Disillusioned with Jesus? (Matthew 11:1-6)

When God doesn’t do what you expect.

Open Matthew 11:1-6.

Matthew 11:2-3 (my translation)
2 In prison, John heard what the Messiah was doing and sent his followers 3 to ask him, “Are you the one to come, or do we wait for another?”

Last year I was in a Masters-level class on the kingdom of God. Dr Tidball asked us, “So why did John the Baptist doubt if Jesus was the Messiah?” How could the greatest of all prophets — the one privileged to announce the arrival of the Messiah — doubt if Jesus was the Messiah? Continue reading “Disillusioned with Jesus? (Matthew 11:1-6)”

The good shepherd (John 10:1-18)

Jesus is the good shepherd? What does that mean?

Open John 9:40 – 10:18.

In our culture, religion is an optional religious experience for those who like that kind of thing. It’s good clean fun, time with friends, decent music, more inspiring than Ted Talks. Australia views church as a recreational activity, a time of being refreshed after the work and political struggles of the week, a bit like binging on Netflix except you have to dress up and go out.

So when we read Jesus talking about the kingdom of God, we can’t make any sense of it. We copy the Psalms and sing, “God reigns,” but we don’t think of ourselves as a kingdom.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), but we don’t understand what that meant to Israel. A shepherd was a ruler, one who led the herd. In Jesus’ day, the Sanhedrin had that responsibility. So if he claimed to be the good shepherd, what was he implying about Israel’s other shepherds? Continue reading “The good shepherd (John 10:1-18)”

God’s kingdom and social justice

Social justice isn’t an angry fist; it’s a cross, bearing the injustice away.

Imagine a world without gender conflict, where males and females value each other as persons. Imagine a world where no one no one dies of preventable diseases, where no one starves while others horde wealth. Imagine a world without racism or slavery or war, a world where no leader forces themselves on people. Imagine a world where people shun violence and retribution, calling on God to bring justice instead.

Lofty ideals? It’s our future. This is the world we will know when it runs as our heavenly sovereign intends — as the kingdom of God. The big question is how do we get there?

Continue reading “God’s kingdom and social justice”

KINGDOM SUMMARY: Matthew 1–10

How central is the kingdom of God to Matthew’s message?

Open Matthew.

The Good News according to Matthew is that Jesus is restoring heaven’s reign on the earth. His opening sentence is bursting with good news, “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). He’s arrived: the divinely appointed ruler (Messiah) from Israel’s royal family (son of David) who restores the blessing of divine rule to the nations (the Abrahamic family commission).

What a revolutionary story! By confronting the powers with self-sacrificial love on behalf of earth’s oppressed people, this king brings God’s two realms back together in himself. Via a staggering trajectory, he receives all authority in heaven and on earth, and commissions his agents to bring all nations under his command, promising his regal presence until it’s done (28:18-20).

Every chapter of Matthew’s Good News tells this story. He wants us to recognize Jesus as our divinely appointed king, the one who implements heaven’s reign (the kingdom of heaven) on earth.

Continue reading “KINGDOM SUMMARY: Matthew 1–10”

Righteous people? (Matthew 10:40-42)

How can Matthew talk about righteous people? I thought there weren’t any.

Open Matthew 10:40-42.

In the grounds of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem is the Garden of the Righteous. It honours gentiles who protected Jews under Nazi threat, people like Shindler or Corrie Ten Boom. They’re considered righteous because they did the right thing by the people of God, even though they themselves were not descendants of Jacob. The way you treat God’s people is the way you treat God.

That’s how the word righteous (ṣǎd·dîq in Hebrew) functions in Jewish thought, but Christians tend to be horrified by this word. For the last 500 years, protestants have emphasized texts like Romans 3:10: “No one is righteous, not even one.”

Then we’re thoroughly confused when other texts talk about righteous people. The Gospels label several as righteous (dikaios in Greek):

  • Joseph (Matthew 1:19)
  • Abel (Matthew 23:35)
  • John the Baptist (Mark 6:20)
  • Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:6)
  • Simeon (Luke 2:25)

Jesus taught that God sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). He spoke of many righteous people (Matthew 13:17). He even expected Galileans to recognize his disciples as righteous people (Matthew 10:41).

What do you do when one part of the Bible doesn’t match other parts? Continue reading “Righteous people? (Matthew 10:40-42)”

Where’s your allegiance? (Matthew 10:32-33)

What country do you belong to? It depends on who’s your leader.

Open Matthew 10:32-33.

If John Clarke was still with us, he’d be having a field day. How do you bring down a democratic government? Demonstrate that many sitting members weren’t eligible to stand.

Now, politics is a serious business. Our leaders must have unquestionable allegiance to our nation. If war broke out, which side would a dual citizen support?

I mean, you couldn’t trust Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister if he’s secretly a Kiwi. If New Zealand invaded us, the haka alone would probably see him siding with the enemy. Well, that’s what the high court ruled anyway: they declared him unfit to be a sitting member, so he has to stand again. Continue reading “Where’s your allegiance? (Matthew 10:32-33)”

The kingdom is God with his creatures (Matthew 10:29-31)

If a little bird falls in the forest, does anybody hear?

Open Matthew 10:29-31.

What was your first pet? A puppy? A kitten? A budgie? Remember its name? What did it mean to you?

How deeply we feel responsibility for a creature in our care! It’s beyond commercial value: even if you paid for it with pocket money, its precious life depends on you. Where does this sense of responsibility come from?

Jesus believed this tenderness is a glimpse of something beyond, an echo of God’s heartbeat for the creatures in his care: Continue reading “The kingdom is God with his creatures (Matthew 10:29-31)”

Where’s God’s justice in an unjust world? (Matthew 10:26-31)

Your heavenly Father knows when even a sparrow falls.

Open Matthew 10:26-31.

We all have filters that shape what we hear. That’s true of how we understand our closest friends. It’s even more significant when we want to understand what Jesus said 2000 years ago in a very different setting.

For example, we in the western church tend to think of souls as immortal. After your body dies, your soul lives on, either in heaven or hell. It would make no sense to us to talk about bodies going to hell. Yet that’s precisely what Jesus did to: he said it’s better to lose an eye than to lose your whole body in hell (Matthew 5:29-30, 22). Something that doesn’t make sense is a hint that we’re not hearing it right, that we need to reframe the way we think. Continue reading “Where’s God’s justice in an unjust world? (Matthew 10:26-31)”

A disarmed kingdom (Matthew 10:34-39)

How can Jesus establish his kingdom with an unarmed army?

Open Matthew 10:34-39.

A military career in the ancient world meant heading off with your regiment in search of fame and glory. Unworthy of the empire was any milksop who couldn’t leave his father and mother. A soldier marched where the army needed him, even if it meant his children grew up without him. Real soldiers didn’t run for cover to save themselves! They grasped their swords and gave their lives for the sake of the empire.

What about the kingdom of God? Do its people face struggles like the kingdoms of the world? Or is it an idyllic life of shalom: no life-threatening situations, no dilemmas of family versus kingdom, no conflicting priorities, no need to run to save your own life? Continue reading “A disarmed kingdom (Matthew 10:34-39)”

Like our teacher (Matthew 10:24-25)

Becoming like our teacher is every disciple’s joy. Does it mean we suffer too?

Open Matthew 10:24-25.

It’s the hope that motivates every disciple: as we follow Jesus we become like him. Wow!

Does being like Jesus mean suffering too? Which statement represents what you believe

  1. Jesus suffered so we don’t have to.
  2. Jesus suffered because we suffer.
  3. Jesus suffered, so we must suffer too.

Perhaps we should listen to Jesus’ promise in context: Continue reading “Like our teacher (Matthew 10:24-25)”

Clash of kingdoms (Matthew 10:17-23)

The kingdom of God doesn’t leave unjust kingdoms in place.

Open Matthew 10:17-23.

For too long, the church has spiritualized Jesus as if he was just a personal saviour and not the king of the kingdom. Our purpose on this blog is to swing the pendulum back by focusing on the sovereign authority of Jesus as Lord, as Messiah, as king of the kingdom. Continue reading “Clash of kingdoms (Matthew 10:17-23)”

Sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16)

Wise as serpents and innocent as doves? How?

Open Matthew 10:16.

Jesus the shepherd, appointed twelve Jewish males to symbolize the restoration of Israel under his reign. This is dangerous work: others claim to be in control. If history teaches us anything, those in power will do anything to keep it. God’s people are his sheep, but the world is run by wolves: Continue reading “Sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16)”