Feeding the multitude (Matthew 14:13-21)

What are we to learn from unusual miracles like the feeding of the 5000?

Open Matthew 14:13-21.

Feeding the 5000, or walking on water. They’re favourites that capture our imagination, but why did Jesus do these things? If they were signs, what were they pointing to? Was he showing off? Was he telling the crowds he was God? What was Jesus doing? Continue reading “Feeding the multitude (Matthew 14:13-21)”

What power do the rulers of this world have over God’s people? (Matthew 14:1-12)

Are we safe from harm? Or can God’s people be hurt by the evil in the world?

Open Matthew 14:1-12.

As you read the Bible, do you notice how the stories fit together? Why would Matthew stop talking about Jesus and tell a story about Herod instead? What’s his point?

Continue reading “What power do the rulers of this world have over God’s people? (Matthew 14:1-12)”

How does justice come?

How can justice ever come to our communities? Did Jesus have anything ideas?

Imagine you’re in a class on Training and Assessment. Everyone makes a presentation, and you choose your topic. What’s your passion?

Students chose everything from surfing to swords. I wanted something related to the kingdom of God that could be relevant, appropriate for a non-religious setting, and doable in 15 minutes.

You can read what I said below, and I’d be interested in your feedback. The group responded well, and the experience helped me think through this issue further.

Clearly this isn’t the whole story. But is this an approach that could help us present the good news in a way Aussies see as relevant and important?

Here’s the script: Continue reading “How does justice come?”

Why doesn’t God sort it out? (Matthew 13:47-50)

If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why doesn’t he sort out injustice now?

Open Matthew 13:47-50.

Why is the world such a mess if it’s God’s kingdom? How can so much evil and injustice exist in the kingdom of God?

Why doesn’t our heavenly king sort out his earthly realm? Is this really the best God can do?

That’s no theoretical question. Ask the people in pain. Ask the parents of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February. Why doesn’t God act? Philip Yancey calls it, “the question that never goes away.”

Megaphones blare, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!Continue reading “Why doesn’t God sort it out? (Matthew 13:47-50)”

Face or flee? What Jesus did with conflict (Matthew 12:14-21)

What can we learn from Jesus about how to handle conflict?

Open Matthew 12:14-21 and Isaiah 42:1–4.

How do you handle conflict? Fight? Or flight?

Some of us are fighters. We stand our ground. We’re warriors for justice, for ourselves and for others. We’ll never stand by and let evil take the reins.

Some of us avoid conflict. We keep the peace at all costs. We take the way of the cross: it’s more godly to suffer wrong than to demand rights.

Funny thing is that both groups conscript Jesus. Justice warriors look up to a Jesus as a leader who stood up for the poor, the outcasts, the unacceptable “sinners.” He trained his followers to handle confrontation, bringing not peace but a sword (10:14-39). He announced woes on the Galilean towns that rebuffed his kingship (11:20-24). He confronted the Pharisees so vehemently and persistently that they wanted to destroy him (12:1-14).

Then, suddenly, Jesus suddenly quits the confrontation and withdraws (12:15). And this isn’t the first time. When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus withdrew into Galilee (4:12). This non-confrontational Jesus was not what John expected the Messiah to be (11:3). Jesus didn’t rescue John. John was beheaded, and Jesus withdrew again (14:13).

So what’s all this withdrawing? Is this another side to Jesus? Is this the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of children’s lullabies? Continue reading “Face or flee? What Jesus did with conflict (Matthew 12:14-21)”

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”

The kingdom and prophetic engagement: speaking truth to power?

Does being the kingdom of God mean speaking out against abuses of power in the current political system?

Quick: give me a Bible verse on social justice. What comes to mind?

Continue reading “The kingdom and prophetic engagement: speaking truth to power?”

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)”

The homeless king (Matthew 8:20)

When his people are homeless, the Saviour is homeless too.

Open Matthew 8:19-20.

Matthew tells us that people had begun to recognize Jesus’ authority (7:29; 8:9). The king walked among his people, freeing them from their oppression (8:16). He bore their weakness, their dis-ease (8:17).

He was a homeless king (8:20). Ever heard of such a thing? He chose to be homeless as he moved among his people, identifying with them. In a sense, his people were homeless too. They had lost their homeland to foreign powers long ago. When Babylon invaded, so many died trying to defend Jerusalem they couldn’t bury them all, so their dead bodies became food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth (Jeremiah 7:33; 19:7). The birds and the beasts had homes, while God’s people did not. Continue reading “The homeless king (Matthew 8:20)”

A generous kingdom (Matthew 6:1-4)

How did Jesus imagine the world would be set right? You may be surprised.

Open Matthew 6:1-4.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the Galileans not to follow their communal rulers. He believed the people who ran the synagogues and towns were incapable of bringing the people back under God’s kingship as his nation — of restoring the kingdom of God. Continue reading “A generous kingdom (Matthew 6:1-4)”

Retribution versus justice (Matthew 5:38-42)

If there will ever be justice in this world, how on earth will we get it? Jesus takes a radical approach.

Open Matthew 5:38-42.

Audiences love it with the hero gives the villain what he deserves. The villain has walked all over people in his quest for power. The hero fights for those who’ve been hurt, and brings the villain to justice. It’s the stuff of movies, novels, and comic books. It’s not the stuff of history.

Sometimes an Adolf Hitler is brought down. Other times a Joseph Stalin slaughters tens of millions and no one stops him. History often feels like the law of the jungle, where the most powerful beasts win.

That was Israel’s problem in the Bible’s story. God had established them as a nation under his reign, but the beasts invaded and crushed them. Jesus proclaimed the restoration of God’s reign, but how could the rulers be defeated? How would God give his people justice and restore his government? Continue reading “Retribution versus justice (Matthew 5:38-42)”

Reconciliation or retribution? What do you want? (Matthew 5:23-26)

What do you do when it costs too much to make things right?

Open Matthew 5:23-26.

Three times a year, observant Jews were to take time off work and travel to Jerusalem for the big festivals. They didn’t go empty-handed: they always brought God a gift that expressed their submission to his kingship, a sacrificial animal that acknowledged their place at God’s table.

So you’ve gone all the way to Jerusalem, bought the approved animal, and you’re leading it to the temple grounds. You’re meditating on how good it is to have a place in God’s family, when it reminds you of that guy who’s not so glad you’re in the family. He thinks you’ve treated him unjustly, charged him an unfair price, taken advantage of him when he was in trouble. The memory messes up your feeling of belonging.

Jesus says you stop at this point. Return the sacrifice animal. Seek out your estranged brother and be reconciled. Only then can you truly celebrate your place in the family. You can’t have a place at God’s table if you can’t share the table with that guy. Continue reading “Reconciliation or retribution? What do you want? (Matthew 5:23-26)”