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Listen to Him!

black cross under blue sky
“While He was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” Matthew 17:5

Listen to what?  I mean, sure, everybody ought to listen to Jesus.  But only once did God the Father say so pointedly that Jesus should be listened to, and it was here at the Transfiguration.  What had just happened was amazing to behold.  Jesus took two of His disciples on to a mountain, and there His appearance drastically changed into dazzlingly white.  Moses and Elijah appeared.  And at the apparent culmination of the event, God the Father speaks and tells those hearing to listen to Jesus.  Listen to what?

In fact, Jesus had just started talking about something that He hadn’t been talking about before.  Oh sure, Jesus had been hinting at the reason He came into the world.  In fact, just about everything Jesus was and did pointed to it somehow.  But just before ascending that mountain, Jesus had asked the disciples who they thought He was.  You recall Peter answered brilliantly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  In Matthew 16:21 we read, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  And now we know what God the Father was talking about when He said of Jesus, “Listen to Him!”  Because now Jesus was beginning to define, in the most explicit of terms, what He was all about and what He had come to do.  He was all about dying on a cross and rising from the dead.  God the Father, for His part, was drawing the attention of those disciples, and all of us disciples who follow, to what is most important about Jesus.

We listen to Jesus.  We listen to Him telling us how much He loves us, how we should live lives that reflect our love for Him.  We listen to Jesus.  We listen to Him offering comfort in our times of need, hope in our times of despair.  We listen to Jesus.  But now as we have just begun this season of Lent, we listen to Him even more closely, because during this season, the focus is His cross. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may we always listen to you.  But now especially, as our thoughts are turned to your cross, may we hear your words of forgiveness, and know they are directed to us.  Amen.


Watch Out for False Teaching

brown leather book on brown wooden table
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
So what was so bad about the Pharisees and Sadducees, anyway? 

These two groups are mentioned numerous times in the Gospels.  And though they were both represented in the Sanhedrin, the religious ruling body of the Jews, they had very different beliefs.

And yet they had one thing in common:  a disrespect for God’s Word.

They disrespected the Word in very different ways, though.  The Pharisees were rule-makers.  They considered the Word as just a starting point for living a life of righteousness.  They added their own man-made traditions to God’s commands, and they insisted that these traditions were as valid as Scripture.

Not cool.  And Jesus wasn’t happy with them.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, disrespected God’s Word by simply ignoring it.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, or angels, or eternal life!  In fact, they didn’t even believe that the Prophets and the Writings of the Old Testament were God’s Word.  They only considered the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) to be truly the Word. 
Really not cool.  And Jesus wasn’t happy with them, either.

So what’s the point for us?  Watch out for false teaching.  It comes in various forms.  Under the guise of “traditionalism” or “progressivism,” it places man-made ideas above the true Word of God.  And once this leaven of false teaching invades the church, it spreads like cancer.

So, what can we do?  Trust in Jesus.  Study His Word.  Be vigilant for man-made traditions that add to God’s Word and arrogant ideas that ignore God’s Word.  Don’t fall off to the right or to the left.  And if you do?  Repent, and be grateful to Your Savior who perfectly understood and obeyed the true Word of God on your behalf.  Through faith in Him you have forgiveness, and through faith in Him the leaven is taken away.

Dear Heavenly Father, guard us against false teaching in all its forms.  Keep us from elevating man-made ideas to the level of Your Word, and keep us from ignoring or taking out what You would have us know and believe.  By Your Spirit, keep the sinful leaven out of your church.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Ash Wednesday

black cross on person's forehead
“Rend your hearts and not your garments.” Joel 2:13

Today is Ash Wednesday.  This reading from Joel is one of the standard readings for the day, especially because it causes us to focus on the deepness of our sin and the right way to consider it.

As most know, there was a custom among the ancient people in times of mourning.  If someone was in mourning over the loss of a loved one or a dire circumstance in their life, they would often tear their clothing as a visible demonstration of their sadness.  People would see them perhaps in tears, hear their loud wailing, and see the ripped clothing, knowing full well what kind of frame of mind they were in.  God wants more than the outward appearances.  “Rend your hearts and not your garments.”

On Ash Wednesday we purposefully commit ourselves to thinking of our sin, our most grievous sin.  Often this is accompanied by wearing ashes on our foreheads, but not as the substance of the mourning, just the symbol of it.  It’s in our hearts where the real action is taking place.  We think and feel how we daily disobey God.  We think and feel how we take Him for granted.  We think and feel how casually and cavalierly we go in our own direction without concern for what God would want or what might be best for others. 

The world looks at people like us on a day like this and they mock.  After all, why would anyone purposefully get all sad about how bad they are?  The reason is paramount.  The way we appreciate to its fullest the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice is by understanding clearly just how necessary it was.  “Ah, I also and my sin wrought Your deep affliction.  This indeed the cause has been of Your crucifixion.”  Far from merely rending our garments, on this day going forward, we rend our hearts.  We rightly mourn how sinful we have been precisely so that the cross of Christ actually matters to us.  This is faith.  This is the center of faith.

As we begin this season of Lent, we do so sorrowfully, so that we may do so joyfully.  We are sorrowful that Jesus had to suffer and die for us because of our sin.  We are joyful that He did!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we confess our sinfulness and acknowledge our unworthiness before You.  And yet, we are filled with thanks that your forgiveness covers all our guilt and makes us worthy again.  Amen.


Tenacity. Humility. Faith.

woman holding Holy Bible
“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”  Matthew 15:21-28

te·nac·i·ty  /t??nas?d?/:  the quality of being very determined
This woman had tenacity.  Jesus’ disciples were just trying to get rid of her, and Jesus Himself had just compared her and her fellow Canaanites to dogs.  But that didn’t deter her.  Her poor daughter needed help, and she wasn’t giving up.
hu·mil·i·ty  (h)yo?o?mil?d?/:  a modest or low view of one’s own importance
Instead of taking great offense at Jesus’ dog comment, the woman displays amazing humility.  She accepts her “dog status,” and reminds Jesus that even the dogs get crumbs from their master’s table!  Tenacity is not often paired with humility.  This incredible woman displays both.
faith /f?TH/:  complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
She had “complete trust or confidence” in Jesus.  She knew that He was the One who could heal her daughter.  She knew that He was the Son of David, the Messiah. 
The Canaanite woman displayed these three seemingly diverse characteristics in her relationship with Jesus.  How about you? 
Sometimes we give up too easily.  Other times we think too highly of ourselves.  And quite often we don’t have enough trust or confidence in Jesus’ ability to help us. 
God help us by His Spirit to emulate this Canaanite woman: her tenacity, her humility, her faith. 
Gracious Heavenly Father, You teach us by the example of so many of your faithful people.  Thank you for teaching us through the amazing tenacity, humility, and faith of the Canaanite woman.  By Your Spirit, give us the same.  In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.


The Transfiguration

white cross under blue sky during daytime
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them.” Matthew 17:1-2 

It is no accident that the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is featured on the Sunday before the beginning of Lent.  In many churches, this account is the Gospel reading prior to Ash Wednesday because of the poignant reminder that it gives us as we enter the season where the focus is the cross of Christ.

It’s easy for people to get used to amazing things.  Couples who have been married for many years understandably get used to each other.  They’re not quite as enamored when the other walks in the room as they were, perhaps, when they first met or were first married.  Is that a reasonable turn of events?  I mean, the fact that there has been and remains an enduring love between two people is an incredible thing.  Yet, we just kind of get used to it all.  We get used to people, circumstances, all sorts of things that are worth noticing and reflecting upon.

Do you think it’s possible that the disciples, now two years into the ministry of Jesus, could have been getting used to Him?  They had by now seen some of the greatest of miracles.  Demons had been cast out, water had been walked upon, the blind could now see.  “What’s Jesus going to do today?”  “Oh, probably heal some more people and preach, like he usually does.”  We get used to Jesus don’t we?  He’s always there.  It’s not like we get up every morning and do cartwheels because Jesus is in our lives.  We read the Bible and see Him performing those miracles, saying wonderful things…and we get used to it.

Well, this Transfiguration ought to shake us out of any Jesus-doldrums, just as it most certainly must have for the disciples.  He becomes dazzlingly bright white! Elijah and Moses appear!  God the Father speaks from heaven!  If there was any complacency on the disciples’ part leading into that scene, how quickly it must have evaporated when seeing how Godlike Jesus was looking that day.

And this is one reason why it is so significant that the Transfiguration reading leads us into Lent.  As we walk with our Lord to His cross, let there be no mistaking just who this is that is laying down His life for us.  This is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God who appeared that day with all the glory of God, soon to be bloodied and beaten and crucified to take our sins away.  As we experience Lent, we remember the Transfiguration and understand for the next six weeks just that this is God Himself, sacrificing Himself for us and for our salvation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive us for our complacency concerning you.  May we always recognize you as true God, especially as we consider your suffering and death for us all.  Amen.