Chapter Twenty-Seven – Matthew 11: One Purpose of a Miracle


Well no matter who you are and no matter what you’ve done / There will come a time when you can’t make it on your own / And in your hour of desperation know you’re not the only one prayin’ “Lord above, I need a miracle”

  • Third Day, I Need a Miracle from the 2012 album “Miracle”

Jesus has been doing some pretty amazing and unheard of things up to this point. And in the previous chapter He points to His miracles as proof of who He is to His wrongfully imprisoned cousin, John the Baptist. So far we’ve discussed His drive to make people whole and the fact that He provides tangible evidence to back up His claims. In verses 20-24, Jesus mentions another purpose of His miracles: for people to repent of their sins and turn to God (v. 20). He specifically names three old testament cities (Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom) and compares them to three cities of His time (Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum). His Jewish audience would have understood the significance.

The three old testament cities were infamous in Jewish culture for their wickedness (Genesis 18-19, and Ezekiel 27-28). And yet, Jesus says that if He had performed the same miracles in them, as He did in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, those wicked cities would have repented of their sin. In other words, they would have been spared of God’s judgment which ultimately befell them. Simultaneously, as a result, one could argue that a nation with churches and pews on every street corner has no excuse on judgment day if they do not repent of similar sins.

And just what were those sins? “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness while the poor and needy suffered outside her door” (Ezekiel 17:49). Tyre? Pretty much the same thing: pride and gluttony (Ezekiel 28). Sounds a lot like modern day America to me. Tax cut for the wealthy? Check. Supreme Court nominee who’s a drunk and possible serial assaulter? Check. President who is so narcissistic he tries to make the universe revolve around him? Check. Pride and gluttony. And an unwillingness to help the poor and needy.  Take away healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions? Check. Close your borders to refugees? Check.

How far we have fallen as a nation in the past 20 months. There is so much anger and so much hate visible. Where is our compassion? We lock children up in cages. We separate them from their families. Where is the help for the poor and needy? Our GOP-led Congress is seeking to cut funds for programs like Medicare and Medicaid and SNAP. Most corporations do not pay a living wage. Employees need to work two or three jobs to try and make ends meet; yet they still require government assistance to live.  I would argue that Jesus Himself could stand in our midst and perform miracles so we would repent, and we probably wouldn’t recognize Him. He may even be doing it right now – and do we change course? No. The thing that really gets me is that a majority of Evangelicals support this President and this Congress. They have really bought the lie that the GOP is the party of God. Nothing could be further than the truth. They are the party of wealth who would do anything to keep that power, including bending and abandoning long established norms.

Maybe Pastor Max Lucado said it best: “Why do we do what we do? Why do we take blantantly black and white and paint it gray? Why are pricelss mores trashed while senseless standards are obeyed? What causes us to elevate the body and degrade the soul? What causes us to pamper the skin while we pollute the heart? Our values are messed up” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 33).

Jesus said something else about the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. He said judgment day would be worse for them than it will be for those three infamously wicked cities. I can’t imagine the punishment of this nation for electing a bigoted, racist, misogynistic, ungodly narcissist who lies about almost everything. I think we’re already seeing some of the beginnings of it: America, once a city on a hill, is now a laughingstock around the globe, to say the least, among our former allies. The loss of our standing should alarm us. I see religious leaders doubling down and supporting the GOP. It’s shameful, and a complete misrepresentation of everything Jesus preached and did while alive on earth.

We have a chance to begin turning the tide this November 6th. We can vote in members of Congress who will stand up to the current Administration and thwart its wicked agenda. More importantly, it can start to hold the GOP accountable for its horrible policies which are anything but Christ-like. If you’re not registered to vote, get registered. If you’re already registered, make a plan to vote and encourage others to do the same. On election day, consider driving people to the polls. There is no excuse for staying home. There’s so much at stake, including avoiding the coming judgment. Let’s recapture the spirit of compassion and grace that truly makes America great again. Some days, it seems like we really do need a miracle to stop this train wreck of a Presidency.

Chapter Twenty-Six – Matthew 11: A Doubtful Question


When I was young…
You were my friend and heartbeat
Born in the dark
You are the hand that held me
You opened your arms
And called me into salvation
Your infinite love echoes in all creation

For who you are is the great I am
For who you are, you’re the son of man
For who you are, I am who I am

  • Caedmon’s Call, Who You Are, from the 2001 album “In the Company of Angels”

Jesus no sooner sends out the Twelve, when disciples of John the Baptist arrive with a message from the imprisoned prophet. John, cousin of the Christ, publicly rebuked the Roman puppet in power for marrying his brother’s wife so Herod threw the man of God in jail. His disciples have one question for the Christ: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting or should we keep looking for someone else?” (v. 3).

It’s a doubtful but honest question, and one I have asked from time to time over my life. How do we know that Jesus is the Christ and not just some impersonator? After all, 2,000 years later there are countless Jews who dispute the New Testament accounts. Matthew’s gospel was written especially for a Jewish audience so it’s no wonder he includes this narrative and question within its pages.

Before his arrest and imprisonment by Herod, John had already declared Jesus to be the Messiah (John 1:29-34). But as John sits in prison, it’s natural to have doubts. He is supposed to be the forerunner to the Christ. His primary job was to prepare people for the coming Messiah and if that’s Jesus, then why is he languishing in prison? He should be out preaching and baptizing. His role had been prophesized hundreds of years before by the prophet Malachi (3:1). His job was monumentally important! In a way, I’m comforted knowing that even the great John the Baptist had doubts about the cousin he grew up with.

Maybe Pastor Max Lucado put it best when he wrote that the “trueness of one’s belief is revealed in pain. Genuineness and character are unveiled in misfortune. Faith is at its best, not in three-piece suits on Sunday mornings or at V.B.S. on summer days, but at hospital bedsides, cancer wards, and cemeteries” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 77). I would also add: in prison cells.

How does Jesus respond? Does He chide John’s disciples for bringing such a question to Him? Does He tell John he ought to know better since he is the one who baptized Jesus? That’s almost what I would expect but it’s not what the Christ does. Instead, He provides comfort in the form of an answer: Tell John “what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life…” (v. 4b-5). All of these were signs of the Messiah. Jesus is not just saying YES to John’s question, He’s providing empirical evidence. It’s tangible. And Matthew is passing it on so his Jewish readers can know, too. Remember that even though this gospel was not written right away, many of the people contained in its stories would have still be alive for anyone interested in hearing a first hand account. In other words, the stories would have been backed up. Interesting to note, that since the new religion of worshipping a “risen” Savior was still banned by the Roman Empire, I’m sure if there had been any false information provided in the narratives – the powerful government would have written its own documentation disproving it. To my knowledge, no such documents exist.

It’s not a slam dunk to proving that Jesus is who He says He is – but it is part of the evidence which demands a verdict.  With so much evidence available to John the Baptist, Jesus is making his identity obvious once again to his cousin.

Doubts are a natural part of life. They creep in the moment certainty takes a break. And they come in many different forms. Is there a God? Does He really love me? Are my sins really forgiven? Am I truly saved? How can God work in my life? The good news is that Jesus doesn’t expect us to just blindly believe the answers.  He provides evidence, often mountains of evidence, and says to trust that. Give Him your questions – and watch Him provide the proof to His answers.

Chapter Twenty-Five – Matthew 10: Hardship and Grace


There are those who merely listen ‘cuz they think they cannot sing / There are those who join the music, they become free / If your story doesn’t wind up ending happy after all / There’s a grace that’s there, it’s everywhere, and it’s equal to the fall

  • Satellite Soul, Equal To The Fall, from the 1997 self-titled debut album

I feel led to pause in the middle of Matthew chapter ten, before moving on, to really underscore a particular point about suffering hardship for the Christ. In verses 16-42 Jesus readies the Twelve for persecution before He sends them out on their first mission. He tells them that this mission, and all subsequent missions, may be very difficult. He starts by saying “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves” (v.16) – yikes! There is literally very little more vulnerable and helpless than a sheep surrounded by wolves. It means almost certain death for the sheep to be sure. He goes on to tell them that they will be flogged and threatened, and not to be afraid of those who can kill the body. He tells them that through it all they are more valuable to God than they can imagine. And then he says something that I see get misused on a regular basis nowadays.

He says “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my father in heaven” (v. 32).

For one thing, Jesus is NOT talking about sharing Facebook memes to “prove” we are Christians. He IS talking about confessing faith in Him often to our own peril. In the book of Acts we see the apostles being dragged before government officials who would decide their physical fate for publicly admitting they followed a risen Savior. Today, at least here in America, we don’t face anywhere near that kind of pressure despite what some conservative leaders and talking heads would have you believe. If I were to listen to them, I’d probably believe my entire way of life was under prosecution (which it’s not). Maybe it is in other parts of the world. I can think of how difficult it must be to follow the Christ in a Middle Eastern country where Islam is the dominant religious system. Or perhaps in communist China where religion in general is dismissed as an opiate of the masses and a follower of Christ can be imprisoned and beaten. But here in the United States? Not so much. In fact, nowhere close.

Yet to watch certain “news” stations and listen to certain religious figureheads here in the States you’d think Christians are being persecuted at every turn. It’s a joke. Why? You can still read your bible, in public, purchase said bible at a number of Christian retailers online and instore across this nation, and you can even blog about what you read about in your study time. You can even own multiple bibles. There’s no limit on how many can be present in your household or personal possession. None of that is prohibited. You can still pray in public. You can publicly attend the church of your choice once a week or several times in a week. You have days set aside for national public gatherings to pray. Religious leaders (although I question the “Christian” part of their ministry) can still publicly broadcast into your homes on the radio and on television. To beat all, pastors can speak politically from the pulpit and yet retain their tax exempt status. No one is being arrested and flogged in the streets. No one is being put on trial. No one is being executed. No one is being imprisoned. No one is being ridiculed. No one is being prevented from worshipping. No Bibles are being burned. No one is being victimized. Period.

Maybe that time is coming, here in the United States. But as far as I can tell, it’s no where close to happening any time soon. And being asked to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple or someone else you don’t share ideology with is not a violation of your religious freedom. Your refusal to serve others IS bigotry. And it is NOT the way of grace. So what I would like to ask of my brothers and sisters in Christ is to stop acting like it is just around the corner. And stop supporting public figures (both with attention and with money) who claim it’s already an issue in society. If anything, speak out against such people. Let non-believers know that real believers don’t believe in the hype.

And if the day ever happens where being a “Christian” is truly a crime in this country, suck it up and bear the burden honorably instead of playing the victim card. That’s how grace wins and more people decide to join the music.

Chapter Twenty-Four – Matthew 10: On the Road


Side by side driving the same highway / Leaving behind everything and everyone you love / The cost to pay to tell the world of Jesus / Hoping that these bridges burned would not just be in vain / It helps to think that somewhere you’re feeling just the same…

  • O.C. Supertones, Dedication, from the 1999 album “Chase the Sun”

The time has come to send them out on their own; to multiply the ministry. Jesus has been doing some pretty amazing and awesome things but He’s only one man. The need for healing and restoration is greater than His mortal body can traverse at this point. So, in response, He calls The Twelve to His side. A motley crew if ever there was one, full of the uneducated and the untalented. They are outcasts and throwaways, not harbingers of hope. Yet the Christ calls them all the same and they respond. We know their names because three of the four gospels record them. We find them here in Matthew 10, but also in Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6. This continuity is important because if only one gospel author had a list, or if two gospel authors had different lists – the list would be suspect. We might not be able to trust its accuracy.

The lists are sparse. Mostly just names. Not a lot of details. Maybe because the details are boring or unimpressive much like the men themselves. They are from many different walks in life.  Some fishermen, a tax-collector, a few political activists. We don’t know much more about them than that. There is the tendency to think that the Christ only uses people of great stature to accomplish His purpose today. These lists are a good reminder that only God can take ordinary people and use them to do extraordinary work. And what does He tell the Twelve to do as He sends them out?

Basically, to do the things He has been doing. Listen to these instructions: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons” (v. 8). Wow. I don’t know about you but if Jesus asked me to do those things, I would, at the very least, feel overwhelmed and underprepared. That’s a tall order. The good thing about Jesus is that while He sets the bar high He also fully equips those He sends out. He knows it’s not going to be easy (see v. 16-36…Holy cow) but He doesn’t send them empty handed. That would be a suicide mission. Jesus is not into those unless it’s Himself He’s talking about.

There’s a definite cost to following the Christ. Here He warns them about three (3) primary groups who will oppose them. First up, the government (v. 18-19).  Secondly, religious people (v. 17). Thirdly, family (v. 21). Then He sends them out. They take to the road with just the bare necessities. How about us? Do we leave the comforts of home behind enough? Matthew ends this chapter using Jesus’ words to say that we must love nothing more than Him (v. 37-39). We must take up our cross or else we are not worthy of being His. Too many “Christians” today thinks this means that we must suffer hardship for Him to prove our character. They think if others (non-believers) are offended by us we are suffering for His sake. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The message of Christ is one of attraction. Yet that is not how many so-called conservative Christian leaders today seem to believe. They would make ‘Christians” out to be victims in today’s society. They would say that because the world turns away from us we are persecuted. No. No, no, no. A thousand times no. If the world is turning away from us today it is because we have become repugnant to them. And that is not the gospel of the Christ. We are doing it wrong.

Finally, He sent them to only the Jewish people (v. 6), not the gentiles or Samaritans (v. 5). He even tells them to shake the dust off their feet if their message is not received (v. 14). That seems strange. Why? “When leaving Gentile cities, pious Jews often shook the dust from their feet to show their separation from Gentile practices. If the disciples shook the dust of a Jewish town from their feet it would show their separation from the Jews who rejected their Messiah. This gesture was to show the people they were making a wrong choice – that the opportunity to choose Christ might not present itself again” (study bible, p. 1561). The disciples would have understood this instruction and its severity. The question we need to ask ourselves is have we listened to their message as it’s been preserved for us throughout the centuries? What decision have we made about the Christ in our own lives? Is He just a man? Is He just a religious leader? Is He just a figure of ancient history? Or is He who He said He was? More to come on that.

Today He sends us to the world, having accomplished in the flesh His mission of redemption. It should be our mission too. It’s interesting to note how often the Christ gave up His “rights”. And yet, today, our so-called religious leaders would preach we should assert our rights; stand up for ourselves; force our way of life and our beliefs on others in the world in order to save them. No. No, no, no. Again, a thousand times no. The ends never justify the means. We must turn away from current evangelical thinking and seek the mind of the Christ. The future of the gospel depends on it now as it depended on the Twelve back then. Get back on the road.



Chapter Twenty-Three – Matthew 9: A Ripe Harvest


“If we don’t believe then how will they know? / How will they hear if we never go? / Oh Lord, send us to the world / If we don’t believe then how will they see? / How will they know that they can be free? / Oh Lord, send us to the world” – Harvest, If We Don’t Believe (Send Us to the World) from the 1983 album “Send Us to the World”.

Right after the two now-seeing men leave to tell everyone what had happened to them, a demon-possessed man is brought to Jesus. The man cannot speak. The Christ casts out the demon and suddenly the man’s tongue is loosened. It’s the reaction of the Pharisees I want to focus on here. These religious leaders have just witnessed a slew a miraculous healings and somehow they reach the conclusion that the only reason Jesus can do what He does is because He gets His power from the prince of demons, Satan.

Throughout chapter 9, these so-called “men of God” accuse Jesus of four different sins: serving Satan (v. 34), impiety (v, 14), blasphemy (v.3), and befriending outcasts (v. 10). Why did the Pharisees malign Him so?  My study bible has a footnote which reads: “(1) Jesus bypassed their religious authority; (2) He weakened their control over the people; (3) He challenged their cherished beliefs; and (4) He exposed their insincere motives” (p. 1560). Of course, they hated Him. Of course, they wanted to take Him down. “While the Pharisees questioned, debated, and dissected Jesus, people were being healed and lives changed right in front of them. Their skepticism was based not on insufficient evidence but on jealousy of Jesus’ popularity” (Study Bible, p. 1560).

Reminds me of so-called religious leaders now who use Jesus to line their own pockets and gain power for themselves. They aren’t really interested in people being healed and restored to wholeness. They are “Christians” because it does something for them, which is too bad because in the concluding verses of chapter 9, Matthew relates Jesus teaching to His disciples that the harvest is ripe (there are many people who need Jesus in their lives) but the workers (the people who bring people to Jesus) are few (v. 37). The thing is, I’ve found when I pray for something like more people to bring in the harvest, often God points to me and challenges me to step up my game. How am I bringing people closer to God? And more importantly, what’s my motivation? Am I doing it for me, or for them? The truth is, we all need to be prepared for God to use us to show others the way to Him. Otherwise, it seems to me, we are just like the Pharisees.

Jesus, by contrast, was a Being overwhelmed with compassion for people. Matthew writes that He saw “they were confused and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). The former tax-collector deliberately uses this phrasing because it echoes the deep mercy of God described by the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel (34:5,6). The disciple, John, writes in his gospel that Jesus is the “good shepherd” (chapter 10) who seeks to give life, while the thief (Satan) seeks to kill and destroy.

So, the choice is ours: what will we stand for? Mercy and compassion or judgement? Harvest or waste? Life or death? It really is that simple. I think, and I could be wrong, the reason more of us don’t join Team Life and pray for more harvest workers is that we don’t want to be challenged with going out into the fields ourselves. Which is too bad.  That’s where God’s heart is. Imagine if Jesus had insisted we come to Him instead of Him coming to us. Oh Lord, send us to the world.

Chapter Twenty-Two – Matthew 9: Restoring Hope part two


I know that I don’t bring a lot to the table
Just little pieces of a broken heart
There’s days I wonder if You’ll still be faithful
Hold me together when I fall apart?
Would You remind me now of who You are?
That Your love will never change
That there’s healing in your name
That You can take broken things
And make them beautiful

  • Ellie Holcomb, The Broken Beautiful, from the 2014 album “As Sure As The Sun”

In truth, when I think about it, every single person Jesus ever encountered needed hope restored in one way or another. They needed healing. They needed completeness. And the same holds true today. We’re all broken in some fashion.

Hot on the heels of raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, two blind men show up to face the “Son of David”. That’s just another name for the Messiah since the prophet Isaiah made it known that the Christ would be a descendent of King David (Isaiah 9:7). In any event, Jesus continues His Tour of Healing by asking them if they really believe He can heal them. Why does He do that? I mean, they wouldn’t come to Him if they didn’t want to see again, would they? But that’s not what Jesus is asking. What He’s really after is whether or not they have the faith for Him to work. It’s not that He’s dependent upon our faith, but sometimes He waits and questions us in order to increase our faith. It’s more a question of did they really want His help because if He helps them, their lives are going to really change.

I think sometimes we go to God with requests for help, not fully understanding what the outcome will be in our lives. Being God, He knows what the future holds even though we don’t. I think He just wants us to be ready for whatever that future holds. I think He wants us to fully trust that He’s got us. I think He wants us to have faith. “Do you really believe I can make you see?” (v. 28).

When they respond in the affirmative, He does His thing and opens their eyes by touching them and saying “Because of your faith, it will happen” (v. 29). This act is something only the Messiah can do. None of the prophets of old ever made the blind to see. Think of how the trajectory of their lives were altered after this. Instead of begging, now they can earn a living. Instead of relying upon their other senses to get by, they can experience the beauty and the horrors of the visual world. And, more importantly, Jesus knows now they are afforded more opportunity to sin. These eyes He opened will undoubtedly lust from time to time. He heals them anyway. He restores hope.

Then He does a curious thing and warns them not to tell anyone what He’s done for them (they don’t listen, of course). Why? Some biblical scholars believe it’s because Jesus doesn’t want to be known strictly as a miracle worker. As the footnote in my study bible says, “He healed because He had compassion on people, but He also wanted to bring spiritual healing to a sin-sick world” (p. 1559). It seems like it would be more difficult to bring about the spiritual if the focus is primarily on the physical. But what do I know?

The challenge for me in this passage, is who am I? Am I the blind man who wants to see, or am I the person offering hope to others? My problem is that I can fluctuate between being both, when I really need to be the latter. While I am not trying to claim equality with Jesus, what I mean is that I need to be more solidly the person bringing others to the one who can restore hope. How about you? Which one are you? Or are you a third category (to be discussed next time out)?

Chapter Twenty-One – Matthew 9: Restoring Hope part one


“There is not a hint of one person who was afraid to draw near Jesus. There were those who mocked Him. There were those who were envious of Him. There were those who misunderstood Him. There were those who revered Him. But there was not one person who considered Him too holy, too divine, too celestial to touch. There was not one person who was reluctant to approach Him for fear of being rejected.” – Max Lucado, God Came Near, p. 27.

When Matthew wrote his gospel account, he purported to establish amongst his Jewish readers that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (‘anointed one’).  One of the ways in which he made his case was in re-telling of the stories of Jesus’ miraculous healing of others. All of these instances demonstrate the Christ’s authority over sickness, demon-possession, and even death. Here in chapter 9:18-34, we see a slew of such miracles – beginning with a leader from a local synagogue coming to Jesus because his daughter has died.

The gospels of Mark (5:22) and Luke (8:41) say this man’s name is Jairus. His duties at the synagogue would have been to look after the building, supervise worship, run the school on weekdays, and find rabbis to teach on the Sabbath. He had a lot of responsibility. It is not disclosed in any of the gospel accounts just how long his daughter had been ill, nor why he waited until she had died to reach out to Jesus for help. Maybe Jairus had exhausted all other avenues and Jesus was a last resort. It almost sounds that way. In any event, he comes to the Christ at a time when it would have been too late for anyone else to do anything about his situation. Isn’t that just like us?

Nevertheless, true to His nature, Jesus agrees to help.  Isn’t that just like Him? On His way to Jairus’ house, Jesus encounters a woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years. Twelve years! That’s quite a menstrual disorder, and one which would have rendered her “unclean” in Jewish society. That meant she was untouchable and unable to lead any kind of a normal life. She would have been an outcast and probably ostracized by the mainstream public. Unable to worship. Unable to work. Unable to experience full health. Somehow, she manages to get herself into the crowd that is following Jesus and she thinks to herself, “If I can only touch the hem of His robe, I will be healed.”

This is an amazing thought to have. She doesn’t feel the need to directly bother Jesus for His time and attention. Maybe she worried she wasn’t worthy of it because of her condition. He is, after all, a holy man and she is unclean. Yet she had been rejected by other religious persons. What was it about Jesus that made her reach out to Him? And how can I be more like that? The kind of person that others want to be around and call on for help in spite of previous rejections by others?

Can you imagine her pressing her way through the crowd? All three gospel accounts record that the woman was instantly healed. INSTANTLY. Mark records that Jesus also instantly knew that power had gone out from Him (5:30) and when He asks who touched Him, the disciples laugh. It’s almost like they responded with, “Who is NOT touching you?” Within moments, the restored woman acknowledges Jesus’ question by falling to her knees in front of Him and He tells her, get this, to go in peace because her faith has made her well. How gracious. Again, a COMPLETE healing of not only her body but her soul as well.

At this point, a messenger from Jairus’ house arrives to confirm the daughter is dead and says the synagogue leader should not bother Jesus any longer (Mark 5:35). Yet the Christ INSISTS on continuing toward the house anyway. To Jairus’ credit, he does not stop Jesus. Whatever hope brought him to the Christ may have been diminished but Jesus can work with even an ember. The crowd that has gathered to mourn the death laughs when the Messiah tells them the girl has only fallen asleep (the same Greek word the apostle Paul would use to describe the death of believers later on in his epistles). Jesus shoos the crowd outside and then simply (SIMPLY, as if anyone could do it) commands the little girl to get up. AND SHE DOES.

In my life, I need to remember that Jesus can make a difference even when no one else can. Still, to this very day, he brings release from additive habits, healing from broken relationships, and forgiveness to emotional scars. He does the impossible. Your issue may have existed for over a decade, but it doesn’t matter to Jesus. He restores hope where none exists. That’s who He’s always been and that’s who He is. That’s one of many reasons why He fascinates me like no one else.


Chapter Twenty – Matthew 9: Dining with Deplorables


Come meet this motley crew of misfits
These liars and these thieves
There’s no one unwelcome here, no
That sin and shame that you brought with you,
You can leave it at the door
And let mercy draw you near

Just come to the table
Come join the sinners, you have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table

  • Sidewalk Prophets, Come To The Table, from the 2015 album “Something Different”

One of the things that I like best about Jesus is that He accepts everyone (that includes me). One of the things I like least about Jesus is that He accepts everyone (that includes deplorable people). I freely admit that for as much as I don’t like the Pharisees in the gospels, I can be just like them sometimes. Those religious bigots thought Jesus was too good to be seen hanging around some people. Yet that is exactly what Matthew records in verses 9-13 of chapter 9 here. This group of verses is where Matthew inserts his own story of how he came to follow Jesus, and the subsequent party he threw at his house which included a lot of his deplorable friends. Of course, the Pharisees don’t approve of the company that Jesus is keeping. That’s just like them. They even approach Jesus to tell him of their disapproval and His response is classic Jesus:

“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (v. 13).

In other words, it’s not the so-called healthy people who need a doctor, but the ones who know they are sick. He’s harkening back to the beginning of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who know they don’t measure up to God’s standard of holiness, not those who think they are righteous, who will ask for the help they need to be allowed into Heaven. Jesus says it’s good to have a realistic view of ourselves.

It’s important to note that Matthew, the one writing this gospel, was previously a despised tax collector for Rome. He collected taxes from citizens as well as from merchants passing through town. Tax collectors were expected to take a commission on the taxes they collected but many of them overcharged people by a lot and kept the profits for themselves. As a result, they were hated by the Jews because of their reputation for cheating and because of their support for the oppressive Roman regime. So, when Jesus called Matthew away from his lucrative life to follow Him, it’s a big deal. I can’t say I would have done the same.

When Jesus attended the party at Matthew’s house, it hurt His own reputation among the religious elites. As a newly minted disciple of the Christ, Matthew became a bridge for Jesus’ message to his past associates. This tells me I should not be afraid to reach out to people mired deep in sin. God’s message changes people and their friends too.

Perhaps Max Lucado said it best: “If we are not teaching people how to be saved, it is perhaps because we have forgotten the tragedy of being lost. If we’re not teaching the message of forgiveness, it may be because we don’t remember what it was like to be guilty. And if we’re not preaching the cross, it could be that we’ve subconsciously decided that – God forbid – somehow, we don’t need it” (Six Hours One Friday, p. 196). That’s the ultimate act of a Pharisee. Where is my place at the table? I don’t know about you, but I would rather be in the gutter with the deplorable’s than on a pedestal with those who are sure they are good enough.

Chapter Nineteen – Matthew 9: Authorized to Forgive Sins

You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am

  • Mercy Me, You Are I Am, from the 2012 album “The Hurt and the Healer”

The Christ is at it again. He’s healing freely and indiscriminately. This time, Matthew records the story of the paralyzed man lying on a mat whose friends bring him to Jesus, who doesn’t heal him right away but says the man’s sins are forgiven. Some of the religious leaders standing nearby overhear this comment and think to themselves that Jesus is committing blasphemy because no one but God can forgive sins. Jesus, being God, knows their thoughts and poses a question to them: Which is easier to say? Your sins are forgiven or get up and walk?

Then, without waiting for an answer, He turns to the paralyzed man and commands him to pick up his mat and walk. It’s an amazing moment. Matthew writes that at first fear ripples through the crowd, then the people break out in praise to God. This story is also recorded by Mark (2:1-12) and Luke (5:17-26). Both of the other accounts mention how Jesus is inside a house and there is such a huge crowd, that the paralyzed man’s friends can’t get him through the door to Jesus, so they take him up to the roof and remove tiles before lowering him down in front of the Christ. What’s not recorded in any of the accounts, is the reaction of the religious leaders. What were they thinking when the paralyzed man stood up and walked out with his mat under his arm?

One thing is certain: They missed the point Jesus was trying to make (that He IS God). By proving He could heal the man enough to walk, He was also proving He had the authority to forgive sins. This is important because forgiveness of sins was a sign that the Messiah had come (Isaiah 40:2/Joel 2:32/Micah 7:18-19/Zechariah 13:1). As religious leaders, they should have had extensive knowledge of these scriptures, yet it seems they missed the sign.

The same God who forgave the paralytic man offers forgiveness today to anyone who seeks it. The Greek word for forgiveness (aphiemi) translates as meaning to let go or to give up a debt; to send away from oneself. It means that the relationship has been renewed despite a wrong having been done. However, aphiemi goes beyond human forgiveness in two ways: (1) the law and justice are satisfied, thus, sin can no longer be held against a believer; and (2) the guilt is removed and replaced with the righteousness of the Christ. Believers are so forgiven in God’s eyes it is as if they have never sinned. What all of this doesn’t mean is that such forgiveness is cheap. Too often, I think people who follow Jesus (myself included) tend to mess up and then act like it’s no big deal. We need to remember our sins hurt God; it cost Him everything to forgive us.

It’s also important to note that AGAIN Jesus COMPLETELY heals the man: both physically and spiritually. He healed his body and his soul.  It is a message for us today that we, as His ambassadors, need to be a thorough in our daily dealings with people. We can say that we love God or others, but if we are not taking practical steps to demonstrate that love, our words become empty and meaningless. The question I need to ask myself is: How well do my actions back up what I say?

Chapter Eighteen – Matthew 8: People and the Four P’s


Tell me, how long will we grovel at the feet of wealth and power? How long will we bow down to that golden calf? Tell me now, how long will be too long? – Michael W. Smith, How Long Will Be Too Long, from the 1990 album “Go West Young Man”

If there’s one thing Matthew wants to make clear about the Christ, it’s that His new “master” prefers people. Not just slightly, but wholeheartedly. Throughout this entire tour of healing, Jesus makes it clear that He places a high value on the people with whom He comes into contact. Maybe that’s what makes Him so attractive to the former tax collector. Matthew had spent part of his life in service to the Roman Empire, collecting money from its subjects. I’m sure the job came with a fair amount of insults to his face and behind his back, and for at least a while it didn’t seem to bother him. He kept at it, day in and day out, until one day the carpenter from Galilee passes by and suddenly Matthew feels the need for a career change. He just up and leaves his post with its money box. Why? What was it about that carpenter?

I think it’s the truth that Jesus puts people before profits. In fact, He puts people (all kinds of people from all walks of life) before just about everything and anything. There was just something about Him that made people want to leave everything behind and follow Him. Maybe it was the words He spoke – like water to a thirsty man. Maybe it was the way He could look right at a person – and see their soul. Maybe it was the way He paid attention to everything and everyone – like they truly mattered to Him.  I don’t know for sure. Matthew never confesses to what it was about the man from Galilee. But everywhere in Matthew’s narrative are two things: Jesus and the people He encountered.

In the story that ends chapter eight, the disciples have just survived a monster storm and landed safely on the other side of the sea when Jesus meets two men who are demon-possessed. They identify Him as the Son of God. What is important to know about these guys is that they were so violent that no one else could pass through that area (which also happened to be a cemetery). Talk about a real-life ghost story the residents of that area could scare their children with!

Yet in this chapter, Jesus is the one terrifying the demons inside the two men. The tables have been turned! The demons beg God to send them into a nearby herd of swine, which He does, and the entire herd rushes down the hill and into the sea where they all drown. The men in charge of the herd witness all of this madness and race into town to tell the folk what happened. Sure enough, the townspeople journey out to the cemetery to see for themselves and what do they find? Jesus, sitting down, with the two men who had been terrorizing the countryside, now in their right minds. Here’s the kicker – they ask Jesus to leave.

What?! Why?!

Unlike the pagan gods worshipped by the townsfolk, Jesus could not be appeased, controlled, or contained. THAT is scary. Chances are they feared the supernatural power that Jesus possessed; something they had never seen before. But most importantly, biblical scholars over the years have also suggested that they were very upset about losing a prime money maker in the herd of pigs. In other words, they valued profits over people. How contradictory to the values Jesus demonstrated! In addition to profits, there are three other p’s that people tend to favor: power, possessions, and property.

You know, I look at society today in the United States and I see the exact same mindset in a certain political party. A party which claims to follow Jesus, but which doesn’t espouse or promote ANY of the values Matthew lays out about the Christ in his gospel. They favor wealth so much they recently passed a sweeping tax bill which gives huge breaks for the wealthiest 1%. Then, to pay for such tax breaks, they propose massive cuts to social programs that help the poor. They make plans to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. They actively work to repeal healthcare for all and attempt to replace it with something that won’t allow everyone to have coverage. They sabotage the current healthcare bill by with-holding subsidy payments. They cut funding to education, SNAP, and CHIP. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I seriously doubt Jesus would recognize or support this party that “acts this way in his name”.  Just saying.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is: are we more concerned with the four p’s than with people?  Let’s take a closer look at the two demon-possessed men Jesus helps. They were unclean in three major ways: 1) both men were Gentiles; 2) who were possessed by demons; 3) living in a cemetery. Technically, according to Jewish religious law, Jesus should not have had anything to do with those men. The major lesson I take away from all of this is that I should not turn my back on people who are repulsive or who violate my moral standards and religious beliefs. I need to remember that all human beings are unique creations of God, who bear His image. They are most important to Him. If I am to be like Him, they must be most important to me.