We talk about blessing, we pray for blessing, we read about blessings in the Bible, but have we ever stopped and asked – what does it really mean? You can go on any form of social media you choose and find the tag #blessed. Christians and non-Christians alike will call almost any life event a blessing. I’ve seen #blessed on some of the most ridiculous things have I have been researching for this. Things like 6 pack abs #blessed, a new car with a camo paint job #blessed, a video of a birthday party at a bar #blessed, three new Louis Vuitton wallets #blessed. Are we blessed when life is fun? Are we blessed when things in our life are going well? Is a blessing having all we need and most of what we want? Is it God’s favor in our lives that the blessing? Prosperity, like health, wealth and everything else? I don’t think any of these things are specifically excluded as blessings but if we think these things are in and of themselves the blessing we may be missing the point. One thing we can probably agree on is that blessings are a good thing, and we want as much of it as possible. But when we try to give a clear definition of a blessing, suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear. We talk about a blessing all the time as believers but is it possible that we don’t really know exactly what we’re talking about or asking for?
I. How do we define a blessing and is our definition of blessing the same Gods?
The first mention of a blessing in the Bible is in the very first chapter on Genesis and begins to paint a picture of what a blessing really is, God says this after he created the great sea monsters and all the swarms of living creatures teeming in the sea and every winged bird above the earth.
Genesis 1:22 NASB God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the sea, and let birds multiply on earth.”
So, this verse fits in with the idea of prosperity, with being fruitful and multiplying of the animals. And the fact that God’s first blessing mentioned in the Bible wasn’t even to humans, it was to the sea creatures and birds, speaks to the point that blessings aren’t unique to or designed for mankind only.
The next mention of a blessing is just a few verses later.
Genesis 1:28 NASB God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
This is interesting, God first blesses the birds and sea creatures to be fruitful and multiply and then 6 verses later blesses Adam and Eve in a different, greater way. This blessing includes the same elements of prosperity the animals received but also the permission and authority to subdue and rule over the animals. This indicates that even though the animals were blessed, they aren’t intended to have God’s ultimate favor or an easy life of dominion or dominance.
The next blessing is mention in the next chapter of Genesis right at the end of the creation process as God was finishing His work.
Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Ok, first the animals get a blessing, then mankind, and now a day? This blessing also breaks the pattern of blessings being about multiplying and bearing fruit – what does it mean that God blesses the Sabbath? He blesses it and makes it holy, as He is holy, He sets it aside as a day of rest.
DEFINITION OF BLESSING
Essentially, blessing is God giving power to something or someone to do that which they are designed or intended to do. The creatures were supposed to fill the earth and multiply, so God gave them His blessing, or power, to do it. Mankind were also supposed to multiply and tend to the rest of creation. And God gave them power to do that too. When it comes to the Sabbath, God infuses it with His power to be all it was designed to be, a holy day of rest, connected to God. Blessing is God granting the power to do what He intends us to do.
II. Blessing God and Blessing others
When we bless God (Psalms 103), we are recognizing Him as the rightful and only source of all blessing and good things. By His power in us, we have the power to do and be all He intends us to be. Apart from that power at work within us, we are weak, easily swayed and tossed and influenced by things not of God. It’s a big step in the building and fortifying of our faith when we recognize we aren’t going to be what we are meant to be on our own. In fact, as we bless God, we are offering a special type of humility and worship to Him. In the passage below David is blessing the Lord and notice how he seems to connect blessing the Lord and fear of the Lord.
My soul, bless the Lord, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. My soul, bless the Lord, and do not forget all his benefits. He forgives all your iniquity; he heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit; he crowns you with faithful love and compassion. He satisfies you with good things; your youth is renewed like the eagle. The Lord executes acts of righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He revealed his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust. But from eternity to eternity the Lord ’s faithful love is toward those who fear him, and his righteousness toward the grandchildren of those who keep his covenant, who remember to observe his precepts. Bless the Lord, all his angels of great strength, who do his word, obedient to his command. Bless the Lord, all his armies, his servants who do his will. Bless the Lord, all his works in all the places where he rules. My soul, bless the Lord! The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. As for man, his days are like grass — he blooms like a flower of the field; when the wind passes over it, it vanishes, and its place is no longer known.
It feels like David is saying, my true fear of the Lord has led me to want to bless Him with all that I am. The Bible says fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It seems like fear of the Lord may also be the beginning of worship.
When it comes to blessing others, if we do it in the name of God to a fellow believer, we are in effect praying that God would send His blessing to them. When we bless we are asking God to bless someone to be successful in Gods good will and intentions for them. It’s also an acknowledgement that they or we, can’t do it without His power. However, if we are praying or asking for a blessing for an unbeliever we may be, in a way, tossing our pearls before the swine. Not that God doesn’t have a desire to bring all unbelievers to Himself through Christ Jesus. But to ask God to bless an unbeliever puts the wagon in front of the horse. The Bible does indicate that unbelievers do receive a measure of Gods goodness (Psalm 145:9, Matthew 5:45, Acts 14:17) but they aren’t open to receive the full blessing of God, to receive power in accomplishing their God ordain purposes.
As we receive and give blessings in this life, let us always remember the source and the purpose. Feel good, being comfortable, or getting rich is rarely the point. Also, let us not hoard our blessing. We must always acknowledge and bless God, remember to obey His commands and be a blessing to others. We are blessed to be a blessing, we have been granted Gods power to build up the weak as His power enables us.
We know from scripture that prayer and worship are vital in the life of a Christian. God wants us to pray and worship. He directs us to pray (2 Chronicles 7:14), our prayers please God (Proverbs 15:8). Jesus was the master of prayer and trained the disciples in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). He prayed always and without ceasing and directed us to do the same (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God tells us to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We also see many examples in the OT of alters being built to worship the Lord. People have been praying and worshiping forever!
On any given weekend, between 30-40 million Church bodies meet to pray and worship corporately in the world. That’s roughly 2.3 BILLION people. That’s a lot of prayer and worship! To put it into a local perspective, just in St. Joseph County, MI there are more than 100 Church bodies ranging from large congregations of many hundred to very small of under 50. Nearly 25,000 people, just in our little county are praying and worshiping on Sunday morning between 7am-1pm. That’s a lot of prayers and worshiping going on for God to hear and respond to just in our county. That’s in addition to His regular activities of creating and sustaining life, holding the universe in His hand and everything else that goes in life and our existence as we know it. So how does He do it? How does HE have TIME to do it all at once? Why would God direct us to pray and worship if He couldn’t possible have the time hear them all? Even if we all submitted prayers one-by-one, like a prayer line, how could He ever have time to hear even one of our prayers before our lives end?
This question and concept is flawed, the phrase “at the same moment” is the problem.
Our human lives come at us moment by moment, hour by hour and day by day. As humans we have a clock and a calendar and everything we do is based on them, when we sleep, eat, wake up and go to work, all based on the suns position relative to our spot on Earth. Our lives and existence are marked by increments of movements by the Earth as it rotates and orbits around a ball of fire, both of which would be different on another planet or in another solar system, time as we know it is specific to Earth.
Our days are marked by a specific timeline that we can’t stop, rewind or control in anyway. We tend to assume this time arrangement of past, present and future is the way all things exist. It’s hard for us not to assume the whole universe and God Himself doesn’t move for present to future in some way as well. The main problems with this arrangement is,
A) the present is here and gone in a blink and we are always working toward the future
B) the vast majority of our existence is what we call the past and is not longer available to us and all we really have is the fleeting present.
God doesn’t have these same parameters. Many verses in the Bible refer to a period “before time” and “before the world.”
2 Timothy 1:9 NLT For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
Titus 1:2 ESV in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
Ephesians 1:4 NASB just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love.
1 Peter 1:20 NKJV He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you
These four scriptures make it clear that God was working and planning and very active long before time as we know it was a factor. Originally many theologians, and later philosophers, and now ever scientists believe that some things are not in time at all. Certainly God is not subject to the time He created as we are, just as He is not subject to anything else we are as humans. If a million people are praying to Him at 9:30 Sunday morning, He doesn’t need to listen to them all at that moment we call 9:30am. To God, 9:30am on Sunday September 23rd, 2018 and every other moment from the beginning of the world until its final day is always the present. Your birth, death, and life can be viewed in the here and now for God.
When we think of it this way, God has all of eternity to hear every second of prayer ever prayed, to hear and see all the worship that has ever been given. The prayers we pray today, the prayers prayed over the 9/11 terrorist attack, the prayers prayed by mothers of soldiers during the civil war, are all in the present to God.
Illustration: If we are writing a story about a guy named John, we start by saying John walked into a room, sat down in a chair and began watching his children playing on the floor. If while we where writing this story, we take a three day break from writing between John walking in the room and sitting down in a chair to watch his kids play on the floor. We can spend 3 days thinking about John, focusing all our attention on John and planning the next thing we have to say about John in the story. However, in the story, the three days that passed don’t appear at all. To us, the author, it took three days to write one sentence. Imagine God as the author of our story. He is outside the timeline we live in. Just as an author of a story is outside the imaginary timeline of the novel he created. This isn’t a perfect illustration but I hope it sheds some light on the concept. God is no more hurried along by what is happening on Earth, than an author is by what is going on in the story he is writing.
2 Peter 3:8 CSB Dear friends, don’t overlook this one fact: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
This verse has always been a tough one for me to swallow, hard to make sense of. But when we read this verse though the lens of God truly being outside the parameters of time altogether it makes more sense.
As Christians we understand that God already knows what we are going to do today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives before we ever do it. If this is true, how can we still have free will to choose? We tend to confuse God’s knowledge of our future with God orchestrating it. As humans, we do have free will, a lesser and weaker version of free will than was originally created. As sin came into the world, our free will was impacted and changed. The free will to live in perfection that Adam and Eve had was destroyed, mankind became unable to live a sinless perfect life and we became hindered by sin. However, even this weaker free will that we know is still enough to allow us to choose our steps day in and day out in a pretty extensive way.
The concept of God being ever present gives us a peak into how this works. By saying we have a past or a history; we are saying a period of our lives is gone to never be returned. It means a part of our reality is gone, and all we really have is this tiny little sliver we call the present. For God, from creation to 2018 and everything yet to come are all His present, He has never lost any of His reality to a thing we call the past, it’s all NOW for God, all the present. He doesn’t remember what we did yesterday, He sees it. He doesn’t wonder what tomorrow will bring, He sees it now. God has witnessed our actions and choices for tomorrow and knows what we will pick and the outcome of those choices, He has known this forever, even before the Earth was formed. God doesn’t just see ahead, He is ahead. God doesn’t know our actions until we do them, He is already there and already sees us doing them. In His mercy and grace, He uses the good and bad that we and others choose and works it all together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Psalms 139:1-18 NLT O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night- but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!
Man’s timeline of life and God’s view of it.
1978 2018 Future
Excuse the crudeness of the visual above. The idea is that God is fully present in all ages, at all times, while man is only present in the moment, and only given a finite number of moments to be present for.
Theology – The study of the nature of God as revealed in the Bible or the science of God.
Why do we need theology? Without theology we won’t lack ideas about who God is or what He does, we will just have a lot of bad ideas, muddled and foggy concepts influenced by the world and society. As the Body of Christ we need to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about who God is. He has made this available to us though His Word.
Experiencing God in the world -vs- Experiencing God in His Word and Church
To understand this, think of it like standing on the seashore. You’re taking in an amazing experience of the ocean. Feet in the water, you can feel the cool ocean breeze on your face and maybe even a hint of saltwater mist. You’re heels are sinking into the wet sand as you hear birds in the distance barely audible above the roaring and crashing of waves. You may feel very close to God in this experience of His creation.
Now compare this to looking at Google Earth. You can see detailed maps of the oceans, you can see the path you would have to take if you wanted to sail from Florida to Belize. You can pin point small islands you could stop at along the way if you needed to restock supplies or refuel. You would also check the weather and see a favorable time of year to make the trip. You would plan to go when the seas are smooth. These are all things you would find out by doing research and relying on work other people have already done.
This is what it’s like claiming to know God by experiencing Him in the world vs experiencing God in His Word and Church. You may have a beautiful and powerful experience of God on the beach. You may feel very close to Him and feel like you really see and understand Him. But all you are really experiencing is tiny sliver of who God is. Just like you are only experiencing a tiny sliver of the ocean. By standing on the beach you don’t become a mariner. I wouldn’t be confident you could navigate a boat to Belize from Florida because of your experience with the ocean by standing on the beach. To gain a full understanding of the ocean you need to research and learn and use all the tools available to you. As Christians we need to research and learn and use all the tools available to us to get a full and complete understanding of who God. That is foremost found in His Word and His Church. Many self-confessing Christians claim they don’t need to go to Church because they already believe in God and love him and they don’t see a need for going. The truth is, a Christian that doesn’t know God in full, may not know Him at all. The only way to know God in full is to know His Word in full and know His Church in full. Anything less wont provide a complete, panoramic view of who God is.
Theology is practical and necessary to get beyond a surface, superficial understanding of God.
When we begin to dig in to Christianity there are three basic concepts that must be understood and laid as foundation before we can do anything else.
Aren’t we already sons of God through creation? In a sense we are, Fatherhood is a central part of who God is- God made us, He loves us all, He looks after us, and He gave us all life. When the Bible talks about becoming sons of God, its obviously talking about something very different.
John 1:9-12 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming onto the world. He came onto the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
Galatians 3:26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
These verses indicate that our potential adoption into God’s family is based on Jesus alone and our response to Him.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, begotten, not created, before all worlds, eternal. This begetting has nothing to do with the virgin birth, Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, or anything else to do with the birth of Christ on Earth. This happened before the universe existed, before time began, God beget Jesus Christ.
Beget – (Typically of a man) bring a child into existence by process of reproduction. Something of the same kind. Examples- Man begets man, birds beget birds and beavers beget beavers, God begets God.
Create – To bring something into existence to make something. Something of a different kind. Examples- Man creates a house, birds create nests, beavers create dams, and God created mankind.
If it was your job to make or create (not beget) something in your own image, what would you make?
What we create, no matter how well we do, or how skilled our work may be, it will never be like us, it will never be man. It can have our likeness and shape, but it doesn’t have life. What God created, as skilled and masterful as His creation is, it is not God. We have His likeness and shape, but we do not have the type of life God has. That’s why Jesus is called begotten, He is God, beget from God, with the same life God has. He couldn’t be anything but God, fully God.
All of God’s creation has some aspect of Him in it, some element of His likeness.
Examples- Space, the Sun, physical matter, plants and animals.
The life God gave His creation is biological life. This is the life that gives us breath and a heart beat. This is God’s best type and shadow or hint of the spiritual life He and Jesus share. This biological life is not the same as spiritual life, it’s a far cry from the spiritual life Christ refers to in John 3:16 while explaining being “born again” to Nicodemus. In fact, the life we are born with isn’t life at all when contrasted to the eternal life Jesus offers. The biological life we have is temporary and fleeting, fragile and short, its referred to as a vapor . To make it easier to understand which life is which we can adopt the names CS Lewis uses to differentiate between the two. The biological life that we have at birth, the life that requires food and water and air to keep it going will be referred to as Bios. The Spiritual life that God and Jesus share that is eternal and does not wear down is Zoe.
The Bios we are born with is an invaluable gift, its amazing and unique. God knows how to give good gifts. But this life is only meant to be a channel or path to the real gift He has planned for us. The gift of Bios screams of God as creator and artist. All of creation sings Gods praises though this Bios. As great and amazing as Bios is, it isn’t the final gift. God sent His begotten Son, part of Himself, to redeem us from a fallen world that we insisted on. God loves us so much that He would give up a large portion of His nature as God to come be part of this hot mess as a human. He came to reveal Zoe to us. The true gift, the grand finale of His ultimate plan for us. The only way to truly know God is to truly know Jesus and make Him the Lord of our Bios. In return, He takes our Bios and replaces it with Zoe. God’s once spiritually lifeless creation gets the type of life once only known by God Himself. We move from created in God’s image to begotten children of God! By letting go of the amazing and incredible gift of Bios, we receive something so much more amazing and incredible, we become immortals!
As God has made clear in His Word and action, giving up our Bios in exchange for Zoe though faith in Christ is a big deal, it’s literally what Bios is for. The job of telling the world about it has been delegated to us, The Church. We all share that calling!
Friend to the End
The term Friend is defined as, “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”
True friends are few and far between, lifetime friends are downright rare. In the journey of life, friends seem to come and go. Even those closest and best childhood friends, the ones we grew up with, the ones we thought would be there forever don’t always last. They may still be “friends,” but often by title only. We grow up, get married, move away, follow a career or have kids, whatever the circumstance, we aren’t as close as we used to be. Maybe it’s a phone call a couple times a year, or a random text message here and there, or maybe a class reunion every ten years or so that we are basing their title of friend on. But not exactly a friend as defined above or even someone who has a day-to-day impact in our lives. Friends we make as adults are good as well, but typically there isn’t that soul string attachment like the ones from childhood or college. Often by the time we’re adults, we consider our spouse our best friend, and that’s a real blessing to have someone we can rely on and do life with. However, a spouse falls outside of the definition above as well. That true bond as defined above is rare. To me a friend is someone I choose to associate with, someone I choose to serve and love with no expectations, conditions or obligations.
When we think of Jesus we may not think of Him as a “real” friend, after all, it is a lot of one-way conversations. Plus, how can I think of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, as my personal friend. Its more feasible to see Jesus as a close friend in the Bible to the people He was with. He was walking and talking and literally there with them in the flesh, doing life with them. Guys like Peter and John, we can see the close friendship there. It’s much more difficult for us to have those same feelings of close friendship when we haven’t seen or conversed with Jesus face to face. Many people hear about this “relationship with Christ” thing and don’t get it. Sometimes they may even end up just going through the motions, doing what they think they are supposed to do to be in relationship with Christ. Someone can accept Christ as Savior, they can be baptized, even pray and go to Church but none of those things mean they truly know Jesus as a friend. It’s amazing to think, Jesus is my Lord, my Savior, my God, and ultimately the one I will answer to at the judgement seat, but He’s also my friend. And He wants to be my friend to the end. We tend to separate friendship from authority, but Jesus doesn’t. If we begin to feel far from Christ, its because we are moving away from Him, He’s not moving away from us. His desire for us doesn’t change over time or wear thin, He’s forever seeking us. But the key is that we have to choose to BELIEVE and RECEIVE His love and friendship. Jesus is the friend of sinners, He’s the friend of anyone who will receive His offer of friendship.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 says,
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.
This concept isn’t limited to certain people, it’s all inclusive. We have to take that promise at face value, Jesus wants a relationship with you, with me, with the inmate, with the adulterer, with the murderer, with the LBGT community, with the born and unborn, the thief, the rapist, the pedophile, EVERYONE. There is no one outside of Jesus Christs parameters, there is no limit to the people Jesus wants. And He wants us all for one simple reason, to make us HIS. The idea isn’t to come to Jesus and stay the same, the idea is to come to Jesus and get freed from all the stuff that held us in bondage. The idea is true freedom in Jesus Christ that can be found nowhere else. The only prerequisite is that we must want it as well.
Those who have known Christ and feel distant from Him, He still wants you too. Jesus doesn’t get tired of us. He never gets bored with us. We can’t exhaust Him with our same ole stories, problems or sins, He’s not impatient with us, or looking to move on to someone more exciting or more deserving of Him. Even when we try to manipulate Him or deceive Him, He’s still ready to take us back at the moment we are willing.
If we want to truly see Jesus as a friend to the end, we can look at the relationships He had with the disciples especially during His arrest, trial and crucifixion. In John 13 we see Jesus and the disciples before the Passover celebration, during the last supper in the upper room. The Book of John is the only Gospel record that mentions this teaching.
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
We see Christ going around the room, serving each disciple personally. Jesus says, in verse 13, “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.” As we discussed last week, Jesus is the greatest servant of all. If we want to be in Christ we must follow the example He set and serve others well. Jesus is the friend of sinners, so He served sinners, now He is asking us to do the same, all the people Christ wants to reach with His love are people we should be looking for opportunities to serve, the ones I listed above.
But that’s not the whole story here. Did you notice in John 13, Jesus stops to wash Judas Iscariots feet too? Judas is the perfect picture of a trader, a sinner, a guy you don’t want to associate with. We know that Judas was already planning to betray Jesus, in fact, the betrayal was already in motion at the time of the feet washing. Judas was basically just waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger on the plan, and Jesus knew it the whole time. He made several references to it during the meal, yet Jesus still washed Judas’ feet and served him. I can’t imagine it. If I knew one of you sitting at this table was going to have a hand in betraying and murdering me, I don’t know if I’d be able to serve you and love you the same as I would everyone else. Jesus is the perfect friend, I am not. No matter who we are or what we’ve done or what were planning to do, Jesus is committed to us, He passionate about pursuing us, and He’s always leaning towards us to capture our hearts. Even as wicked and evil as Judas was, Jesus stayed the same, He still loved him. His love knows no end, Jesus doesn’t just “do” love, He is love. He can’t stop loving because He can’t deny Himself. He pursues us even when His love has been betrayed.
The height of Judas’ evil only proves the depth of Jesus’ love. Judas’ scandalous betrayal only highlights Jesus’ scandalous grace. The Bible is full of examples of God pursuing people who didn’t deserve His love. He chased after people who committed the worst mistakes imaginable, because He is the friend of sinners and that’s what He does.
He pursued Moses with the burning bush, even after he murdered a man.
He pursued David with a prophet from God, even after he committed adultery and murder.
He pursued Jonah with a fish, even after he disobeyed the word of the Lord.
He pursued Lazarus with the resurrection power, even after he’d been in the tomb four days.
He pursued Peter with a breakfast on the beach, even after he had denied Him three times.
He pursued Thomas with nail holes in His hands, even after he had doubted Him.
He pursued Paul with a blinding light from Heaven, even after he had killed Jesus followers.
He pursued Judas by washing his feet, even as His love was being betrayed.
Can we realize the extent of Jesus’ love for us? Can we possibly comprehend how serious Jesus is about knowing us and loving us?
He is pursuing every person on the planet with the gift of salvation, even after we choose sin.
If we allow Jesus to tear down our walls of who deserves it and who doesn’t, we can be the ones Jesus uses to reach out to people. We can love and befriend them. We can tell them about His loving kindness to us. We can live our lives in a way that is noticeably different and more peaceful/joyful than the world.
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
A few hours after the last supper, Jesus was in the olive grove called Gethsemane with His disciple (Matthew 26:36-46). He knew His time had come to be arrested. Jesus bowed His head to the ground and prayed. He asked God to take the cup of suffering, then prayed that God have His will be done. As Jesus returned to the disciples, He saw Judas in the distance and said, “Look, my betrayer is here!”
A crowd of thugs and soldiers rushed in armed with swords and clubs. Judas steped forward and gave Jesus the kiss of betrayal. At that moment, Jesus said something that is almost impossible for me to comprehend. In verse 50, Jesus replied to Judas, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Friend? Why would Jesus choose that term? He knew the greed and evil in Judas’ heart. He knew the pain that was coming, He knew all of it, yet He still called Judas “FRIEND”? Can you imagine what Judas must have felt when he heard that? Jesus called the man who was in the middle of betraying Him, friend. Judas probably thought Jesus would hate him for this, and that may have made things easier for Judas. “Friend” would end up being the last thing Jesus ever said to Judas. Jesus loved him to the end. Less than 24 hours later Judas, overcome by guilt, committed suicide. Meanwhile Jesus was led to the cross to die for the sins of humanity. The ultimate proof of His friendship with sinners.
Jesus loves us with the same commitment, passion and consistency He loved Judas with, all the way to the end. Jesus’ message of unconditional friendship to sinners is the foundation of our walk with Him. I’m so glad our level of love for God doesn’t determine His level of love for us. Jesus is faithful, He came to us, He pursued us, He restored us, and He will never leave us or forget us. He is the friend of sinners, and when we accept His love, friendship and grace, we become friends for all of eternity.
We all seek to be great, consciously or unconsciously, we all want to be the best. We might define “greatness” differently or have different goals or dreams. But none of us want to be average or second best. We want to matter, we want what we do day in and day out to matter. I think this search for greatness is a pre-set trait in humans. It drives us to work hard and improve on what we’ve done in the past, it pushes us not to accept average. None of us go to a restaurant and ask the waitress “what’s the most average thing on the menu.” We don’t make it a point to go watch the movies that have had a so-so review, we don’t stay at 2 star motels if there is a 5-star hotel close by, we don’t shop for the most average car, we want the best car and the best price. And it’s not just ourselves, we expect greatness out of those around us. Like watching our kids at sporting events or expecting all A’s on their report cards, we want our kids to do their best and be their best. We expect our co-workers to pull their weight at least, maybe more. We expect the Pastor to have a powerful, Spirit filled, awe inspiring message each week. I don’t think any one of us have ever prayed, “God, help me to be average”
Why do we do this? Why do we compete to be the best? We all seek greatness, but what does God seek for us and what is the correct path to get there?
Mark 9:33-37 Who is the Greatest
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me.”
In Mark 9 we see Jesus leading the disciples on a road trip. We don’t know for how long or how far this trip was, but we do know that Jesus wanted to use this time to teach His disciples privately and not have the distractions they would face in a city or public area. There’s nothing like a road trip to have a captive audience.
When we think of a road trip we probably think of the open road, windows down, wind blowing, bright skies and green fields or a cooler full of snacks, the radio playing, great conversations and a feeling of freedom. I know for my family these feeling last for about an hour tops, then it becomes, “he’s touching me”, “she won’t stop looking at me”, “I have to go to the bathroom”, “I’m hungry” and of course, “ARE WE THERE YET.” The best part of a road trip for us is the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes, everything else is basically no fun at all. The cushy car seats start to feel like concrete medieval torture tables that we’re strapped to, and if we forget to strap in we get the obnoxious “DING DING DING” from the dash board until we tie ourselves down again. Sometimes the long hours of a road trip will bring out the worst of us. Even as adults, we can get annoyed with each other, patients run thin and we may even begin to argue about things that we wouldn’t normally argue about. Maybe this is just me, or maybe not.
It’s no stretch to say our spiritual journey is a lot like a road trip. We start out ready and excited for what’s ahead, soon we wonder how much longer and eventually our patients are running thin and we begin asking God, ARE WE THERE YET? How much longer until I reach my destiny, can we take a pit stop? Like kids in the back seat, its hard for us to understand why we can’t be there now, were ready to be great now but often we don’t want the process that it takes to get us there. But as we mature, we begin to realize, sometimes it’s more about the trip than the destination, and more about the people you’re traveling with than where you are traveling to. You don’t arrive at greatness. Greatness is about the journey not the destination. Greatness is who you are, not what you do. The journey is what makes you who you are, it polishes and perfects us. We are on a lifelong road trip with Jesus, we will have high times and low times, joys and sorrows. But the main thing is that we will be with Jesus in it all.
On the road trip in Mark 9 there wasn’t a minivan, there were no cushy seats to complain about, but they did have a lot of time together to allow their patients with each other wear thin. The disciples begin arguing about which one of them is the greatest. I can imagine Peter and John leading this debate on the trip. “Remember the transfiguration, I was the one ready to build three shelters, you were just standing there with your mouth open,” “They didn’t even want shelters, you sounded ridiculous.” Then James speaks up, “You guys aren’t even supposed to be talking about this” Eventually all twelve could probably rationalize why they were closer to Jesus or why they were His favorite.
When they got to Capernaum Jesus asked the Twelve, “What were you discussing on the road?” The disciple where silent, they didn’t want to answer. When they came face to face with their Savior, the debate didn’t seem so important. I wonder if they realized at that moment, compared to Jesus none of us are great. They had Jesus at their side, the Messiah, the Alpha and the Omega, the creator of the universe and they were wondering who was greater. In the face of Jesus, we have to realize that we are far from greatness, shoot, were far from even being good.
Romans 3:10-18 None are Great
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.” “Snake venom drips from their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace.” “They have no fear of God at all.”
As Christians we must be careful not to argue over moot points or senseless things. Things like being frustrated with situations Jesus never got frustrated over or get bogged down with things Jesus never got bogged down with or offended by things Jesus didn’t get offended by.
Something very interesting happens here on the road trip in Mark 9. Jesus didn’t interfere, He heard the argument happening and allowed it. But afterwards when He questioned them about it, He doesn’t criticize their desire for greatness, He doesn’t rebuke them for wanting to be great. That’s significant because sometimes we think our desire for greatness is wrong. That is selfish, or prideful or superficial. We desire greatness because we were created for greatness. It’s a God given desire, not a sinful desire. God put the impulse in us to be the best we can be, to achieve the most we can achieve. We were designed to reach our potential, not waller in mediocrity with no higher or greater aspirations. We are created in the image of God and He’s a Great God, so its logical to sense and chase greatness ourselves.
Jesus doesn’t knock them off their desire to be great, He redefines what greatness really is. It’s not wrong to want to be great, but it is wrong to try to be great the wrong way. Like the disciples, most of us are not sure about the correct path to greatness, thanks to our fallen and confused world. This world, our society and the enemy himself have all tried to tie greatness to what we have or what we have done. That’s what the enemy usually does. He can’t change God given desires or plans for man, so he attempts to pervert or twist the pathway to fulfill our desires and God’s plan, to lead us somewhere else. Our positive, healthy desire for greatness can get so twisted that it hurts us and those around us if we don’t understand Gods definition of greatness and His path to achieve it.
Last is the new first. When Jesus told this to the disciples that had to be confused. This teaching of Christ still gets confused today. If we want to lead, we must serve. Our purpose is found in how we relate to other people. Our purpose is not fulfilled by recognition or in comparison to others, our purpose is fulfilled by serving others the way Christ did. Jesus is the friend of sinners, finding and loving sinners is what motivated Him. Jesus achieved greatness by loving people no one else loved. He wanted the disciples to associate greatness with serving, loving and giving. True greatness is always about other people. In following Jesus, we have to be a friend of sinners as well. We can’t just be a friend of Jesus, its got to be both. And the best way to be a friend to someone is to serve them, to meet their needs that they can’t meet on their own. That’s what Jesus does for us, He meets our need for salvation, He saved us from eternal separation from God, we couldn’t do it on our own. And it’s this servants’ heart of Christ that we get transplanted into us, that pushes us to serve others. If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and the servant of all. (vs 35) Jesus is saying that in Gods economy, last is the new first, the way up is down, the way to the top is to serve at the bottom. The servant is the leader and the leader is the servant. If you want to be first, you must be willing to be last. Instead of finding contentment in positions, job, or titles, we find it in a person, and that is Jesus Christ. If true greatness was measured by recognition, fame, being the best or accolades only very few would be able to achieve it. Only a select few could have greatness. But when we define greatness the way God does, we are all capable of it, serving others is something we all can do. Being great is within all of us in God’s eyes.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”
Servant leadership is our identity and calling as Jesus followers.
Mark 10:45 Came to Serve
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus used a child to make His lesson about servant leadership clear to His disciples and to us.
“Whoever receives one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me.”
So, what is He saying? I’m taking this to say, children are important, they need to be served. If we aren’t willing to welcome a child, we aren’t willing to welcome Jesus, if we want to be close to Jesus, we need to be close to the children.
The thing about kids, as any parent already knows, is they are a lot of work. They can’t be left on “auto pilot”, especially small children. You can’t give them a 20-minute pep talk in the morning and expect them to be good to go for the day. In fact, in the course of a day with a 2-year-old, you may literally have to save their life 10 times (“stay out of the road, don’t go by the water, don’t touch that, don’t eat that, etc. etc.”) we feed them, dress them, take them to the bathroom. Essentially, a child needs to be cared for all the time and they never once realize that it’s you keeping them alive. Even older kids need lots of care and attention. They need love and encouragement even when they say they don’t, that’s probably when they need it most. It’s a full-time job loving kids. The best part of all is, kids will get mad at you, they will say mean things to you, they will drive you absolutely crazy and never once thank you. But we keep going back for more. Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at here. A child can’t repay you, they won’t thank you, they will never mention you on Instagram to their friends. A child can’t even help you back. In fact, often when we serve older children they resist us, get mad us, criticize us and push back, they may even resent us for the help we give them. If we want to be great, we have to serve people like this, we have to serve them as if they were kids. That means it’s thankless, you’re never honored, and they never give anything back to you. We just have to desire to be with them to love them unconditionally with no expectation of anything in return. To just be there, any time, anywhere.
Often with God, we are these kids. The kids who never cooperate, we often don’t thank Him for the limits He gives us. We can’t repay him or even help Him back. Often, we get mad if it doesn’t go exactly how we want it to. We will criticize, second guess and doubt but Jesus keeps serving us.
True greatness is in the relationship the servant has to those being served. It’s not for the “thanks” or the “recognition.” We serve because that’s what Jesus did and that’s what greatness is. We have an opportunity to redefine greatness and the pathway to it. We were created for Greatness!
Part 2 of 4, Lost and Found
We all have a love language, or several. A way that people can express love to us that really shows us they care, ways that people speak and understand emotional love. The 5 most well-known ones are, “Words of affirmation, Quality time, Receiving gifts, Acts of service and Physical touch, according the book by Gary Chapman titled, The 5 Love Languages.
Most of us can figure out where we and hopefully where our spouses fall on this list. However, this is not an all-inclusive list, I’m sure we could come up with a thing or two that speak love to us that aren’t on the list above. I bet we can think of our kids or our grand kids or even siblings and figure out where they would fall on the spectrum or if they have some other love languages that speak to them.
I would like to submit to you that Jesus has a love language as well. There is one specific way we can express love to Jesus that really allows Him to feel our love for Him. Jesus’ love language is people. It’s when we love what He loves, that our love is most clearly shown to Him. Jesus loves people, all people, so if we love Jesus, we will love what He loves and that is people. In John 21 Jesus made a third post resurrection appearance to the disciples. They were on the Sea of Galilee on a fishing outing. The Bible says they were out all-night fishing. Jesus appeared to them on the shore, but they didn’t know it was Him at first, and told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, because of course that’s where all the fish were. After the disciples hauled up all the fish they could handle in one net load, they realized it was Jesus. Peter jumped off the boat and swam to shore to be the first one to welcome Jesus.
In John 21:15 Jesus has some pointed and uncomfortable questions for Peter.
When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John (Jonah), do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs,” he told him. A second time he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “you know that I love you.” “Shepherd my sheep,” he told him. He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that he asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep,” Jesus said.
I heard this passage taught at Moody by a pastor and he said he isn’t exactly sure what this whole exchange was about, whether it’s a restoration of Peter after the denials, or if its Jesus asking Peter if he still wants to be the “Rock” or if it’s a question about Peters heart and intentions moving forward, but he said, it’s something deep being discussed here. One thing we can see clearly is that Jesus’ heart is for the sheep, the flock, for people and He is looking for a Shepard who is willing to take over for Him after the ascension, to love His people, to be Jesus to lost people.
Quite often people will judge our actions but never see our hearts. And it can be very frustrating. This happened to Jesus almost daily. People would accuse Jesus, criticize Him, attack Him because of the people He associated with or the places He would go to find them. On many occasions Jesus would remain silent and this is usually the best way to handle it for us. But there were also instances where He would explain His actions and these explanations give us some amazing insight to Jesus’ heart, mind and motivation for finding people. Why would Jesus spend so much or all, of His limited time on earth seeking sinners? It’s because He’s obsessed with lost things. Jesus wants to find what has been lost.
When I realized this, it was like milk and honey to my soul. I’m also obsessed with lost things. It’s a joke at our house that if something is lost, tell Dad and he won’t stop till he finds it. This began for me as a kid. I would play baseball by myself in the back yard. Behind our yard was a swampy marsh area with over grown weeds, poison sumac, deep muck, snakes, you name it, it might as well have been Jumanji to me as a kid. But I would often end up hitting the baseball into the marsh and have to go find it. I would search and search until I found it. This became an obsession to me. If I didn’t find the ball, it was game over, I had to find that ball, I didn’t have one to replace it. This grew into lots of other areas, I couldn’t knowingly lose something. It’s more than just wanting to locate something, I can’t rest until its found. My mind won’t allow me to stop knowing something is lost. This is how Jesus feels about people. He can’t accept them being lost, they must be found.
In Luke 15 the Bible gives us a look at these two aspects, how Jesus would respond to be judged by His actions and how He feels about lost things.
The book of Luke is written in chronological order, not all the Gospels are, so we know that we can read the book of Luke as a running account, almost like a story that is unfolding in front of us. Luke himself says in chapter 1, verse 3, that he has tasked himself with writing an “orderly sequence” narrative of the events that have been taught regarding Jesus Christ.
In Luke 14:25 as Jesus was teaching about the cost of being a disciple, the Bible says great crowds were traveling with Him. The crowd was both sinners and religious leaders. The religious leaders were the ones complaining the loudest. “If Jesus is holy and is who He says He is, He should be an example. If some people even claim He is the Messiah how can He hanging out with the unclean, the sinners. He should be a judge of sinners, a condemner of sinners, not a friend to them. We don’t get it, you can’t be holy and righteous and do the things you’re doing with the people you’re doing them with.”
On the other hand, there were the sinners. They probably didn’t get it either. I can imagine them saying, “no one has ever told us about a God like this, no one has ever shown us a love like this. This man seems to be perfect, yet He is our friend? We don’t deserve it, and we don’t understand it. Could God really love us that much?
So, to answer both groups Jesus told 3 parables.
2) The Parable of the Lost Sheep
All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So, he told them this “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field, or the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.
This story speaks to Jesus’ unwillingness to allow something, or someone to be lost. Many in our world today may not really relate to this parable. Jesus says, What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine and go after the one until he finds it….uh, most men actually. Especially in 2018 in America. Sometimes its hard for us to see in our culture how important the “one” really is. We live in a throw away culture that would just as soon replace something as find the old one if its lost. We do this in lots of areas, with stuff, but we sometimes also do this with relationships. Many businesses have the operational mindset of “no one is irreplaceable.” In sports, if someone gets injured, its “next man up.” We only keep our presidents for a max of 8 years, even the really good ones who are actually doing a great job. If someone retires we have a cake for them and then try to take their job, desk or at least their stapler. But Jesus doesn’t see people like that. Everyone is irreplaceable, there is no next man up, and you don’t get to, or have to, retire from Jesus. He never plans to lose you or replace you. When we belong to Jesus, we’re His forever. Its like the baseball I didn’t want to lose as kid, Jesus doesn’t have a replacement for you. In fact, the passage says, search until he finds it, leading us to believe, however long that takes, He keeps looking.
Jesus will leave the ninety-nine every time to find the one. After all, He’s still explaining why He welcomes sinners and eats with them, it’s because He found one! Jesus found what He had been looking for. He loves to fellowship with and embrace the one who was found. The meal together is like carrying a sheep home on His shoulders in the parable. There is a closeness, a relationship, it’s a love thing. Jesus is excited to have the lost one back, it’s His love language, it’s why He’s came to earth, its what the Savior does, He saves. Jesus says to “rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep.” He wants us to be as excited as He is when a lost one is found. And, He wants us to be out looking as well.
We have to shift our priorities. Being the best, being well known, being right or loved by the world are all the wrong priorities. If we love Jesus we have to speak His love language back to Him, we have to love His people, that has to be our #1 priority. There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.
Part 1 of 4, The Message…
Jesus came to Earth with a specific message. His teachings, His miracles, His reations to people, and His death and resurrection all communicate one main point. Yet, it’s way to easy to miss it. This can happen to all of us, and probably has. In fact, people have been missing the message for 2000 years now. Even the ones who lived with and witnessed Christ’s life missed it. Even will intentioned, good hearted, spiritually minded people can miss it.
We might have a portion of the message or a version of it, but we miss the main theme. The problem is, if we miss His message long enough we will end up somewhere God never intended us to be, and we won’t like the result. Many Christians are spiritually confused, tired or worn out. Not because Christianity is hard, or because God is an impossible to please tyrant, but because they have missed what Jesus came to say.
Some think Jesus taught about good works, like the goal of His life was to get us to talk better, to act better, to be better. Following Jesus therefore is about behaviorabl change. Getting yourself and those around you fixed up and acting right.
Others think Jesus came to establish a holier than thou, country club religion, made up of a bunch of abnormally self-disciplined and equally self-righteous people that would get together, call themselves the Church and spend their days dispensing judgment against a sinful world.
Still others think Jesus was merely a philosopher, He was a good man, a good teacher, who didn’t deserve what happened to Him. “Too bad He ticked off the establishment.”, they say, “only the good die young”.
Some say He was a rebel, some say a zealot who wanted to overthrow the Roman empire and failed. Some say He was an apocalyptic prophet who believed and preached the end of the world was imminent. Others say He was a con-man, insane, or a liar.
As we know from Scripture and from our personal relationship with Christ, all of those views and explanations fall short of who Jesus really is. Jesus didn’t just come for behavior modification, or to create a religious club or clique, He didn’t come as a life coach, philosopher, or a martyr only.
The message of Jesus is far simpler and for more powerful than any of those explanations.
So, what was the message of Jesus, what was He saying during His life and ministry on Earth and who was it for?
To answer this question, we can start by looking at a story from the book of Matthew.
Jesus Calls Matthew
Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
1. Even the TAX COLLECTORS?
In Matthew 9:10, the Pharisees looked around Matthew’s house and saw nameless “tax collectors” and “sinners.” Jesus saw people he cared about, people He wanted to hang with….and He knew their names.
When we view what we do in Jesus’ name as faceless sacrifices, we’ve missed the whole concept of “love as I have love you”, John 13:34. It’s all personal with Jesus. It’s all about relationships.
Most of us probably don’t even get why dining and fellowshipping with tax collectors is such a big deal. Weren’t they just like the modern day IRS, out collection taxes, an honest days work for an honest days pay right?
In Israel at the time, the Romans had invaded and occupied the region. When they invaded an area, they would typically rape the women, plunder the village, enslave the men and separate families. The Romans were merciless, they were harsh and cruel. The Romans ruled by fear, they wanted the Israelite’s to live and serve them in fear. Part of this strategy was to hire some of the local Israelite’s to work for them as tax collectors or publicans. The Romans would invade your home, plunder your family and property, then hire your neighbor to use what he knows about you, against you and take full advantage.
It’d be like if your next-door neighbor and close friend that you’d trusted and confided it knew you had a $10k bass boat. The one you and he would take out on the weekends, and pull the kids behind on tubes, and have cookouts on. He is now telling the Romans you have a really nice boat down at the dock that you haven’t paid taxes on yet, and exactly how much it’s worth. Then he comes over to your house, demands payment of tax on the boat or threatens to have the Romans come back for a visit. Your neighbor tuned tax collector would lie to you about how much the tax is for the boat, extort as much money out of you as possible. Then he would take the extra money he extorted from you and go buy himself a new bass boat. And it was all fine in the eyes of the Roman authorities. That’s who these tax collectors were. Not good guys, not guys you wanted in your home or to have anything to do with. The more they knew about you, the more they could take advantage of you. There were some of the worst people in Israel.
But Jesus showed mercy toward tax collectors and sinners, not to condone their sins but to show tender feelings, similar to those He displayed toward the physically ill. Like when He touched leper in Matthew 8. ‘Right away a man with leprosy came up and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:2-3. This is the same merciful view Jesus has for tax collectors, sinners, you and me, Shouldn’t we cultivate the same view of those in need, especially by assisting them in their spiritual need? All truth without grace in brutality.
2. Jesus Loves Sinners
In fact, Jesus only loves sinners.
(We’re all sinners)
Matthew 9:11-12, When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick.
Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away who comes to Him for forgiveness. He came and suffered and died on the cross for sinners, not just for the respectable ones.
Luke 18:9-14, He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people — greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner! ’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It was exactly for a man like in the passage above that Christ died. Sinners that recognize their desperation and cry out. Jesus suffered took on the yoke of sin, He became sin for humanity. He suffered so terribly on a cross, so much so that it was almost impossible for Him to bear. So dreadful, that He said in Mark 15:34,”My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He did all that for sinners, and tax collectors and the hateful, the murderers, the sexually immoral and all of us! When we realize that we are all sin sick and headed for death apart from Christ we can come to the end of ourselves. Then, and only then, we can pray in our brokenness, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner”
3. ” I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” But what does that mean?
As quoted by Jesus from the OT, Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Jesus also quotes this same passage in Matthew 12:1-8. At that time Jesus passed through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick and eat some heads of grain. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry: how he entered the house of God, and they ate the bread of the Presence — which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests? Or haven’t you read in the law that on Sabbath days the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
So, what is Mercy instead of Sacrifice?
Is it going to the food pantry and working a few shifts, or building a wheelchair ramp at a widows home, or even filling some shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, to send overseas to a child in need?
I don’t think so, at least not in and of themselves.
If we want to move beyond sacrifice to mercy, we need to get our hearts involved.
When the opportunity to coach a rocket football team came up last summer, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. I love football, my son is playing, and I’d love to coach him. Any we might even have some fun and maybe I could share the Good News of Jesus with these kids.
Why? Notice the prominence of “me, my and I” in the sentences above. My acts of sacrifice were all about me. What I could get out of it, how it would benefit me.
As the season went on, I came to know the boys and some of the families personally and some of the issues they were facing. Pretty quickly it became about more than me coaching football. What I thought would be a good time for me, soon became not about me at all. There are several boys on the team who don’t have their Dad at home to follow and learn from. I’m not just talking about teaching them football or how to put their shoulder pads on, or even how to be aggressive, but how to be a man, how to follow Jesus and lead others, how to do stuff every young man needs to learn. These boys need godly male leadership and that’s what coaching has become. It’s a heart thing, not just a football thing. Some of these boys may never witness godly leadership outside of this opportunity. To me, this is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. It’s not about me or what I can get for the time and energy sacrifices being made. It’s a selfless giving of ones God-given gifts and talents to the work of Jesus by building connections with all people…it’s about knowing these boys and building a godly relationship with them that may lead them to Jesus someday.
That’s what Jesus was doing with these “worst of the worst” sinners He was hanging out with. Jesus sought Matthew out, He developed a relationship with him, He spent time with him, even while he was Levi the tax collector. Jesus considered him worth while and a friend. Jesus didn’t approach Matthew with sacrifice in mind, He wasn’t concerned if this interaction would be a good investment of His time, Jesus just wanted to let Matthew know that he was loved and not out of reach for God’s grace and mercy.
4. So, what is Jesus’ message?
It wasn’t that good people do to Heaven, it wasn’t that bad people will be judged, those are cheap imitations of His message.
Jesus’ message is GRACE, it’s salvation for all who choose to believe in Him. It’s unlimited mercy and compassion and forgiveness for all who would put their faith in Him. Jesus is the personification and embodiment of grace. In other words, Jesus Himself is the message. Jesus is the purpose and the point. It’s not dogma or doctrine, it’s not behavioral modification. The message is that no matter who you are, no matter how bad you’ve messed up, grace and forgiveness are available to you through Jesus. Jesus didn’t just come in the flesh to tell about grace, but to be grace for us. His life is His message and His message is His life. The more we follow Jesus, the more we become channels for mercy and grace. We are not just kind people, we are messengers.
I have found myself thinking this many times. This mindset provides a pass or green light to ignore the needs of those who may most desperately need our help. This mindset can feel empowering, like being the judge, jury and executioner all in one. It also gives us a clear conscience when our flesh is lazy and unwilling to be bothered.
While I will admit that sometimes, if a person is continually in a situation of needing helped, and helped and helped and time after time find themselves in the same position of need; helping may have become enabling. And that is something different entirely that what I am referring to now.
The idea that someone in need must do something, or a few things, before I find them worthy of my help is contrary to Christ’s example. Jesus said in 3 out of 4 of the Gospels, excluding John, that He didn’t come for those who thought they could help themselves.
Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Also in Luke 5:31 and Matthew 9:12.
We do know that we are all the sick, as none are righteous on our own, at least before the intervening blood of Christ that is. And in our sickness, in our sin, we are incapable of helping ourselves. While we do have to make a decision to accept this free gift of Christ, the work of helping is all on Him. Maybe a person with a physical need that even asks for help has done the same amount of work as a person needing spiritual help that makes the decision to say yes to Jesus.
If we are only willing to help someone who can help themselves, is it not the same as saying, “I only love people who loved me first.” In that we are basing our feelings and actions on someone else making the first move or step or initiating the process, kinda like being tossed and thrown by what others do or don’t do. Christ says in Luke 6:42 and Matthew 5:46 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
If we are following the example of the Master as we claim, or should be aspiring to, we can’t base our feelings or love or action toward others on what they have earned or deserve from our vantage point. Apart from Christ we are all helpless sinners, who deserve the spoils of our actions, which is eternal judgement based on our sin (Hell). But because Jesus was sent to help those who couldn’t help themselves, we now have what we don’t deserve, we have the Grace and Salvation of Christ, unearned and unmerited, but freely given. Jesus helped us when we couldn’t help ourselves.
The context is John 21:15. Jesus in His third appearance to the disciples tells them again, same as in Luke 5, where to cast the nets if they want to catch any fish. After the nets are nearly blown out from the huge haul, which was the lone highlight to an otherwise sorry excuse for a fishing trip. Peter in his excitement jumps off the boat from about a hundred yards out and swims in to shore to be the first disciple to welcome Jesus. As the rest of the disciples land the boat and drag the overflowing nets in, Jesus has a fish and bread breakfast ready for them, cooked over a charcoal fire. Jesus says, “bring in some of those fish you’ve just caught.” The final count was 153 large fish, and the nets held! After they ate, in what seems to be a private conversation between Jesus and Peter, Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Do you love me more than these…? This is a question that I have heard explained as Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him more than the other disciples did. While I can understand why that may seem to be the question here, especially since Peter said in Matthew 26:33 that even if all the rest of the disciples would fall away he would not. But my two biggest hang ups with this explanation are as follows.
1) Why would Jesus ask Peter a question he couldn’t know the answer to? Peter couldn’t have known the hearts of the other disciples and I don’t think Jesus would ask Peter to pass judgement on fellow disciples who had no need to be corrected or sin issues happening at the moment.
2) The issue of comparison. As believers we are warned against comparing ourselves to others. I can’t see Jesus asking Peter to compare his love for Him to the love of the other disciples. Comparison can lead to sin and motivates us to “one up” other by trying to prove that we love Jesus more than the next guy. Forcing us to comparing our love for Him to others is never the motivation of Jesus.
So what is this question referring to?
The answer comes in the context. After the heart breaking crucifixion and faith restoring resurrection of Christ, it seems that Peter was exasperated. He was tired, drained, wore out, emotionally wrecked. In that mindset, it seems like Peter made a decision to go back to the old life where things were much simpler. He went back to the boat he left behind, saw the old nets sitting there where he left them. Maybe there were some village folks welcoming him, glad to see him back. The idea of it all must have seemed so comfortable and familiar at a time when so much was unsure. In fact, Peter may have been thinking about just going back into the family business and chalking the last 3 years up to “quite an adventure.”
So as Jesus makes His appearance here, and asks Peter to bring some of the fish over, what Jesus may be asking is, Peter, do you love me more than this huge pile of fish, do you love me more than your old boat and nets and the security of the low risk low reward life that you had before. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these.” Notice, Jesus is withholding the name He gave him, implying the title of “Peter the rock” was in jeopardy, so instead Jesus calls him by the old name, in his old town doing the his old job. Do you love your old self and life more than you love me? Peter replies with an under whelming, “yes lord, you know I love you.” As Jesus pushed him two more times, Simon, do you love me, Simon, DO YOU LOVE ME? Simon finally, unreliant on emotion or the heat of the moment says, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus pushed Simon, and finally, Peter stayed calm and cool, he didn’t crack, he didn’t back down and he showed Jesus once and for all, he is the ROCK that Jesus knew he was.
Often when we first come to Christ there is an element of emotion and excitement that will soon wear off. This is when we see if we truly love Christ or if we are casual Christians who would prefer worldly comfort over any kind of difficulty or persecution.
As we follow Christ we come to forks in the road that require us to answer this question, weather its a career, a hobby, worldly temptation or comfort, the easy way out or outright sin, we will be faced with one question…Do you love Christ more that these?
The book of Colossians starts with a praise by Paul for the church in Colosse for their strong faith and trust in Jesus and love of others. This strength, Paul says, come from their confident hope of their heavenly reservations. Paul says,
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.
Colossians 1:4-5 NLT
It’s interesting to me that what Paul attributes their fruitfulness to is their hope. Not their good works, not their wisdom, not their strength, but in their hope of eternity in paradise. Paul uses the next 20 or so verses to talk about this road we all face. The road of life as a Christ follower. Paul gives validation to why we are right to have our ultimate hope in Christ alone; because Christ is supreme and eternal as God is, and that our strength to keep going forward comes from Christ. Paul goes on to say,
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.
Colossians 1:23 NLT
As if he’s saying, you’re going to be tempted to take an easier road but don’t do it! You’re going to hear all kinds of lies, but don’t believe them! You’re going to have every opportunity to doubt and turn away but don’t, be strong, stand firm and don’t worry or doubt, you’re on the right track!
The life issues we face today are not new to us, they we’re foretold, people have been battling them forever. Jesus knew the road to eternity wouldn’t be easy, but we know that, and we know that Jesus will never leave us. Keep on the road, don’t take the bait to find an easier way. There is only one road to eternal hope and that’s though Christ Jesus. Let your hope be stronger than your doubt.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? ” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT
On a day that seemed like anything but “good” at the time, believers of Christ now know this day is the key to our eternal freedom. Without this day, Good Friday, our lives would be anything but “good”. Thank you Lord for your patient loving kindness to us. Thank you not giving me what I deserve. Death has lost it’s power!