You have to be blind to see it


What does God owe you and I? How about someone who has given their life to the service of God? What is the obligation on God’s part to repay that person for their service and sacrifice? What can be said to someone who pours out their life in some far off country caring for terminally ill patients without any access to modern western medical technology or perhaps works in a refugee border camp providing education to children? Surely such saints will call for some sort of reward from God?

In Matthew’s gospel, the Apostle Peter seems to ask a similar question;

See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?
~ Matt 19:27

In response to that Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. You might think that was the end of it, if not for the way Matthew continues to build his narrative. Following the parable, Matthew relates Jesus third and last prediction of what will happen when he reaches Jerusalem. What follows after that are two accounts of people asking Jesus for something. As you compare the two accounts a sharp contrast is clear in how they respond to Jesus and what they think God owes them.

In the first account, the Sons of Zebedee, James and John, have their Mother ask Jesus to give them the highest positions of honour in his future kingdom. Evidently it was insufficient for their ambition to be promised “thrones“. They wanted much more; to make sure they were above their peers, the other 10 apostles.

The second account also is about two men, this time both are blind beggars. Their wish is that Jesus would show them mercy and that they might be able to see.

What a vast difference. James and John assume a posture of entitlement and Jesus corrects their view of themselves and their view of him. What they couldn’t see, or didn’t hear, was “the last will be first and the first will be last.”

The blind men, however, have a posture of penitence and desperation. In response, Jesus also corrects their ability to see, by healing their physical blindness.

The reactions of those nearby each pair is also illuminating. The remaining 10 apostles are indignant that James and John would dare ask such a question. After all, it’s what they wanted ask (as indicated by Jesus calling them all together to teach some more), but James and John got in first. In the case of the blind beggars, the surrounding crowd is embarrassed and upset with the beggars because they seem to be asking the wrong question. When the crowd tries to silence them they only scream out even louder.

Some, it seems, follow Jesus to manipulate God and others. They may disguise it as leadership or influence, but it’s all about their ambition to be the big men on campus. The argument they use is, similar to Peter’s earlier question, “I follow you, therefore you should give me …fill-in-the-blank…

Others, like the blind beggars, follow Jesus because they have received his mercy. Rather than seeking to make an exchange with God; their performance for his reward; they rely solely on his mercy because Jesus has already made the exchange by giving himself as a ransom for sinners.

Are you in one of these two groups? Or, perhaps, do you identify more closely with those who observed the pairs of men interacting with Jesus?

The wasted virtue of self denial


When Oscar Wilde said that “Selfdenial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity” he could easily have observed almost any professing Christian in any age or place who mistakenly believe their abstinence was the key that unlocked all the blessings of heaven. In Matthew’s, “proof text” for Christian self-denial there is a preposition that is often overlooked in practice and lifestyle that is responsible for spiritual leprosy.

The preposition Wildes’ lepers have ignored is in Matthew 10:39, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it“: or “because of me“.

There is no gain or merit in a life of self denial, strict discipline, adherence, stoicism, charitable works and the like outside of Christ. If the sacrifice in possession, place or relationship is done now to manipulate or bargain a greater inheritance in eternity, then it will fail. We cannot merit grace. We cannot earn God’s favor.

Rather, if, in the pursuit of Christ, to gain more of him, to know him, love him, serve him or to, in the John Edwards sense, deepen my affectation for him, by him and to him, I suffer some loss here and now in relationships, recognition or reward that will be to my eternal gain. For though I may have lost those things I gained Christ. He is my exceeding great reward; to know him and to experience the power that was at work in his resurrection in my life; that is a true and elegant sufficiency.

The call is not to suffer for sufferings sake as though by my suffering I repay part of an impossible debt. It is a rejoinder that as you suffer “because of me” you are, in fact, finding your life not losing it. Don’t seek to suffer, but when it comes receive it gladly “because of me” and rejoice in the eternal life that Christ has given. Self denial is a wasted virtue because so many think that through their efforts, they achieve or earn God’s gift. “I have suffered so I deserve better.” When that is your posture you are seeking your life on your terms and you only have loss waiting for you. Write it all off for the sake of Christ and gain everything.

Obedience A Dangerous Concept

Dangerous to discuss or advocate that is, as it is one of the most divisive principles found in scripture.

It requires submission to God’s sovereignty and is resisted by our personal nature and rejected by western culture which in typical post-modern style rejects all authority but the self.

It is dangerous for believers, because, most often, the gauge of obedience is a personal standard.
e.g.: Judges 17:6, 21:25 with Matthew 7:21-22.

We often have “blind spots” concerning our level of maturity in obedience and compare ourselves either to other believers or to our own selves months or years earlier. Instead, the standard of obedience ought to be Christ. 1 Peter 2:21

Obedience is not legalism nor religious oppression. It is an unreserved and unconditional submission to God (as revealed in scripture). Deuteronomy 30:1-20, Joshua 1:7-9.

He is not here

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.

Matthew 28