Jesus Longs for His People (Matthew 23:37-39)

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Jesus was not harsh out of hatred.

Behind his sharp rebuke in Matthew 23 was a deep love and longing for his people to hear his message, repent of their foolish pride, and live in faith.
The love of Jesus is evident in how he brings the sermon to a conclusion:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:37‭-‬39)

Jesus uses the imagery of a hen to describe his own feelings toward those who rejected him.  It is significant that Jesus describes himself with feminine attributes—it is significant in that it shows a divine nature that transcends gender and also in the contrast it provides.  

Jesus finished a harsh message about coming destruction by describing his desire to nurture rather than judge.  His words express profound sadness and deep disappointment before ending with a promise: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until…”

Until what?

Before answering that, there are a couple​other points that can be extracted from the example of Jesus:

1) Criticism is more loving than indifference…

We live in a time when legitimate criticism is characterized as persecution or hateful.  Be too blunt or honest and pretty soon you’ll have the niceness police on your case.  Criticism feels unpleasant.  However, rebuke can be extremely beneficial to a person who is truly humble and open to correction.

The importance of receiving rebuke is mentioned in Proverbs:

My son, do not despise the Lord ’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11‭-‬12)

And expounded upon by the Apostle Paul:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:7‭-‬9)

Paul says that if we are not disciplined by God then we are illegitimate and not true children of God.  Rebuke, according to Proverbs, shows love.  

Good parents discipline their children because they love and want the best for them.  They realize that uncorrected attitudes and behaviors will cause more future pain for their children than a rebuke.  Discipline, therefore, is a preventative medicine against a deeper more permanent harm.

It is easy to be nice to someone in order to avoid trouble.  In confrontation there is risk.  Many prophets lost their lives for speaking truth to power.  At very least criticism can come at the cost of loss of popularity and friendship.  As a result, people play nice for their own sake, to keep people off their case, and not out of love.

I personally do not waste my time trying to correct a person I do not love.  Why would I?

A good rebuke is not a hit-and-run attack.  No, rather it is part of a true concern for the well-being of another and a part of a longer term investment to help another person reach their better potential.  Sometimes, when an audience is especially stubborn and unreceptive, there is a need to ratchet up the rhetoric until there is a change.

2) The future is being created by us…

Many religious people are fatalistic.  Yes, they might claim to believe in “free will” or choice, but then revert to an “it is what it is” fatalism and using God’s sovereignty as an excuse.  

In Jesus we should be free—free to overcome our human limitations and able to create a better reality.  That’s what it means to created in the image of the Creator.  That’s what it means to partake of the divine nature.  And, therefore, with faith, there is agency and choice.

Those whom Jesus addressed also had a choice, and that choice is recorded in the last words of the Old Testament:

See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:5‭-‬6)

The “or else” in the passage above indicates two options.  Either their hearts will be turned or there will be total destruction.  History was dependent on their choice and the future depends on our choice—repent or die.

We know that many did not heed the warning and that Jerusalem was destroyed.  Many of those in the audience may have ended up in Gehenna (the literal “hell” Jesus spoke about) because they refused to hear and repent.  Many of us will follow them to our own destruction unless we choose the abundant life.

In the end, fatalism is simply another form of faithlessness.  Often when we say, “It is what it is,” the truth is that we are simply unwilling to put in the effort or step out in faith.  Life is what we make it.  The future we get is always a choice and we should choose Jesus.

3) When will we see Jesus again?

I don’t know.

That is your choice.

I believe Jesus will return in those who choose to turn, who acknowledge him as Lord, receive his Spirit and follow him. 

 Jesus gave this promise:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21)

Jesus longs to reveal himself to us today.

(Artwork: Stanley Spencer)

What We Believe, Does It Matter?

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What we believe matters.  What we believe changes our reality.  Belief matters because it changes the way we act.  If a person believes something they will live in a way that reflects the reality of their mind and work to create that reality.

If I believe I am disadvantaged, discriminated against or am cut off from a path to success, then I have also excused myself from making a full effort to overcome.  However, if I believe success is achieved by meeting challenges and adversity without making any excuses, then my trying may overcome the obstacles.  If I believe success comes from hard work and perseverance I will actively pursue it rather than wait around for my fate to be determined by my circumstances.

In practical or pragmatic terms it is better to believe there is hope.  Hopeless people go through the motions of life, they hold back because of their cynical attitudes and when their lack of effort results in failure they take it as proof of determinism.  When we believe things cannot be changed we are actually promoting that end.  There is truth to the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We can build positive or negative feedback loops depending on what we believe and how what we believe changes the way we act or react.

Some saw only giants…

What we believe changes how we view the evidence.  In the Bible there are multiple accounts where perspective had practical consequences.  There is the story of twelve Israelite men sent to spy on Canaan (Numbers 13) who saw the same evidence differently.  Ten of the twelve saw only impossible odds, plead their reasonable case against the promise, convinced the multitude to fear and doomed themselves to wandering.  However, two of the twelve saw victory over the obstacles and they did eventually see the promise fulfilled for them.  Unfortunately, because of the unbelief of others, even their fulfillment was delayed.

With a negative perspective could very well be robbing ourselves of a chance for success.  But, not only that, we may be robbing others as well because we aren’t giving our full potential.  When we take a fatalistic ‘it is what it is’ attitude towards something what we are actually doing is saying that we are unwilling to take steps to change what ‘is’ and make it better.  It is not an acceptance of reality, no, it is an excuse to be mediocre.  It is justification of our being indifferent rather than taking steps in faith to change circumstances for ourselves or others.

Cynicism and skepticism seem to be the ‘gods’ of our time.  And, while I am an advocate for critical thinking, I desire to use it as a means to strengthen humanity and not to destroy faith in the better.  I am not arguing in favor of foolhardiness.  I do not believe faith in the future is an excuse to be ignorant or unaware.  But, what I am saying is that we need to shoot for the impossible or we won’t even live the best of the possible.  It is the faithful who should be leading the way towards the ideal and without compromise or fear.

Unbelieving Christians…

There are many who claim to believe that the fantastic claims of the Bible are true and yet few who seem to accept the full implications of what doth dwell therein.  It is subtle, it often hides under cloak of theology or spiritual language, but underlying this ‘appearance of godliness’ (2 Timothy 3:5) is a heart of unbelief and doubt.  I can tolerate defeatism outside the church, but within the community of faith defeatism is inexcusable, it is spiritually dangerous ground and robs of us of our full potential as people of faith.  There are three areas where I see Christians accepting defeat and in the process defrauding themselves and the world.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

The Bible tells us all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and that to set the stage for our understanding a need for saving grace.  Yet that is NOT an excuse to continue in sin. (Romans 6:1) The mentality that will lead to spiritual victory is that which seeks to overcome sin rather than wallow in excuses for sin.  I can hear the chorus of “yeah, buts” in protest.  I know all the excuses because I have made them.  To those making excuses by citing religious tradition and theological exemption, read Mark 7:13.

Ironically, it is sometimes the same who attempt to apply the letter of their own law or tradition, who justify their own personal and group shortcomings.  They strain on gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23) sowing the seeds of their own failure.  All have sinned.  Sin is falling short of perfect love.  We need grace for our own failings and need to show grace as those shown grace.  However we aim for perfection because to aim for less we are actually sabotaging our full potential and will likely feel need to justify ourselves by pointing out the failures of our neighbors.

To those I have judged for their sins while not dealing completely with my own, I apologize and offer my repentance.

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,     your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9)

This is the prototypical prayer Jesus offered his followers.  It is commonly referred to as the “Lord’s prayer” and recited religiously.  But, if one were to consider the implications, it should change our expectations and how we live.  There are two things we can assume, a) we could assume we are to pray this as mere wishful thinking, or b) we can take it literally and do our part to bring heaven to earth in faith.  It is an unfortunate feature of popular eschatology that seems to dampen the enthusiasm of some to make a positive contribution by a presumption that it will not make a difference what we do.

When we see the world with a rental car mentality we cease to take care of it as a gift from God.  Worse, too often this attitude is not just negligence towards the environment, but it also seeps into our attitude towards people and we become as Jonah sitting waiting (even hoping) for the judgment of the polluted and imperfect world.  To have that perspective is to extinguish our potential as a salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16) and deprive our neighbors along with future generations of a better world.  We are essentially tying the hands of God (goodness) when we accept a corrupt world.  It is our job as people of faith to swim against the current and bring heaven to earth.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly  I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  (Mark 11:22-24)

The passage above, a refrain repeated in the Gospels. It identifies the real root of our low expectations and the root of our low expectations is a heart of faithlessness.  We do not see the full potential of God’s love for us because we do not believe, pray in belief and act in full faith.  This cynical faithless attitude is the same that prevented Jesus from doing works he was doing among others who had faith (Matthew 13:53-58, Luke 4:14-30, Mark 6:1:6) and it is a spirit still alive today in religious circles today.  It is a spiritual ignorance, it is an idea that boxes in God by our own understanding, and limits our full potential.

Beware of what you think you know lest you repeat the same mistakes of those who limited not only themselves but also those who were with them.  Faith is not fatalistic.  Faith is a mind set on success in all areas of life, having a heart that believes all things are possible and acting with a will to overcome impossibility.  It is an attitude without fear of giants, not deterred by walls or oceans and has hope in all people.  It is with this kind of faith that the promises of God are made real as experiences today rather than a mythology in the past or a delusion about the future.

The radical faith…

I say, instead of spreading unbelief or doubt, and instead of living in doom or despair, become open to the better possibility and act to make it a reality.  I’m not saying to be ignorant of suffering, nor that life is all sunshine and rainbows for those with radical faith.  No, if anything, with higher expectations comes a greater burden; a person who believes does not sit idle waiting for the future to come to them.  A person with faith is more active and vulnerable.  Still, those who try and stumble occasionally are better than those who spiritualize their defeatism and never act practically to bring what is better into reality.

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.   But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:17-18)

Believe and live life an abundance rather than be resigned to fear or failure.  Be wise, be aware and live in faith.

Go bring heaven to earth.

Make no excuses.