Monday, August 03, 2015

Imagine


The story of Jesus feeding the multitudes has appeared a couple of times recently in the daily lectionary. Most recently we looked at John's version of this story. Today we look at Matthew. This is the one miracle story about Jesus that is told in all four gospels. But I want you to do something different with this story today. I invite you to travel with me back in time and imagine yourself in the story as you listen for God's word to you from Matthew 14:13-21. . . .
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
First of all, I want you to imagine something audacious. I want you to imagine yourself as Jesus.

You have just heard that your cousin and partner in ministry John the Baptist has been brutally executed by Herod Antipas. What thoughts run through your mind? What feelings fill your heart?

There is great sadness. That’s for certain. But happy thoughts flit across the screen of your memory as well. Pictures flash through your mind—snapshots of playing with John when both of you were children, your families getting together for feast days, birthdays and other celebrations. You remember stories your mother told you of going to visit John’s mother Elizabeth, when Elizabeth was pregnant with your cousin John and your mother was pregnant with you.

But then darker thoughts come. You remember stories your mother has told you of your own birth—far from Nazareth, in Bethlehem. You recall the story of Herod the Great, Antipas’ father, having all the little boys in Bethlehem slaughtered. You have fleeting memories of living in Egypt. Your parents didn’t tell you until years later that it was because of Herod. And then on your way home, your parents can’t quite explain why you aren’t going back to Bethlehem. But a look of fear fills their faces at the mention of a strange name—Archelaus.

Then your mind jumps—as a grief filled mind will—to more recent events. There too was happiness—John baptizing you in the Jordan River—jubilant crowds all around. But then John had a run-in with another Herod; this time it’s Antipas, but it’s the same family dogging your steps. And you remember the day you received the news that John was put in prison. You wanted to get away—to get away and think: to pray to your Abba. The same feelings fill your heart now that you have heard John is dead. You just want to get away—to find some peace, a quiet place where you can rest—maybe with the disciples, your closest friends nearby. This news of John’s death fills you with a sense of foreboding. You know, deep down, that your own life is headed to the same kind of conclusion as John’s life. How can it end any other way? You have both been preaching the same message—and it is a message that doesn’t set well with the powers that be.

So that is what you do—you seek a getaway. You get in a boat with Peter and the others. “Let’s go to the other side,” you say, “and get away from these crowds.” But by the time you reach the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds have gotten there ahead of you, on foot. It’s just like before, when you needed time alone after John was put in prison. No one left you alone then either.

What are you feeling? Harassed? Helpless? Overwhelmed?

But then you look in the eyes of the people in the crowd and you realize how needy they are; they are in far greater need than you. And you know you have the resources to help. Overflowing compassion wells up from the very depths of your being. You translate your sorrow over John into sorrow for the crowd. And you heal their sick....

Now, let's switch gears. I want you to imagine yourself as one of the disciples. Maybe you are Peter or John or James or one of the women who travelled with Jesus. The crowds have been hanging about your master all day long. The sun will be setting soon. You are out on a hillside, far from any village. It’s getting near dinner time. You are tired and hungry. But Jesus doesn’t show any sign of stopping. You make a suggestion to the master, supposedly for his benefit, but it is really your own well-being you are concerned about. “Send the crowds away master so they can get something to eat.”

And then the words that come from Jesus’ lips with a smile are surprising as ever, “Why don’t you give them something to eat?”

What thoughts and feelings flash through your mind and heart before you answer Jesus? Are you asking under your breath, “Oh why does he always make things difficult? Why is he always challenging us to the sticking point?” Do you feel frustrated? Tired? Is your stomach growling?

You know just how little food your group has brought along. So you remind Jesus: “All we have is five loaves of bread and two fish. That’s hardly enough for everyone in our own group to have a bite each!”

The moment the words leave your mouth you are sorry. You have betrayed your own selfishness. You are expecting a reprimand from the master but instead he looks at you with love in his eyes—the same love he has for every person he meets. And he says to you gently, “Bring me the loaves and the fish.”

What are you thinking now? What is Jesus going to do? What in the world is going on?

Jesus is asking everyone to sit down on the green grass. It’s a lovely spring evening. If there just weren’t so many people this would be a delightful spot for a picnic. Jesus’ booming voice echoes across the side of the hill. In waves the people begin to get the message and they obey. After all, this is the healer inviting them to sit. Perhaps he has something for them.

Then you hear Jesus pray, as you have heard him countless times before. “Blessed art you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth and fish from the sea.”

As Jesus says these words, you are close enough to watch him break the bread. The hands are tanned and rough; they are carpenter’s hands. You can see his eyes looking up to heaven as he prays. They are filled with joy and love and trust, because of the One he calls Abba.

Before you know it, the stillness of that moment is broken. Jesus is handing you some of the bread and some of the fish, asking you to give away to others. Your own stomach is growling. It’s tempting to take some for yourself first. You know there can’t possibly be enough for everyone. Many will go hungry this night. But you would rather go hungry yourself than disobey the orders of this one who has filled your life with so much hope and meaning.

Soon enough the little you have been given is given away. You go back to the master, just on the off chance that he may have something more. And he does! You keep giving away to others—again and again. The supply never seems to run out. Pretty soon you realize each person in the crowd is handing fish and bread to others behind them, and so on. It’s finally time for you to sit down and have a morsel. And boy, there was never any other meal that tasted so good. Pretty soon, your hunger is satisfied and Jesus is giving new orders. “Here are some baskets to pick up the scraps. Don’t let anything go to waste.”

“Go to waste?” you think to yourself. “How could there be anything left over?” But just as before, so now—you obey. And pretty soon your basket is filled. So is Peter’s, and James’, all twelve baskets are full. And you ask one of the other disciples, “How many people do you figure are here?” And he says, “There must at least be five thousand men, not counting the women and the children.”

How do you feel now, having seen this miracle of multiplied loaves and fish?

Now I want you to imagine a completely different scene. You are a member of Matthew’s church, meeting in someone’s home in the latter part of the first century. Jesus has long since died and according to the reports you have received from Matthew and others—he has also arisen from the dead. You meet on the first day of the week—a work day for you. But the meeting is in the evening so that you and others can come. Why on the first day of the week? You meet on Sunday because that is the day that your master rose again.

Every Sunday night that you meet in your friend’s home you share a meal together. At the heart of that meal is the broken bread and poured out wine which Jesus told his disciples to eat and drink in remembrance of him. It’s like the Passover meal—only you share it every week—and it has a whole new meaning.

Every Sunday there is also a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures—stories that are familiar to you. And Matthew himself will often share new stories—tales about what Jesus said and did. On this particular Sunday night Matthew tells the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

What do you think as he tells this story? Does it seem incredible? Maybe not if the same Jesus also arose from the dead—and you’ve heard testimony of that from people who saw him alive—after his crucifixion.

What connection do you make in your mind between this story of Jesus feeding people and the stories you already know from the Hebrew Scriptures? Immediately your mind goes back to some of your favorite stories: Elijah being fed by ravens in the wilderness, Elisha feeding a hundred men on twenty loaves. Then of course there is the story of Moses feeding the Israelites bread from heaven, manna they called it, in the desert. Matthew makes the point that is already leaping into your mind: Jesus is the new Moses. Jesus is leading us to a promised land better than the one Moses led the people to discover.

But the Jesus story is different. Unlike Moses, he sends the people away after he feeds them. He doesn’t draw any attention to himself. Unlike the earlier Joshua, the new Joshua (for that is Jesus’ Hebrew name) doesn’t prepare an army to take over the Promised Land by force. At the end of the Jesus story the new Joshua is left hanging alone on a cross—one of the most hateful symbols to any Jew. But you find yourself identifying with Jesus in his loneliness. You have felt it too. Maybe, just maybe, as Jesus overcame death, perhaps he can help you to overcome your trials. Maybe he will feed you, meet your needs, in the wilderness where you find yourself wandering.

Before you know it, Matthew has finished talking and the time has come, once again, to eat the broken bread and drink the wine together with your friends. Suddenly you realize, “This is how Jesus is feeding me now—with this bread broken and this wine poured out.” And as you conclude your time of worship, Matthew reminds you of what Jesus said, “I will not drink of this cup again until I drink it anew with you in my father’s kingdom.” This life of struggle is not the end. What you see and hear and touch and taste and smell all around you; this world is not all there is. There’s a new world—a new kingdom coming—and you are part of that kingdom even now. One day this cup that you are raising to your lips will be raised by Jesus himself. And you will see it—with new eyes.

Now I want you to imagine one more thing: I want you to imagine you are yourself again—living in 2015. What does this story have to say to you now, where you live?

Is there some overwhelming sorrow in your life that makes it difficult, you think, for you to reach beyond yourself? What is Jesus saying to you about that sorrow?

What about the people who live around you, the people in your family, in your school, in your workplace? I want you to see their faces for a moment. What are their needs?
“When Jesus landed and saw a crowd he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” But then when he asks us to do something about the needs of those around us we say, “But we don’t have enough resources.” Is that an excuse for doing nothing? Perhaps if we would put the little bit we have at the disposal of the master he would feed many with it.

What are the needs of those around you? Are they hungry for something they cannot even name? Is there spiritual hunger among the people you know?

What resources do you have to help the people closest to you? Does it seem like there isn’t much to go around? What is Jesus saying to you about that?

And what do you sense Jesus saying to you today about how he wants to meet your needs? How does he want to feed you?

Can you imagine the next time you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table what it would be like to eat and to drink with Jesus present? Take that thought with you as you leave here today. Think of him even as you break bread for a meal today. Think of how he wants to feed you, and how he wants to feed others through you. Then offer yourself afresh to him to be used in his service. And remember as you do that—being a Christian is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, “a condition of complete simplicity—costing not less than everything.”

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Power of Bread from Heaven


What’s the best meal you have ever had?

I remember the first time I travelled with my parents to Europe. My father bought a car in Stuttgart and we had to travel from the south of Germany to the north, where we would drop off the car at the port of Bremerhaven so that it could be shipped back to the United States. Somehow, we ended up doing most of the driving in one day, and we were down to the wire getting the car to the port on time. Thus, we traveled for most of our last day in Germany without eating a thing. When we had dropped off the car and reached the airport where we would fly to London, we were starving. The airport had only one, very simple restaurant that served the plainest sandwiches you could ever imagine. We ordered ham and cheese. However, we felt like those simple ham and cheese sandwiches were the best that we had ever tasted because we were so hungry.

The crowd that followed Jesus during part of his earthly ministry was hungry too. Jesus had just fed thousands of them from five loaves of bread and two fish, but then he had departed. The crowd wanted Jesus to feed them again. That is where we pick up the story today in John 6:22-35....
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
The crowd that went in search of Jesus figured that if they stayed close to him then perhaps he would always meet their basic needs, just as he did on the day he fed thousands from five loaves and two fish. However, Jesus tells them that they are seeking him for the wrong reason. He tells them that they shouldn’t work for bread that doesn’t last but for bread that lasts forever.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how we can have room for some types of food but not others?

Speaker Mike Benson tells how one night, as his family was finishing dinner, his eight-year-old daughter left six green beans on her plate. She normally ate her veggies, and Mike did not usually let this sort of thing bother him, but this night he was irked and said to her, “Eat your green beans.”

She replied, “Dad, I’m full to the top.”

“You won’t pop,” he responded.

“Yes, I will pop!” she said.

“Risk it!” he said. “It will be okay.”

“Dad, I could not eat another bite.”

Mike knew that night they were having his daughter’s favorite dessert: pumpkin pie squares. So he asked his little girl, “How would you like a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream on top?”

“That sounds great!” she responded as she pushed her plate back, ready for dessert.

“How can you have room for a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream, and not have room for six measly green beans?”

She stood up tall out of her chair and pointing to her belly said, “This is my vegetable stomach. This is my meat stomach. They are both full. Here is my dessert stomach. It is empty. I am ready for dessert!”[1]

Now, it’s not that big a deal when a child has room for dessert but no room for six green beans. Life will go on.

However, it is truly sad, heartbreaking even, when people seem to have room in their life for all sorts of physical bread, but no room for the bread that lasts forever.

What is the bread that lasts forever that Jesus is talking about? That is the most important question. Jesus answers it, but not until the end of our passage for today. Instead, Jesus first tells the crowd that he can and will give them the bread that will last forever because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him.

Intriguingly, the crowd asks: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Their assumption seems to be that they must work to earn the bread that Jesus promises to give them.

However, Jesus tells them this is not the case. He tells them that all they have to do is believe in the one that God has sent.

At this point, people in the crowd begin to doubt. They wonder: how can we be sure that Jesus is worthy of our trust? Are we really doing the right thing by following him? Thus, they ask for proof that Jesus has been sent by God. They point out that Moses provided bread for their ancestors in the wilderness, thus suggesting that Jesus should do the same as a proof that he has been sent by God.

The crazy thing about this is that Jesus has already given the crowd bread in the wilderness. However, the crowd still wants more proof. It seems that some people will never believe, no matter how much proof is offered to them.

Jesus counters the crowd’s demand for proof. He points out that Moses didn’t provide manna in the wilderness, but rather God working through Moses. Jesus tells them that God will provide bread from heaven that will give life to the world.

In response to this the people say to Jesus, “Sir, always give us this bread.” That is a great prayer, if only the crowd understands what they are really asking for.

It is at this point that Jesus reveals his hand; he makes clear what he has been hinting at all along in this conversation. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus is the bread that lasts forever. This is the first of Jesus’ famous “I AM” sayings in the Gospel of John. This one is so important that it will be repeated in verses 48 and 51.

Jesus is promising spiritual nourishment for all eternity. However, the crowd is focused on obtaining physical nourishment. Jesus suggests that so long as they are focused on the things of this world, bread that perishes, their deepest hunger, the hunger for spiritual nourishment, will go unsatisfied.

The power of bread from heaven is that it is meant to reveal who Jesus is and lead us to believe in him.

Bruce Milne says, “In a society which has experimented to the point of satiation with every form of material, physical and spiritual palliative to fill the inner emptiness of its heart, Jesus’ invitation comes with wonderful relevance—He who comes to me will never go hungry … will never be thirsty.”

Blaise Pascal once wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. God alone is man’s true good…”

Jesus promises to meet our deepest hunger. He is the bread of life.

There are at least five things that are true about bread, that are also true about Jesus Christ. First, bread is necessary for life. In Jesus’ day, it was the staple in the human diet. Without bread, human beings died. Thus, by claiming to be the bread of life Jesus was claiming to be someone human beings could not do without.

I wonder: are we trying to live without Jesus? We may go to church, but that is not the same thing. I imagine there are many people that attend the worship services of a church every Sunday, but they do not have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ. It is one thing to know about Jesus; it is another thing to know him personally.

We may say, “But my life is just fine. I have a good job and a good family. I am happy.” Perhaps we are happy, for now. However, Jesus promises to feed us for eternity. That’s the real question isn’t it? How can we be eternally happy? Jesus suggests that we can find eternal satisfaction only in him. He is the bread of life.

A second thing about bread is that it is suited for everyone. Now I know there are some people who need to be on a gluten-free diet. However, even for those people there is gluten-free bread. I even saw gluten-free Bisquick in Wal-Mart the other day! Bread, in one form or another, is a part of virtually everyone’s diet.

In the same way, Jesus is perfectly suited to the needs of all people. Jesus is not just for clever people; he is also for the simple-minded. Jesus is not just for the poor; he is also for the rich. Jesus is not just for the educated; he is for those who can’t even read or write. Jesus is not just for the old; he is also for little children. Jesus is not just for women; he is for men too. Jesus is for all.

It is significant, I think, that Jesus did not say he was caviar. Very few people enjoy eating fish eggs. Jesus said he was the bread of life. Bread is enjoyed by virtually everyone, all over the world, in every culture. Jesus is for all.

I like what Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers fame once said: “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”

There is something deep yet simple about bread. There are all sorts of fancy foods in the world that are nice to have once in a while, but it is always good to come back to the deep simplicity of bread.

That leads to a third truth about bread: it is something we eat every day. Bread is not something we eat just one time and say, “Oh, that was nice, but if I never have it again, that’s ok.” No, bread is something we want to eat, and most of us do eat every day. It is a staple of our daily diet in some form or another.

In the same way, we need to feast on Jesus every day. He is not simply someone we need to hear about one time and ask to be our Savior and that’s it. No. Jesus is someone we need to spend every day of our lives getting to know and enjoy. He wants to walk with us every step, every day, of our earthly journey and beyond.

In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Certainly, that refers to God giving us the physical food we need. However, it also refers to God giving us the spiritual food we need. Jesus is the spiritual food we need every day.

This leads to a fourth truth about bread. Bread produces growth.

Some people say they don’t believe in miracles. To anyone who does not believe in miracles I invite you to come to my house. I will show you three miracles that live, at least sometimes, under my roof. We have three sons. It is the most amazing thing: we feed them bread and it turns into muscle. We feed them bread and their bodies grow—some of them to over six feet tall now!

Jesus is the bread of life that produces spiritual growth. Do you want to see people who are spiritually well developed, well rounded and well grounded in life? Look at those who feed spiritually on Jesus every day. There is peace, joy, and love about such people that demands an explanation. The only explanation is Jesus. The power of bread from heaven is that it produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, when it is feasted upon every day.

Have you ever thought of what bread has to go through to become the thing we eat at our tables? Bread becomes bread by a process.

First, you have to plant the grain of wheat. Then it has to grow. When the full-grown grain is ripe, then it has to be cut down, winnowed, and ground into flour. Then the flour has to be shaped into a loaf, along with other ingredients. Finally, it has to be put in a pan and baked in an oven. Only by this process does bread become the thing we want to eat that sustains life.

In a similar way, Jesus became the bread of life for us by a process. The Son of God came down from heaven. He is truly the bread of heaven. The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born into poverty and laid in a feeding trough—an appropriate place for the bread of life to be laid, don’t you think? Then he lived his whole life as an attempt to reveal to us the life-creating and life-sustaining power of God. He is the bread of life that not only sustains life, but also creates life in the first place. Then Jesus went through the fiery trial of suffering and death, even death on a cross. Furthermore, he did that for you. He did that for me, so that he might become the bread of life for us. How can we then withhold ourselves from feasting upon him? How can we not come to him to receive eternal life, every day?

Ravi Zacharias tells the following story: 
Two years ago, a woman in my audience wrote to invite me to visit her, if I could. A few weeks ago, I was in her home city, along with my teammate and my wife. The woman was suffering from AIDS and by that time was dying. She had come here two years ago knowing she had AIDS. She hungered for something more than she had found in life. She had found Christ and came here for the deeper teaching and enrichment.

When we walked into her apartment, she was absolutely surprised. I’ll never forget her expression. Her mom and dad stood next to her with a friend. She looked like a bag of just bones—a pathetic sight. She muttered words of gratitude that we had come. We spoke with her and prayed with her. When I turned to leave, I noticed a book on her table: The Hunger for Significance by R. C. Sproul. In her loneliest moment, her greatest hunger was being filled, her hunger for significance. That’s what our faith in Christ can do. People are able to endure life’s unavoidable passages. Today she is with her Lord.[2]

Jesus is the bread of life. He meets our deepest hunger: the hunger for significance, the hunger for peace, the hunger for love, the hunger for joy, and the hunger for eternal life.


[1] Phillip Gunter, pastor of Crossroads Chapel, Round Rock, Texas
[2] Ravi Zacharias, “If the Foundations Be Destroyed”, Preaching Today, Tape No. 142.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Two Ways to Live


Most, if not all, of my readers will be at least somewhat familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, The Lord of the Rings. For those few who are not familiar, Tolkien’s trilogy is an epic tale all about a ring of power that gives to its possessor the power to rule all of Middle Earth. The one problem is that the ring comes at a price. Each of its possessors either end up dead, or having their lives permanently warped by evil. The ring is given to the good hobbit, Frodo, who is charged with destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. However, along the way certain dark forces seek to take the ring back for the evil side. The evil forces of the story first appear in the guise of black riders. Later, the same black beings ride, not horses, but huge winged creatures. The shadow of impending cataclysm keeps falling across the story until the very end when Frodo is finally successful in his mission.

The way that Matthew tells the story of King Jesus is something like the way Tolkien tells the story of Middle Earth. The black shadow of evil continually falls across the face of this tale. At the beginning of the story this evil took form in Herod the Great who sought to have Jesus destroyed by killing all the male babies in Bethlehem and its environs who were two years old and younger. Now, in the very middle of Matthew’s tale, Herod the Great is dead but his son, Herod the tetrarch, is ruling over Galilee as an ominous figure of foreboding.

We read about this second Herod in Matthew 14:1-12....
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
I believe that here, in the very center of his Gospel, Matthew is showing us two ways of living and inviting us, once again, to make a choice. One way of living is illustrated in the life of Herod the Tetrarch. The other is exemplified in John the Baptist. Let’s look first at the life of Herod.

Herod’s way of living seems to be guided, almost completely, by emotion. Perhaps he had learned this way of living from his father, the Idumean, Herod the Great, who was known to fly into a rage and have people killed on a momentary whim.

Herod the tetrarch’s life is interesting enough to warrant a short summary. When Herod the Great died, the rule of Palestine was divided among three of his sons. As already mentioned, Herod the tetrarch, or Herod Antipas as he was also known, ruled over Galilee and Perea. His half-brother, Herod Philip II, was the Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis. Herod Antipas’ brother Archelaus was governor of Judea, Idumea and Samaria. You may remember that when Mary and Joseph left Egypt with the young Jesus, they avoided Judea because of Archelaus and settled in Nazareth.

Early in his reign, Antipas married the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea. However, while staying in Rome with his half-brother Herod Philip, Antipas fell in love with his host’s wife Herodius, granddaughter of Herod the Great. (You can be forgiven for thinking that this sounds like some modern-day soap opera. It certainly does.) Antipas and Herodias agreed to divorce their previous spouses in order to marry each other. On learning of this, Aretas’ daughter travelled to the fortress of Machaerus, from where Nabatean forces escorted her to her father. Relations between Antipas and Aretas understandably soured and in time preparations began for war.

Antipas faced more immediate problems in his own tetrarchy when John the Baptist began a ministry of preaching and baptism by the Jordan River. John attacked Antipas’ marriage as contrary to Jewish law. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that John’s public influence made Antipas fearful of rebellion. Thus John was imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus. According to Matthew and Mark, Antipas was reluctant to order John’s death but was compelled by Herodias’ and Philip’s daughter Salome, to whom he had promised any reward she chose in exchange for her dancing.

Lest you think that John the Baptist met with a horrible end and Antipas got away scot free, let me relate “the rest of the story”....

Luke credits Antipas with a small role in Jesus’ trial when Pilate sends Jesus to Antipas for his opinion. Antipas washed his hands of the affair and Jesus was, of course, executed.

Antipas’ own downfall was to come in the not-too-distant future. It was caused by the emperor Caligula and his own nephew Agrippa brother of Antipas’ wife Herodias. When Agrippa fell into debt during the reign of Tiberius despite his connections with the imperial family, Herodias persuaded Antipas to provide for him, but the two men quarreled and Agrippa departed. After Agrippa was heard expressing to his friend Caligula his eagerness for Tiberius to die and leave room for Caligula to succeed him, he was imprisoned. When Caligula finally became emperor in 37 AD, he not only released his friend Agrippa but granted him rule of Philip's former tetrarchy (slightly extended), with the title of king.

Josephus tells us that Herodias, jealous at Agrippa’s success, persuaded Antipas to ask Caligula for the title of king for himself. However, Agrippa simultaneously presented the emperor with a list of charges against the tetrarch. Caligula sided once again with Agrippa and had Herod Antipas sent into exile in Gaul, or what is today, France. Caligula offered to allow Herodias, as Agrippa’s sister, to retain her property. However, she chose instead to join her husband in exile. And it was in exile that Antipas died.

Thus we see that on numerous occasions throughout his life Antipas made very important decisions based upon emotion. He committed adultery based upon emotion and paid for it in war with King Aretas. Antipas had John put in prison because of Herodias’ emotional demands. At first, Antipas didn’t kill John because he was afraid of the Jewish people revolting; again, a decision based upon emotion. Antipas gave in to Salome’s demand for the head of John the Baptist on a platter because he was afraid to say “no” and be embarrassed in front of his friends. Then Antipas spent the end of his life in exile because he gave in, emotionally, to Herodias’ suggestion that he should ask Caligula for the title of king.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with emotions, in and of themselves. Emotions are like the dials on your car dashboard; they tell you what is going on under the hood. We should pay attention to what our emotions are telling us and deal with the problems they reveal in the engine compartment of life.

However, one thing we should never do is to make decisions based upon emotion. When caught up in the feelings of a moment, whether grief or anger, or feelings of being in love, it is always best to let the feelings settle a bit before making a decision.

The movie Stepmom depicts the typical way we allow our emotions to guide our decisions. The movie is about a man, played by Ed Harris, who abandons his wife of many years, played by Susan Sarandon, to take up with a young woman, played by Julia Roberts.

There is one particularly poignant scene where Luke (Ed Harris) brings his two children, Anna, age 12, and Benjamin, age 8, to a park. As Luke and Benjamin launch their sailboat, Anna, looking sad, asks why Luke’s new flame Isabel (Julia Roberts) has moved in with them. Luke is taken aback by this direct question from his daughter but he answers: “Because we love each other. And we want to share our lives together.”

“We already had a life together with Mommy,” Anna replies.

“But Mommy and I weren’t getting along very well. And it wasn’t fair to you guys, fighting all the time.”

Benjamin interjects, “I fight with Anna all the time. Can I move out?”

Luke smiles and says, “No, but you guys are brother and sister.”

“You were husband and wife,” says Anna, “doesn’t that mean something?”

Luke, caught off guard, slowly says, “Yes. It does. But, well, when you get older, your relationships get a lot more complicated. And there are all kinds of feelings flying around. And sometimes, some of those feelings change.”

Anna then asks, “But, did you fall out of love with Mommy?”

“Well, yeah, I guess I did. I still love your mom. But it just became a different kind of love, that’s all. We’re still really good friends, and we always will be.”

Benjamin asks with a serious look, “Can you ever fall out of love with your kids?”

That’s a good question! You see Luke made the mistake of making a major life decision based solely upon emotion. He and Isabel gave into what the author, Sheldon Vanauken, once called “The False Sanction of Eros”.

In an essay by the same title, Vanauken describes how a Christian friend named John shocked him by announcing that he was leaving his wife to marry another woman. John explained his sudden change of heart by saying, “It seemed so good, so right. That’s when we knew we had to get the divorces. We belonged together.”

Vanauken then describes a conversation with a friend named Diana, who left her husband for another man. Diana defended herself with virtually the same words: “It was just so good and right with Roger that I knew it would be wrong to go on with Paul.”

As Vanauken explains, both John and Diana were “invoking a higher law: the feeling of goodness and rightness. A feeling so powerful it swept away whatever guilt they would otherwise have felt” for what they were doing to their families.

Living according to one’s emotions always leads to problems, whether you are Herod Antipas or a modern-day Luke or Isabel.

What a contrast the life of John the Baptist was. John the Baptist sought to live his life and make decisions according to the Word of God. John told Antipas, “It is not lawful for you to have Herodias as your wife.” Why did John say this? He said it because the Hebrew Scriptures said it was wrong for Herod to live this way. John was able to stand up courageously for what was right, despite the cost, because he had learned to live his whole life according to the Word of God and not according to his emotions.

In a sense, John began living according to the Word of God before he was even born. According to Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel predicted John’s birth to John’s father, Zechariah, the angel told Zechariah that the boy was “never to take wine or other fermented drink”. In other words, John was destined before his birth to live his life according to the Nazirite vow spoken of in Numbers 6, Judges 13, and 1 Samuel 1.

According to Matthew 3, when John began his ministry of preaching in the Judean wilderness he did so according to the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

According to John 1, when John the Baptist saw Jesus he identified him as “the Lamb of God” in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 53.

John the Baptist didn’t have the same benefits we have today. He didn’t have the complete Bible. However, he focused his life on the truth he did know from the Hebrew Scriptures, and he allowed the major decisions of his life to be guided by God’s Word.

I don’t mean to suggest that John the Baptist was perfect or that he didn’t have his moments of doubt. While John was in prison he began to have doubts about whether Jesus really was the Messiah. According to Matthew 11 he sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else.” John’s situation in prison must have been very discouraging to him. He must have often been tempted to despair. But once again he received encouragement from the Word of God, in this case: the direct words of Jesus.

Jesus told John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

John became such a blessed man. He took courage from Jesus’ words. And so he was enabled to stand up to Herod Antipas even as he himself was languishing in prison. That courage, inspired by the Word of God and displayed in John’s life, must have given courage to many in the early church who read Matthew’s words. As Billy Graham once said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.”

“But,” you say, “I have such a difficult time ordering my emotions under the Word of God. So often it seems like my emotions get the better of me and I make many poor decisions because of them.”

Haven’t we all? Thankfully there is forgiveness in Christ when we, like Herod, make wrong decisions because we are led by emotion. And the really good news is that when we persevere in submitting our lives to be guided by the Word of God—the positive outcome in the end is assured.

It reminds me of the story of the little burro who was harnessed to a wild horse. That horse would buck and rage, convulsing like a drunken sailor, and all that the little burro could do was go along for the ride. One day the two were turned loose on to the desert range in this condition. The burro and the horse could be seen disappearing over the horizon with the wild horse dragging that little burro along and throwing him around like a bag of cream puffs. The two were gone for days but eventually they came back. However, upon their return the burro was first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world that wild horse became exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro and in that moment the burro took charge and became the leader.

That’s the way it works with our emotions and the Word of God. Yes, there are many times when our emotions seem to be in charge and cause all sorts of havoc. However, if we harness our emotions to the Word of God and persevere in that condition, eventually our wild emotions will become exhausted and the Word of God will take over.

“But,” you say, “Things didn’t turn out all that well for John the Baptist. He served God his whole life but ended up in prison at the end and had his head cut off.”

That is true. And that dark ending for John the Baptist in this world foreshadows the even darker life conclusion his cousin Jesus will experience near the end of Matthew’s Gospel.

However, in our text for today there is a note of hope. When Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus he said, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Herod was wrong. Jesus wasn’t John “risen from the dead”. But Matthew wants us, his readers, to remember that one day Jesus will be executed in a far worse fashion than John and then he, Jesus, will rise from the dead—giving each of us hope for our own resurrection.

When we examine these two ways to live—according to emotion or according to the Word of God—it can seem that living according to emotion is the way to go . . . until we examine these two ways of life in the context of eternity. Once we do that there is no contest.

Live according to what your emotions dictate and you will one day regret it. Live according to the Word of God by the grace and power of the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ and you will never be sorry.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Choose or Lose, Part 2

"Nazareth" by William Holman Hunt

Matthew 13:54-58

Jesus came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house." And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
When Jesus finished teaching the parables we have in Matthew 13, Matthew tells us that Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. However, unlike Jesus' disciples, the people in the synagogue did not welcome Jesus’ teaching. “How could this hometown boy have anything to teach us?” they asked. Because of their lack of faith Jesus could not do many miracles there.

The people in the synagogue in Nazareth did not respond to Jesus’ teaching as though it was a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. They didn’t receive it with joy; they did not give everything they had to be part of Jesus’ kingdom movement. As a result, they lost out. Jesus did not do many miracles there.

The people in the synagogue appeared to be part of the kingdom; they were caught in the net after all; they were faithful attendees, listening to the word of God every Sabbath. But I think Jesus’ parables would suggest that is not enough. There are many people now, many faithful church attendees who would seem to be part of Jesus’ kingdom, but in the end it may be revealed that they have not responded to Jesus’ message with joy; they have not given all they have to possess the kingdom of heaven.

Many people say they wish they could go back and live in the time of Jesus. If they could just have met him personally (they think) then they would believe. But the people of Nazareth, those with the greatest access to Jesus, they did not believe.

Can you imagine being there in the synagogue in Nazareth and missing it—missing the joy of discovering who Jesus really was?

At this pivotal point in his Gospel Matthew is once again asking us: what is our response to Jesus? And Matthew seems to be suggesting that our eternal destiny depends upon that response.

The really good news is that the kingdom of heaven isn’t just something to be sought after. Rather, the King of heaven has sought and found us. It is interesting to me that in Jesus’ second parable he compares the kingdom of heaven to a merchant, not to the pearl of great price itself. God, in Christ, is like the merchant; he has gone on an all-out search for the best pearl in the world. And having found that pearl of great price in us, he has given all to buy it; he has given his own life.

As C. S. Lewis once wrote in his book, Miracles
In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders. Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”
I believe that we are the pearl of great price Jesus came to recover. How can we not respond with joy to such a Savior and give all that we have in response to such a love?

Skye Jethani tells the following story,
My daughter, Zoe, is two-and-a-half and loves to play hide-and-seek. Sometimes she hides, but usually the game involves hiding my cell phone. Unfortunately she doesn't yet understand the object of the game. She makes me close my eyes—that much she gets. But it's downhill from there. First of all, she always hides my phone in the same place: on the stairs, in plain sight. No matter how many times we play, she always puts my phone on the stairs. When I open my eyes, I know my phone is on the stairs, but I'll pretend like I don't see it. I'll look on the sofa, or under the table. It's my way of trying to teach her what the point of the game really is. What I've ended up teaching Zoe is that her father is a complete idiot, because the moment I look somewhere else for the phone she says, "No, Daddy. The phone isn't there. It's on the stairs, silly goose." And then she rolls her big brown eyes at me. There's nothing like having your intelligence insulted by a two-year-old.
I've been trying to show Zoe that the fun of hide-and-seek is the seeking. But for Zoe, no matter what I try, the fun part is always the finding. 
God wants us to seek him. But, like Zoe, he understands that the real joy is not in seeking, but in finding. He wants to be found. He has not intended the Christian life to be an impossible hunt for an elusive God that requires enormous faith. Quite the contrary. The Christian life is a simple walk to a welcoming God that requires only child-like faith....
This is the image Jesus presents to us of our heavenly father's love. It is the image of a God who wants to be found, the God James says will draw near to us if we draw near to him. He is the God who stands at the door and knocks, and is prepared to come in and eat with anyone who opens the door. We are called to seek the God who wants to be found. This should be our goal . . . to intentionally seek the God who is passionately seeking us.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Choose or Lose



Stan Caffy was about to get married. So he and his fiancĂ© figured it was time to do a bit of house-cleaning. They cleaned out both of their garages and gave everything they didn’t need to a local thrift store. The items discarded included an assortment of clothes, bicycles, tools, computer parts, and a tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been hanging in Stan’s garage for the last decade.

What Stan didn’t know was that particular copy of the Declaration of Independence was a rare manuscript made in 1823. A man named Michael Sparks spotted it in the thrift store and bought the document for $2.48. Sparks later auctioned it for $477,650.

Jesus told stories similar to this one. One of them is in Matthew 13 beginning with verse 44.... 
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. 
“Yes,” they replied. 
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 
Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value illustrate two different ways people discover the kingdom of God.

The treasure hidden in the field was discovered by a poor man going about his everyday work. He was digging in a field when suddenly his shovel hit something hard. Digging further, he uncovers a chest. Unearthing it and opening it, he finds a pile of precious jewels pouring out.

How would you feel in the same situation? The man was elated—just as Michael Sparks must have been elated when he discovered that copy of the Declaration of Independence in a thrift store. But unlike Michael Sparks, the man in Jesus’ story didn’t just pay $2.48 to get the treasure chest. The man was so filled with joy he went away and sold all he had and bought that field.

Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is so valuable it is worth giving everything we have in exchange for it. And some people are just like the man in Jesus’ story: they discover the kingdom seemingly by accident.

By contrast, the pearl of great value is discovered by a man of means—a merchant. Pearls were considered among the most valuable jewels of ancient times. This particular pearl was discovered after a long and patient search. This merchant was on the lookout for fine pearls. He knew what he was after. He had examined many fine specimens. However, one day he found a pearl far greater than any he had ever seen in his career. Like the poor laborer who discovered the treasure in the field, the merchant sold everything he had in order to buy the pearl.

Many people treat religion and religious ideas like a string of pearls. They sample everything on the market. They get one pearl here and one pearl there and add it to their string. Jesus is telling us that there is one pearl, the kingdom of heaven, which is more valuable than all the others.

Justin was a professor living in the second century CE. He had sampled the various philosophies of his day but found them all wanting. One day he met a man in a field who told him about Jesus. Justin started reading the Scriptures to see if what the man told him was really true. Justin became a convinced and joyful convert to the Christian faith. Eventually he gave his life as a martyr because he had found the pearl of great value and he was willing to give everything in exchange for it.

Jim Eliot was another who gave all he had in order to have the pearl of great value. He gave his life trying to reach the Auca tribe of South America with the Gospel. Eliot once wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

None of us are going to get out of this life with anything. I have presided over many a funeral in my time and I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. Why not give what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose?

The consequences of not doing that are illustrated in Jesus’ third parable. He compares the kingdom of God to a trawling net that fishermen would often use on the Sea of Galilee. Such a net would take in many things when let down into the sea. Later on, the fishermen would sort through their catch by the seashore, casting aside the worthless fish and saving the “keepers”.

Jesus says this is what it is going to be like at the end of the age. The angels will do the sorting of the righteous and the wicked—throwing the latter into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In other words, there are some who appear to be in the kingdom now, they have been caught in the net, but in the end it will be clear that they don’t really belong to the kingdom of heaven; they aren’t “keepers”.

Jesus asks his disciples whether they have understood these three parables and they answer affirmatively. Jesus tells them that every teacher of the law, or scribe, who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Jesus himself is such a teacher of the law. He tells stories the people are familiar with, but he adds a new twist. Jesus urges his disciples to teach a similar blend of the old and the new. In fact, Matthew himself exemplifies this Jesus-style of teaching. He is constantly quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures and showing how Jesus fulfilled them; Matthew presents us with old and new treasures. He even structures his Gospel around five pillars of Jesus’ new teaching, intentionally reminding us of the five old books of Moses, the Torah. This chapter of parables, Matthew 13 represents the central pillar of Jesus’ teaching and the turning point of Matthew’s Gospel.

We will take a look at the conclusion to this section of Matthew's Gospel tomorrow....

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Power to Set Us Free


Today is the feast day of Saint Martha. Martha, as you probably know, was one of the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Here is a link to a sermon I preached a few years ago on John 11 dealing with this family....

The Power to Set Us Free

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wiretapper



A friend just alerted me to the fact that this film about my father is now on You Tube. You can see the whole thing right here. Enjoy!

While We Wait

"Wheat Field" by Vincent Van Gogh 
Matthew 13:36-43

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Yesterday we looked at two parables of Jesus. Today we look at a third that Matthew places alongside the other two. All three of these parables are about waiting. The farmer has to wait for the harvest time when he can effectively separate the weeds from the wheat. The birds have to wait for the tiny mustard seed to grow into a large enough plant for them to be able to nest in its branches. The woman has to wait for the yeast to work its expansive effect on the dough before she can bake it. Jesus’ main point seems to be that if we are part of his kingdom we are going to have to wait for some things.

There is a “now” but “not yet” to the kingdom of God. The kingdom can begin now in our lives as we receive Jesus to live in and through us. But the fulfillment of the kingdom, when it will truly be spread to every corner of the earth, when evil will be eradicated, when no one will ever have a stroke or get sick, or die—that is “not yet”. And so we must wait.

But while we wait, we inevitably ask questions. These three parables wrestle with three distinct questions. We looked at two of those questions yesterday. This parable raises a third question: why does God allow evil to persist in the world?

The parable of the weeds and the wheat makes the clear point that evil does not come directly from God’s hand. God, or in this case, the Son of Man as God’s agent, sows good seed in the field of the world. Everything about God’s original creation was good.

Then where did evil come from? According to the parable it comes from the devil, the one who sows weeds among the wheat. And how did the devil get to be the devil? He got to be the devil by free choice. God gave free choice to his angels and to human beings. We have the choice to serve him, or not. The clear teaching of the Bible is that all evil in the world stems from wrong human and angelic choices, either directly or indirectly. As someone once said, “God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves.” God permits evil to exist in the world, something he hates, in order to accomplish that which he loves—his creation freely choosing to love him in return.

So alright, evil exists in the world because God gave us free choice. But why then doesn’t God put a stop to evil here and now? The answer of the parable is that if God had the weeds pulled up right now, some of the wheat would be harmed in the process.

The particular weeds Jesus was talking about in this parable were, at a certain stage, indistinguishable from the wheat and often entangled with it. They could only safely be separated from one another at harvest time.

Why doesn’t God harvest his wheat and burn up the weeds right now? Again, human beings, unlike weeds, have free choice. God is continuing to give us the opportunity to freely come to him. As it says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Right now we all have a window of grace opened to us. There will come a time, however, when that window of grace will close. God is like a good teacher. He knows when giving a student another chance at an exam will do some good, and he knows when it won’t. There will come a day when the Lord knows that giving us more chances to repent won’t do any good. On that day the weeds will be pulled up and burned in the fire. And in that day the righteous will shine like the sun.

C. S. Lewis once said in a sermon, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.” (The Weight of Glory)

Which destination are each of us headed to? And which one are we helping others toward as we wait for the consummation of the kingdom?