Friday, February 29, 2008

The Kingdom of the Living

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32)
The scribes and Pharisees were very angry with Jesus, but the Sadducees also had a bone to pick with Him. Two of their distinctive were that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the only Hebrew Scriptures they accepted as divine were the first five books of Moses. After the Pharisees had a go at Jesus, the Sadducees came to test Him with this scenario:
Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her. (Matthew 22:24-28)
Jesus unraveled their assumptions, pointing out all the ways their understanding was deficient:
You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:29-32)
First, they did not comprehend the truth of the Scriptures, not even the ones they claimed to accept, the books of Moses.

Second, they did not realize the power of God. They had become so worldly-minded they came to believe that this short life is all there we get, that God would not or could not reconstitute bodies which had long returned to dust. But surely that would be no problem for the God who spoke all creation into existence at the beginning, as Moses taught.

Third, they also did not understand that life in the resurrection will not be like the present. Marriage, which the Sadducees thought presented a huge problem according to their scenario, will not even be an issue. In the resurrection, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) will have already been fulfilled.

Finally, they totally missed the significance of the words God spoke to Moses: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6, 16). He did not say “I was the God of Abraham,” but “I am,” and therein lies the argument. It means that, as Jesus concluded, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Therefore, those who have gone from this earth still live, and there will be a resurrection, for God created us to dwell in bodies on earth.

When Lazarus died, Jesus came and assured Martha that he would rise again. She said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” This was the common faith of the Jews, except for the Sadducees, and was intimated throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

God is the God of the living and His kingdom is eternal. At the end of the book of Revelation, we see heaven and earth are joined together forever, the eternal dwelling place for all the resurrected saints.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is eternal. Those who belong to it, through in Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, have passed from death unto life. Do you believe this?

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Father’s Good Pleasure

It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
This verse has recently captured me and I have been meditating on it, letting it soak in over the last few days. It has taken a particular significance for me because I have been blogging quite a bit for the past couple of months about the kingdom of Heaven on Earth in Matthew’s Gospel.

One thing I notice is that it is about what pleases the Father. It pleases Him to give us His kingdom. Therefore, this must be about faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The Father wants to give us His kingdom, but He is not going to do it apart from faith. We must believe it to receive it, then we will see it.

God is not only pleased to give us His kingdom, but it is His good pleasure to do so. The Greek word here is the same one we find when Jesus was baptized and the Father said declared, “You are My beloved Son; in you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Our Father is well pleased to give us His kingdom. In fact, as much as God is pleased with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that is how pleased He is to give us His kingdom.

Another thing I see in this verse is inheritance because it is about what our Father is giving us. In Psalm 2, God tells Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for your inheritance” (Psalm 2:8). “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). Paul tells us that as children of God we are joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), which means that whatever Jesus inherits, we inherit.

It fully pleases our Father to give us His kingdom. This is not a future hope but a present reality, for the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is now present within all who belong to Him (Luke 17:21).

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deposits in the Bank of Heaven

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)
How do we lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven? Or to put it in perhaps a more current mode, How do we open up an account with God and make deposits. The Bible gives us a few ways:

Giving to the Poor. As we saw in the last post, one way we lay up treasure for ourselves is by giving to the poor. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17). There is a divine accounting that goes on, even the creation of divine obligation. When we give to the poor, God commits Himself to pay it back, and He will always do so with interest. When we give to the poor, we are laying up for ourselves treasure in heaven. Jesus told the rich young man, “Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).

Honoring the Lord with Your Firstfruits. Another way we also lay up treasure for ourselves by honoring the Lord with our possessions. “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10). A barn is a storehouse, a treasury. When we give God the firstfruits — the first and best, not the last and least — of our possessions and increase, He causes our storehouses to overflow.

The Hundredfold Return. We also lay up treasure for ourselves whenever we give for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Not only is there a hundredfold return, but notice that we receive it “now in this time.” If the rich young man had obeyed Jesus’ instruction, sold his possessions and given to the poor, he would have received it back a hundred times over.

We find this same principle at work in the Old Testament, when Isaac obeyed the Lord and dwell in the land God show him, instead of going down to Egypt because of famine. “Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him. The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous” (Genesis 26:12-13). Because he stayed in the land for God’s sake!

Partnership in the Gospel. Many people know the promise in Philippians that God will supply all our needs, but they often miss the context in which this promise is made.
Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19-20)
Notice the words “giving and receiving.” The Greek words behind them are terms used for accounting. Note also, “fruit that abounds to you account.” The Philippians had often sent financial assistance to Paul and his gospel ministry. Though they may not have realized it at the time, they were actually laying up treasure for themselves with God, and God was greatly pleased with their deposits. It is out of this context that Paul assures them, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul did not simply say, “and God,” or “our God,” or “your God,” but “my God.” For through their assistance they had become partners with Paul in the gospel ministry; they shared in a joint account with Paul.

Peter experienced this principle while he was still a fisher of fish. He partnered with Jesus, lending his boat as a pulpit. Afterward, Jesus told him to “launch out into the deep and let down you nets for a catch.” Peter obeyed and caught an astonishing number of fish, even though he had already toiled all night with nothing to show for it (Luke 5:1-11).

Ministering to the Saints. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul was receiving an offering to minister to the saints who were in financial need, and offered this encouragement to give generously:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)
Notice that there is an accounting going on here: As one sows, that is how they will reap. Sow bountifully, reap bountifully. It is in the context of sowing — of making deposits — that Paul assures them of an abundant return: Always having all sufficiency in all things, plus plenty more for giving to every good work. It is impossible to give to God without receiving more in return.

Give to the Lord in every way. Honor Him with all you are and have. You will be making deposits into a divine account and He will take care of you in all things, and the abundance of heaven will be manifest on the earth.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Banking on the Economy of Heaven

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life*. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

*Textual note on “eternal life” in 1 Timothy 6:19: Alternate renderings include “life that is truly life” (NIV), “that which is life indeed” (NASB and AMP), “life that is truly life” (The Message), “that which is truly life” (ESV). The difference is more a matter of variations in the early manuscripts than of differences in translation.
Many Christians think that “laying up treasure” in heaven is about providing for the next life—kiss it goodbye because you are not going to see it anymore in this one. But I don’t think that is at all what Jesus or Paul were talking about. Rather, I think it is about basing the provision we need for this life on the economy of heaven.

Note first, that we are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. It is about the meeting of our needs. Second, in the Greek text of Matthew 6:19, the words “lay up” and “treasures” are forms of the same word, so that it literally reads, “treasure up treasures” (this follows the Hebrew way of saying things). Third, these words refer to a storehouse, so that it literally means “store up storehouses.” In 1 Timothy 6:19, the word for “storing up” is the same root word translated as “treasure” (as other versions show). Quinn and Wacker, in their translation and commentary on 1 Timothy 6:19, offer this interesting rendition: “Making their deposits in an excellent fund for the future” (Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

Both passages speak of storing up storehouses for ourselves, but what is a storehouse and what is its purpose? It is a place where resources and materials are kept until they are needed. Having a storehouse is a prudent plan for the future. However, the future in view is not about when we depart this life and enter the next. We do not need to store up anything for that life, where everything has already been taken care of. It is in this life that we still experience need.

This was not a new concept, not even in New Testament days; it had long been a part of Jewish understanding. Compare the words of Jesus and Paul with these verses from ancient Hebrew writings of the Old Testament era.
Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will rescue you from every disaster. (Sirach 29:11-12 NRSV)

Give alms from your possession, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. (Tobit 4:7-10 NRSV)
It was common in those days for people to store up their supply in jars and bury them in the ground until needed. The problem, as Jesus pointed out, was that such materials could become corrupted or stolen. Ancient Jewish wisdom, therefore, reminded people to hedge themselves against disaster and necessity by a very counterintuitive means: Giving to the poor. Those who give alms are, in the economy of God, filling up storehouses for themselves. God does not forget, but rewards those who do, taking care of them in their time of need.

The Scriptures speak similarly: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17). When we give to the poor, we are actually lending to the Lord. That is, an obligation of debt is created, and God graciously allows Himself to be so obligated, as this Scripture clearly shows. When we give to the poor, we are opening up an account with God and making deposits. God honors that and commits Himself to pay it back, and when He pays it back, He always does so with interest.
Blessed is he who considers poor;
The LORD will preserve him in time of trouble
And he will be blessed on the earth;
You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness;
You will sustain him on his sickbed.
(Psalm 41:1-3)
Now, remember what Jesus said to the rich young man? “Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). But the young man went away sad because he had many possessions. He was banking on the economy of earth, trusting in his wealth and riches to care for him in the day of disaster and necessity. But if he followed Jesus’ words, he would have stored up storehouses for himself in heaven, and his goods would have done double duty; they would have provided for the poor, and for himself as well. No wonder Jesus said in another place that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Banking on the economy of heaven brings great returns and benefits.

Do not let the economies of earth intimidate or fill you with fear. Invest yourself heavily in the economy of heaven. Give freely to the poor, and God will certainly repay, especially in the time of need.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Kingdom of Divine Authority

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)
Stinging from the truth of the parables Jesus told about them, the Pharisees seethed and plotted how they might “entangle Him in His talk” (Matthew 22:15). So they sent their disciples, along with the political/religious group known as the Herodians, to set Jesus up for a takedown.

First, they tried to oil Him with smooth words: “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 16-17).

This was a very controversial matter. The Herodians wanted authority over Jerusalem to be fully restored to the Herods, as it once had been, instead of being governed by Pontius Pilate. They were not much interested in paying Roman taxes. On the other hand, there were the Zealots, who completely despised Rome, and certainly wanted no part of paying her taxes.

But Jesus knew what they were up to. “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.”

They brought Him a foreign coin minted with Caesar’s image. Coins minted in Judea, though they were Roman, bore no such image. Paying Roman taxes with a coin bearing Caesar’s inscription would have been all the more offensive.

“Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked.

“Caesar’s,” they said.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This was not merely a clever answer to avoid a direct response. It drove home an important point they had hoped to avoid: there are indeed governing authorities to whom we owe certain obligations.

The Jews had long recognized that God is the one who establishes kingdoms and authorities, as well as brings them down. Indeed, the history of Israel, particularly Babylonian captivity and exile, had proven that God would raise up authorities over her when she strayed from His ways. Now they were living under Roman rule and forced to pay Caesar’s tax, and they divided over whether it was right, according to their law, to do so.

The Pharisees and Herodians had already answered it for themselves; it was no mere coincidence that they had the coin with Caesar’s inscription at hand. But were they willing to confess that they had once again strayed from the Lord? That was the question Jesus’ answer now posed. They were stunned. His answer was a wonder to them, forcing them to either surrender to Him or else deny what they knew to be the truth. The only response they gave was to walk away.

Jesus’ statement raises questions for us as well. How does the kingdom of Heaven on Earth relate to governing authorities on earth? Exactly what obligations do we, as subjects of His kingdom, owe them?

First, we must understand that God and Caesar are not equal authorities in our lives. Not by a long shot. God is sovereign over all, but in His sovereignty He has chosen to set up rulers and governments. That Caesar has any authority at all is completely dependent on God. That we render anything to Caesar at all is because we first render everything to God. Any obligation we might owe Caesar is merely a small part of the obedience we owe God. Where there is a conflict between the commandments of God and the laws of men, we must always obey God. For the authority of God is absolute, the authority of men is subservient to divine sovereignty.

In addition to the words of Jesus, here is more of what the Bible has to say about how we are to relate to government:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
What then is our obligation?
  • Pay your taxes. We do receive benefits from God-ordained government and it is only right that we should pay our fair share. Better yet, give your taxes. Don’t sent it in grudgingly; bless it to the government. Pray over it and task it with the purpose of heaven. Let it proclaim that our God is mighty. Let it prophesy the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. This requires faith.
  • Obey the government in every good thing. God ordained it to not to terrorize good but to protect from evil. Therefore, keep doing good in all things. We cannot submit to doing evil, but we can always do good.
  • Pray and intercede for the government and its leaders. Praise God for them and for the purpose for which He ordained them. If they are not obeying that purpose, pray for God to bring them to repentance and spiritual awakening. Ask and believe God to raise up righteous leaders who hear His voice and walk in His ways, in all three branches and at all levels of government.
We must yield, first and always, to the authority of God. But we must also yield to the subservient authorities He has established among men, except where they are in conflict with His ways. For the kingdom of God is all about His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Kingdom of the Chosen

For many are called but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)

Many get invited; only a few make it. (The Message)
Jesus gives the chief priests and Pharisees this final parable about entering into the kingdom of Heaven on Earth:
The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.

But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.” So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:2-14)
At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus asks them no questions, rhetorical or otherwise. The meaning is plain enough. They knew well enough that He was talking about them, thought they would, no doubt, have taken great exception to it. But they were like the wicked vinedressers of the previous parable, who killed the servants, and finally the son, of the landowner. And now, in this parable, they are like those who were invited, but who disregarded it, and some even killed the king’s servants. Jesus later speaks to the scribes and Pharisees, no longer in parables, which offered them an opportunity to repent, but indicts them directly:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.

Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:29-35)
God gave an invitation to come celebrate His Son, an invitation to the “wedding feast” (foreshadowing the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in Revelation 19:9). But the religious leaders mostly ignored and rejected it, sometimes violently, even killing His prophets. They were not very happy about the Son, either, and wanted to kill Him as well.

In the parable, the king was not pleased; he had the murderers destroyed and their city burned. Then, since those he had originally invited would not come, he had his servants go out where the crowds were and gather people in to fill up the wedding hall. A great honor, which was initially shown only to a few, was now extended to all, “both bad and good” — that is, regardless of who they were or what they had done.

This corresponds with history, for the Jewish leaders did indeed reject Jesus, the Son of God, and plotted to have Him crucified. Within a generation, their city, Jerusalem, was burned (this happened in AD 70). Meanwhile, the invitation of the Gospel was offered to all, Jew and Gentile alike.

In the parable, the guests show up, but the king notices one who has not dressed appropriately. In ancient times, it was often the custom for kings and other notables, when they hosted weddings and other affairs, to supply their guests with robes befitting the occasion. But here was a man who, though he did not reject the invitation to come, decided that his own garments would be good enough. He was summarily ejected.

The garment God is looking for is one of repentance and faith, a heart of humility, not a display of arrogance. There are many people who are called to God’s feast but who want to come on their own terms. God has provided the appropriate attire for them but they believe their own is sufficient. It is not.

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a kingdom of the chosen. The invitation is given to all but we each must respond by faith, depending fully on the faithfulness of the King instead of on our own identities or deeds. For many are called, but only those who believe are chosen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Speak Your Peace

Speak your peace.
—On a T-shirt at the Mall.
Usually a person speaks their piece, that is, they say whatever is on their mind—good, bad or otherwise. They are actually speaking what is in their hearts, for Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Many people speak their piece, but their words are anything but peaceful, because peace is not in their hearts in abundance. But for those who know the Prince of Peace, and have received the peace of God through Him, we have an opportunity to take His peace wherever we go and speak it to others.

Faithpoint: Your words have the power to bless or to curse, to build up or tear down, to bring peace or generate strife. The choice is yours. Speak peace.

The Leadership of Love

You can't lead the people if you don't love the people.
You can't save the people if you don't serve the people.
Cornel West, professor, Princeton University
Read this on the side of a Starbucks cup (I had a Skinny Café Latte). It is a truth that is woven into the fabric of the universe. For the worlds were framed by the Word of God, God is love, and love gives and serves (I call this the "algebra of love"). God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16); Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

True leaders love and serve, just as God does.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Kingdom of Repentance and Fruit

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matthew 21:43)
Jesus is looking for fruit in His kingdom, in the spiritual as well as in the natural. The narrative of the fig tree gives us a natural example that is loaded with spiritual significance.
Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.”

Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?”

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. (Matthew 21:18-22)
Jesus was hungry, so He went to the fig tree looking for a little fruit to eat. The fact that there were leaves on the tree indicated that there should also have been figs, even if nothing more than small, unripe but edible ones. Though the leaves offered the promise of fruit, when Jesus came to the tree, He discovered there was actually none at all. So Jesus spoke to the tree and said, “Let no fruit grown on you ever again,” and it immediately began to wither.

The disciples were amazed, and Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach them an important kingdom principle about the operation of faith: When we have faith and do not doubt, whatever we say will be done. A corollary to this is that whatever things we ask in prayer, if we ask in faith, we will receive it. (See also Mark 11:22-24).

That is certainly a powerful lesson but it does not exhaust the significance of this story, for Jesus was looking for fruit in the spiritual realm, as the rest of Matthew 21 demonstrates. The next thing Matthew records is that Jesus went to the temple, where the chief priests and elders came up and asked, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus turned the question around on them:
I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (vv. 24-25).
John the Baptist had come preaching a baptism of repentance, with a call to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8), but the chief priests and elders rejected him. Now they were in a bind. If they said that John’s baptism was authorized by heaven, they knew Jesus’ follow-up would be, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” On the other hand, they were afraid to stand before the crowd and say that John’s baptism was merely a human contrivance because the people recognized John as a prophet of God. They were in a double bind. So they said, “We do not know.” Though they had expected an honest answer from Jesus, they we not willing to tell the truth about themselves.

Just as Jesus had turned their question around on them, now He turned their answer around on them: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Matthew 21:27). They had presented themselves as being concerned about matters of authority, but it turns out that this was merely a front for a different agenda. If they had truly cared about divine authority, they would have listened to John and brought forth the fruits of repentance. Though they tried to hide behind their dishonesty, they were exposed for what they truly were.

But Jesus was not yet finished with them. He set them up again with this parable:
But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? (Matthew 21:28-31)
The chief priest and elders walked right into it and answered, “The first.” Then Jesus drove it home on them.
Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-32)
There are those who put on a good religious front but are so caught up in their own sense of righteousness that they long ago ceased to hear and obey the Lord. They speak the right words, and commend themselves for it, but they do not follow through. They are like the fig tree that put forth leaves, promising fruit, but then turned out to be barren.

On the other hand, there are those who may be considered the vilest of sinners, who flout the commands of God, but then bring forth the fruits of repentance and faith. They are like the first son. By recognizing that it was the repentant son who actually ended up doing the will of God, the chief priests and elders condemn themselves. They know what the truth is, but they are so disconnected they do not realize that they are the disobedient ones.

But Jesus is still not finished, He has another parable for them. This one is about a landowner who established a vineyard, complete with hedging, a winepress and a watchtower. Then he leased it to vinedressers and went away to a far country. At harvest time, he sent his servants to receive his fruit, but the vinedressers beat one of them, stoned another and killed a third. The patient landowner sent another group of servants, who received the same treatment. Finally, the landowner sent his son, saying, “The will respect my son,” but the vinedressers cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

At this point in the story, Jesus stopped and asked, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” (Matthew 21:40). The chief priests and elders, oblivious to their role in this parable, quickly gave their answer: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons” (v. 41).

They walked right into it once again, condemning themselves by their own words. Jesus turned it around on them a third time:
Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes”?

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. (Matthew 21:42-43)
Jesus is looking for fruit. Not for fig trees that promise fruit by their leaves but then fail to produce. Not for sons who offer lip service but then do not obey. Not for vinedressers who strike a deal but then refuse to yield what rightfully belongs to the landowner. Nor for priests and Pharisees who put on a pious show but then fail to believe those whom God has sent. The kingdom of God is taken away from them.

No, Jesus is looking for those who bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, who, regardless of their former disobedience, turn and obey the truth. The kingdom of God belongs to them, for they turn out to be the ones Jesus spoke of from the beginning: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

The kingdom of Heaven on Earth belongs to those who bring forth the fruits of repentance, faith and obedience.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A King Anointed for All

Hosanna to the Son of David!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Hosanna in the highest!
(Matthew 21:9)
Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Though this may seem odd to us today, it carried great significance. Matthew, in his characteristic way of linking prophecy with fulfillment, quotes Zechariah 9:9, a text concerning the Messiah:
All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
(Matthew 21:4-5)
In this instance, entering Jerusalem on the back of a humble donkey identified Jesus, not just as a king, but as the King, the Son of David who would fulfill the royal lineage. He was entering as Messiah — the Anointed One.

None of this was lost on the multitudes, which went before and after Him crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They were quoting Psalm 118, a key passage for the annual Passover pilgrimage. “Hosanna” is from the Hebrew and means “Save now.”
Save now, I pray, O LORD;
O LORD, send now prosperity.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!
(Psalm 118:25-26)
The crowds recognized Jesus as the long-promised King of Israel, the Anointed One who was to deliver them and restore to them the blessings of covenant relationship with God. They were exuberant in their celebration.

Matthew continues this theme as he takes us into the next scene, the temple, where Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves, saying
It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves. (v. 13)
Jewish law required that a half-shekel be given in tribute by every man over twenty years old. The moneychangers served to convert the various currencies into what was required for this temple tax. The dove-sellers provided animals for the poor to be able to bring a sacrifice to the house of God, as provided for in the law. These were not inappropriate activities of themselves, and deserving of reasonable fees, although some, no doubt, would take advantage of the pilgrims.

Jesus charged them with making the house of prayer into a “den of thieves,” but overcharging travelers was not their greatest robbery. The verse He quotes is very significant here “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Matthew leaves out “for all nations,” but Mark includes it in his parallel account (Mark 11:17). The “nations” refers to the Gentiles, the “foreigners” who were outside of the divine covenant, but whom God greatly desired to bring in:
Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants —
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant —
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.
(Isaiah 56:6-7)
The problem with the moneychangers was not so much what they were doing as where they were doing it. They set up shop in the outer courts of the temple, in the section reserved for the Gentiles. This “Court of the Gentiles” was established so that they, too, could come and honor the God of Israel. But the money handlers and dove merchants conducted business with little regard that the sprawling commotion hindered what little opportunity the Gentiles were given to worship. The Father’s house was to be a house of prayer for all nations, and these merchants were robbing them, turning it into a den of thieves by their activity. With righteous indignation, Jesus called them on it. Mark tells us that the scribes and chief priest wanted to destroy Him for that (Mark 11:18).

Jesus was not quite through offending the temple authorities. Next came the blind and the lame to be healed by Him — right there in the temple. Old Testament law prohibited blind and lame priests from serving in the temple, but religious tradition expanded this ban to exclude all the blind and lame in general from entering in. But Jesus received them gladly into His Father’s house and healed them. The scribes and chief priests could not complain about this openly, but inwardly they seethed.

That is not all that had them angry. There were also children who came into the temple and cried out the same thing that multitudes had cried out in the streets: “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:15). The scribes and priests were incensed. They went to Jesus and said, “Do you hear what these are saying?” They knew full well what the significance was — and coming from the mouths of children, who were not even supposed to be in the temple. But Jesus made room for the children, just as He did for the Gentiles, and the blind and lame. He answered the scribes and priests and brought them up short:
Yes. Have you never read,“Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise”?
(Matthew 21:16)
He was quoting Psalm 8:2, which is about praise given only to God. But the children were speaking it about Jesus, and Jesus received it, in effect acknowledging He is God.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem that final week, He presented Himself as King, Messiah and God. He was anointed, not just for some, but for all — from the humblest child to the greatest nation. None is excluded; all who come to Him by faith may enter into His kingdom.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Speaking to My Body and Overcoming Resistance

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.” (Mark 11:22-23)
This past month I slowed my pace down a bit in order to give attention to a health issue that came up over Christmas. Early on December 26th I awoke with abdominal pain from what turned out to be a kidney stone. Praise God, the stone passed within a couple of days, and with relatively little pain. The stone was small, and remembering how Jesus said we could speak to mountains and expect to see them move, I figured I could speak to a small kidney stone and expect to get results. So I told it to break up and dissolve harmlessly away. And it did, breaking up into tiny fragments. Praise God.

This incident, however, alerted me to a larger issue. On that first morning when I was experiencing so much pain, Suzanne drove me to the walk-in clinic where the doctor did a few tests, including blood work. Well, one of the things the blood test showed was that I had a very high glucose level—and that ain’t good. So this past month I have been addressing that.

First, I repented for eating like a fool and abusing my body, especially my pancreas, with all the sweets and sugars I had been consuming (especially at Christmas). Then I began to apply the power of the name and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to the problem, claiming the promises of God and the healing Jesus came to bring us (according to Isaiah 53:4-5). Next, I asked God to give me wisdom concerning the changes in lifestyle I knew I would need to make in my eating habits, and also concerning exercise. I was not eating terribly poor, but I was not eating very well either, and I had become too sedentary—a bad combination.

The Lord led us to a good doctor who has more confidence in the natural foods designed by God than he does in prescribing medicines (though he does prescribe when necessary). He diagnosed the problem as hypoglycemia and recommended a diet with plenty of raw foods (vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fruit—light on the fruit) and regular exercise. The Lord also led me to a good book that helped me understand that the root problem is insulin resistance and gives me a good nutritional plan for overcoming it. The book is called The Insulin-Resistance Diet, by Hart and Grossman, and offers a simple plan for “linking and balancing” carbohydrates with proteins for managing metabolism and blood glucose.

I’ve started being kind to my pancreas. The Bible tells me that I am “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). I believe that includes all of me, including my pancreas and the insulin it produces. So I am being kind and telling my body to quit resisting that insulin but to use it appropriately. I have also started to get regular exercise, right now mostly through walking, and using a mini-trampoline (which is harder than it looks) along with some other forms. I bought a blood glucose monitor and check myself every morning. I am happy to report that I am now getting normal readings—and I’m losing weight, too. Praise God for His faithfulness, and for His wisdom which is teaching me new habits for a long and healthy life.

So my focus in January was largely on those things, which is why I have not blogged as much lately. But as these new health disciplines become naturalized habits, I am ready to get back up to speed with teaching, writing and other ministry tasks.

It is good to know who we are in Jesus Christ, that we are accepted in the Beloved, and what we can do through faith in God and His Word.

Healing Scriptures and Prayers

Healing Scriptures and Prayers
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Kingdom of Servant Greatness

Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26,28)
On the heels of the parable about the landowner and the laborers, where the punch line is “So the last will be first, and the first last,” Matthew records this account, where the symbolic language of parable gets fleshed out:
Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” (Matthew 20:17-19)
Here is Jesus, preeminent as king in His own kingdom, giving Himself over to be treated as anything but king. He is rightfully the first and the greatest, but He trades that for the place of the least and the lowest. The first was willing to become last that the last might become first. But that is not the end of the reversal, for because He joined Himself with the last, God performed the greatest reversal of all, making Jesus the first above all firsts.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
There is more to reflect on in this story, however, for the mother of James and John came to see Jesus:
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?”

She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
The request actually came from James and John, as the parallel account in Mark 10:35-45 shows, but they enlisted the help of their mother. They were seeking the place of preeminence, the place of being first—greatness in the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The lesson of the parable had not yet penetrated their hearts for, clearly, they did not yet comprehend the true nature of what they were asking.
But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

They said to Him, “We are able.”

So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23)
James and John answered accurately, though not out of understanding, and Jesus recognized it as prophetic: Not only were they able, but they would indeed do so. But what they wanted was not in Jesus’ hand to give, but the Father’s. For Jesus did not even seek to exalt Himself, but was exalted by the Father.

Now, the other disciples caught wind of what James and John had done, and the situation might have turned ugly — as if the others did not desire the same thing for themselves — except that Jesus took it as an opportunity to enlighten them on the nature of true greatness, making explicit what had been veiled in the previous parable.
And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:24-28)
Jesus turned everything upside down. In the world of the Gentiles, greatness was about being able to lord oneself and exercise authority over others, and the disciples had been infected with that kind of thinking. But it is not so in the kingdom of Heaven on Earth, where those who desire to be first must be willing to become last, and those who want to be great must take on the role of the servant.

Carefully note what Jesus is saying, but also what He is not saying. He is not saying how to become great; He is describing greatness itself! That is, He is not telling us how, by serving others, we can eventually rise to the place of greatness where we no longer need to serve but can exercise authority over others. That’s a power trip that comes from the bowels of hell, not the heart of the Father. No, Jesus is teaching us that serving others is greatness. Paradoxically, when we take the place of the servant and become the last, we become the first, for the first is the servant of all.

It is the way of God Himself. I call it the algebra of love: God is love; love gives and serves. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). It is the way of Jesus, for He did not come to be served — to lord it over people and exercise authority over them — but to serve. Not only to serve, but to give up His life for the sake of others. It is as an obedient bondservant that He has been highly exalted by God and given the name that is above every name.

Jesus, who made Himself the last, the servant of all, has been made to be “the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). God has raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). Not only that, but Paul teaches us that God has also made us (believers in Jesus) alive together with Christ, and raised us up together, “and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6).

Notice the time and the place. The verbs are in the past tense. That is, they do not describe a future event for which we wait, but an accomplished fact, a present reality out of which we live. We are now seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Where is He seated? At the right hand of the Father, far above all principality, power, might and dominion. Then that is exactly where the Father has seated us, too — at His right hand, far above all principality, power, might and dominion. Isn’t that what James and John desired?

Greatness in the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is in being a servant. For we rule and reign with Jesus, the Servant King, and “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Grace of Heaven on Earth

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (Matthew 20:1)
In Matthew’s Gospel, after the encounter with the rich young man, and Jesus’ discussion with His disciples about it afterwards, Jesus segued into a parable of the kingdom. The narrative begins and ends with this paradox: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:20) and “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). The parable in between (Matthew 20:1-15) shows how this surprising turn-around takes place.

In this parable the landowner went out at about 6 a.m. and hired a group of laborers for a denarius a day (the standard wage) and put them to work. At 9 a.m., he went and hired another group, saying, “Whatever is right I will give you.” Though they had no reason to expect a full day’s pay, since they would not be giving a full day’s work, they had every right to expect the standard wage pro-rated to them. At noon, the landowner went out again and did the same. Then at 5 p.m., an hour before quitting time, he hired one last little group, saying, “What is right you will receive.”

Finally, evening came, and it was time for all the workers to be paid. The landowner had them line up to receive their wages. He paid the last ones first. To their surprise and delight, the latecomers each received a denarius — a full day’s pay. Now the ones who had worked the full day, seeing this, supposed that since the last ones were receiving the full wage, the first ones would be receiving that and more. But to their surprise and chagrin, they each received a denarius — nothing more.

How they complained about the landowner! They felt cheated and abused. “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.”

Hearing one of them grumble, the landowner answered him directly. “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”

The truth is that he had wronged nobody; he simply showed goodness to those who needed it. Because of his generosity, those who earlier were content to receive a full day’s wage for a full day’s work now felt they deserved more, and they became greedy and jealous.

Jesus concluded the parable with this: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” There are those who think they should be valued more because they are first, and others who believe they are worth less because they are last. But they are all the same with God. He cares just as much about the poor and helpless as He does the rich and powerful. In the kingdom of God, it is never a question about our worthiness but about His grace. Even those hirelings who labored the whole day were the recipient’s of grace, for the landowner was under no obligation to hire them in the first place. It was his favor that gave them a paying job.

The rich young man, whose encounter led to this parable, thought he was ready to pursue eternal life, but the thing that gave him prominence in the world turned out to be the very thing that held him back because he was unwilling to let it go. On the other hand, Jesus was desire for him to remember the poor, who have nothing but God to lean on. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” are those who realize they have nothing except God, but they also know that He is more than enough — something the rich young man failed to understand. So the last indeed become first, and the first last.

Those who hold onto position, possessions and the pride of being first may end up with nothing; but those who let go of these things and trust in the goodness and grace of God will always have enough and more.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Reciprocity of Heaven on Earth

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
This text is from “Part Two” of the story of the Rich Young Man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Jesus counseled him to sell what he had and give to the poor, but the man went away with great sadness because his wealth had such a powerful hold on him that it had taken the place of God in his life. After he left, Jesus discussed this with His disciples.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-34)
His disciples were greatly amazed. “Who then can be saved?” They had assumed that material prosperity meant God’s blessing was on a person. After all, Psalm 112:3 says that wealth and riches will be in the house of those who love and serve the Lord. That is true enough, but it is not a guarantee that those who are rich are also faithful. The promise is for those who love, trust and serve God. Those who love trust, and serve money may experience wealth and riches for a season, but it will not last because it is out of order — it is not true prosperity. Those who love and trust in their riches, as this young man did, do not enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were astonished by Jesus’ statement because they still had too much of the world’s way of thinking in their system. It was a puzzlement to them: “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked directly at them and answered, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). Impossible, yet possible — a paradox. It is impossible for those who trust in their riches, yet possible for those who trust in God. The young man’s problem was not that he was rich, but that he loved his possessions more than he desired God. He cared more about his wealth, it turns out, than he did about eternal life.

Remembering what Jesus instructed the young man, “Sell what you have and give to the poor,” Peter saw hope, a way for the impossible to become possible: Let go of riches and embrace the way of God. “See, we have left all and followed You,” he said, “Therefore, what shall we have?” If the rich young man had done as Jesus said, and followed Him, he would have entered into the kingdom of heaven. Even though Peter and the disciples did not have the same wealth the young man possessed, they did give up everything to follow Jesus. Surely that would mean something, wouldn’t it? He was beginning to see that it is not what you have, but who you trust that makes all the difference. Now, watch carefully how Jesus answered:
Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:28-29)
“Assuredly” indicates that this is a key truth, vital to our basic understanding concerning the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The “regeneration” Jesus is talking about is not the individual “born again” experience he spoke of to Nicodemus. No, He was talking about the “new birth” of the world, the spiritual transformation that would begin when Jesus, the Son of Man, ascended to the “throne of His glory.” Not only would He be sitting on His throne, the place of ruling and reigning over His kingdom, but those who follow Him would also be seated on thrones to rule and reign with Him.

When would this take place? When the Son of Man is enthroned in glory. When will that happen? It has happened already! It happened forty days after the Resurrection, at what is called the Ascension. The Son of Man ascended to heaven and was seated on His throne at the right hand of the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). Not only that, but all who follow Him have also been seated with Him, to rule and reign with Him forever.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6, emphasis mine)
Though the rule and reign of Jesus and all His disciples has not yet been fully manifested in the earth, it has indeed already begun. We see it, for instance, in the authority Jesus gives us in Matthew 18:18: “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” And in John 20:23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And in the Great Commission, where Jesus declared:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
By binding and loosing, and bringing the Gospel of Forgiveness to Israel and the nations, the disciples of Jesus exercise the rule and authority of Heaven on Earth.

Now notice what else Jesus said in answer to Peter’s question: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” This, likewise, is not just about the age to come, but about this life, for the age to come is now breaking into this present age. The parallel account in Mark’s Gospel makes this clearer:
Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30, emphasis mine)
The rich young man came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Jesus told him to sell what he had, give to the poor and follow Him — to leave it all behind for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. But his eyes were too fixed on this age, and all its ways, to see that God’s kingdom was breaking into the world. He would have had a hundredfold return of whatever he left behind — now in this time — as well as eternal life in the age to come.

It is the reciprocity of Heaven on Earth. When we make the kingdom of God and His righteousness our priority, everything else will be added to us. And whatever we let go for the sake of His kingdom, we will receive again a hundred times over.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Made Holy is Made Wonderful

Know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly. (Psalm 4:3)
“Holy” is a word that people use religiously, but often without any clear idea of what it means. But its meaning is very simple: To be holy is to be set apart for God’s own special purposes.

Psalm 4:3 gives us an important truth we need to know and understand: The Lord has set apart the godly for Himself. He has made them holy; He has a special purpose and design — a destiny — for them. The Hebrew word literally means “distinguished” or “made distinct.” In contexts such as this, it means to “show as marvelous,” and to “make wonderful.” Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, note that “what is meant is not the mere selection, but the remarkable selection to a remarkable position of honor.”

Who are these whom God makes wonderful and reveals as marvelous? They are the godly ones. In Hebrew, they are the hasid, the righteous ones who honor the Lord and live in awe of Him. They have received the hesed (steadfast love and mercy of the Lord) and extend it to others.

“Know that the LORD has set apart for Himself.” It always, always, always begins with God. He takes the initiative; our part is simply to respond to His work. We do not make ourselves holy. We could never make ourselves holy — it is impossible. But He shows us His mercy, we respond in faith, and He sets us apart for Himself — makes us wonderful and shows us as marvelous.

Holiness is not burdensome — it is bliss. To be made holy is to be made wonderful.