Jesus’ rant against the Pharisees (Matthew 23) ends up revealing the struggle between life and death for the world. It’s the most detailed explanation he ever gave of the meaning of the cross.
The gospel is good news of peace. The world’s problems can’t be resolved while people take power over others. At every level — domestic violence, community oppression, cultural genocide, international war — the heart of evil is people claiming power over others, power enforced by death (or at least the threat of death). We won’t be at peace until we stop grasping power, and honour the One to whom it belongs.
That’s how Jesus announced it in Jerusalem. He shamed those who had taken on the role of community leaders, labelling them pretenders who were blocking God’s reign (23:13). He accused them of plundering (harpagē) without restraint (akrasia) (23:25). That unusual pair of words also turns up in Josephus’ description of Antiochus IV seizing Jerusalem: he plundered it and slaughtered people excessively, overwhelmed by an unrestrained craving for revenge (Wars 1.34). It’s true: those who grasp power plunder the community and destroy the sheep because they’re not answering to anyone (Ezekiel 34; John 10:7-11).
Continue reading “The power of life and death (Matthew 23:25-39)”
Leadership: it’s all about who you’re serving.
On Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, the crowds love him, but the leaders feel threatened. After silencing his enemies, Jesus turns to the crowds and explains the reason for this conflict. What he says about the leaders isn’t pretty.
We shudder at the word hypocrite. Who wants to be accused of duplicity? It’s hard to defend against the accusation that my inner intentions don’t match my actions. But that understanding of hypocrisy reflects our culture of individualism, where personal authenticity is the greatest virtue. There’s a bit of that in Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees and Torah scholars, but that wasn’t his main concern.
Continue reading “Leadership is supporting people, not social climbing (Matthew 23:1-12)”
A king giving his life to serve many? The strategy redeems his kingdom, forming the life of the redeemed.
How do you understand this statement from Jesus?
Matthew 20:28 (NIV, || Mark 10:45):
… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Many of my friends hear this text saying that, even though I’m a sinner, Jesus paid the price for me. It’s about my salvation. Many theologians agree: in the Gospels, it’s a crucial text on atonement. There’s even been speculation over how the transaction worked: if the devil had us kidnapped, did God pay the ransom (Jesus’ life?) to the devil?
Read the verse in context, and you’ll see Jesus was speaking of his kingship. The previous four chapters (two in Mark) focused on his royal identity: Son of the heavenly sovereign, God’s anointed ruler (the Christ), the Son of Man to whom God gives the kingship (starting from 16:13-28). The immediate context contrasts Jesus’ kingship with how the rulers of the nations exercise their authority by lording it over people (20:24). Jesus’ statement is about the nature of his kingship, and the kind of kingdom he runs.
Continue reading “How serving can ransom many (Matthew 20:28)”
Who’s managing the garden?
Open Matthew 15:10-20.
I’m blown away by the relational intelligence Jesus used in managing people, even those who threatened his leadership. He’d upset some locals through table fellowship with sinners, but a whole new threat level arrives when Pharisees and Bible teachers from Jerusalem come to undermine him (Matthew 15:1-2). To anyone who knows where the story is headed, this feels ominous.
Continue reading “Jesus’ relational intelligence (Matthew 15:10-20)”
With no Fed Ex or postal service in the first century, letters like the one we’ve been reading (Ephesians) were carried by hand. That’s why we’re introduced to Tychicus, the courier tasked with personally delivering this letter. Continue reading “A courier for God’s house (Ephesians 6:21-22)”
Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.
Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”
Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.
I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.
Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.
The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this: Continue reading “The scandal of George Pell”
Yesterday Steve McAlpine posted on the scandals that keep recurring in our mega-churches. He wants to help us break the cycle by recognizing the shape abusive leadership takes:
The recurring central theme to these scandals is the manner in which a concerned, godly eldership is first enervated by an increasingly toxic church leader, then replaced by that church leader, before finally being excoriated publicly by that church leader, with the new leadership on stage leading the tomato throwing exercise. …
That’s the pattern. It’s that simple. You could throw it in with the seven or so Hollywood standard movie scripts that exist and it wouldn’t look out of place, so step-by-step, formulaic it is.
Why does this keep happening? Steve offers two suggestions, and I’d like to take this further. Continue reading “Those mega-church scandals”
Our Shepherd empowers us to care for his people.
Open Matthew 10:5-8.
“Sheep without a shepherd” — it’s a disturbing image for a ruler who cares for his people (9:36). One man cannot round up the scattered sheep (9:37-38), so Jesus commissions twelve undershepherds (10:1-4), sending them to the lost sheep to announce his kingship (10:5-8).
Continue reading “How the Shepherd gathers his sheep (Matthew 10:5-8)”
What does it mean to be a leader in God’s kingdom? God desires “Shepherds After My Own Heart.”
The best study on Christian leadership I’ve ever read is Timothy Laniak’s book, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (IVP, 2006). Where many leadership books derive principles from business or bureaucratic settings, Laniak derives his from the heart of God, as expressed in the Biblical narrative. Continue reading ““Shepherds After My Own Heart””