to press through all the mental summersaults to break through from their distress.
Why do we wait that long? If something is good, why linger? God wants each one of us to know and experience his deep love, to encounter his power, to be bearers of his presence into a needy world. What are you waiting for? Just ask him for what you need.
I love my niece’s idea for New Year. Rather than choosing ‘resolutions’ which inevitably get forgotten by the second week of January (at best!) she selects a word to take with her through the year. While resolutions are more about putting right what’s wrong from the past, this is more about looking forward to what life has in store, and aiming to making the most of it.
I think that is what Jesus was getting at when he answered the question posed by John the Baptist’s disciples in Matthew 9:14-17. They wanted to know why Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast, when it was seen by the Jewish community as an important godly discipline. In brief, fasting was undertaken for mourning and repentance – a recognition of wrongdoing (e.g. Joel 2:12 “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”) or to try to change God’s mind (Daniel 9:3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.).
Jesus didn’t ban fasting – in fact he practiced it himself extensively at the beginning of his ministry. Indeed, Christians today do find it invaluable for demonstrating to themselves, as well as God, how serious they are about their commitment to him, or their desire to see a need met. What Jesus saw in the Pharisees and disciples of John, however, was that they were trying to earn their right to God’s recognition. By denying themselves comfort, they hoped that he would accept them. Jesus knew that these Old Testament methods simply proved man’s inability to attain godliness. And this was why he was bringing in a New Way of approaching God – that depended not on man’s efforts, but on His love for us, His reaching down to us, salvation through the death of Jesus – Grace and Grace alone.
The old ways had never been adequate. Jesus was bringing in the New Way.
Stuck in a rut? Last year’s model of life not working? What are you looking forward to for the year ahead? What word sums up what you are aiming for? Jesus came to give us a brand new life. If yours is old, tired, inadequate, ask him for a new one. Then ask him to fill it with his New Wine. And expect him to bring in his changes, because life with him is never boring!
This last week has seen a devastating fire at a retirement complex in my town. 150 residents, including some friends of mine, lost absolutely everything other than what they stood up in. But praise God for the miracle that no-one was hurt. Each one had to get up and leave everything behind. Our town has generously rallied round, donations have poured in, and the residents have been given everything they need physically. But there were some sad losses: pets, precious personal items, and memories that cannot be replaced.
Matthew 9:9-13 tells the story of how the Gospel writer was called to follow Jesus. Some bible deduction informs us (Luke 5:27) that this same guy was first called Levi, which means ‘attached’ (see Genesis 29:35). Matthew does not tell us himself, but Luke records that he got up, left everything and followed Jesus. Not attached anymore! So the name Matthew, gift of God, was so much more applicable.
How hard was it for Matthew to detach himself from his job, his income, his security, everything that was familiar? However difficult, all those benefits of his work were easily eclipsed by the person of Jesus, requesting him to follow him. Without hesitation, Levi, so attached, left it all behind. His new career as a ‘fisher of men’ was certainly not so lucrative, but had benefits that were out of this world!
The people who lost their homes in the fire lost everything but their lives. And that is nothing short of what God requires of us – and some, even more. As Matthew himself said (10:39) “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
- How attached to stuff are you – could you let go of everything if God asked it of you?
- What about other things – people, pets, precious personal items, memorabilia, life itself… Does God take an even higher place in your life than all these?
It might be helpful to remember that we own nothing, have a right to nothing. Everything we have is on loan from God. He doesn’t necessarily need any of it from us, but it thrills his heart to know we love him more than anything else.
Driving along a country road some years ago, a bus came careering from the opposite direction, right down the middle of the road, over both lanes. Amazingly, there was a wide grass verge, and my husband was able to quickly steer onto it, out from the pathway of the errant bus. It was a miracle we were able to avoid disaster, but it had been a bumpy transition to the verge, and my neck and back suffered whiplash. Christian friends prayed for me. I was able to forgive the bus driver, but I was still in a lot of pain. I woke in the night, completely unable to move – the pain was so excruciating. But I had a revelation: – this was only temporary, as I would, in time, heal; and God was giving me a vivid insight into the life of someone for whom that level of pain and incapacity was permanent. Strangely, I began to thank God for the experience, and before long, fell back to sleep. When I woke the next morning, I was completely healed, with not a single pain! But I was left with a compassion for those who suffer, that I could not otherwise have entered into. It was an important lesson for me.
When the paralytic man was brought to Jesus, in Matthew 9:1-8, I wonder how he felt when Jesus pronounced his forgiveness. Probably very disappointed – Jesus just wasn’t meeting the need he perceived most pressing! He lay there listening, as Jesus conversed with the teachers of the law, no doubt wondering if Jesus really had the power to heal, and if his chance at it was passed over. That delay must have been painful for the paralytic, but it was an important lesson for everyone there, him included. The people needed to know Jesus had authority over sickness BECAUSE he had authority to forgive.
Without healing, sickness may last a lifetime. Without forgiveness, sin lasts for all eternity.
Sometimes God deliberately delays answers to our prayers because we need to understand something else first. Don’t give up praying – he understands your needs before you ask. Before even you know what they are. Try to hear his heart for his priorities, his lessons. Then like the crowd you will be filled with awe and wonder, as you get the insight into his game plan, and see what he can do!