Is it Always Wrong to Judge Others? (Part 2)

1 Corinthians 5

12It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. 13God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NLT)


One of the biggest criticisms against Christians in our culture today is that we’re “judgmental”. Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, in their book “UnChristian” outline several negative traits that non-believers perceive to be true of Christians and being judgmental is one of them.

As a result of this criticism, many Christians wrongly believe that we should NEVER judge others. Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is often cited as proof that Christians should never judge others.

I wrote about this passage several months ago (you can read it here) and explained why that passage does not teach that Christians can never judge others, while explaining what Jesus was really teaching in that passage.

Now, in this passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives further clarity on the issue of judging.

The context of this passage is sexual immorality. Apparently, there was a person in the church who was involved in some pretty heinous sexual sins, and nobody was calling him out on it.

Does this sound familiar?

Often, we in the church don’t want to confront others regarding their immoral life choices because we don’t want to be seen as “judgmental”.

Paul offers a rebuke to the Christians in the Corinthian church precisely because they did NOT judge the person for their sinful actions.

Paul explicitly states that while it’s not our job as Christians to be the morality police to the world, for those who are in the church, those who claim to be followers of Jesus, we ARE to confront and rebuke them when their actions and life choices do not line up with God’s standards for righteous living.

We should note that the idea of “judging” someone is simply confronting them whenever they are in sin.

Unfortunately, the world’s view of “judging” usually involves any type of negative feedback that might be critical of a person’s choices. Paul says that we, as believers CAN and SHOULD be prepared to approach, confront, rebuke and even criticize those who are in the church if their actions are not righteous and honoring to God.

Of course, whenever we do this, we need to be careful how we do it and we need to ensure that our own lives are above reproach. Otherwise, we can easily be labeled as hypocrites, which is another one of the negative traits labeled against Christians that was identified in the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons.

If you read the passage in Matthew 7, you’ll see that this was exactly the point Jesus was making about judging others – it’s not wrong to judge but we don’t want to be hypocritical in the way that we judge others.

So is it always wrong to judge others?

Clearly, NO! But we need to be careful how we confront others so that we are not doing it in a way that may seem hypocritical. Additionally, we should not apply the same moral standards to those outside the church as we do to those who are followers of Jesus.

Reflection

What do you think is meant by the term “judging”?  How have you defined it?

What is your response to the view that many non-Christians view Christians as being judgmental? Do you think this charge is true or fair?

Paul says that “it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.” How does this statement align with your current thinking on the issue of judging? Does it surprise you to know that we as Christians SHOULD judge others (those inside the church)? Why or why not?

What do you think are some ways we can be better at judging others without reinforcing the negative stereotypes that Christians have on this issue?

 

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. 6At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11When they received their pay, they protested, 12‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’

16“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.”
(Matthew 20: 1-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly? As a kid, when things didn’t work in my favor, I would usually cry out, “that’s not fair!”

But what is fairness? What is just and what is unjust?

In this passage from Matthew 20, Jesus shares a story that may cause you to rethink your view and understanding of fairness and justice.

In the scenario, a vineyard owner goes out early in the day and hires a number of day workers to work in his fields. He agrees to pay them the normal accepted wage for their labor.

At mid-morning the owner hires more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right at the end of the day. The owner hires more laborers at noon and again at 5:00, just one hour before the end of the day.

When the work day ends and it’s time to settle up with the workers, those who had worked only 1 hour receive their pay, which turns out to be a full day’s wages.

Naturally, those who worked the full day think they will receive more since they worked longer.

But when the time comes to pay those who worked all day, they receive the same amount that the owner paid those who worked only 1 hour. The workers who worked all day are incensed. How could the owner pay them the same amount even though they worked a whole day when the last group worked only for one hour? It doesn’t seem fair!

What do you think? Was the owner being unfair? Your answer may reveal how you view God and His system of fairness.

The problem is not that the owner is unfair. The problem is that our understanding of fairness is wrong. People tend to operate on a merit based system, or a meritocracy, where those who work harder and achieve more are rewarded more. As a result, we’re conditioned to believe that those who worked less somehow got more. BUT THEY DIDN’T. They got the same outcome and the same payment as those who had worked the full day.

God, who is represented by the vineyard owner, does NOT operate in a meritocracy. God operates in an environment of grace and generosity. He lavishes grace on whomever He chooses. While some might look at this story and conclude that God gave a higher hourly wage to some over others, which seems unfair, Jesus invites the reader and His audience to look at this scenario in a different way.

Instead of assuming God is treating some favorably over others, the point of the story is that God shows compassion and graciousness on some while not disaffecting others. In other words, those who came to work late were generously given the same portion as those who worked the whole day.

Here’s the key point: Those who worked the whole day were not negatively disaffected by the owner’s generosity. They were simply annoyed because of their own greed and envy.

If you think of the daily wage as representing salvation, then in this parable, anyone who responds to the invitation of the owner, no matter how early or late, receives the same outcome – eternal life! It’s not possible for some who respond early to receive a greater amount of eternal life than someone who responds late. The outcome is the same – anyone who responds to the owner (God) will receive the gift of eternal life (a full day’s wage), no matter when they respond.

So what do you think? Does this story demonstrate that God is unfair to some? NO. If anything, it shows how gracious and generous He is while also showing that those who THINK He’s unfair are often motivated by their own jealousy and envy.

Reflection

How have you interpreted and understood this passage in the past? How have you explained the fact that the owner pays a higher hourly wage to some than others? Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that inequitable?

What do you say to those who claim that God is unfair or that He doesn’t treat people equitably? 

How do you personally reconcile the idea that some come to Christ and serve Him early in life while others may respond to His invitation late in life and yet the outcome is the same? How does this contradict or confirm your own understanding of fairness with God?

What practical ideas do you have for cultivating a deeper, more biblical understanding of God’s graciousness and fairness?

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

What Does it Mean When Jesus Gives Peter “the Keys” to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 16

13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven.” 20Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

What does it mean when Jesus says He’s giving “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” to Peter?

The Catholic view is that Peter is the first Pope and through apostolic succession, the Pope is the leader of the church and the ultimate interpreter and arbiter of church doctrine.

The Evangelical, and I would argue the Biblical view, is that it means that Peter was given a special role in the initial spread of the gospel in that he was uniquely involved in the entrance of all people groups into the Kingdom of Heaven (the church).

In Acts chapter 2, Peter preaches the first mass sermon and many Jewish people believed and were ushered into the church.

In Acts chapter 8, Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria and many believe.

However, Peter (and John) are sent to Samaria to authenticate the conversion of these new believers.

Though these Samaritans had believed, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, which is the mark of believers who are a part of God’s family (see Ephesians 1.13).

Peter prays for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit and he and John lay their hands on them and they do indeed receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 10, Peter has a vision that all food is now considered clean. He then is summoned to visit a Gentile named Cornelius.

Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius and his family and they believe the gospel message AND they receive the Holy Spirit, as a sign that their conversion is genuine and God does accept them.

So we see that Peter was involved in the first Jews coming to faith and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Peter was also involved in the first partial Jews (Samaritans) in receiving the Holy Spirit and entering the church.

Finally, Peter was instrumental in the first non-Jews (Gentiles) receiving the Holy Spirit and entering the church.

So every people group (Jews, partial Jews and non-Jews) entered the church only when they received the Holy Spirit through Peter’s ministry.

Since that time, all other Jews, partial Jews or non-Jews (Gentiles) who come to faith in Christ immediately receive the Holy Spirit and become members of the family of God.

But Peter had “the keys” to entrance for people at the outset.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of this passage? How have you interpreted the statement that Peter was given “the keys” to the Kingdom of heaven?

Why do you think it was necessary for Peter to authenticate the receiving of the Holy Spirit for the initial Samaritan and Gentile believers?

How would you answer the question that Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

Photo by Amol Tyagi on Unsplash

 

Can the Church Usher in a Utopian Society?

Matthew 13

24Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.25But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’

28“‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29“He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

. . . . . . . . .

36Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain the story of the weeds in the field.”

37“All right,” he said. “I, the Son of Man, am the farmer who plants the good seed. 38The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40“Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. 41I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, 42and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus spoke often in the book of Matthew about the “kingdom of heaven”, painting word pictures for His followers to help them understand more clearly what God is like and how things operate under His control.

Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and the weeds to illustrate how God intends to deal with people at the end of the age. Most commentators agree that Jesus is speaking about how judgment will take place at the end of time.

According to Jesus, who explains the parable to His followers, good and evil will co-exist until the end. At that time, Jesus will separate the good from the evil. Those who are followers of Christ will spend eternity with God while those who are not followers will be separated and sent to spend an eternity in punishment for their sins.

But though this passage speaks to the end of the age and the process of judgment, there’s another fact that is so obvious that it’s sometimes easy to overlook. That is the fact that good and evil will exist side by side until the end.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of effort being made within our culture to create the Utopian society – that community where evil is eradicated and everyone’s needs are met.

This vision of utopia doesn’t currently exist, nor is it possible that it will ever exist, if we’re to accept Jesus’ teachings.

This is not meant to dissuade believers from doing good and seeking the welfare of others within their community. On the contrary, we’re admonished to be salt and light to a dying world. One of our functions as believers is to give those who aren’t Christ-followers glimpses of what it looks like to live within God’s kingdom, following His kingdom rules and living under His rule. These glimpses are likely to stand in stark contrast to the ways of the world.

However, as much as we strive to live for Christ and impact the world around us for Christ, we will never fully eradicate evil. Evil and evil people will co-exist, side by side with those who follow Christ and it won’t be until the end of time that Jesus will finally eliminate all evil.

Any thoughts of creating a utopian society are mis-directed, as only a kingdom in which Jesus reigns supreme has any chance of achieving utopian aspirations. According to the scriptures, that won’t happen until Jesus comes again. Until then, we must do our best as Christ-followers to create pockets of kingdom community within a larger world system that is firmly in control of the evil one.

Reflection

In what ways do you think we as believers can create pockets of kingdom community that provide a glimpse to the outside world of God’s goodness and greatness?

In what ways do you see the Devil planting weeds within our culture? What are the tactics you see in our culture that is producing weeds?

What are some practical ways for turning weeds into wheat?

Practically speaking what do you think our goals should be as believers in terms of how much impact we can have on the culture at large?

 

Photo by Tim Matras on Unsplash

The Decisive Issue in Following Christ

Matthew 7

21“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 7 is part of a larger discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew chapter 5.

In this section of scripture, Jesus gives many well-known teachings related to the theme of righteous living.

In this particular passage, Jesus highlights a key characteristic of those who claim to be His followers. “The decisive issue”, Jesus says, “is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”

Think about it. Many people today claim to be Christians and devout followers of Christ. Yet Jesus explicitly says that there will be many people who called Him ‘Lord’ who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How is this possible? Don’t people simply have to confess Jesus is Lord and then they’re saved from the punishment of hell?

Yes, and no.

Yes it’s true that we cannot be saved unless we put our trust in Jesus. But Jesus is saying that just because someone makes the claim that Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that He really IS their Lord.

If Jesus is your Lord then that means He is your master. And if Jesus is your master then that means you are His slave, or as Paul puts it, His bondservant. If Jesus is the master and I am the slave, then that implies that what He says goes. Jesus makes the rules and He is the ruler. We are subservient to Him AND His rules.

Yet according to Jesus, many people who call Jesus Lord are not really obeying the Father. They have a duplicitous nature, claiming that Jesus is Lord, but not fully obeying Jesus and the Father.

The critical issue in following Jesus is obedience. Unfortunately, many people who go to church and act religious are not truly following. In today’s culture, it is quite common for people to claim to be Christians but not do what Jesus says. There may be no area more apparent with this issue than the sexual arena.

You might be thinking, “well nobody is perfect! How can we possibly be expected to live up to some idealistic standard?”

We’re not meant or expected to live up to some ideal. We will sin. That’s not really the issue. Jesus has paid for sin and we can experience ongoing forgiveness by bringing our sin to the cross and confessing it. See my blog post “Walking in the Light Simplified.”

The issue is when we deny that we’ve sinned. In 1 John 1:10 (from my post “Walking in the Light Simplified”), John says:

“if we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”

The problem is when we change the rules so that we don’t agree that what we’re doing is sinful. In this scenario, we don’t confess our sins to Jesus because we no longer believe these actions or attitudes are sinful.

This is what I refer to as “Salad Bar Religion”, which I wrote about here. Salad Bar religion occurs when we pick and choose the things we want to obey while discarding the things we don’t want to obey.

Jesus’ words may seem harsh to some but He’s crystal clear on this: we are not authorized to change His rules and guidelines for what constitutes righteous living. Those who do change His rules in order to suit their own personal preferences may find themselves in the unenviable position of being rejected by Jesus when the time comes to give an account of our life and our choices.

Reflection

In what areas of Scripture do you find it most difficult to obey? What are some of the “rules” that you are most tempted to neglect, ignore or change?

What is your response to the thought that Jesus may reject entrance to the Kingdom of heaven to some people who have claimed to be Christians in this life?

If obedience is the decisive issue, how do you account for the fact that all of us as Christians still disobey God at times? How would you explain to someone who argues that you are being legalistic by setting up an impossible standard that cannot be met?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are not a follower with a duplicitous nature, claiming to follow Jesus verbally but internally, following your own preferred rules of living?

 

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

Matthew 5

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever heard someone say that “God helps those who help themselves”?

It’s a popular notion that’s been around for years. But is it biblical?

To be fair, there are numerous passages in the Proverbs that extol the virtues of hard work and the foolishness of being lazy. (See Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 19:15, among others)

Additionally, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul issues this admonition:

“Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever does not work should not eat.”

However the sentiment of this popular bit of cultural wisdom is not meant to discourage laziness but instead, it promotes an attitude of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism that is associated more with American culture than biblical values.

Jesus teaches the exact opposite. Instead of teaching that “God helps those who help themselves”, Jesus teaches that ”God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.”

To be poor in spirit means to recognize your own spiritual need; to recognize the poverty of your own soul. The New Living Translation says it this way:

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

The reality is that we are all broken and there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Many people mistakenly believe that we come to Jesus only to be rescued from an eternity in hell.

While Jesus does save us from the judgment we deserve, we still need Jesus every day, even beyond our initial conversion experience. We are broken and only Jesus can empower us to live the kinds of righteous and holy lives He desires. Only Jesus can provide fullness of life.

Jesus doesn’t just promise to save us from hell. He promises us LIFE. REAL LIFE. Unfortunately, we cannot experience that life if we subscribe to the idea that we must help ourselves first. NO. We cannot help ourselves. We need Jesus to help us every moment of every day!

Reflection

What are some ways our culture promotes the kind of attitude that is expressed in the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”?

In what ways have you seen this kind of thinking filter into our church and Christian doctrine?

Besides your conversion experience what are some other times or situations where you recognized your own brokenness and need for Jesus?

What are some ways that people can cultivate an attitude of being “poor in spirit”?

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Which Hoax Do You Believe?

Matthew 27

62The next day—on the first day of the Passover ceremonies*—the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. 63They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will be raised from the dead.’ 64So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he came back to life! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

65Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. (Matthew 27:62-66, NLT)

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Matthew 28

11As the women were on their way into the city, some of the men who had been guarding the tomb went to the leading priests and told them what had happened. 12A meeting of all the religious leaders was called, and they decided to bribe the soldiers. 13They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ 14If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right.” 15So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today. (Matthew 28:11-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins. Hence, if you can disprove the resurrection, you can disprove the entire Christian faith.

The early church could have been squashed before it even got off the ground if the religious leaders did just one simple thing – produce the body of Jesus, thereby demonstrating that Jesus had not risen from the dead but was still resting in the tomb exactly where he had been laid.

The religious leaders were aware of Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead on the third day, so they went to Pilate to secure reinforcements and armed security at the tomb to make sure that the disciples wouldn’t be able to steal the body and perpetuate a hoax on the people.

But as it turns out, Jesus rose from the dead anyway, and with his body now gone, the religious leaders found themselves in an unusual predicament. One option is they could realize that Jesus must be who He claimed to be all along and repent of their hard-heartedness and wickedness that led them to crucify Jesus.

Or they could go the other route, which is to do whatever is necessary to maintain their power and position over the people they lead.

Not surprisingly, the religious leaders chose the second route, which included bribing the soldiers who guarded the tomb to tell people that the disciples had stolen the body while they were sleeping.

The irony of this whole situation is that the religious leaders secured the tomb site in order to prevent the disciples from being able to perpetuate a hoax, but instead, the religious leaders ended up creating and perpetuating a different hoax of their own.

This story – that the disciples stole the body and then claimed that Jesus had been resurrected – is still being promoted today among those who staunchly dispute that Jesus was resurrected.

Though it’s a popular theory that seeks to explain the empty tomb, this story has so many holes in it that it is easily debunked.

First off, if the soldiers were sleeping, how would they know who it was that supposedly stole the body?

Second, how likely is it that all the guards were sleeping at the same time? Given that sleeping while on duty was punishable by death, what is the likelihood that JUST ONE of them had fallen asleep? VERY LOW.

Now what is the likelihood that ALL of them were asleep at the same time? EXTREMELY LOW.

And if they were to have fallen asleep, how is it that the disciples were able to move a HUGE stone (estimated to be at least 2000 pounds or more) without waking any of these guards?

It takes more faith to believe this story than it does to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, removed the stone and emerged from the tomb alive!

In addition to the details of their story not lining up, this explanation also requires us to believe that the disciples, who had all scattered when Jesus was arrested, somehow came together and mustered up the bravery to steal the body of Jesus so that they could perpetuate a resurrection narrative that they not only knew to be false, but that brought persecution upon them and ultimately led to their death.

Most people will do whatever it takes to save themselves from pain and death. It is simply not believable that all the disciples were willing to die for something that they knew to be a lie.

Lastly, this theory doesn’t explain the many post-resurrection appearances Jesus made. It’s reported that after His resurrection, Jesus made multiple appearances to many different people and once appeared to more than 500 people at the same time.

So in the end, we must decide which hoax fits the facts more reasonably.

Is it more believable that the disciples are the ones perpetuating an elaborate hoax that has deceived billions of people over the centuries? This hoax requires us to believe that trained soldiers fell asleep on the job, yet still somehow knew that the disciples were the ones who stole the body.

Furthermore, what was the motive of the disciples’ fabrication? This hoax requires us to believe that these disciples, who were afraid for their lives when Jesus was arrested, suddenly became brave enough to steal the body of Jesus and declare Him to be resurrected to an unsuspecting populace. This elaborate deception resulted, not only in intense ongoing persecution, but ultimately in their deaths.

Or is it more believable that the religious leaders are the ones who perpetuated a hoax for the purpose of maintaining their power and authority over the people? The Scriptures tell us that they bribed the soldiers and told them to propagate the stolen body story in order to explain the empty tomb.

In the end, the religious leader’s hoax is the more likely hoax because the one thing it requires me to believe is eminently believable – that people are selfish and will often go to great lengths to maintain their power and authority over others.

Reflection

Which of these two hoaxes do you think is more believable and why?

Describe a time when you lied in order to protect yourself? Conversely, when is a time you lied for the purpose of bringing about great pain and hardship?

Given the circumstances, why do you think the religious leaders continued to resist Jesus as the Messiah?

Can you think of a time in your life when your stubbornness caused you to act irrationally? What was the situation? How did you overcome your stubbornness? What happened to help change your attitude?

 

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

 

 

Peter’s Bad Rap

Matthew 26

31“Tonight all of you will desert me,” Jesus told them. “For the Scriptures say,

‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

34“Peter,” Jesus replied, “the truth is, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

35“No!” Peter insisted. “Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

36Then Jesus brought them to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go on ahead to pray.” 37He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he began to be filled with anguish and deep distress. 38He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

39He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.” 40Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 41Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!”

42Again he left them and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away until I drink it, your will be done.” 43He returned to them again and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44So he went back to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45Then he came to the disciples and said, “Still sleeping? Still resting? Look, the time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!”

. . . . .

69Meanwhile, as Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, a servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”

70But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

71Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.

73A little later some other bystanders came over to him and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”

74Peter said, “I swear by God, I don’t know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went away, crying bitterly. (Matthew 26:31-46; 69-75, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Under what circumstances might you deny Christ? What situation would cause you to abandon the faith and completely renounce Jesus?

If you said “Never”, maybe you should re-think your answer.

In this chapter of Matthew, Peter famously states that he would NEVER deny Jesus.

In fact, Jesus tells all of his disciples that they’re ALL going to desert Him.

Peter being the brash guy he is, responds by telling Jesus that even if EVERYONE ELSE deserts Jesus, He never will.

“You can count on me Jesus….I won’t let you down…I’m not like these other losers!”

We all know how the story unfolds after Jesus is arrested. Peter is confronted three times in the courtyard by different people who all believe that he is a member of the “Jesus” party and three times, Peter completely denies Jesus.

What I find interesting is that while Peter is famous for denying Jesus, there’s an oft-overlooked verse that demonstrates that Peter is getting a bad rap.

Verse 35 says that Peter was insisting that “even if I have to die with you I will never deny you.”

The text continues, “And all the other disciples vowed the same.”!

Peter takes the blame (rightly so) but the truth is that ALL the disciples vowed that they wouldn’t desert Jesus and yet that night ALL the disciples DID DESERT JESUS.

The only reason that Peter’s failures are highlighted over the other disciples’ is because Peter boldly declares his undying loyalty to Jesus in response to his prediction of desertion while the other disciples seemingly remain silent on the matter.

What can we learn from these insights?

For starters, we have to recognize our own capacity as fallen humans to fail in our devotion, regress in our spiritual development and to even deny Jesus among others.

If these disciples could desert Jesus after walking with Him for 3 years and observing Him perform miracles and healing people, then certainly we, as fellow broken humans who don’t have the benefits of personal interaction with Jesus, have the capacity to fail in our devotion to Him and possibly even deny Him in front of others.

Secondly, we have to be aware of the spiritual nature of our commitment to Jesus and the Christian life.

Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and prepare Himself for the ordeal He is about to experience. While there, Jesus urges the disciples to keep alert and pray as well so that they might not fall into temptation. But each time Jesus returns, He finds the disciples are sleeping.

Prayer is a spiritual activity that connects us to God. It’s not just for making requests and uploading our material wish list of needs and desires to God. Prayer is an activity that reminds us of the spiritual nature of life. It attunes our minds to the forces and temptations that may seek to derail us. In short, prayer is a means of preparation for spiritual warfare.

Peter and the disciples slept instead of preparing themselves for what they might encounter and so when the moment of truth came just hours later, Peter was not as prepared as he thought to take a stand for Jesus in front of a hostile crowd.

Prayer is an activity of dependence where we express and exhibit our need to God. If you don’t think you’re in need, you won’t be inclined to pray, or if you do pray, it is likely a meaningless spiritual activity.

Do you want to avoid the failure of Peter and all the other disciples who denied Jesus on the night of His betrayal and arrest? First you need to recognize your weakness and capacity to fall into temptation. Once you recognize your deep need, you’ll be driven to your knees, inviting God to strengthen you and empower you to follow through in obedience to Him, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful night!

Reflection

When is a time you denied Jesus in front of others or failed to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus? What were the circumstances? What were the factors that led to your denial or your silence?

Prayer is vital as a spiritual practice in preparing our hearts and minds to avoid temptations and circumstances that might cause us to deny Jesus and fall away. What has been your experience with prayer as a spiritual practice? What steps can you take to make prayer more integral in your life in preparing you for spiritual conflict?

Prayer is a means for preparing for spiritual conflict. What are some things that tend to be a conflict for you spiritually? What tends to tempt you or distract  you from God?

Why do you think some Christians fail to acknowledge their ongoing need for Jesus? What causes Christians to believe as Peter and all the other disciples did, that they cannot fail or fall away?

 

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

 

A Trap Religious Leaders Can Fall Into

Matthew 21

33“Now listen to this story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, took him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.’

43What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls. ”

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them—that they were the farmers in his story. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid to try because the crowds considered Jesus to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus often spoke in parables to teach spiritual truths. In this parable, the landowner is the Lord and the farmers are the Pharisees. The servants represent the Old Testament prophets that God continually sent to warn His people, but who were constantly rejected.

In the story, the landowner finally sends his son, who represents Jesus.

In the parable, the farmers decide to kill the son because they don’t want to relinquish control and power. They don’t want to serve the owner and give him his portion of the proceeds. They want to BE the owner and keep all the proceeds for themselves.

Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in verse 43:

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.

The fruit Jesus is referring to is the nation of Israel’s acceptance of Him as the Messiah. Since the religious leaders were rejecting Jesus, and they used their power and influence over the people to keep the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus is warning them that their status as God’s special chosen people was in danger. Like the farmers in the story who were stewards of their master’s land, the Israelites were simply stewards of the message and revelation of the one true God. By rejecting Jesus, this stewardship would be taken away from them and given to another nation.

What is this other nation Jesus was referring to?

Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 which was also referenced by Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-7, in which Peter says that Jesus is building a new temple made up of those who would follow Him. Thus this new nation is not a physical nation, as Israel was, but a spiritual nation with those who believe in Jesus as its citizens. I wrote about this new temple here.

Jesus was using this parable to show the Pharisees that they were rejecting the Son because they didn’t want to relinquish their religious control over the people. Verses 45-46 indicate that the religious leaders realized what Jesus was saying about them. However, instead of repenting, their inclination is to arrest him.

This parable was directed at the Pharisees and the nation of Israel and the punishment Jesus mentions cannot be duplicated for us today. So how then does this parable relate to us in our current culture? What can we learn from it?

Though we cannot reject Jesus in the same way, and thus we cannot experience the same penalty Jesus mentions, I think there are lessons we can learn from the way the Pharisees responded to God and the revelation He was giving them.

I think one potential lesson is that there is a dangerous trap for religious leaders, or anyone who is in a position of authority over others. The trap is to think so highly of yourself that you believe the people you are leading cannot get along without you. Instead of shepherding people to follow the Lord, we can become enamored with our own voice and our own self-importance and we can become consumed with gaining and maintaining a following for ourselves.

Being in authority and power over others, as the Jewish religious leaders were, can become so addictive and necessary to our own identity that we will do whatever is necessary to keep it. In the case of the Pharisees, they were willing to kill the Messiah himself to keep it.

We’re not in a position today to kill the Messiah to hold onto our power and authority, but we may still go to great lengths to keep our positions, including lying, deception, manipulation, intimidation, fear, bribery, harassment, etc.

Reflection

In the parable, God sends his messengers to convey truth but the messengers are constantly rejected. What are some of God’s messages (doctrinal truths or commands) that you find difficult to follow and are tempted to reject?

In the parable, the outcome of the nation of Israel rejecting the Son is their stewardship is taken away and given to another nation. What do you think will be the outcome for those who reject Jesus today? How will God treat the farmers of today who continually reject the messengers, including His son, whom God has sent?

What are some situations or relationships where you have found yourself wanting to maintain power and control when you know you should release it? 

Some people will go to great lengths to maintain power, authority, status or position? What do you think causes a person to adopt an “any means necessary” policy to maintain their power?

 

Photo by Alex Gorbi on Unsplash

 

Does God Exact a Higher Standard for Rich People to Enter Heaven?

Matthew 19

16Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good things must I do to have eternal life?”

17“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “Only God is good. But to answer your question, you can receive eternal life if you keep the commandments.”

18“Which ones?” the man asked.

And Jesus replied: “‘Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely. 19Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

20“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”

21Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 24I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

27Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?”

28And Jesus replied, “I assure you that when I, the Son of Man, sit upon my glorious throne in the Kingdom, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life. 30But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then. (Matthew 19:16-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this famous story, a rich young man comes to Jesus and wants to know what good deeds he has to perform to inherit eternal life. It seems that many Jews of that time period believed that there were certain righteous acts that could guarantee salvation. This man wanted to know what the magic deeds were that would assure heavenly admittance.

Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments and when the young man asks which ones, Jesus repeats several of the 10 commandments.

The young man is puzzled because in his mind, he’s kept all of the commandments, so he asks Jesus, “what else must I do?”

Jesus seizes on this opportunity to show the person that he really hasn’t kept all the commandments. If it were possible for anyone to fully keep all the commandments, it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to come and redeem man in the first place.

So Jesus tells the young man that if he really wants to be perfect, or complete in his devotion to the law, then go and sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor.

The text says that the man walked away from Jesus sad because he was a person who own many possessions.

In debriefing this encounter with his disciples, Jesus says that it’s very hard for a rich person to get into heaven. In fact, Jesus makes the claim that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

So who can be saved?

This is exactly the question the disciples asked and it may be the question you’re asking as well.

What exactly is Jesus teaching? Does he really mean to communicate that it’s more difficult for rich people to enter heaven than others?

At first glance, this seems unfair and unjust, as if rich people have a higher standard they must meet in order to gain entrance into an eternity with God.

Jesus is not saying that rich people cannot go to Heaven; instead He’s making a statement about need and priority. Coming to Jesus and following Jesus is a matter of recognizing your need for Jesus and then forsaking everything else and making Him the priority in your life.

People who have a lot of possessions often have a harder time recognizing their need, since their material needs are already satisfied. In addition, if you own a lot of material possessions, you can become very attached to them. Hence, people who own a lot of things often have a harder time forsaking those things and making Jesus the center.  For this reason, it’s harder for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Look at what Peter says in verse 27:

“we’ve given up everything to follow you.”

This is the sentiment of following Jesus – giving up EVERYTHING!

It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor you are materially. What matters is being poor in spirit, which simply means that you recognize that you need a savior. If all of your needs are met and you’re feeling pretty content with life, you may have a harder time realizing that you’re a sinner who is in desperate need of help.

If you recognize your need for a savior then the next criteria is a willingness to make Jesus the priority. Jesus never makes selling all your possessions a prerequisite to being saved. He only made this comment to this person in order to bring about an awareness that didn’t exist before, namely, that this young man thought of himself as a person who was not a sinner, but someone who had always upheld every aspect of the Law.

The requirements and standards for getting into heaven are the same for everyone. But some people, who may see themselves as self-sufficient may have a harder time admitting a need for a savior. For people who are wealthy and self-sufficient, recognizing need and brokenness may prove to be harder than for people who are poor and more desperate.

Reflection

How are you doing with Jesus in terms of recognizing your need for a savior and your willingness to make Him a priority in your life?

What are the things that you hold most dear….those things that if Jesus were to ask you to forsake them, you might be tempted to walk away just as the rich young man did?  What is it about those things that make them so important and elevated in your life?

Peter asks a question in verse 27 – “what will we get out of it?”  What do you think most people are expecting to get out of this thing called Christianity? 

What do you think you are going to get out of Christianity?

 

Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash