What kind of people does the Lord choose?

Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (ESV).

This truth surprises me, because the people whom God chooses are quite different from those we choose to minister in our churches.

Recently this wonderful passage in John 20 came to my attention, about the person the Lord picked to be a witness to and announce His resurrection from the dead. I won’t present the entire text here, but here’s an outline:

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that it was empty (vs. 1).

She ran and told Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (vs. 2).

Peter and John ran to the tomb. They went inside, saw the tomb is empty and left (vss 3-10).

Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, looked inside the tomb, saw two angels, and had a brief conversation with them (vss 11-13).

She turned around and saw a man, but she didn’t know who He was (vs. 14).

She talked to the man, and when He spoke her name, she realized it was Jesus (vss 15-16).

Jesus gave her instructions: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (vs 17).

Mary went and told the disciples the glad tidings (vs. 18).

It’s impossible to ignore the scriptural reality that Jesus purposefully waited until Peter and John had departed before He made Himself known to Mary Magdalene. Why would He do that? Why would He pause until His disciples—two of those closest to Him—had left? And why would He choose a woman, a member of a gender class whose testimony at trial was considered suspect, to attest to His resurrection? This is the most important event in human history. Why didn’t He choose a person with power and influence and whose testimony would have been rock solid? Wouldn’t he have been able to spread the news more effectively? Wouldn’t he have had more resources to get that job done?

Let’s stop and think for a moment about how we do ministry today. Whom do we choose to proclaim good news and minister in our public services? Are they people who share in Paul’s list of attributes in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31? Are they foolish, weak, low and despised in the world?

Well, you may say, those people can do that outside there, out on the streets or wherever, but not in here.

Why is that?

We are convinced we know how to do ministry in our churches. We boast about promote what we have accomplished so people will be motivated to get on board. We want more individuals to get involved, and we ask for more money so we can “fulfill the vision” and “change the world.”

Why doesn’t God think this way? Why did He choose Mary Magdalene, of all people?

Paul gives us the answer to that question in the passage from 1 Corinthians referenced above: “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

That we don’t think the way the Lord does shouldn’t surprise us, should it? After all, He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9 ESV).

It seems like a simplistic, senseless thing to say, but—God doesn’t think like us. At all. Unfortunately, we apparently are of the opinion that we are able to figure out how to do significant things better than He is.

All of this should make us uncomfortable. It’s so, so…counterintuitive. The way God accomplishes His purposes seems destined to fail, according to our understanding. It’s not how—sorry, but it’s true—the world gets things done.

And that realization should cause us to grieve.

 

In the first post entitled, “Should Christians Tithe to the Church?” we discovered, biblically, that that “principle” is taught nowhere—nowhere—in the Bible. Please note that I just wrote that this is a “principle” that is taught in churches. We call it a principle because we don’t want to call it law. Law puts on the other side from grace. We don’t want to go there, so we call tithing a principle. Even for those churches who teach that tithing is not in the New Testament, they will still require adherence to it—or some other kind of giving—if one wants to become a member, a covenant member, on the council, an elder—whatever we want to call those who are on the “inside.” The thinking may be phrased in this question, or something like it: “How can you say you’re a committed member here if you’re not giving to this church? And I don’t mean $10 a month.”

However, we also saw in the last post that it’s clear in Scripture that God’s people are to give to the Lord, to the poor and to widows, especially those within the household of faith. Our problem in the U.S. is that giving to the “poor” is a bit problematic. Even the poor in this nation have more money than most other people in the world. Not only that, some of the “poor” and “homeless” in this country have cleverly discovered how to game the system. Even charitable organizations spend a majority of funds donated to them not on those in need, but on the salaries of presidents, vice presidents, CEOs, staff members, and administrative costs. (I recommend you check out the website Charity Navigator before you give to any charity. That site will tell you not only what percentage of funds actually ends up going to those in need but also how much the CEO makes.)

It doesn’t end there, though. Giving to the poor in “less developed” countries isn’t as easy as it should be. When we lived in China and India, we were approached by beggars who were undoubtedly objects of pity. But looks are deceiving. “Beggars” in those countries—and there are probably others—are purposefully maimed in order to make their handlers rich. When one gives money to them, he is supporting a malicious system.

So, where your money should go? Great question. This is where Christianity becomes wonderfully challenging, engaging, and relational. Where or to whom you give will be revealed as you seek God and serve others.

I know, I know. It used to be so easy to put one’s check in the basket, didn’t it? Or to give by credit card online. Add some info in the required fields, click on the button, and you’re done. Now you must pray for wisdom, direction, and opportunity.

Why did the Lord have to make this so…relational? We should have known, shouldn’t we? We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s safe to say that he was involved relationally with the man who had been beaten and robbed.

However, there are some things to look at from the Bible concerning where to give, in addition to the poor and widows.

We are taught to help support those who teach.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17–18 ESV).

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:14–20 ESV).

And missionaries:

“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 5–8 ESV).

However, this doesn’t solve all of our problems, does it? How much should one give to teachers, pastors, and missionaries? Again, it is a matter of prayer and relationship.

And does giving to pastors and missionaries mean that you also give funds to support church staff and all the other multitudinous stuff that is required to run church organizations? Please note that I’m making a distinction. There is a pastor or teacher that should be supported, and there is a church organization that cries out to be supported. There are many among us who say that there is no difference. I will not contend with those who hold this view, although I do not hold it. The learning curve—the-disengagement-from-the-money-swallowing-church-structure journey—has been long and enlightening for us. (One of the many things I learned from being on church staff: It sure is easy to spend someone else’s money.) So, it behooves me to offer the same grace to others that was given to me as our brothers and sisters engage with our amazing, loving, holy, powerful, living God and His word.

 

            What would happen if the tithing system in our churches disappeared?

            Just asking.

            It’s an interesting question and one that we should consider.

            Why should we consider it?

            Because tithing to the church is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.

           The scripture that churches typically use to encourage their people to tithe to their organization is this passage from the Old Testament:

            “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:6–12 ESV).

            In the Old Covenant, curses and blessings were contingent upon one’s disobedience or obedience to the Law. When we read the above passage, we will see that same covenant is invoked. You’ll be blessed if you tithe. You’ll be cursed if you don’t. However, New Testament Christians understand—or should—that they are set free from the curses of the Law. If we don’t understand this, we don’t understand our salvation. We are simply unable to keep the Law. The Law brought punishment and God’s wrath. But Jesus took that punishment upon Himself, in our place. That’s what His death on the cross is all about. These truths are laid out for us thoroughly in Romans and Galatians.

            So. Why do pastors teach this Old Covenant cursing and blessing covenant to their people?

            That’s a very good question. However, I don’t have an answer. I can tell you why I did. I had been taught this somewhere along the line and continued to believe that it was a biblical truth. It didn’t even occur to me that it was problematic because it wasn’t in the New Testament. Looking back, I am ashamed of this. In one sad case, it caused a rift between a nice Christian couple and us.

            There are some who will raise the point that tithing precedes the Law, based upon this passage from Genesis:

            “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:18–20 ESV).

            It’s odd that this scripture should be used to defend giving a tithe to the church. First of all, there was no church here. Second, the tithe was given to Melchizedek, who was a type and shadow of Jesus.

            However, for those who contend that, because this offering to Melchizedek (a type of Christ) was before the Law and is therefore the biblical course of action to take, I will agree until shown otherwise. The tithe is currently my default level of giving. However, it’s also true that, in the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that He requires all that we possess. Each individual Christian will discover what that financial sacrifice entails through the Lord’s process of sanctification in his or her life. It will be different for each of us, because we have a living relationship with a living God. There is no legalistic list of things to possess or not possess, what to give and what to keep.

            So, it’s not the tithe as a standard of giving that troubles me. It’s tithing to the church that troubles me, because it’s just not in the New Testament.

            I once heard a pastor teach that, when we tithe, we give our tithes to God, through the church. Clever. Are there any verses from the Bible that back that one up? There aren’t any. Do a search for the word “tithe” in a New Testament concordance. You’ll find it nine times (if you include the word “tenth”), that pertain to the giving of money. Three of them are used by Jesus in His rebukes to the scribes and Pharisees. The others are from Hebrews in reference to the passage in Genesis about Melchizedek and Abraham. The only offering—not a tithe—that was taken in the New Testament was for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

            However, if we accept that we should give at least a tenth of income to the Lord, not legalistically, but out love for the Lord and others, where should it go? The truth of the matter is you can give it wherever you want. This makes our giving more, well, I guess you could say, complicated, but perhaps a better word is relational. Now, instead of automatically giving a set amount to an organization, you will need to pray where your money that is dedicated to God should go.

            And it may very well be to a person or persons.

            Why?

            Over and over again in the Old Testament, the Lord tells us to take care of the poor, especially His people. I’m going to reference the Old Testament not as a matter of Law, but to investigate the Lord’s heart concerning the poor. So, we should never equate our giving to the poor with our righteousness. Many people give to the poor but do not know the Lord. Matthew 7:22-23 is a cautionary tale for all of us. However, as we attempt to understand God’s heart about where our resources go, here’s one that makes me think:

            “But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 15:4–5 ESV, emphasis added).

            Wouldn’t it be something if the Church took care of its own people like this?

            I think this pairs up well with this New Testament admonition:

            “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 ESV).

            However, we are also encouraged in the New Testament to give to anyone who is poor. We see it here:

            “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33–34 ESV).

            Here:

            “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12–14 ESV).

            Here:

            “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham’” (Luke 19:8–9 ESV).

            And here:

            “…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:9–10 ESV).

            Again, here is where we are encouraged to give money to the church:

            (Crickets)

 

          I became a Christian in 1971. The Jesus People Movement was in full swing as was the Charismatic renewal. Lots of converted hippies. We were young. It was exciting. And we were enfolded into the churches that were willing to take in young people who dressed like, well, hippies.

          And then we just slowly fell asleep.

          As I said, we were young. I can’t speak for others, but I wasn’t very discerning in those days. I don’t think the people around me were, either. The other day my wife was singing a chorus from that era, one of the lines of which was, “If you want joy, you must shout for it.” In that song, different actions were added to what one must do to receive joy. Jumping was another. Some of us white people lifted ourselves about an inch off the ground when we sang those lines, but most of us just lifted ourselves up on our toes. Nobody thought about the theological ramifications of this requirement to receive joy. The pastor certainly didn’t—and he was a good guy—because he taught it to the church. No one cared. We were young. We were excited.
But I already said that, didn’t I?
           Today, I wouldn’t teach people to sing that song. No, you don’t have to jump or shout in order to get joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It grows in us. When you see what brought joy in the Bible, it was from seeing the things God did. Paul and John were joyful when the believers they discipled had remained in the truth. No jumping or shouting was required to “bring down” joy.
           Some erroneous stuff was floating around in those days. I remember a book about how praise “worked.” Have a fridge that isn’t working? Every time you walk by, just thank the Lord for it. It’ll start working again. Hmm. Superstition anyone? Legalism? “You know, if you’d thank the Lord for that fridge instead of complaining about it, it might start working again. Here. Read this book.” Talking about legalistic bondage, the district supervisor of our denomination was a full-blown word of faith guy. Thankfully, the Lord kept us from that erroneous doctrine. We were spared a lot of other weird stuff, as well. I never understood the emphasis on being “slain in the Spirit.” Without question, there are instances in the Bible when a man fell down when he encountered the Lord. It has happened when we were praying and ministering in China and India. But I never promoted it, emphasized it or even talked about it. If the Lord shows up in someone’s life so powerfully that they become weak in the knees, they might fall down. But the “ministry” of “slaying” people in the Spirit, just isn’t in the Bible.
           I wish I could tell you that my ignorance ended there. I had a very shallow understanding of Scripture. I worked for a church whose evangelistic method was based upon this passage from John:
           “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’” (which means Peter)” (John 1:40–42 ESV).
           They called it “Find, Tell, Bring.” Andrew found Simon, told him what he knew and brought him to Jesus. They interpreted it this way: Find someone who doesn’t know Jesus, tell him or her you know and bring them to…church. It never once crossed my mind that bringing a person to church was not the same as bringing him to Jesus. I love the pastor of this church to this day. He’s a wonderful man who loves Jesus. He leads a very successful ministry. I know several staff members, and we’re friends. However, as difficult as it is to say, this scripture has been twisted. And it has been twisted to the detriment of believers. It took evangelism from the hands of the “lay” people and put in the hands of a gifted leader—which this man, without a doubt, was and is. Nevertheless, there are no excuses for Scripture twisting.
           Here are some other things I didn’t think about biblically:
           Tithing. It is taught nowhere in the New Testament. It is primarily taught from Malachi 3:8-10, and we conveniently interpreted the “storehouse” in that passage to mean the church. Really? The church is a storehouse? Where in the New Testament is the church called that? How did that happen?
           Fasting. You’ll find little evidence in the Bible that fasting is meant to “bring one closer to God.” Fasting almost always happened when people were in serious trouble and they were grieving.
           Leadership. Jesus’ paradigm for leadership is servanthood. You’ll find little evidence in the New Testament for any kind of organizational hierarchy, past the appointing of some men to serve widows in the Book of Acts. And a study of that portion will lead to some interesting discussions when one reads further about the ministries of two of those servants, Stephen and Philip. We must include Jesus’ about leadership when we discuss such a passage. We can’t take one descriptive incident in the Book of Acts and toss out all of Jesus’ teachings about leadership.
           Being a temple of the Holy Spirit. It has absolutely nothing to do with smoking or taking care of one’s body in a healthy way.
Pleading the blood of Jesus over someone or something when we pray. What does that even mean? Who in the New Testament ever prayed like this? No one.
           Binding the strong man, or, in other words, a demon or the devil. Really? We can do that? Did anybody in the New Testament do this? No. Why aren’t we aware of its absence in Scripture?
           Praying that the Lord will “be with” someone. I hear this all the time. If he or she is a believer, isn’t the Lord already with them? In fact, doesn’t He live in them? Why are we praying this?
           These last three things above have to do with how we pray. When I began to question them, it occurred to me that it would be valuable to discover how people in the Bible prayed. Now, there’s an idea…
           Well, it’s time to stop. If you have doubts about what I’ve written, check them out in Scripture yourself. Feel free to ask any questions.

            I’ve been praying about something lately. It’s about a flaw in me—and there are many—but it seems that the Lord has brought this one in particular to my attention in recent months. It began to center around the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, “For Yours in the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” Actually, it’s the idea behind the last sentence: that the things I have just prayed about and will pray about in my time with Him can only be done by His rulership and power. There is no way that I can accomplish any of the things that I’m praying about. Only He can do them by His sovereign ability.

           The glory for answered prayer is His: “for Yours is the glory.” This is where I began to realize the pernicious reality of my default Christian mindset to take the glory to myself for the things that the Lord had done. However, since the beginning of my Christian life, I would say that God gets all the glory for whatever happens. However, I’m beginning to understand that was too often just lip service.

            Here’s an example of what happened a few months ago. Laurie and I were sharing with another Christian couple about what we had done around twenty years in the little church we were pastoring. Right across the state border from us was a strip of massage parlors. We decided as a church to reach out to these ladies. Small teams of men and women would bring the women baskets of nice, feminine things. Once, we even went into the lobby of one the massage trailers and sang Christmas carols. Sometime after our ministry to these parlors, they shut down. I told the couple that it “wasn’t long after” our outreach that they closed. Laurie said it was a few years later. I disagreed, saying that it happened soon after. This disagreement wasn’t a big deal at all at the time. We simply moved on in the conversation. However, I realized (I assume the Lord was pointing this out) that I was unhappy with Laurie because, when she stretched out the timeline for the closure of the parlors, it didn’t reflect well on the impact our ministry had in these very dark places. If it took a few years for them to close, it could have happened for any number of reasons. I realized that I wanted me and our ministry to get the credit, not the Lord. I want to get the praise for what I’ve done in ministry because it validates me as a ministering Christian man. Therefore, now when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I ask Him to change my heart so I will be a man who gives glory to Him alone for what He has done, not desire to take the glory for myself.

           As I’ve thought about this, I cannot blame anyone but myself for this transgression. It really is quite terrible, when you think about it. In my heart, I want to be exalted and don’t want God to receive glory for what He does. Looks like I want to be a little god. How foolish and fallen is that?

            Needless to say, I am a sick, sinful individual.  

            However, the church culture in which I spent the majority of my years actually encouraged me in my self-glorifying sin. Our churches live and breathe in this ministry-glorifying paradigm. At this point, there may be howls of denial, men and women who will say that their church always gives glory to God for the things that happen. That may be true in a minority of cases, but I doubt it holds for most. How do I know that?

           Because our churches promote themselves.

           This promotion seems quite sensible. You’ve got to the get the word out about what’s going on in your church. Like me, your church needs to validate its existence as a ministry. And the people who attend need to feel that they are validated as well, by their participation in it. Have you ever heard a church applaud when the speaker relates how many things got accomplished last year? Whom are they clapping for? The Lord or for the church?

           So, here are some questions. If you deny what I’ve written is true and maintain that your church is truly giving God alone glory for what is happening there, does your church promote itself? Why? Why don’t you let someone else praise you instead of yourselves? The Bible says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2 ESV). If you were to tell me how exciting your church is, would you be offended if I said, “You guys aren’t doing anything worthwhile at all there.”

            Because you’re not. God is. Right?

            I have not fully grasped what Paul wrote about in Second Corinthians. However, lately I’ve begun to wonder if Paul was dealing with what the ministry boasting that is endemic in our current church system. I did a search on the word “boast” with my Bible software, and that word comes up in Second Corinthians more than in any other New Testament book. But Paul was also dealing with this boasting in his first letter to the church in Corinth. It’s not possible to do a thorough study of all that Paul taught in those letters in this post. Go ahead and let me know what you discover. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that, in the first three chapters of First Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the problem of believers gathering around certain gifted or effective speakers: Peter, Apollos, and Paul. Paul strongly battles this notion. And I find it fascinating that he writes this is Second Corinthians: “What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:17–18 ESV).

            Hmm. Boasting according to the flesh. What were they boasting about?

Their ministries. Themselves.

            Let me reiterate that, for whatever reason, Second Corinthians is dense to me. (Perhaps I should say that I am dense in regard to it!) However, it can’t be denied that Paul deals with a lot of boasting about ministry, both in this second letter and the first.

            So, what’s the conclusion of the matter? Churches, in order to get and maintain “butts in the seats,” promote themselves. This is so “natural” that I would wager that it doesn’t even seem strange to almost everyone who reads this. However, no one in the New Testament promotes his own ministry or church. Why do we? When you read Paul, he is uncomfortable even talking about his ministry. In both of his letters to the church in Corinth he, by the inspiration of the Spirit, found it necessary to write, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17). Clearly, he and the Lord thought boasting was a problem in the church.

            You may disagree with what I’ve written here. However, I encourage you step outside your “churchview” and ask yourself some hard questions about why, if the Lord is truly the only One getting glory in our churches, they find it impossible to stop promoting themselves.

            For some time now, I’ve been trying to establish the practice of making the Lord my first thought of the morning, as I am waking up. For a while, this was simply saying, “Good morning, Lord.” Somewhere down the road in this endeavor, I decided to address each person of the Godhead. Then I added, when I was speaking to the Father and to Jesus, that I wanted to know them and that I wanted to love them and serve them as I should.

            I like this. It is joyful. It is just…right.

            As I say these things to the Lord, it occurs to me what a privilege, what an amazing reality, the opportunity that I  have (for Christians, read “we have”) to get to know the Lord God of the entire, vast universe, a creation so enormous we cannot fathom the scope of it. He is the most powerful Being ever, who ever has been or ever will be. There is nothing—nothing—that He doesn’t know. He is perfectly pure and holy. Think of that. Not one spot of sin. Does that sound like you? There is no one as wise. No one as creative. His mercies never come to an end. Never. They are new every morning. This is the One I have the opportunity to know. There is no greater knowledge possible in one’s life on this earth. None. There is no more wonderful, astonishing personality to know during our few years on this planet. None. Think about this for a few moments: He upholds all things by the word of His power. This is the One whose depths—as far as my puny knowledge will allow me—I may plumb. When I see His creation—the animals, the birds, the insects, the cell, the nature of physics (what I can understand, that is) the stars, many times I just shake my head in wonderment and laugh out loud. And then I think, “If this visible creation is so amazing, what will heaven be like?”

            And He, this wonderful One, by His grace, has made me part of His family. When He made Himself known to me, I became one of His sons. Jesus, by His sacrifice, made this possible.

            What an incredible privilege. What a stunning opportunity. Why wouldn’t I want to do this? That’s a great question. Because I’ve got too many things on my mind? Because I’m too busy?

            One of our problems as Christians in the United States isn’t that we have not received the knowledge of salvation. We have that available everywhere. It’s that our busy lives too easily become more important than He is. Please allow me to encourage you to pursue the knowledge of Him, both in your prayer life and in Scripture. What a privilege. What a joy.

           

In order to understand Matthew 11:11:28–30 more fully; to help us comprehend this learning-from-Jesus-by-taking-His-yoke life, a question must be asked. Why does Jesus need to be lowly and humble in heart to teach us? He gives us the answer: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

The Greek word “chrestos” is translated “easy” here in verse 30. However, this is the only place in the New Testament where it is translated this way. It is translated “good” in these four verses:

Luke 5:39: “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

1 Peter 2:3: “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Luke 6:35: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”

Chrestos is translated “kind” or “kindness” in these two verses:

Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Romans 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

So, would it be improper to say that Jesus’ yoke is “kind and good”?

One aspect of this kindness and lowliness is that as we struggle to walk in the Light, we will end up trampling all over Him. We will sin against Him. We will deny Him at times. We will take the glory for what He has done. We will willingly disobey Him. If He wasn’t low and humble in heart, He would not allow Himself to be treated in this way. He would rise up and punish us.

Another characteristic of Jesus’ lowliness is His servile heart. The topic of His servanthood is addressed in another chapter, but I’m not sure we fully fathom how low He stooped to come to the earth. Not only did He leave a home that is more glorious than we can ever comprehend in this life, He came as a nobody—not just a nobody, a servant. How low did our Creator condescend to wash His disciples’ feet? Here is the improbable truth: God is a servant.

Jesus is low and humble, and the yoke He offers is kind and good. Therefore, when Christian believers take His yoke, it is quite different from the yoke that carries with it the burden of being able to figure it all out and nail it down. The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He understands what we, unbelievably, seem to find so hard to admit: We just do not—will not—cannot— know Him with our wisdom and intelligence as we read His Word. Oh, yes, the truth is undeniably there, just as it was for the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. It was available to the Pharisees. However, they all—all—missed Him. The disciples missed Him, too. But they were willing or able or, perhaps better said, enabled, by faith, to follow Him like children, even though they had very little understanding about His true nature.

But He would teach them, He of the kind and good yoke.

Does this mean His demands are “easy”? No, not at all. He was and is the Law incarnate. We love and honor Him for those incredibly high standards. If they were not unreachably high, He would not be God. He would be like us.

What is the way to know God fully? What is the way of obedience? He is. It’s not only that He knows the truth or can make known to us the truth, He is the truth. When we struggle with keeping His commands, the answer is…Him. He is the life—life is found in Him, not in the intellect-driven, self-glorifying attempt to follow a set of rules, regulations, and traditions. The answer to questions in the Christian walk is often clear-cut, and often it is not. It is clear because He is the Answer. It is not always clear because, in order to know and learn what is good and obedient in our spiritual lives, it requires knowing Him and His love, and that is primarily relational, not educational, traditional, legal, or intellectual.

So, we take His yoke. We endeavor to learn from Him. We endeavor to obey Him. We will not “get it” completely as long as we walk on this earth. However, He is kind. He is good. And we will learn from Him as we seek Him and draw near (Jeremiah 29:13; James 4:8), the One who is lowly and humble in His heart.

It is as simple and massively difficult as that.

Those who think of themselves as wise and prudent, Jesus said, miss God because they think He can be accessed via their selective understanding of Scripture and tradition alone. This understanding depends upon one’s wisdom and intellect and therefore the interpretation of what they understand who God is, what He requires, and what He will do. No, you will learn who the Father is from Me, Jesus says: “Take My yoke and learn of Me.” The laboring, weary, and burdened people Jesus refers to in these verses are those who have tried by virtue of their intellect and the thinking of man—like the inhabitants of those three cities who thought they were wise and prudent—to find an understanding of God according to law and tradition. Jesus wanted them—and wants us—to be relieved of this burden.

I’m not sure we understand how burdensome to the Jews this had become. Consider this passage from the Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth): 3:11-12: “R. Jacob said, He who is walking by the way and studying, and breaks off his study (Mishnah) and says, ‘How fine is this tree! how fine is that tree! and how fine is this fallow? They account it to him as if he were ‘guilty of death.’ R. Dosithai, son of R. Jannai, said in the name of R. Meir, ‘When a scholar of the wise sits and studies, and has forgotten a word of his Mishnah, they account it unto him as if he were ‘guilty of death,’ for it is said, ‘Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the words which thine eyes have seen’ (Deuteronomy 4:9). Perhaps his Mishnah has but grown hard to him? What need then to say, ‘And lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life’? Lo! he is not guilty, till he has sat down and suffered them to depart from his mind.’”1

What an oppressive burden! To forget a word of Mishnah is to be guilty of death?

No. The answer to finding life in God, is to know Him and be discipled by Jesus like children who are willing to admit that they know little or nothing. The answer is to take His yoke, to come under the authority of the One who is low and humble in heart. He is the way to the knowledge of God. If we don’t know how to proceed under His rulership, the answer is found by seeking Him and the truths about Him in His Word—not by placing a yoke that requires legalistic adherence to Scripture and tradition.

We in the Church wouldn’t encourage a yoke like this, would we? Is it possible that we have offered a yoke based on law and tradition that is wearying and burdensome? We must be careful. We can, with one simple step, move from our ultimate goal of knowing Him to imposing requirements to know Him. Some of what we might require is founded in good and necessary biblical truth. But can you determine which is which from these typical admonitions? Since I am only familiar with evangelicalism, here’s a short list: Read your Bible. Pray. Journal. Go to church on weekends. Go to a small group meeting during the week. Tithe. Get involved at church. Whether one considers all of these things are biblical or not, any or all of them can be used to impose a wearying burden. Our elders are not to do this. They are to encourage and admonish us to keep under Jesus’ yoke, not impose a yoke of any other kind.

The answer to knowing our humble-in-heart God is not found in the power of our human wisdom and intelligence. The final result of that endeavor is pride and self-righteousness. We begin to wonder, “How am I able to know the Lord and what He requires and you aren’t?” This puts us into the category of the “wise and intelligent”—those who think they have this knowing and serving God thing down. This puts us in the group of people to whom the Father chooses not to reveal Himself. This is the antithesis of being like a relatively uneducated child to whom He chooses to reveal Himself.

The Bible clearly makes known who Jesus is and that He came to release us from the Law and its demands (Romans 7:6). Yet, David declares four times in Psalm 119 that he loves God’s Law (vss 97, 113, 163, and 165). Why did David love God’s Law even though he, too, fell short of it? The Law reveals how perfectly good, loving, and holy God is, so we, like David, should love it—although we cannot keep it. This is a precious, amazing—and humbling—truth. We cannot know the Father through our efforts at keeping and understanding the Law and traditions. We can only know Him through Jesus, who is perfect Wisdom and Intelligence. “No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said, not through understanding and obeying all that God requires (John 14:6b). By knowing Him, we will be involved in a process that will, more and more, cause us to be obedient to the Law. But it is through Him. That yoke of obedience is functional through knowing Him. That yoke, therefore, is grace-filled, merciful, and forgiving—that’s who He is, too.

 

            1Sayings of the Jewish Fathers 3:11-12 (Pirqe Aboth), translated by Charles Taylor.

            I’m taking another break from the series, The God Who Is Low and Humble in Heart, to look at this article from the Motley Fool. The text is included below, and here is the link: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/01/29/50-reasons-were-living-through-the-greatest-period.aspx

            Before the article, however, a hopefully brief introduction.

            Except for my time abroad as a missionary, I have lived most of my life in the United States. I grew up here. I went to school and worked here. I consider myself a patriot, one who loves the freedoms that we enjoy and the benefits of living in this nation. However, I have grave concerns about the degradation of our culture.

            I believe the constitution of the United States, with its checks and balances and representative democracy, offers the best form of government possible on this fallen planet. It’s the best we humans can do. Yet, we have found that the best we can do is failing us. How? From a Christian point of view, all it takes is for the majority of its citizens to be given over to ungodliness, and laws allowing increasing sinfulness will eventually be enacted. It is obvious to me that is happening in this country.

            Here’s what I think the Lord is showing Christians in the United States: We should not hope in any earthly government, including our own. In Scripture, there are but two cities—the city of man and the city of God. We should hope in only one true government—that which is to be established at Jesus’ return—a benevolent kingdom. Since a royal monarchy doesn’t work in this world, given the sinful nature of mankind, we will have to wait for the return of our King and His kingdom to enjoy His holy and pure rulership.

            It just won’t happen here.

            Consider these two verses from Isaiah:

            “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.”

            “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:15 and 17).

            As difficult and perhaps painful as it is to say, from the Lord’s point of view, the United States is just another country, like dust on the scales, as less than nothing and emptiness. It’s true that the Lord gave us a wonderful land with abundant resources. Christians came here to escape persecution and begin anew. We were given the opportunity to establish a noble form of government. Yet, we did not treat the native inhabitants of this continent well. We allowed slavery and are still experiencing the repercussions of that selfish, sinful sanctioning. More recently, we have legalized the slaughter of our own children. As a nation, we have elected men who have promoted and upheld the killing of helpless children. Fifty-five million innocent babies have been murdered since Roe v. Wade. Fifty-five million. Do you know how many Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust? Six million. More recently still, there are other laws—and there will be more—that sanction and legalize other behaviors that, according to Scripture, will only lead to death. That is the nature of sin, no matter what sin it is.

            I reject fighting a cultural war. The only one way the United States—or any other country—can become a godly nation is for its citizens to become disciples of Jesus Christ. To pick around at the symptoms of sin in this culture is futile. That legalistic scorn will not change anyone’s heart, unless that abject sinfulness is used in the presentation of how the Lord will forgive us if we repent and receive Him.

            As we will read below, there are still wonderful advantages to living in the United States. However, with full knowledge of these blessings we have turned away from Him. When I read the biblical history of Israel and some segments of the Church (see Laodicea), I see that those whom God blessed eventually did the very same thing. We are fulfilling Scripture. We are repeating past mistakes.

            Should we give up hope? No. Jesus in our hope, and He will not fail. Pray for this great nation. Should we become involved in the political process? Certainly. We should vote. We should stand up for and contribute to causes that are just. However, our primary task is to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ and tell others how He is their hope and light in the darkness of our increasingly sinful culture.

            Guess the intro wasn’t brief after all. Apologies. Here’s the article.

“I recently talked to a doctor who retired after a 30-year career. I asked him how much medicine had changed during the three decades he practiced. “Oh, tremendously,” he said. He listed off a dozen examples. Deaths from heart disease and stroke are way down. Cancer survival rates are way up. We’re better at diagnosing, treating, preventing, and curing disease than ever before.

Consider this: In 1900, 1% of American women giving birth died in labor. Today, the five-year mortality rate for localized breast cancer is 1.2%. Being pregnant 100 years ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer is today.

The problem, the doctor said, is that these advances happen slowly over time, so you probably don’t hear about them. If cancer survival rates improve, say, 1% per year, any given year’s progress looks low, but over three decades, extraordinary progress is made.

Compare health-care improvements with the stuff that gets talked about in the news — NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell interrupted a Congresswoman last week to announce Justin Bieber’s arrest — and you can understand why Americans aren’t optimistic about the country’s direction. We ignore the really important news because it happens slowly, but we obsess over trivial news because it happens all day long.

Expanding on my belief that everything is amazing and nobody is happy, here are 50 facts that show we’re actually living through the greatest period in world history. 

1. U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today. The average newborn today can expect to live an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could.

2. A flu pandemic in 1918 infected 500 million people and killed as many as 100 million. In his book The Great Influenza, John Barry describes the illness as if “someone were hammering a wedge into your skull just behind the eyes, and body aches so intense they felt like bones breaking.” Today, you can go to Safeway and get a flu shot. It costs 15 bucks. You might feel a little poke.

3. In 1950, 23 people per 100,000 Americans died each year in traffic accidents, according to the Census Bureau. That fell to 11 per 100,000 by 2009. If the traffic mortality rate had not declined, 37,800 more Americans would have died last year than actually did. In the time it will take you to read this article, one American is alive who would have died in a car accident 60 years ago.

4. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than 1 ton. I wrote this sentence on an iPad that weighs 0.73 pounds.

5. The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51. Enjoy your golden years — your ancestors didn’t get any of them.

6. In his 1770s book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: “It is not uncommon in the highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne 20 children not to have 2 alive.” Infant mortality in America has dropped from 58 per 1,000 births in 1933 to less than six per 1,000 births in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. There are about 11,000 births in America each day, so this improvement means more than 200,000 infants now survive each year who wouldn’t have 80 years ago. That’s like adding a city the size of Boise, Idaho, every year.

7. America averaged 20,919 murders per year in the 1990s, and 16,211 per year in the 2000s, according to the FBI. If the murder rate had not fallen, 47,000 more Americans would have been killed in the last decade than actually were. That’s more than the population of Biloxi, Miss.

8. Despite a surge in airline travel, there were half as many fatal plane accidents in 2012 than there were in 1960, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

9. No one has died from a new nuclear weapon attack since 1945. If you went back to 1950 and asked the world’s smartest political scientists, they would have told you the odds of seeing that happen would be close to 0%. You don’t have to be very imaginative to think that the most important news story of the past 70 years is what didn’t happen. Congratulations, world.

10. People worry that the U.S. economy will end up stagnant like Japan’s. Next time you hear that, remember that unemployment in Japan hasn’t been above 5.6% in the past 25 years, its government corruption ranking has consistently improved, incomes per capita adjusted for purchasing power have grown at a decent rate, and life expectancy has risen by nearly five years. I can think of worse scenarios.

11. Two percent of American homes had electricity in 1900. J.P Morgan (the man) was one of the first to install electricity in his home, and it required a private power plant on his property. Even by 1950, close to 30% of American homes didn’t have electricity. It wasn’t until the 1970s that virtually all homes were powered. Adjusted for wage growth, electricity cost more than 10 times as much in 1900 as it does today, according to professor Julian Simon

12. According to the Federal Reserve, the number of lifetime years spent in leisure — retirement plus time off during your working years — rose from 11 years in 1870 to 35 years by 1990. Given the rise in life expectancy, it’s probably close to 40 years today. Which is amazing: The average American spends nearly half his life in leisure. If you had told this to the average American 100 years ago, that person would have considered you wealthy beyond imagination.

13. We are having a national discussion about whether a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage is too low. But even adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was less than $4 per hour as recently as the late 1940s. The top 1% have captured most of the wage growth over the past three decades, but nearly everyone has grown richer — much richer — during the past seven decades.

14. In 1952, 38,000 people contracted polio in America alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, there were fewer than 300 reported cases of polio in the entire world.

15. From 1920 to 1949, an average of 433,000 people died each year globally from “extreme weather events.” That figure has plunged to 27,500 per year, according to Indur Goklany of the International Policy Network, largely thanks to “increases in societies’ collective adaptive capacities.

16. Worldwide deaths from battle have plunged from 300 per 100,000 people during World War II, to the low teens during the 1970s, to less than 10 in the 1980s, to fewer than one in the 21st century, according to Harvard professor Steven Pinker. “War really is going out of style,” he says.

17. Median household income adjusted for inflation was around $25,000 per year during the 1950s. It’s nearly double that amount today. We have false nostalgia about the prosperity of the 1950s because our definition of what counts as “middle class” has been inflated — see the 34% rise in the size of the median American home in just the past 25 years. If you dig into how the average “prosperous” American family lived in the 1950s, I think you’ll find a standard of living we’d call “poverty” today.

18. Reported rape per 100,000 Americans dropped from 42.3 in 1991 to 27.5 in 2010, according to the FBI. Robbery has dropped from 272 per 100,000 in 1991 to 119 in 2010. There were nearly 4 million fewer property crimes in 2010 than there were in 1991, which is amazing when you consider the U.S. population grew by 60 million during that period.

19. According to the Census Bureau, only one in 10 American homes had air conditioning in 1960. That rose to 49% in 1973, and 89% today — the 11% that don’t are mostly in cold climates. Simple improvements like this have changed our lives in immeasurable ways.

20. Almost no homes had a refrigerator in 1900, according to Frederick Lewis Allan’s The Big Change, let alone a car. Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.

21. Adjusted for overall inflation, the cost of an average round-trip airline ticket fell 50% from 1978 to 2011, according to Airlines for America.

22. According to the Census Bureau, the average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.

23. According to the Census Bureau, in 1900 there was one housing unit for every five Americans. Today, there’s one for every three. In 1910 the average home had 1.13 occupants per room. By 1997 it was down to 0.42 occupants per room.

24. According to professor Julian Simon, the average American house or apartment is twice as large as the average house or apartment in Japan, and three times larger than the average home or apartment in Russia.

25. Relative to hourly wages, the cost of an average new car has fallen fourfold since 1915, according to professor Julian Simon.

26. Google Maps is free. If you think about this for a few moments, it’s really astounding. It’s probably the single most useful piece of software ever invented, and it’s free for anyone to use.

27. High school graduation rates are at a 40-year high, according to Education Week.

28. The death rate from strokes has declined by 75% since the 1960s, according to the National Institutes of Health. Death from heart attacks has plunged, too: If the heart attack survival had had not declined since the 1960s, the number of Americans dying each year from heart disease would be more than 1 million higher than it currently is.

29. In 1900, African Americans had an illiteracy rate of nearly 45%, according to the Census Bureau. Today, it’s statistically close to zero.

30. People talk about how expensive college is today, but a century ago fewer than one in 20 Americans ever stepped foot in a university. College wasn’t an option at any price for some minorities because of segregation just six decades ago.

31. The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today, according to the Federal Reserve. Enjoy your weekend.

32. Incomes have grown so much faster than food prices that the average American household now spends less than half as much of its income on food as it did in the 1950s. Relative to wages, the price of food has declined more than 90% since the 19th century, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

33. As of March 2013, there were 8.99 million millionaire households in the U.S., according to the Spectrum Group. Put them together and they would make the largest city in the country, and the 18th largest city in the world, just behind Tokyo. We talk a lot about wealth concentration in the United States, but it’s not just the very top that has done well.

34. More than 40% of adults smoked in 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2011, 19% did.

35. In 1900, 44% of all American jobs were in farming. Today, around 2% are. We’ve become so efficient at the basic need of feeding ourselves that nearly half the population can now work on other stuff.

36. One of the reasons Social Security and Medicare are underfunded is that the average American is living longer than ever before. I think this is literally the best problem to have.

37. In 1940, less than 5% of the adult population held a bachelor’s degree or higher. By 2012, more than 30% did, according to the Census Bureau.

38. U.S. oil production in September was the highest it’s been since 1989, and growth shows no sign of slowing. We produced 57% more oil in America in September 2013 than we did in September 2007. The International Energy Agency projects that America will be the world’s largest oil producer as soon as 2015.

39. The average American car got 13 miles per gallon in 1975, and more than 26 miles per gallon in 2013, according to the Energy Protection Agency. This has an effect identical to cutting the cost of gasoline in half.

40. Annual inflation in the United States hasn’t been above 10% since 1981 and has been below 5% in 77% of years over the past seven decades. When you consider all the hatred directed toward the Federal Reserve, this is astounding.

41. The percentage of Americans age 65 and older who live in poverty has dropped from nearly 30% in 1966 to less than 10% by 2010. For the elderly, the war on poverty has pretty much been won.

42. Adjusted for inflation, the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has increased from $378 in 1940 to $1,277 by 2010. What used to be a safety net is now a proper pension.

43. If you think Americans aren’t prepared for retirement today, you should have seen what it was like a century ago. In 1900, 65% of men over age 65 were still in the labor force. By 2010, that figure was down to 22%. The entire concept of retirement is unique to the past few decades. Half a century ago, most Americans worked until they died

44. From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.

45. The cost of solar panels has declined by 75% since 2008, according to the Department of Energy. Last I checked, the sun is offering its services for free.

46. As recently as 1950, nearly 40% of American homes didn’t have a telephone. Today, there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in America, or enough for 5.7 per household.

47. According to AT&T archives and the Dallas Fed, a three-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915, and $12.66 in 1960, adjusted for inflation. Today, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $5 a month.

48. In 1990, the American auto industry produced 7.15 vehicles per auto employee. In 2010 it produced 11.2 vehicles per employee. Manufacturing efficiency has improved dramatically

49. You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic’s 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it’s $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America’s poorest are some of the world’s richest.

50. Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you’re one of them. We’ve got it made. Be thankful.”

             Let’s back up a bit to understand the context in which Jesus makes the astonishing claim that He is low and humble in heart.

            Jesus has just rebuked the people who live in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24).

            Although Jesus had done mighty works in those places, they had not repented and turned to God. He tells them that if such miracles had been done in Sodom, they would not have been destroyed. These three cities were worse than Sodom, on which God hurled sulfur and fire. Now, that’s quite a rebuke, but Jesus delivered it because He knew how important it was for His people to acknowledge Him as the Messiah. It’s clear that He expected them to believe in Him because of the works He had done. He said the same thing in John 5:36:

            “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

            But the miracles weren’t enough, apparently. These leaders were so unconvinced that they claimed He was casting out demons by the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24).

            So, why had they rejected Him, in spite of these works? He was so unlike the Messiah they anticipated that they couldn’t comprehend, by their human intelligence and learning, how Jesus could be the Expected One. They were anticipating one kind of Messiah, and He was quite another. Earlier in this passage—Matthew 11:16–20—Jesus compares the Jews to unhappy children who weren’t getting what they wanted: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”     

            After His rebuke to the cities, Jesus rejoices before His Father and says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25–26). When Jesus said that the Father has chosen to reveal Himself to little children, He means those who are not wise and understanding. (The Greek word “synetos”—“understanding”—can also be translated “intelligent.”)1 Apparently, the unhappy children of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, who thought they were wise and clever, were actually foolish and dim-witted. This revealing of the Father to little children is, Jesus says, “well-pleasing in your sight.” Let me reiterate. Jesus said that it is the Father’s will to reveal Himself, not to the wise and intelligent, but to those who are like children. Generally speaking, children are not regarded as paragons of wisdom and intelligence.

            After this counter-intuitive teaching, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus exhorts His followers to take His yoke upon them. However, the Jews of Jesus’ time were taught to take upon themselves the yoke of the Torah and the Talmud, the written and oral law as well as the traditions. Jesus is confronting God’s people with a contrast of choices: Do not take upon yourselves the yoke of the law and traditions alone. That knowledge may make you seem wise and intelligent, but it does not mean that you will know Me. No, take My yoke and learn from Me. I am true Wisdom. I am true Intelligence. Take My yoke because I am gentle and lowly in heart. You’ll find rest with My yoke, which you will never find through what you think is your wise and intelligent understanding. The Pharisees knew the written and oral law thoroughly. They memorized it. However, they missed Jesus. He didn’t meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be.

            What kind of Messiah did they anticipate? That would be a fascinating study in itself, but, generally speaking, they expected the Messiah to be a man who would cause Israel to be a great nation on the earth (Zechariah 8:22–23; Isaiah 11:9–10). This means that they also expected him to be a man who would be righteous, a legalistically perfect man: “And he will be clean from sin, to rule over a great people, to reprove rulers, and to remove sinners by the strength of his word. And he will not be weak in his days upon his God, because God made him strong by the Holy Spirit and wise by the counsel of understanding, with strength and righteousness” (Psalms of Solomon: 17:41–42).2 Apparently, according to their understanding, Jesus was a “glutton and a drunkard” and therefore did not fulfill their messianic expectations. However, they conveniently ignored not only His works, but many scriptural truths, like Isaiah 53, which includes these precious verses:

            “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3–6).

 

            1Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

            2Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ps Sol 17:42). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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