In Jesus’ Words: The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) –

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

Jesus answered the man, who was an expert in the law, by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

This is one of the few questions Jesus answers directly and succinctly.  It’s pretty clear, and not many can argue with its validity.  Why then is it one of the hardest for us to follow?  We define many types and names for love, argue over it in our court systems, write endless poetry and songs about it, and divorce it when it is no longer convenient.

We don’t need more definitions and rules about love.  Instead, here are some beautiful thoughts on what it means to show God’s love and greatest commandment.  This is the one time I say we should not try to over-think it.

“Gift from the Sea”, Anne Morrow Lindbergh –
“How does one learn this technique of the dance, the joy of living in the moment?  Why is it so difficult?  What makes us hesitate and stumble?  It is fear, I think, that makes one cling to the last moment or clutch greedily to the next.  It can only be replaced by love.  When the heart is flooded with love, there is no room in it for fear, doubt, or hesitation.  Living in the present ebb and flow of the tides – not owning or possessing or demanding, but freely, not looking back or forward in dread, but the present.”

“Crazy Love”, Francis Chan –
“Love sets us free from hate, guilt and fear.  When we focus on Christ, this seems more natural.  Love is the only thing that can defeat all.”

St. Augustine of Hippo, Christian theologian and philosopher –
“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

Love is the reason God created us, why God cares for us, why we are free to choose, why Christ died for us, and why we can receive eternal life.  Love explains everything.

Happy Easter!  It is the greatest love story of all time.

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In Jesus’ Words: The Living God (Matthew 22:29-33)

Jesus was asked a question about marriage in heaven: If a man dies, having no children, and his brother is to marry his wife, whose wife will she be in heaven?

Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees was directed more toward their heart than just answering their question.

~ Matthew 22: 29-33  Jesus speaks of the Resurrection ~

“You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” For in the resurrection, they will neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.  Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
And they were amazed at His teaching.

God of the Living.  The Living God.  Simon Peter confirmed this in Matthew 16:16 when he said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.”  Joshua mentioned this in the Old Testament when he said, “By this you shall know that the Living God is among you.” Joshua 3:10.

And Psalm 42:2 beautifully illustrates this by saying, “My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God.”

When we pursue and get to know the Living God, we can know that we will spend eternity with Him in heaven, and that our life and soul is created by a Living God, the only One who can give life and conquer death.  For it is not the knowledge about heaven that gives us this assurance, but it is in the knowledge of God and who He is.

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In Jesus’ Words: God and Money (Matthew 22:17-21)

“Tell us, what do You think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites?  Show Me the coin used for the tax.”

So they brought Him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.  “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.

Then He said to them, “Therefore, give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:17-21)

Jesus seems to get a little sassy here.  After all, he had just spent a lot of time with the Pharisees telling them parables about themselves and they still didn’t get it.  Instead they were spending their time plotting how to trap and kill him.  I’m sure Jesus knew their true intentions when they asked this question, but again, Jesus’ answers could not be defeated.

Jesus challenged the things of the day, but he was not political and he did not seek to change world structures, only the hearts of mankind.

When he spoke of giving to God the things that are God’s, I was reminded of these words from Dr. K.P. Johannan, missionary and author of “Revolution in World Missions”, written in 1986.  K.P. confirms in today’s world what Jesus was saying to us.  Jesus’ words were not only to the Pharisees but to us as well.  I hope we do not miss the point.

“Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence – they almost seem to despise it at times.  When I came to America, I stared in amazement at how they treated their beautiful clothes and shoes.  This nation routinely takes its astonishing wealth for granted.

How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?  I was alarmed at how misplaced are the spiritual values of most western believers.  It appeared to me that for the most part they had absorbed the same humanistic and materialistic values that dominated the secular culture.  Through their abundance, it was as if they were trying to escape from a guilt they had not yet defined.

They were simply incapable of understanding the enormous needs overseas.  I sometimes cannot freely order food when traveling in the U.S. – I look at the costs and carelessness and realize how far that amount of money would go in India or Philippines.  Suddenly I am not quite as hungry as before.

Is it God’s fault people are going hungry?  No, God has provided enough money in the highly developed nations to feed the rest.  Here are people of privilege and great affluence and more free to act on the Great Commission than any other nation in history.  Yet, they didn’t comprehend this.”

Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. – Francis Chan

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In Jesus’ Words: Two truths about heaven and hell (Matthew 21:33-22:14)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus continued his conversation with the Pharisees, “Listen to another parable..”, he replied.

Jesus had just finished telling the Pharisees the parable of the two sons, and how the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven before them because they had believed and repented. Jesus kept trying to get the Pharisees to understand. Pleading with them. Jesus did not want to see His chosen people miss the point and miss heaven, just because they were trying to hold on to a very short timeline of earthly power.

Jesus tells the parable of a vineyard owner and the tenant farmers who take care of the vineyard (an image that would have been relevant to the Jews of that time). When the owner sends his slaves (representing Old Testament prophets) to gather the harvest, the farmers beat them and kill them. Finally the owner sends his son (Messiah) and they reject him and kill him also. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit.”

Still, the Pharisees must have stood there with blank looks on their faces because the next verse says, “Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables..”  Or in other words, “Ok, I’m going to try this one more time…”  The next parable Jesus tells is about the wedding banquet. The invited guests (chosen people) paid no attention to the invite and went about their own business. So the king went out into the streets and invited others – both good and evil – to come in, and they accepted the invite. Jesus tells us that those who did not originally accept “will be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The two truths we can know from these parables taught by Jesus are:

1. The kingdom of heaven is not determined by how good or evil you are.  
It is by accepting God’s invitation to believe and repent. Our righteousness for heaven is granted to us through Jesus Christ, the prophesied Messiah. There is no way any of us could ever tally up a system (or religion) to count our rights or wrongs and make a case for heaven based solely on that. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone – to the person who has tried all their life to be good, or the person who was dealt a bad lot in life and didn’t have a fair chance, or even the person who was not fairly informed. It can only be by grace through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us.

2. Jesus tells us there is a hell and those who do not believe and repent will be sent there. (thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth).  It is not a comfy subject to talk about and many people try to water it down in today’s Christianity. But Jesus spoke about it often, and the truth does not change based on how we feel. Each of us will meet God someday, and the only thing that will matter at that time is God’s truth.

Today as Christians we get caught up in so many other obstacles, whether it is gay marriage, abortion rights, or a certain political party. But what really matters in the end are the two truths mentioned above. Everything else is secondary.

~ Matthew 21:33-22:14  Jesus’ two parables about heaven and hell ~

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner

“Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

“He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord
and is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!]”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they knew He was speaking about them. Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.

“Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

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In Jesus’ Words: Tale of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

good_bad

Which one of these is right?  A person who is disagreeable and untrustworthy but eventually does the right thing, or someone who is polite and respectable but does not do what they say?

This is the question Jesus presented to the religious Pharisees in his parable of the two sons.  But once again the religious leaders were unable to trick Jesus or fully answer his questions, and it infuriated them.

~ Matthew 21:28-32  Parable of Two Sons ~

“But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’

 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went.  Then the man went to the other and said the same thing.

“‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go.

 “Which of the two did his father’s will?”

“The first,” they said.

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.”

In this story, both sons had the same father (God).  The first son represented the despised sinners of the day – prostitutes, adulterers and thieves.  Many of these people were attracted to Jesus.  He offered them hope and redemption, and they repented.  The second son represented the religious leaders of the day.  They loved their world and power more than their faith or finding the truth.  They spoke well, but did not back up their words with actions.

This is a recurring theme with Jesus, where he says sinners will enter the kingdom of heaven before the religious hypocrites.  Imagine… a heaven full of repentful sinners.  And for all those Pharisees and others who worked so hard for their status, where did it get them in the end?

The prophet Haggai also spoke of a similar situation to the Jewish people in 520 BC.

The Lord of Hosts says, “Consider your ways!”
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!”
– from the book of Haggai, chapter 1

How often do we find ourselves in this situation today?  We are keeping up appearances and working hard, but it is toward the wrong things and it gets us nowhere.  Jesus is urging us instead to do God’s will, which is simply seeking the heart of God and His truth.  It’s as simple as that.  It is not being showy or working extra hard.  It is putting others first over our own selfish motives.  It is desiring the truth and being sincere in our heart.  These are things each of us can do every day, and in the end, we will be better off for it.

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In Jesus’ Words: By what authority? (Matthew 21:23-27)

jesus_authority
The average church sermon is probably only remembered for about twenty minutes after it has ended, or until we get to lunch.  But the words of Jesus have been remembered and recited for over 2000 years after he spoke them.

Jesus only directly answered three of the 183 questions he was asked, according to gospel accounts.  Sometimes he would put the question back on the person and sometimes he stayed silent.

Jesus asked more questions than he answered.  His own questions were intentional, to make people think or challenge their view.  He often asked people what they wanted or what they believed.  “Who do you say I am?’’  “Who do you seek?’’  

Jesus may not have regularly answered their questions, but he always spoke right to their heart. He asked though he already knew their answer.  And when they doubted, he would simply say, “Come and see.”  Jesus’ logic could not be undone then, and it still stands today.

~ Matthew 21:23-27  Jesus’ Authority Questioned ~

When Jesus entered the temple complex, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?” 

Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question, and if you answer it for Me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?”

They began to argue among themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ we’re afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought John was a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

feet with waves cropped

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In Jesus’ Words: fake faith (Matthew 21:18-22)

fig-tree

Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God and not in God Himself.
– Muguel de Unamuno, Spanish philosopher

One morning while Jesus was traveling back to Jerusalem, He became hungry and searched a nearby fig tree for some fruit to eat.  The tree was full of shiny green leaves but had no fruit, and Jesus cursed the tree for being fruitless, or fake, and the tree withered.  Why such harsh actions?  Jesus had been dealing with the Jewish temple leaders and was disappointed to find them to be the same way.  They put on a show and talked about God but didn’t actually follow Him.  They boasted of a Messiah to come, but then didn’t acknowledge Him.  They believed only in the idea of God.  We must also be careful today that we do not fall into that same trap.

~ Matthew 21:18-22  The barren fig tree ~

Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.

When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”

Jesus answered them, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

A friend once confessed to me, “I never talk bad about Jesus just in case he’s real.”  It was kind of a sad statement, and I wasn’t exactly sure where my friend stood with her faith. Though none of us are perfect in our faith, if we’re honest with ourselves, we should be able to self-examine our lives to know if we truly believe and follow Jesus, or if we just like the idea of it.  Don’t cheat yourself out of Jesus’ promises to you.  With true faith and honest prayer and Jesus by your side, you will receive many wonderful blessings.feet with waves cropped

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