I visited a Pentecostal church back in the 80’s. It was a very conservative congregation. Standing outside near the front entrance was a shabbily dressed man smoking a cigarette. He looked out of place in front of a church where folks were wearing their Sunday-best as they prepared to hear an old-fashioned hell-fire sermon. I’m ashamed to admit I hesitated to talk to the man who others ignored. I was young, single, and what would the young ladies of the church think of me if the saw me talking to this visitor who seemed to be the kind of person the preacher warned you about? I won’t go into the details of this man’s story other than to say he was there because he had a relative who attended the church, and he was waiting to meet him after the sermon was over. I’m glad I stopped to talk to him. I think this is the kind of encounter Matthew wrote of when he wrote that Jesus spending time with tax collectors and sinners. It also shows that people today have the same kind of reactions and motivations that people had in Jesus’ day. It is something that opens the door to an important discussion of loving the sinner but rejecting the sin. Let’s look at some background and some of what Matthew had to say.
Tax collectors during Jesus’ time were not respected. They were known to collect more than the allotted amount and keep it for themselves. They were considered crooks. The 9th chapter of Matthew describes how a Tax collector named Matthew was called to follow Jesus. It also records the unfavorable reaction of those who saw Jesus with Matthew as they gathered with other tax collectors. This is important: I think the big take here is the judgement people made at seeing this and what Jesus said in response. Verses 12 and 13 record Jesus saying to them, “…It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. Now go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, rather than sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I think these verses clearly tell us Jesus was with tax collectors and sinners to bring them the Gospel. I also think this scripture has implications. Consider, Matthew says Jesus was with them, but doesn’t say Jesus participated in their sin. It doesn’t record Jesus being in fellowship with them in the way 2 Corinthians forbids. While 1 Corinthians tells us, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals,” doesn’t the context make it clear the writer speaks of “fellowship” with other church members who live in sin; that is, to accept the sin as having God’s approval? I think this speaks to corruption inside the church and is something quite different from Matthew’s point. Matthew’s metaphor isn’t about corruption in the church. He speaks of bringing healing to the sick, a metaphor of bringing the Gospel to those who need it. To be clear here: Doesn’t Corinthians warn of condoning sin while Matthew speaks of loving sinners who need to repent? We may not know what conversations Jesus had with the tax collectors and sinners, but I think it’s important that he was there even though others would judge him for keeping such company.
In summary, Jesus’ work was not restricted to the temple. How many people go to church, sing hymns, listen to a sermon, and study the Bible, but seldom, if ever, share the Gospel outside of Christian company? Jesus didn’t limit himself to worship inside a church. He did not avoid “those” people to protect his witness. He went out to call the unrighteous to righteousness. It doesn’t say he handed out bible tracts and walked away, or even encourage folks to go to the synagogue. Matthew said he ate with them knowing well that others who thought they were among righteous would look on in judgement.
What are your thoughts?
Why don’t Christian prayers empty hospital wards?
The ninth chapter of Matthew begins with verses that tell of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Matthew says people brought the man to Jesus. Other Gospels record him being lowered through roof to Jesus. Matthew also tells of other healings. I believe the context of Matthew tells us why we read of healings. I also believe there are many biblical reasons why prayer doesn’t lead to empty hospital wards.
Let’s lay out the context of Matthew. The Book of Matthew was written by a Jewish tax collector for a Jewish audience to convince them that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Matthew writes down things that Jesus did to fulfill prophecy. The “fulfill prophecy” part is very important. We know Matthew’s purpose because of the number of times he wrote that Jesus did something to fulfil that which was spoken by the prophet. The Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah will heal. Matthew’s premise is that Jesus did things to fulfill what was written by the prophet. Do you know any prophecies that are not fulfilled unless a hospital ward is emptied?
One could debate if Jesus healed people solely to fulfill prophecy; that is, solely to show that he had the power to forgive sin and heal. I’m not sold on the idea that it is an either/or situation. It seems more likely that it’s a little of both and one of the reasons we don’t see hospital wards emptied today. At this point it’s important for me to stipulate I am extrapolating from scripture. I might be wrong in my extrapolation and am open to anyone who has scriptural reasons to argue differently. With this as my preface I suggest that we should consider that James tells us that our prayers will go unanswered if we ask for things simply because we want them. And even Jesus prayed in the garden before his execution, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me…” but stipulated, “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus didn’t assume he needed to be delivered because otherwise he would die. He acknowledged that God’s will is more important.
Let’s reflect back on Matthew’s account of the man’s healing mentioned above. It says, “And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.’” When those around him had thoughts that Jesus had blasphemed in saying this, Matthew says Jesus healed the man, “…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The man who was healed had faith as did the people who brought him to Jesus. His healing is part of a book that records Jesus’ actions that fulfill prophecy. His healing was part of God’s purpose. I’m not implying that suffering fulfills God’s purpose. Suffering is the result of a world made corrupt through rejection of God.
There are things in this world I find unboreable. For me it involves watching my kids when they suffer knowing sometimes there is no way for me to help them. Jesus asked that he not have to go through the suffering on the cross, but he was executed anyway to fulfill God’s plan. Just as his suffering was the result of sin and the corruption it causes, so too is the suffering we all experience while in this temporary life on earth. I think our prayers are often more about changing us than they are about changing the world around us.
What are your thoughts?
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell an account of Jesus and his disciples in a boat when the wind and waves grew to a dangerous state. It must be an important account because all four Gospels record it. Was it just to show us what Jesus could do? He demonstrated his power by calming the water. But is there more to the story than this?
Matthew 8:23-27 New American Standard Bible
23 When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And behold, a violent storm developed on the sea, so that the boat was being covered by the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He *said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Some have suggested that this scripture assures us that Jesus is always with us. But I think there’s a bit more to it than this. Consider the apostles in the boat with Jesus were doing his work. They were in God’s will. But even though Jesus was in the boat with them, and they were on a mission for him, they doubted. This is a very important distinction. They were doing God’s work when they became afraid.
Scriptures that tell us we can do all things through God’s strength are popular, but I think they are often quoted without context, and there are a lot of scriptures that give us this context. James 4:3 tells us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures.” (NASB) God will strengthen, and give us what we need, when we are doing His will.
Our faith needs to be guided by God’s will, not ours.
What are your thoughts?
Second Kings tells us God’s people had many warnings not to create idols. They knew God had driven out people who opposed them. They had seen the power of God and had been warned against building shrines to pagan gods and worshiping idols but did the exact things God had forbidden them to do. How could they do that?
I believe they’re not that much different than people today. God had warned them that they would be driven out of their own land if they acted in this manner, but he didn’t tell them for how long He would allow them to backslide before doing so. He didn’t lay out some ratio by which once a certain number of His people did these things, He would act. He just told them not to do it. I think this is what makes it understandable. Doesn’t this open the door to doubt?
Someone had to be the first to make an idol, and others watching that individual noticed that nothing bad seemed to happen. Eventually other followed. The Bible says they did so; “secretly.” I’ve been told in this context secretly implies hypocritically. It’s something I think went on for quite a while because 2 Kings also tells us they rejected statutes and the covenant made with their fathers.
The young saw people doing the exact thing God forbad but did not see the bad things they heard would be the result. As a people, more and more began to doubt God would follow through with punishment. Some may have continued to talk the talk, but hypocritically they violated God’s law. Eventually, God’s people learned that they should have heeded the warnings.
Are they so much different than people today who watch on as others commit adultery, blaspheme God’s Word and do all manner of things that God forbad us to do with seemingly having no ill effects? How many of God’s people have fallen, or will fall, because they see the sin but not the downside?
What are your thoughts?
Finding faith or accepting it?
Reading atheist articles and listening to the lectures of atheist apostles like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens may seem like an odd thing for a Christian to do, but I do it quite often. Not because I have doubt in my faith, but because I find it makes me dig into the scripture with questions I might not otherwise have asked. I find it also makes it easier to answer questions posed by those seeking truth about God who are held back by their own intellect clouded by the mischaracterizing of Christianity by those who hate all religion.
I read an article from one atheist writer who critiqued the musings of the two atheists I’ve mentioned above saying both were bigoted and ignorant and possessed the very qualities they deplored in religion. He said they lacked open-mildness and were dogmatic, and had no evidence for their claim that there is no God. While he made it clear he is still an atheist, even referring to belief in God as ‘silly,’ it was refreshing to see an apparent open-mindedness on “the other side,” so to speak. By the way, I’m not insinuating he’s the only open-minded atheist, only that it’s not atheists like him who are often quoted. And hopefully, he will come to know our savior and accept His gift one day. But why are some atheists, as he pointed out, so dogmatic in their non-belief?
I think the problem most hard-core atheists have stems from the false idea that any knowledge reached by anything other than reasoning and our ability to comprehend, is of no value. I say this based on atheist writings I’ve read. This position rejects the idea of faith given to us as a Gift from God, not of our own ability so that no one can boast. And it does so without first demonstrating that there is no God to give us such a gift. While accusing Christians of leaning on faith (and we do lean on Biblical faith) Atheists often lean on atheist faith that requires one to pre-suppose there is no God.
I believe a saving faith doesn’t come from our own effort to find God, it starts when we stop resisting His call.
What are your thoughts?