Tag Archives: Matthew

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Sellouts and Revolutionaries

 

They both trod along the dusty streets of ancient Palestine: one as an outcast and traitor and the other as a would-be hero. One used his position to cheat and extort his own people. The other carried a dagger under his cloak to swiftly exact vengeance on agents of government extortion. Neither man would have hoped to meet the other. Yet, a stranger from a backwater town would bring the two of them together. In fact, this most unlikely pair would not only meet, but serve alongside each other. All that had previously defined them would give way to a new understanding and a new path of life.

On that most unexpected day, Matthew was collecting taxes from the people. He made sure to extract more than what was necessary to fill his coffers with unlawful profits. The stranger who came by the tax office that day looked like any other man, so it likely came as quite a shock to Matthew when the stranger called out to him, “Follow me.” No one from among the people of Israel would even desire to speak with Matthew—yet this stranger called after him and invited him to follow. To where, he did not know, but his invitation was irresistible. That very night, Matthew invited the stranger to his home for dinner and they reclined at the same table. Even to Matthew, it would have been a radical sight. Seated among the most despised members of society, didn’t the stranger know how deeply this company was hated? How was it that he had come to Matthew’s house, a man hated in all Israel for being a sellout to the Roman government? Yet, here was this intriguing stranger eating and drinking with outsiders and sellouts.(1)

The day that Simon the Zealot was approached would be no less surprising. The Zealots sought any and all means to overthrow their Roman oppressors. As revolutionaries, Simon’s political affiliates hated all that Matthew’s kind represented. For Simon, Matthew was nothing but a colluder with those who sought to oppress the people of Israel. Yet this stranger from Nazareth called both of these men to his side. “Follow me,” he asked. So along with a group of fisherman—Simon Peter, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—and this wretched tax collector, Simon the Zealot was invited to follow this stranger who gathered a most unexpected group of followers.(2)

Why would anyone call such an eclectic collection of people to become his followers? What kind of leader brings together people who for all practical purposes are at opposing ends of the spectrum with regards to their views of the world?

The man was Jesus of Nazareth. And his call to “follow” would upend all their expectations, replace all previous affiliations, and transform their views of the world. This unlikely group would follow Jesus beyond personal expectations and goals, as well as their expectations of him as their leader. The nature of his teachings and his form of radical hospitality would not only change their own lives and views, but transform the world. Jesus called Matthew, as well as Simon, sellouts and revolutionaries alike. And the power of Christ’s message is displayed in the fact that a tax collector authored one of the four gospels, and the Zealot most likely gave his life—not as a revolutionary hero, but as a martyr for the gospel.(3)

Jesus proclaimed good news good enough to bring together a tax collector and a zealot, men from entirely opposing camps, the poor and the rich, the outcast and the sellouts. Indeed, he declared that anyone who does the will of God is his brother and sister and mother. The good news was also given to a former blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor. But this is not what we remember the apostle Paul for either. We remember him for his efforts to take the good news throughout the Roman world. It is this man who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who would believe in him for life everlasting” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

The gospel has a way of reaching out and adopting into the family of Jesus a most unlikely group of characters, just as it did for Matthew and Simon and Paul. Jesus called them to follow him—together. And he continues to call disparate groups of individuals together today as the gospel goes forth into the utmost parts of the earth.

This, then, is both the challenge and the opportunity of the gospel. Because it is an invitation broad enough, wide enough, and good enough to include even me, it also reaches out and welcomes those I might not expect and bids me to serve alongside. It challenges me to leave my preconceptions behind, as the door to the kingdom of God swings open to fellow sinners who will become saints. And it ushers us in a community of new allegiances, a body only God could create.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) See Mark 2:13-17.

(2) See Mark 3:13-19.

(3) Many later church traditions suggest that Simon joined Jude in apostolic ministry. Later tradition suggests that Simon was martyred by being sawn in two. See for example, The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, 1275.

John MacArthur – A Traitor Turns to Christ (Matthew)

 

The twelve apostles included “Matthew the tax-gatherer” (Matt. 10:3).

God can use you despite your sinful past.

I remember reading a notice in a local newspaper announcing the opening of a new evangelical church in our community. It gave the date and time of the first services, then added, “our special guest star will be . . .” and named a popular Christian celebrity. In its attempt to appeal to unbelievers or simply draw a large crowd, the church today commonly uses that kind of approach.

Jesus, however, used a different approach. None of His disciples were famous at all. In fact, rather than drawing a favorable crowd, some of them might have repelled or even incited anger and hatred among His Jewish audience. Matthew was such a man because he was a despised tax-gatherer—one of many Jewish men employed by Rome to collect taxes from his own people. As such he was regarded as a traitor by his own countrymen.

The Roman tax system allowed tax collectors to keep anything they collected in excess of what was owed to Rome. That encouraged bribes, extortion, and other abuses.

To compound the issue, Matthew was among those who had the prerogative of taxing almost anything they wanted to tax—roads, bridges, harbors, axles, donkeys, packages, letters, imports, exports, merchandise, and so on. Such men could accumulate enormous wealth for themselves. You might remember another tax-gatherer named Zaccheus, who is described in Luke 19:2 as a wealthy man. His salvation was evidenced by his offer to repay fourfold to those he had defrauded (v. 8).

Some people think God can’t use them because they’re not famous or because of their past sins. But God has used Matthew, Zaccheus, and millions of others like them. Concentrate on your present purity and let God bless your ministry as He sees fit.

Suggestions for Prayer

Thank God that he has made you a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Minister in light of that reality!

For Further Study

Read Luke 19:1-10.

  • Where was Zaccheus when Jesus first spoke to him?
  • What was the reaction of the crowd when Jesus went to Zaccheus’s house?
  • What prompted Jesus to say that salvation had come to Zaccheus?

Ravi Zacharias Ministry –   Power, Control, and Mystery

 

One of the unique qualities of the Christian story is that the heart of it—the accounts of Jesus’s life and death—is presented in the voices of four different witnesses. During the season of Lent, it is compelling to look specifically at the different tellings of the events that led Jesus to the cross. The differences in each testimony offer an interesting glimpse of how personalities differ in their observing and experience of the world, as well as a potent reminder that the story of Jesus is not a flat and static conveying of information, but a story as alive as the one who was tortured at the hands of the powers of this world.

For instance, as one theologian observes, Matthew’s crucifixion narrative and greater gospel emphasizes “the way of the humiliated Christ.”(1) In my reading of Matthew, I am always struck by the interplay between power and control, an interesting dynamic on which the writer has chosen to focus. Over and above the motif shared with Mark, Matthew seems to add a dimension of inquiry about power itself, and along with it, the hint that all is not as it seems: Who wants control? Who thinks they’re in control? Who is really in control? Theologian Roy Harrisville compares it to the paradox and reversal at the heart of Jesus’s ministry, the passion of Christ itself enacting “truths earlier hidden in the predictions and parables.”(2)

Thus, where Mark’s decisive crowd before Pilate yells, “Crucify him” (15:13 and again in 14b) and Luke’s crowd similarly, if more emphatically in the Greek, yells, “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:21), Matthew’s crowd twice yells, “Let him be crucified” (27:22b and 23b). There is a hint of a distancing of responsibility. The crowds indeed want the crucifying done, but done to him by someone else. Luke seems to further draw the distinction of choice and control, adding of his crowd, “And they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed” (23:23).

Matthew’s account seems at first passive in the “who” of the act of crucifying, a crowd calling for death at a distance. Later Pilate, too, wants to distance himself from this responsibility, adding a hand-washing scene unique to Matthew’s narrative. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” says Pilate, “see to it yourselves” (27:24). The people, preferring control over the risk of release, answer, “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25).

Now phrased in terms of blood, Matthew’s interplay of power and control is made all the more potent. Like Jesus’s many parables with their jarring sense of mysterion (mystery that is not hidden, but revealed), Matthew seems to suggest there is one in control indeed, but it is not the one who seems to be holding the power. The image of Christ’s blood upon this blind—though professing to see—crowd and their children is chilling. For unknowingly, they have declared the very thing that the humiliated servant has set out to do: His blood be on us and on our children.

Harrisville illustrates this all the more profoundly in his analysis of Matthew’s narrating of the Last Supper and the curious words of Jesus about the “blood of the covenant,” now explained in this passion narrative before us:

“The statement about the ‘blood of the covenant’ (26:28) will have its explanation in subsequent events, in Judas’s confession (‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’ [27:24]), in Pilate’s avowal of innocence (‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ [27:4]), and in the people’s accepting responsibility for Jesus’s death (‘his blood be on us and on our children!’ [27:25]). All these will be the ‘many’ for whose forgiveness the blood of the covenant is poured out.“(3)

The story of Jesus as he moves toward the cross, told through eyes that remind us he has come for a world of unique individuals, is a story of power and weakness that turns our common assumptions and experience on its head. Like the parables, the way of the humiliated Christ confounds those who consider it, approaching in power, though hidden in the unlikely gift of a servant.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 147.

(2) Ibid., 158.

(3) Ibid., 159.

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry –  Mystery and Prayer

 

Even a casual reader of the Bible cannot help but notice many bold and staggering promises made concerning prayer. Perhaps none is more direct than Jesus’s statement in Mark’s gospel: All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Matthew and Luke record similar promises. Those who seek after God knock and God will open the door. All things that are asked for in prayer, with belief, will be received. So strong are these promises about prayer that the Greek language in which they were originally translated indicates that what is asked for is already accomplished. The one praying simply needs to believe the answer has already been received.(1)

It was reading bold promises like these found in the Bible that troubled English author Somerset Maugham. In his novel, Of Human Bondage, he tells a fictionalized account of an incident with prayer from which his faith never recovered. The central character in the novel, Philip, is a young boy, full of faith, who has a clubfoot. When Philip reads this verse from Mark about prayer, he is overjoyed. Now he would be able to play football with the other boys. The relentless teasing would cease, and he wouldn’t have to hide his foot any longer when swimming with other children. Philip immediately “prayed with all the power in his soul. No doubts assailed him. He was confident in the Word of God. And the night before he was to go back to school he went up to bed tremulous with excitement….he remembered at once that this was the morning of the miracle. His heart was filled with joy and gratitude. His first instinct was to put down his hand and feel the foot which was whole now, but to do this seemed to doubt the goodness of God. He knew that his foot was well. But at last, he made up his mind, and with the toes of his right foot he just touched his left. Then he passed his hand over it. He limped downstairs just as Mary Ann was going into the dining room for prayers, and then he sat down to breakfast.”(2)

Unanswered prayers prayed with utter conviction are particularly difficult to understand. Maugham, who had a stutter, prayed fervently for healing, but like his character Philip, his prayer was answered with a resounding “no” and his faith was never the same. Jesus implies in his teaching on prayer that like our earthly fathers, God longs to give us what is good in response to the asking, seeking, and knocking of prayer. “What father, if asked by his son for a fish will give him a snake? Or if his daughter asked for an egg, he would not give her a scorpion, would he?” Yet for Maugham, or his alter-ego Philip, how could he see his stuttering, or that clubfoot as a good gift, when all it brought him was merciless teasing and misery?

Most people—religious or non-religious—have experienced the pain of unanswered prayer. Whether in the simple prayers of childhood, or in the fervent prayers of the deeply faithful, it is an all too common human experience that prayers seemingly go unanswered. Prayers for God’s protection, God’s healing, and God’s intervention are answered for some, but others suffer accidents, injuries, illnesses, or death despite fervent prayer. Sometimes when we are most desperate to hear God’s voice, there is only a vast silence in return. Perhaps, we are tempted to give up praying all together. Emily Dickinson wrote of this temptation to despair over unanswered prayer:

There comes an hour when begging stops,

When the long interceding lips

Perceive their prayer is vain.(3)

Even if the divine answer is “wait,” the months and years of waiting can stretch on interminably making the most patient intercessor wonder what “good” gift could come in the endless waiting. So what is the good gift promised by Jesus?

Matthew and Luke present parallel teachings on this promise of prayer except that what Matthew implies, Luke makes explicit. In Matthew’s account Jesus tells his disciples that the Father will give what is good to those who ask Him. In Luke’s account, Jesus defines what is good and tells us that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. How might one understand the Holy Spirit as God’s abundant answer to prayer—even those prayers that go unanswered or receive an unwanted answer?

First, Christians believe that the promise of the Holy Spirit is the promise of God’s presence through all the circumstances of life. The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, the one who comes alongside.(4) The promise of God’s presence is meant to sustain, even in the mystery of “no” to our specific requests. Moreover, prayer is more than simply receiving answers to requests. Prayer is about joining in with the Spirit who groans on behalf of the creation. Indeed, as theologian John Calvin claimed about the prayers of lament in the Psalms, they are “among the unutterable groanings of which Paul makes mention in Romans 8:26, ‘For the spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’”(5)

In this way, Christians understand God’s good gift as the hope that God is present no matter what life brings. Hope that God is with us, and that God’s Spirit is groaning with us in our suffering offers reassurance that we too can rise from the ashes of the most crushing events and circumstances glimpsing what beauty remains and how God redeems.

Unanswered prayer will always be a mystery. For every person who prayers, there will be times when it seems the gift is a scorpion instead of an egg, or a snake instead of a fish. Yet perhaps as we wrestle with prayer, God’s bold promise to send the Holy Spirit is the only answer we could hope for: the good gift of God’s abiding presence, the power of redemption, and the promise of God’s creative work to make something beautiful from the chaos of our lives.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) See Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13

(2) Cited in Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 216-217.

(3) Ibid., 213.

(4) John 14:16, 26.

(5) Cited in J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015), 156.

 

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – If Two Agree

dr_bright

“I also tell you this – if two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask for, My Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matthew 18:19).

Some of the richest experiences of my life have occurred in the practice of meeting with one or two individuals to pray specifically for definite things. The Scripture promises that one person can defeat 1000 but two can defeat 10,000 (Deuteronomy 32:30).

I believe that same principle holds in prayer. When individuals pray together, agreeing concerning a certain matter – assuming, of course, that they are praying according to the Word and will of God – the mighty sources of deity are released in their behalf.

Some interpret this verse to refer to church discipline, rejecting the claim that I am making in principle that there is great power, supernatural power, released when God’s children unite together in prayer. We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Whatsoever we shall ask in prayer, believing, we shall receive (Matthew 21:22). If we ask anything according to God’s will, He hears and answers us (1 John 5:14). If we ask anything in Christ’s name, He will do it (John 14:14).

When two or more individuals unite and together claim these promises concerning a certain matter whatever it may be, they should expect answers. That is in accordance with God’s promise and God does not lie.

Bible Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: I will seek opportunities to unite with others to pray specifically concerning the needs of individual believers or my church or missions around the world, and we will expect answers in accordance with God’s promise.

Max Lucado – God Sees with the Eyes of a Father

Max Lucado

Matthew 14:14 says. “He had compassion on them.” When Matthew writes that Jesus had compassion on people, he’s not saying that Jesus felt casual pity for them. Matthew is saying that Jesus felt their hurt in His gut. He felt the limp of the disabled. He felt the hurt of the diseased. He felt the loneliness of the leper. He felt the embarrassment of the sinful. And once He felt their hurts, He couldn’t help but heal their hurts. He was so touched by their needs that He forgot His own needs. He was so moved by the people’s hurts that He put His hurts on the back burner.

God sees with the eyes of a Father. He sees our defects, errors, and blemishes; but He also sees our value. Maybe that’s why God brings hurting people into your world, too!

From In the Eye of the Storm

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Passion and Power

Ravi Z

One of the unique qualities of the Christian story is that it is presented in the voices of four different witnesses. During the season of Lent, it is interesting to look specifically at the different tellings of the events that led Jesus to the cross. The differences in each testimony offer an interesting glimpse of how personalities differ in their observing and experience of the world, as well as a potent reminder that the story of Jesus is not a flat and static conveying of information but a story as alive as the one who was tortured at the hands of the powers of this world.

For instance, as one theologian observes, Matthew’s crucifixion narrative and greater gospel emphasizes “the way of the humiliated Christ.”(1) In my reading of Matthew, I am always struck by the interplay between power and control, an interesting dynamic on which the writer has chosen to focus. Over and above the motif shared with Mark, Matthew seems to add a dimension of inquiry about power, and along with it, the hint that all is not as it seems: Who wants control? Who thinks they’re in control? Who is really in control? Roy Harrisville compares it to the paradox and reversal at the heart of Jesus’s ministry, the passion of Christ itself enacting “truths earlier hidden in the predictions and parables.”(2)

Thus, where Mark’s decisive crowd before Pilate yells, “Crucify him” (15:13 and again in 14b) and Luke’s crowd similarly, if more emphatically in the Greek, yells, “Crucify, crucify him!” (23:21), Matthew’s crowd twice yells, “Let him be crucified” (27:22b and 23b). There is a hint of a distancing of responsibility. The crowds indeed want the crucifying done, but done to him by someone else. Luke seems to further draw the distinction of choice and control, adding of his crowd, “And they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed” (23:23).

Matthew’s account seems at first passive in the “who” of the act of crucifying, a crowd calling for death at a distance. Later Pilate, too, wants to distance himself from this responsibility, adding a hand-washing scene unique to Matthew’s narrative. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” says Pilate, “see to it yourselves” (27:24). The people, preferring control over the risk of release, answer, “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25).

Now phrased in terms of blood, Matthew’s interplay of power and control is made all the more potent. Like Jesus’s many parables with their jarring sense of mysterion (mystery that is not hidden, but revealed), Matthew seems to suggest there is one in control indeed, but it is not the one who seems to be holding the power. The image of Christ’s blood upon this blind—though professing to see—crowd and their children is chilling. For unknowingly, they have declared the very thing that the humiliated servant has set out to do: His blood be on us and on our children.

Harrisville illustrates this all the more profoundly in his analysis of Matthew’s narrating of the Last Supper and the curious words of Jesus about the “blood of the covenant,” now explained in this passion narrative before us:

“The statement about the ‘blood of the covenant’ (26:28) will have its explanation in subsequent events, in Judas’s confession (‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’ [27:24]), in Pilate’s avowal of innocence (‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ [27:4]), and in the people’s accepting responsibility for Jesus’s death (‘his blood be on us and on our children!’ [27:25]). All these will be the ‘many’ for whose forgiveness the blood of the covenant is poured out.“(3)

The story of Jesus as he moves toward the cross, told through eyes that remind us he has come for a world of unique individuals, is a story of power and weakness that turns our common assumptions and experience on its head. Like the parables, the way of the humiliated Christ confounds us, approaching in power, though hidden in the unlikely gift of a servant.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 147.

(2) Ibid., 158.

(3) Ibid., 159.

 

Joyce Meyer – You’re Invited

Joyce meyer

The next day Jesus desired and decided to go into Galilee; and He found Philip and said to him, Join Me as My attendant and follow Me. — John 1:43

When Jesus invited people to become His disciples and follow Him, I think He was basically asking them if they wanted to join His party. I realize that He was talking about His group, but I think traveling with Jesus was probably a lot of fun as well as a lot of hard work. Repeatedly throughout the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) we see that Jesus invited people to leave their lifestyles and side with His party; He is still issuing that invitation today.

Living for God, serving Him and others can be so much fun if we approach it with the mind of Christ. It comes down to our attitude. My favorite image of Jesus is one I have seen of Him laughing. Jesus’ mission could not have been any more serious and yet I am positive that He laughed with His disciples, made jokes about their goofy ways, enjoyed food, rested and somehow managed to turn the mission into something that was enjoyable. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and decide we want to be a Christian and live a Christian lifestyle, we are not going to a solemn assembly or a funeral; we are joining His party.

Jesus can even make dying to self, which means being delivered from selfish, self-centered living, an interesting journey if we look at it properly. I speak a lot on spiritual maturity, dying to selfishness, taking up our cross and living holy lives, and I am continually amazed at how much people laugh while I do it. Somehow the Holy Spirit brings the teaching out of me in a way that makes people laugh while they are being corrected. God is amazing! People tell me all the time how funny I am and yet I speak a very straightforward, hard-hitting message that is quite serious. I have joined Jesus’ party.

Love Yourself Today: What about you? Have you joined Jesus’ party? Are you enjoying your life and having a good time as you follow Him? You’re invited!

 

Our Daily Bread — The Rock

Our Daily Bread

Matthew 7:24-27; Ephesians 2:18-22

Jesus Christ Himself [is] the chief cornerstone. —Ephesians 2:20

On a trip to Massachusetts, my husband and I visited Plymouth Rock, an iconic symbol in the United States. It is traditionally thought to be the place where the Pilgrims, who traveled to America on the Mayflower in 1620, first set foot. While we enjoyed learning about its significance, we were surprised and disappointed that it is so small. We learned that due to erosion and people chipping off pieces, it is now just one-third its original size.

The Bible refers to Jesus as a Rock (1 Cor. 10:4), who never changes (Heb. 13:8). He is the solid Rock on which we can build our lives. The church (the body of believers) is built on a foundation with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” In Him all believers are joined together (Eph. 2:20-22).

Jesus is the solid Rock we can cling to when the storms of life blow and beat against us (Matt. 7:25). Writer Madeleine L’Engle said: “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet and what is sand.”

Plymouth Rock is an interesting mass of minerals with an intriguing historical significance. But Jesus is a precious cornerstone, and those who trust in Him will always have a solid Rock to depend upon. —Cindy Hess Kasper

O build on the Rock, forever sure,

The firm and true foundation,

Its hope is the hope which shall endure—

The hope of our salvation. —Belden

Christ, the Rock, is our sure hope.

Bible in a year: Jeremiah 46-47; Hebrews 6

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Body Only God Could Create

Ravi Z

They both trod along the dusty streets of ancient Palestine: one as an outcast and traitor and the other as a would-be hero. One used his position to cheat and extort his own people. The other carried a dagger under his cloak to swiftly exact vengeance on agents of government extortion. Neither man would have hoped to meet the other. Yet, a stranger from a backwater town would bring the two of them together. In fact, this most unlikely pair would not only meet, but live alongside each other for three years as they followed this stranger. All that had previously defined them would give way to an entirely new path of life.

On that most unexpected day, Matthew was collecting taxes from the people. He made sure to extract more than what was necessary to fill his coffers with unlawful profits. The stranger who came by the tax office that day looked like any other man, so it likely came as quite a shock to Matthew when the stranger called out to him, “Follow me.” No one from among the people of Israel would even desire to speak with Matthew—yet this stranger called after him and invited him to follow. To where, he did not know, but his invitation was irresistible. That very night, Matthew invited the stranger to his home for dinner and they reclined at the same table. Even to Matthew, it would have been a radical sight. Seated among the most despised members of society, didn’t the stranger know how deeply this company was hated? How was it that he had come to Matthew’s house, a man hated in all Israel for being a sellout to the Roman government? Yet, here was this intriguing stranger eating and drinking with outsiders and sellouts.(1)

The day that Simon the Zealot was approached would be no less surprising. The Zealots sought any and all means to overthrow their Roman oppressors. As revolutionaries, Simon’s political affiliates hated all that Matthew’s kind represented. For Simon, Matthew was nothing but a colluder with those who sought to oppress the people of Israel. Yet this stranger from Nazareth called both of these men to his side. “Follow me,” he asked. So along with a group of fisherman—Simon Peter, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—and this wretched tax collector, Simon the Zealot was invited to follow this stranger who gathered a most unexpected group of followers.(2)

Why would anyone call such an eclectic collection of people to become his followers? What kind of leader brings together people who for all practical purposes are at opposing ends of the spectrum with regards to their views of the world?

The man was Jesus of Nazareth. And his call to “follow” would upend all their expectations, replace all previous affiliations, and transform their views of the world. This unlikely group would follow Jesus beyond personal expectations and goals, as well as their expectations of him as their leader. The nature of his teachings and his form of radical hospitality would not only change their own lives and views, but transform the world. Jesus called Matthew as well as Simon, sellouts and revolutionaries alike. And the power of Christ’s message is displayed in the fact that a tax collector authored one of the four gospels, and the Zealot most likely gave his life—not as a revolutionary hero, but as a martyr.(3)

Jesus proclaimed good news good enough to bring together a tax collector and a zealot, men from entirely opposing camps, the poor and the rich, the outcast and the sellouts.  Indeed, he declared that anyone who does the will of God is family-his brother and sister and mother. The good news was also given to a former blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor. But this is not what we remember the apostle Paul for either. We remember him for his efforts to take the good news throughout the Roman world. It is this man who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who would believe in him for life everlasting” (I Timothy 1:15-16).

The gospel has a way of reaching out and adopting into the family of Jesus a most unlikely group of characters, just as it did for Matthew and Simon and Paul. Jesus called them to follow him—together. And he continues to call disparate groups of individuals together today as the gospel goes forth into the utmost parts of the earth.

This, then, is both the challenge and the opportunity of the gospel. Because it is an invitation broad enough, wide enough, and good enough to include even me, it also reaches out and welcomes those I might not expect and bids me to serve alongside. It challenges me to leave my preconceptions behind, as the door to the kingdom of God swings open to fellow sinners who will become saints. And it ushers us in a community of new allegiances, a body only God could create.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

(1) See Mark 2:13-17.

(2) See Mark 3:13-19.

(3) Many later church traditions suggest that Simon joined Jude in apostolic ministry. Later tradition suggests that Simon was martyred by being sawn in two. See for example, The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, 1275.

 

Greg Laurie – Why Going to Church Is Important, Part 4

greglaurie

In the previous weeks, we have looked at a couple of reasons why the church exists: the exaltation of God and the edification of the saints. But let’s look at a third reason: The church is called to evangelize the world.

This purpose of the church is a natural outgrowth of the first two. If we are glorifying God and edifying one another, we will naturally want to share the hope of salvation with others through our loving actions and words. Healthy sheep will reproduce themselves. This was Christ’s commandment before He ascended into heaven: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere” (Mark 16:15 NLT). The church should do just that.

We are light to the world and salt to the culture. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (NKJV). We do good works in our community: feeding, clothing, helping people get off drugs. We spend countless hours counseling people with marital problems. We reach out to unwed mothers, even helping them to find homes for their unwanted babies. The list goes on and on. Our purpose is to shine God’s light in this dark world.

But we are also salt. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless” (NLT). Salt, in biblical times, was used to preserve meat. The church is a preservative in the culture. If you don’t believe that, just look at the world after the church is removed: Antichrist emerges effectively unchallenged.

As that preservative, we stand up for what is right and true. We register and we vote our consciences, informed by our biblical worldview. We make no apology for that. We lift up Jesus Christ and we oppose sin. The story is told of President Calvin Coolidge, who returned home from church one Sunday. His wife asked him what the minister spoke on. Coolidge, a man of few words, simply said, “Sin!” “What else did he say?” she asked. President Coolidge replied, “He was against it!” That’s right, we are against sin and yet we love sinners and want them to be saved.

We are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The church makes a huge mistake when it tries too hard to relate and compromise. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”

If you want to see church in a whole new way, stop thinking like a consumer. Start thinking like a disciple. It’s not about you; it is about God and others. Ask the Lord what your place is in the church. Come not to be served, but to serve, and watch what God will do. Church will come alive to you as a result. Let God revive you, and may it impact your church and your country as a result. May God fill us with the Holy Spirit to impact this world.

Greg Laurie – How to Spot a Wolf

greglaurie

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” —Matthew 7:15

An inspector who worked for London’s Scotland Yard had the job of detecting false currency from the true. Someone commented to him that he must spend a lot of time looking at counterfeit money.

“Oh, no,” he answered. “I just spend all day working with real money. Then, when I come across a counterfeit bill, I know immediately.”

The apostle Paul warned the elders of the Ephesian church, “I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out!” (Acts 20:29–31).

That is why it is important to declare the whole counsel of God. There is false teaching, and there are false teachers who lead people astray. The tricky thing about false teaching is that it is not 100 percent false. Maybe it is 20 percent false. Maybe most of it is good and 20 percent is false. Yet that small part that is weird or odd could be spiritually destructive. So if I see a false teaching, I will try to identify it and then teach what the Bible says.

I believe that the best thing I can do is to help people become as conversant with the Bible as possible. The more time we spend in the Bible, the more likely we will recognize that something isn’t accurate when it comes along.

Of course, we could spend the rest of our lives researching every aberrant teaching or cult out there. But I would suggest that we instead spend our time absorbing the Word of God. Then we will be like that inspector in Scotland Yard and recognize when something false surfaces because we know what is true.

 

Joyce Meyer – Simple, Believing Prayer

Joyce meyer

And when you pray, do not heap up phrases (multiply words, repeating the same ones over and over) as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking…. For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.—Matthew 6:7–8

We must develop confidence in simple, believing prayer. We need the confidence that even if we simply say, “God, help me,” He hears and will answer. We can depend on God to be faithful to do what we have asked Him to do, as long as our request is in accordance with His will. We should know that He wants to help us because He is our Helper (Hebrews 13:6).

Too often we get caught up in our own works concerning prayer. Sometimes we try to pray so long, loud, and fancy that we lose sight of the fact that prayer is our conversation with God. The length or loudness or eloquence of our prayer is not the issue; it is the sincerity of our heart and the confidence we have that God hears and will answer us that is important.

Sometimes we try to sound so devout and elegant that we get lost. We don’t even know what we are trying to pray about. If we could ever get delivered from trying to impress God, we would be a lot better off.

Lord, free me from the belief that my prayers must be eloquent and just right. Keep reminding me that what You really want from me is a heartfelt conversation. Amen.

 

Our Daily Bread — O Glorious Day!

Our Daily Bread

Matthew 27:27-31;28:1-6

He is not here; for He is risen. —Matthew 28:6

It was the day after. My favorite team had just lost its final game and the dream of a championship was now over. It was cold out and a bit gloomy as I got in the car to go to work. None of this should have mattered much, but it was shaping up to be a blue Monday.

But then a song came on the radio that transformed my perspective. It was Casting Crowns singing “Glorious Day.” “One day they led [Christ] up Calvary’s mountain, one day they nailed Him to die on a tree.” Nothing encouraging yet. “Suffering anguish, despised and rejected”—more bad news. But then the song describes the good news of Christ’s resurrection and His victory over death.

Out of that worst of days—out of the noontime darkness on that Jerusalem hillside—has come the only true hope for mankind. Because Jesus “took the nails for me,” as the song says, “He carried my sins far away.” And one day He’s coming back—“O glorious day!”

Perhaps today did not start out well for you. Maybe you face a host of trouble that threatens to turn this into a day of despair. Turn your attention to Jesus. Review what He did for you at Calvary and how He conquered death by His resurrection: “He is not here; for He is risen”! (Matt. 28:6). That can make any day a glorious day! —Dave Branon

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;

Buried, He carried my sins far away;

Rising, He justified freely forever;

One day He’s coming—O glorious day! —Chapman

Christ’s empty tomb fills us with hope.

Bible in a year: Isaiah 62-64; 1 Timothy 1

 

 

Joyce Meyer – The Fruit of the Spirit

Joyce meyer

The fruit of the [Holy] Spirit…is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness, (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence).—Galatians 5:22–23

When we are filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, we see His fruit manifested through us. We have peace and joy and we are good to people. Jesus has commanded us to love one another as He loved us. It is important for the world to see this love manifested. The people of the world are hungry for truth and need to see that God can change people. They need to see God’s love in action in order to make them hungry and thirsty for Him.

The Bible teaches us that we are to be light and salt (see Matthew 5:13–14). The world is in darkness, but Christians filled with the Holy Spirit bring light everywhere they go. The world is tasteless, but Christians bring salt (flavor) to life when they are present.

We have a big job to do as Christians and we should always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit concerning how we treat people. God is in us making His appeal to the world through us; we are His personal representatives (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). In view of that fact, Paul said we should lay hold of the divine favor offered to us. We must work with the Holy Spirit to develop the fruit of the Spirit to a full measure so we can behave in a way that glorifies God and draws people to Him.

The fruit of the Spirit is developed as we go through difficulties in life and continue, with God’s help, to treat people the way He would. Stay strong in the Lord and remember that the world is watching you and they need you to be salt and light.

God’s word for you today: No matter what challenges you might face today, continue to be kind to everyone you encounter.

 

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Life’s Greatest Investment

dr_bright

“And anyone who gives up his home, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or property, to follow Me, shall receive a hundred times as much in return [in this life], and shall have eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

I can tell you on the authority of God’s Word and from personal experience and observation that this promise is true. From my own commitment – made more than 30 years ago – and after having spoken with hundreds of Christian leaders and humble servants of God around the world, and observed thousands who I have counseled, I do not know of anyone whom God is using in any significant way who would say that this spiritual law has not been true in his life.

The time to invest your time, talent and treasure for Christ and His kingdom is now. The powerful tide of secular humanism, atheism, materialism, communism and other anti-God forces us threatening to engulf the world. From the human perspective, on the basis of what I see and hear, I could be very pessimistic about the future freedom of mankind.

On the contrary, I am very optimistic, not on the basis of what I see and hear, but on the basis of what I believe God is saying to my heart and of what I am observing that He is doing throughout the world. I am constantly reminded and assured, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, KJV). Satan and his demonic forces were defeated 2,000 years ago.

Do you want a safe formula for success? Then recognize and practice the following:

First, remember that everything entrusted to our care actually belongs to God. We are His stewards here on earth.

Second, God does not want us to hoard His blessings.

Third, “As you sow, you reap.”

Fourth, invest generously – above the tithe in time, talent and treasure.

Fifth, invest supernaturally – by faith.

Bible Reading: Matthew 25:35-40

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: Recognizing myself as God’s steward, I will prayerfully seek to learn what He would have me to do to maximize my life for His glory through the investment of my time, talent and treasure.

 

Charles Stanley – Having Increased Faith

Charles Stanley

Genesis 22:1-14

We’re determined to make spiritual progress. No longer content with little faith, we are removing our gaze from ourselves and putting it onto the Lord. We are reaching for greater faith.

We start by becoming students of the Bible who have a compelling desire to experience the Lord’s presence, develop greater intimacy with Him, and be conformed to Christlikeness. A second characteristic of deeper trust is a heavy reliance on the Holy Spirit, evidenced by the habit of looking to Him before making decisions. Third, we demonstrate the willingness to wait on God and trust what He says. The Lord commended the centurion for his strong convictions. Trusting in the person and character of Jesus, the soldier believed Christ’s words were all that was required (Matthew 8:5-10).

But there is an even higher level of faith, where unbelief is cast out and only trust in God remains. Abraham displayed such flawless confidence when the Lord commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. Little faith would never have cut any wood or saddled donkeys to make the trip. Great faith—though it may have balked about putting Isaac on the altar—would have traveled as instructed, believing in God to work things out. Complete faith will act as Abraham did: he believed what the Lord had promised him yet carried out the divine instructions, even though they appeared to contradict God’s pledge.

May complete faith be the prayer and aspiration of your heart. The Holy Spirit is always ready to help you reach that next level of faith.

 

 

Joyce Meyer – Positive Minds

Joyce meyer

Jesus said, Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.—Matthew 8:13

Sometimes when I stand behind the pulpit, and before I speak, I pause and my gaze sweeps across the audience. I look at the faces of the people. I love to see the bright smiles and expressions of anticipation, but there are always a few who look downtrodden and discouraged. I don’t know anything about them and I don’t want to judge them, but their faces look sad. They look as if they have lost hope and expect nothing positive to happen—and too often, they get exactly what they expect. I understand those discouraged people; I was once one of them.

Here’s a simple fact I’ve learned: Positive minds produce positive lives, but negative minds produce negative lives. The New Testament tells the story of a Roman soldier whose servant was sick, and the soldier wanted Jesus to heal him. That wasn’t uncommon—many wanted Jesus to heal them or their loved ones in those days. But this soldier, instead of asking Jesus to come to his servant, expressed his belief that if Jesus would just speak the word, his servant would be healed (see Matthew 8:8). Jesus marveled at his faith and sent out His word to heal the servant. The soldier’s positive mindset—his faith—brought positive results. He expected healing, and that’s exactly what happened.

Too often, we cry to Jesus to heal us, to take care of our finances, or to deliver us from problems, but we don’t fully expect the good things to happen. We allow our minds to focus on the negative aspects. Doubt and unbelief war against our minds and steal our faith if we allow it.

As I wrote in my book Battlefield of the Mind, many years ago I was extremely negative. I used to say that if I had two positive thoughts in a row, my mind would get in a cramp. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but that’s how I saw myself. I lived with the same philosophy that other people have: If we don’t expect anything good to happen, we won’t be disappointed when it doesn’t.

I could have excused my negative attitude by telling everyone about my disappointments in life—and I had many. It wasn’t just my lack of expectation. It was more than that. Because I thought negatively, I spoke negatively. When people told me of their spiritual victories, I’d think, That won’t last. When people spoke of their faith, I’d smile, but inwardly I would think that they were gullible. I could always figure out ways that plans would go wrong or people would disappoint me.

Was I happy? Of course not. Negative thinkers are never happy. It’s too long of a story to explain how I came to face that reality, but once I realized what a negative person I was, I cried out to the Lord to help me.

I learned that if I kept studying the Word of God, I could push away negative thoughts. God’s Word is positive and uplifting. My responsibility was to become the kind of believer who honors God with her thoughts, as well as with her actions and her deeds.

I understood the remorse David must have felt when he wrote Psalm 51: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your steadfast love . . .” is the way he starts. I especially meditated on verse 9: “Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my guilt and iniquities.” I hadn’t sinned the same way David did, of course, but my negative thinking and bad attitude was sin. It wasn’t just weakness or a bad habit. When I focused on negative thinking, I was rebelling against God.

The Lord had mercy on me. As I continued in His Word and in prayer, He freed me from Satan’s stronghold.

Freedom is available for all of us.

Gracious God, thank You for every deliverance in my life. Thank You for setting me free from negative and wrong thinking. Thank You for defeating Satan in this area of my life. Amen.

Our Daily Bread — Barrier-Free Love

Our Daily Bread

Matthew 23:37-39

O Jerusalem . . . ! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! —Matthew 23:37

Not long ago I heard the distressed chirping of a bird coming from the side of my neighbor’s house. I discovered that a nest of baby birds was inside a vent covered by a screen, placing a barrier between the mother bird who was trying to feed her hungry chicks. After I told the neighbors, they removed the screen and took the nest and chicks to a safe place to be cared for.

Few things are as heartbreaking as a barrier to love. Christ, the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, experienced a barrier to His love when His chosen people rejected Him. He used the word picture of a hen and her baby chicks to describe their unwillingness to receive it: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . ! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).

Our sin is a barrier that separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus took care of the barrier to God’s love by His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection (Rom. 5:8-17; 8:11). Now He longs for us to experience His love and accept this gift. —Dennis Fisher

My heart is stirred whene’er I think of Jesus,

That blessed Name that sets the captive free;

The only Name through which I find salvation,

No name on earth has meant so much to me. —Eliason

Through His cross, Jesus rescues and redeems.

Bible in a year: Isaiah 50-52; 1 Thessalonians 5

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Message and Mystery

Ravi Z

An interesting display of language and culture befell my husband and me while standing in line at a cafe. The owner of the shop is a friendly man whose primary language is Hindi, though he took our order in English. The one preparing the desserts was a new employee, in the process of being trained, who spoke neither Hindi nor English, but only Spanish. Relaying our order along with the steps it would take to make it, the owner spoke in careful, fragmented Spanish, at one point stopping to ask his wife something in Hindi and clarifying something with us in English. “Te hables Espanol?” my husband immediately asked, impressed at the sight of such a blend of languages. “Not really,” the owner replied. “But the teacher is no good unless he speaks the language of the student.”

I have often wondered what went through the minds of the disciples as Jesus spoke of mustard seeds, wine skins, bread and flesh, and thieves in the night. In the three years they spent together as rabbi and pupils, I am sure the question often crossed their minds: What is this language he is speaking? More than once, the Gospels impart that the disciples conferred with each other like a group of befuddled students—What is he saying? Eventually, someone usually decided they had to ask the teacher himself. As Jesus finished telling a crowd of people a story about seeds and soil, the disciples took him aside and asked about his communication style. “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”(1)

I suspect his answer did not offer the clarity they were looking to receive. Jesus responded, “I speak to them in parables because ‘though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes… But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:13-16).

Something in this at once reminds me of the circular discussions we have with children. There are certain lines parents use to signal the end of the current arsenal of questioning. Coming from a parent, “Because I said so,” is intended to be a conversation stopper. I would guess “Because God said so” is all the more hindering. In effect, Jesus seems to say matter-of-factly, “I speak to them in stories they don’t understand because they don’t understand.” I imagine it was equally silencing for his students to be the ones expressing the confusion and yet to be told they are the ones who understand. To an already bewildering retort, Jesus seems to add, “And I speak to you in stories you don’t understand because you do understand.”  Nonetheless, after calling the disciples blessed because their eyes and ears were getting it, Jesus proceeds to explain the entire parable to them in great detail.

Though easily discounted, particularly in a world where mind and thought are often the emphasis, understanding seems to hold elements well beyond mere recognition. There are some students for whom language is not the crux of their failure to learn. But if it is possible to see and not perceive, to hear and not understand, perhaps it is also possible to hold the weight of a word or thought or soul before you, knowing there is far more to get your arms around.

What Jesus meant by all his talk about seeds, I’m not sure the disciples saw clearly before it was explained to them.  But that the man before them and his strange manner of speaking had more to do with reality than they could yet grasp was knowledge that opened their eyes along the journey and made them blessed. He was full of mystery, and yet he was a mystery that had been revealed to them, one who walked and ate with them. I imagine their excitement was palpable when Jesus promised that a time was coming when he would speak to them “plainly.” But regardless of how he was speaking, the disciples knew their teacher was offering words that somehow reached beyond them, in a language that would out-stand their own wilting lives.

The words God has chosen to speak we may not fully understand at first hearing, but that God is one who holds value and purpose in revelation might compel us to listen or see or wait quietly again and again. Christ’s parables leave us asking not only, “What is he saying in this parable about the real world” but far more invasively they leave us inquiring, “What is the real world?” However this question is asked, with ears hardly hearing, with eyes opened or closed, in Hindi or English or Spanish, how wonderful that there is an answer.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Matthew 13:10.