Thursday, March 31, 2011

Matthew 16:21-28


Post by Liam Cadigan

In reading this passage the thing that grabs me is Jesus call to follow him.

He has just explained the suffering, pain, death and resurrection he is going to go through to his disciples. Then one of his closes followers Peter, who had just confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Messiah), begins to rebuke (Express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behaviour or actions) him. Then Jesus says “Get behind me Satan!” and refers to peter not having in mind the things of God but of Man. This is important to note as we explore Jesus next command.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”


Simple and straight forward, Jesus here give us the crux of Christianity. He calls us to die to our Selfish Independent Nature and instead walk in the will of God by following him. No longer do we have in mind the things of Man, but the things of God. A. W. Tozer offers relevant and challenging insight in his description of a cross and a throne:

“In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.”

Our challenge as we watch this clip and continue to meditate on Jesus call to follow, is to examine our lives. Are we living for the things of God or of man? Are we living for our comfort, our pleasure or are we being obedient in the call to follow Jesus? And finally, a concept that is hard to grasp for the western church which does not experience so much persecution, are we willing to follow Jesus even to Death?

(Video not for fainthearted: contains scenes from the film "The Passion of Christ")

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Matthew 15:21-28


What do we do with this one? What a strange thing to happen.

Jesus travels in to Gentile territory and it is then no surprise that he meets this Canaanite woman. What is surprising to us is Jesus’ reaction to her. He even uses the term ‘dog’ for the Canaanite woman. At first glance one could be forgiven that this seems a little racist! Some commentators such as Ken Bailey offer interesting and helpful insight on this passage.

Bailey suggests that Jesus tests the disciple’s narrow-minded views:

“The verbalization is authentic to their (the disciples) attitudes and feelings, but shocking when put into words and thrown in the face of a desperate, kneeling woman pleading for the sanity of her daughter. It is acutely embarrassing to hear and see one’s deepest prejudices verbalized and demonstrated.”

(Ken Bailey Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, pg 233.ff)

So here Bailey argues that Jesus unveils the deeply held prejudices of his disciples. Looking at the Gospels as a whole it seems that Jesus took no issue with Gentiles. In fact, Jesus spent much of his time reaching out to those who were not Jewish.

The Canaanite woman’s response to Jesus shows incredible faith. She is literally willing to beg Jesus to help her. How much does this Canaanite woman teach us about our posture towards Jesus?

A prayer from Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright:

Sovereign Lord, give us the faith to ask for your help, and the humility to receive it on your terms.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Matthew 15:1-9

Post by Amy Whiting


I am a stickler for Sanitarium Crunchy Peanut Butter on toast. I know it is more expensive and people tell me that you can’t tell the difference between that and cheaper brands. But you can. One Saturday morning as a special treat I toasted my white bread to perfection, lovingly lathered it in butter and covered it with just the right amount of peanut butter. Taking it to the table I sat down with great anticipation of the moment of sinking my teeth into perfection on toast. Only to be reviled by an imposter. The texture was wrong, it was oily yet dry and I’m not convinced the chunks were peanuts. I checked the jar – the label said Sanitarium...but I know for sure it wasn’t. Mum later admitted that she found an imitator brand on special and thought we would never know...And this I think is the worst thing – if it wasn’t in the Sanitarium jar I wouldn’t of expected Sanitarium goodness – and this is Jesus’ point – it is far more devastating for the people around us when our label says one thing and our substance is another...

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn't in it.
They act like they're worshiping me,
but they don't mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Matthew 14:22-33


The question to ask when reading this passage is: who is this Jesus?

Jesus has been up on the mountain alone while the disciples have been out on the boat for the night. In the morning Jesus simply walks out on to the water to meet them. That would definitely be a frightening early morning sight!

But Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid.

Then there is Peter. Good old Peter. We give Peter a hard time sometimes don’t we? But in fact Peter recognizes something important here. He asks Jesus to call him out on to the water and by doing this he recognizes that Jesus is the only one who can make this happen: he puts his faith in Jesus. Obviously it wasn’t enough because a step or two in and he becomes afraid and sinks like a rock (everyone loves puns right?). Anyway, even when Peter starts to sink Jesus does something that he is very good at: he rescues Peter.

It’s interesting that Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid. It’s interesting that it is fear that comes before Peter sinks. Isn’t it easy to let our fears govern the way we live?

“Fear cannot dominate our lives if we have a good work to do. ‘Good work to do’ is but another name for worship.”

-Stanley Hauerwas, SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (London: SCM, 2006), 141

That’s a great thought.

That is why it is important to come back to the question: who is this Jesus? As the disciples confess at the end of this passage: Truly he is the Son of God.

So to him we are called to be faithful. We need not be afraid; it is risky but when we find ourselves in over our head like Peter we can say “Lord save me!” This is a prayer Jesus is more than willing to answer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Psalm 95



It’s a word we use a lot. But I think we have completely lost the sense of what it means. I am guilty of this twisting of language. We attribute awesomeness to a lot of things. A tasty chocolate bar, a song we heard on the radio, a cool pair of jeans. Even hot dogs?


But really, to say something is awesome is to say we are in awe of it.

A wonderful Jewish thinker named Abraham Joshua Heschel comments on the meaning of awe and says this:

“Ultimate meaning and ultimate wisdom are not found within the world but in God, and the only way to wisdom is through our relationship to God. That relationship is awe. Awe, in this sense, is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding. Awe is itself an act of insight into a meaning greater than ourselves. Awe is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality…Awe is an intuition for the creaturely dignity of all things and their preciousness to God; a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something absolute. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to Him who is beyond all things. It is an insight better conveyed in attitudes than in words. The more eager we are to express it, the less remains of it.

-Excerpt from Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1955), 74-75.

That's Awesome.

This Psalm reminds us to stand in awe of our God. To worship is to be in awe, to live our lives acknowledging what God has done and responding in praise. This psalm reminds us not to harden our hearts toward God even when we are in the proverbial “wilderness”.

This Lent, may we learn to stand in awe of God.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Matthew 13:31-46


“Don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Jesus tells this parable to explain that God’s kingdom wasn’t coming in a way people might have expected. The kingdom is like a mustard seed; it starts small but blossoms into something much bigger. Jesus also says the kingdom is like leaven, that is the stuff that makes bread rise. Just a little bit of yeast makes a whole loaf rise. Often the kingdom manifests itself in small and seemingly insignificant ways yet its influence is powerful.

For instance, Jesus’ life has had incredible influence on our world.

The way that things happened was peculiar though. He came into the world, announced this kingdom, gathered a small bunch of followers and ended up on a cross executed as a political upstart. Doesn’t sound like the arrival of a king does it?

Like the cross, this parable challenges our judgments about smallness and insignificance. God is growing his kingdom in this world and he seeks for us to be part of this. In the seemingly small and insignificant of our day-to-day lives God will meet us, transform us and use us to see his kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

A prayer:

Lord Jesus, tell us again the story of your kingdom, and draw us to follow you, to find the treasure, to help in the work of making that kingdom grow.

(Prayer from Tom Wright, Lent For Everyone: Matthew, Year A. London: SPCK, 2011, 50.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Matthew 12:27-32


Jesus casts out demons and he gets accused of being on the devil’s side?

What is with that?

Jesus quickly points out to his accusers that this is a silly idea. Jesus essentially says that he has bound up the strongman: Satan. He has done this by prevailing over the temptation he faced in the desert. Satan threw everything at Jesus but he resisted. We see from this passage that Jesus was engaged in a battle with the powers of darkness. This was a battle in which Jesus was ultimately victorious – even death could not defeat him.

It is in this that we have hope. It is in this that we know that sin and death doesn’t have the final say in our lives.

This story reminds me of those cheesy cartoon scenes where there is a little devil with a pitchfork on one shoulder and a little angel wielding a harp on the other shoulder and they are competing for attention and influence. Even though the imagery is cheesy there is truth in the fact that in our own lives there is a real ongoing battle of influence. Satan would have us worship ourselves. Satan would have us comfortably living in our own sin. Jesus on the other hand calls us out of sin and desires that we love God and love our neighbour and that we allow him to transform us and make us new by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next part of this verse is kind of confusing. Many of us have read this and really worried about it. “Have I committed the unforgivable sin?” we may ask. What does it mean to blaspheme the Spirit?

Tom Wright gives a helpful illustration. He says this:

“ It isn’t that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (v31) is a peculiarly bad sin which God will punish in a specially harsh way. It is simply that if I deny the existence of the train that is coming into the station, or declare that it has been sent to deceive me and take me in the wrong direction, I am automatically stopping myself from getting on it. The Spirit was at work through Jesus, to launch God’s kingdom; but if someone looked at what was happening and ascribed it to the devil, they could not possibly benefit from it.”

(Excerpt from Tom Wright, Lent For Everyone: Matthew, Year A. London: SPCK, 2011, 46-47.)

So this Lent, may we allow ourselves to be swept up in what God is doing in this world. May we turn away from sin and call on the one who alone can deliver us from evil.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Matthew 12:1-21


Guest post by Mike Wilson from Westside Church

Here is the servant God has chosen! This is the one he loves and delights in. It is upon THIS man that God will put his Spirit and empower him to bring justice where there is injustice. There is no doubt that this message was shocking to those who had heard similar things from Jesus. Jesus simply didn’t represent the Jewish hope for liberation the way the Jews hoped that liberation might occur.

But, really, are we any better? We hope for liberation from injustice and expect God to punish the unjust the way WE would punish the unjust. We see corrupt systems of government and our hope for their people’s liberation is in the form of a military campaign led by a dominant nation (who we later turn on for ‘meddling’…). Saddam Hussein was a man of injustice, our response: bomb the country. The story repeats itself throughout our history, and now again in the Middle East.

I recently had a discussion with a Christian friend about what should happen to people who commit a certain kind of horrendous crime. His response was that they should be shot/castrated/tortured etc. As much as I might sympathise with this response it doesn’t reflect the Jesus that Matthew claims fulfils this passage in Isaiah 42. In advocating our own brand of justice we indulge in mob mentality and miss the Son of God who does not cheer along but remonstrates the crowd.

We can’t help but confuse our human hopes for justice with what we expect God to do. May our prayer this Lent and Easter be to come face to face with the God who chose to throw himself upon the forces of evil and oppression and be crucified rather than pick up the sword and fight back. May our hope be in God’s kingdom and His justice rather than our worldly empires and our worldly ‘peace’.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Matthew 11:1-19


John who in chapter 3 announces that Jesus is the one to bring the kingdom now second-guesses Jesus. “Is this really the one to save and deliver us?”

It seems Jesus didn’t do things the way everyone expected him to.

There are people who are trying to force their way into the kingdom. The Jews have been oppressed by the Romans long enough (as the Monty Python clip in a very 'historically accurate' way shows!) Surely violence is the answer! But this Jesus is the one who tells them to love their enemies. It is no wonder that people have been second-guessing his credentials.

This Jesus is the one who overcomes violence through love. Jesus mocks the pretend kings of this world who try to achieve their goals through violence and coercion. The fruit of the kingdom that Jesus announces is seen in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised to life and the poor hearing the good news. Not what many expected.

This is a challenge for us. Many of us expect that Jesus will fulfil our own ‘kingdom ideals’. We may hope he will help us achieve all of our own life goals and dreams but rather Jesus invites us to join in with what God is doing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Matthew 10:16-25


Post by Amy Whiting

An interesting reading hobby of mine lately has been to take passages that are often quoted and find them in the Bible – then read the chapter before and after (ahh...the uncomfortable practice of reading in context). I’ve discovered that lots of the verses that are often quoted by us as comfort and encouragement are surrounded with circumstances that need that level of reassurance.

In my Bible today’s passage is entitled “Jesus sends out the twelve” – so often conjures up the great experiences of healing, raising the dead, casting out demons – “freely giving what they have received”...yet in the same breath Jesus speaks of the cost – he up front says “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves”, he promises floggings, false arrests, betrayal, hatred & persecution.

Jesus never denied the cost – sometimes I wonder if we do. Do we stop reading at verse fifteen because the reality of sixteen onwards is well outside of our comfort zone. The question I find myself asking is “do I really want to give what I have freely received...if the reception is the same as what the disciples were promised.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Matthew 10:1-15


Jesus sends out the twelve disciples. It is no coincidence that there are 12 disciples. Israel was made up of 12 tribes. So as Jesus gathers 12 disciples around him it is obvious to Jewish readers that he is making a statement about the continuity of what he is doing with what God had done through Israel.

Jesus gives these disciple authority and sends them out announce the kingdom. If I was one of the 12 I know that I would feel in over my head. But Jesus trusts these people that he has gathered to represent him. God only knows why. They are just ordinary people, human beings with flaws and issues like the rest of us. Yet God mysteriously works this way, willing to draw us into his mission in the world.

I am really enjoying reading a commentary on Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas at the moment (as you can probably tell from previous posts) so I can’t help but give you a wee gem from his section on Matthew 10. Hauerwas says this:

“ …the way the gospel is known is by one person being for another person the story of Christ. Jesus summons the disciples to him, and so summoned, they become for us the witnesses who make it possible for us to be messengers of the kingdom. The disciples are not impressive people, but then, neither are we. Their mission, as well as our own, is not to call attention to ourselves but to Jesus and the kingdom.”

(Excerpt from Stanley Hauerwas, SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (London: SCM, 2006), 106.

Isn’t that true. In the same way the disciples are called to announce the kingdom we are called to also. Remember earlier in Matthew when John the Baptist came preaching that the kingdom was near? John wasn’t concerned with calling attention to himself; rather he spent his time pointing towards Jesus. That is what we as followers of Jesus are called to do: to point away from ourselves towards Jesus. There is no self-gain involved, that is why Jesus reminds the disciples that the message is free! Not everyone will like this message, yet we are still called to be witnesses to it. This Lent, let us pray that we may be representatives of Jesus wherever we may go.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Psalm 121

This Psalm reminds us in times of fear, distress and trouble that we can look to God for help. Meditate upon this Psalm today. What does it mean for lent? What does it mean to be tempted and to struggle with sin yet to know a God who is our help? I particularly love the line: "the Lord shall preserve you from all evil". It doesn't always seem like it but there are hope in these words. We know that in Jesus' death and resurrection that God has ultimately overcome evil once and for all. So we pray, "your kingdom come" and hope in anticipation to see the fullness of this reality.


1 I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, He who keeps Israel

Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;

The Lord is your shade at your right hand.

6 The sun shall not strike you by day,

Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;

He shall preserve your soul.

8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in

From this time forth, and even forevermore. (NKJV)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Matthew 17: 1-9


Guest post by Mike Wilson
from Westside Church

Today we read about the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Tom Wright points out that Jesus did not fit the mold of what it meant to be Israel’s Messiah. Many hoped that he might be the Messiah that rescued them but he acted in such a way that made it very hard to believe.

There is a Christ that the disciples wanted, and there is a Christ that was. They were not necessarily the same Christ.

Just as the disciples had to be shaken out of their false notions of who Jesus was by an awesome and astonishing display of God, I too need to be woken up to the true nature of Jesus and of God.

You see the god I want is a god who values above all else my comfort and happiness.

There is a god I want and there is a God that is. They are not the same God.

Lent is a time where we confront our false notions of God as one who exists for our comfort. In the giving up of our comforts and addictions we come closer to recognising the God who suffered temptation, who was thirsty, who was weak and broken.

God does not exist to make me happy. Lent is a brief window where I’m wracked by coffee withdrawal, where I meditate on my sins and offer them to God. At Lent, in my discomfort and temptation, I am closer to the God that is. Lent is my Mount of Olives experience, where God reveals Jesus as the Christ! At Lent I make the long climb up the mountain with my “buddy Christ” and before my eyes he is revealed in all his splendour as the one who creates and sustains his creation; the one who will one day redeem ALL of it (of which I am a part).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Matthew 9:9-17


In Jesus’ day there were social dining conventions, as there are today in some ways but probably more explicit. According to these social norms a host with status in the community such as a Pharisee should only invite people who boost their own standing in the community. So this would mean a person like a Pharisee would invite people within their own social standing. People did this so that they wouldn’t lose face socially. Mealtime was a time for many to maintain the social hierarchy. People would use a network of relationships to maintain social power.

Jesus bursts onto the scene and the Pharisees notice that he is different. In fact, he sticks out like a sore thumb! Jesus eats with people considered to be the scum of society. This clearly isn’t boosting his social standing. So what is Jesus up to? It seems that he has come announcing a kingdom that isn’t interested in these social games. Rather this is a kingdom in which the sick are healed, the poor are fed, the lowly are lifted up, those excluded are included. As Jesus says, “It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor, it’s the sick”.

During Lent we fast and we remind ourselves of the reality of sin and its consequences. But in this passage we see that in Jesus God has done something new, something that breaks the power of sin. Jesus sets a table for us, he invites us to celebrate and to be part of the party. Jesus invites all of us even though we are sinners. Here we see the awesome grace and mercy of God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Matthew 8:23-34


When we read this passage we are confronted with a Jesus many of us are unfamiliar with. This is not the meek and mild Jesus many of us see in Western paintings of Jesus. This Jesus is the one who calms the storm who casts out demons: who definitively shows he has authority over all of creation. In the casting out of the demons we can see in anticipation Jesus’ ultimate victory over the power of Satan.

How are we to respond to this Jesus? “What sort of man is this?” exclaim the disciples.

Like the disciples, we too may find ourselves struggling with faith in this bewildering Jesus.

Stanley Hauerwas comments on this passage and says this:

“Like the disciples it is necessary for the church to recognize that we too are of little faith. The church, like the disciples’ boat, is the ark of safety in a storm-tossed sea. Our temptation is to try to row to shore to escape the storm, but when we do so we fail to witness to the one who is peace. The church’s safety comes through the confession of our sinfulness, which is nowhere more apparent than our refusal to live in accordance with who this man, Jesus, says he is. It is only through the confession of sin that the church becomes for the world what the world cannot be for itself.”

(Excerpt from Stanley Hauerwas, SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (London: SCM, 2006), 97.

Hauerwas reminds us that our confession of sin is central to being the church. Realizing the authority of Jesus to restore creation means acknowledging our failure to do so ourselves. This Lent, may we come humbly before this Jesus who has power and authority to make all things new.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Matthew 7:15-23


This warning that Jesus gives reminds us that things are not always as they seem. There are those who on the outside seem as if they are doing all the right things but in their heart there is a deep disconnection between their beliefs and actions.

In fact, all of us are guilty at times of trying to separate what we believe and how we live.

Stanley Hauerwas says:

“The temptation to separate the truth of what we believe from our lives is the result of our fear of being held accountable.”

(Excerpt from Stanley Hauerwas, SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (London: SCM, 2006), 90.

Isn’t this statement true? Being held accountable isn’t always easy, but it’s very important. That is why we celebrate Lent together as a community not as individuals. Temptation is always easier to resist together.

This passage in Matthew uses a metaphor of bearing fruit. It reminds us that our roots need to be grounded in the right place so that we may bear fruit (see Galatians 5). There is a beautiful Psalm that connects with this imagery:

Psalm 1

1Blessed are those

who do not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,

2but who delight in the law of the Lord

and meditate on his law day and night.

3They are like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.

4Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

that the wind blows away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will be destroyed. (TNIV)

So this Lent as we engage with the disciplines of prayer, giving and fasting may we produce good fruit to the glory of God.