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I’m still befuddled by Jesus’ stunning statement that if we do not humble ourselves and become like children, we can never enter the kingdom of heaven. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). It has helped me a bit to understand that He Himself did that very thing—became like a child. It is not only that our great, magnificent God came as a helpless baby, He also laid aside all powers when He grew into a man that would enable Him to rule over people as a king. It is true that He didn’t disallow Himself all His powers. Clearly, He still possessed the ability to heal, forgive, cast out demons, and exercise authority over nature. However, He did nothing that earthly kings and potentates do when they reign over others. He purposefully chose to deny Himself that power. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). From heaven’s point of view, our great Creator God became as helpless as a child when He dwelt on the earth.

It has also helped me somewhat to understand that He became the least in the kingdom of heaven. This is what Jesus said in Matthew 18:4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). It helped me because I finally understood—please forgive my ignorance—that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is…Him. Therefore, our powerful Jesus humbled himself like a child and thus became the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. You will not be able to humble yourself lower than He did.

My church and theological world has been turned topsy-turvy by such biblical truths. Here is one more. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven was like many things. Two of them are addressed here: “He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened’” (Matthew 13:31–33 ESV).

The kingdom of God is like the smallest of seeds.

The kingdom of God is like yeast.

The kingdom of God starts in the smallest way possible.

The kingdom of God grows all by itself.

Do we believe this? No, I don’t think we do. No, we must establish some strategy, some systemization; employ wealth, real estate, and talented people to grow in order to “grow God’s kingdom.” Where do we get these ideas?

True, as Paul said, some plant and some water: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7 ESV). Are you a planter? Great. Do you water what has been planted? Wonderful. Do you work hard? Good for you. However, read all of what Paul says here. “…he who plants nor he who waters is anything…” The amazing apostle Paul said that both he and Apollos were…nothing. Are you willing to bring that assessment to you and your ministry? And why should we bring that assessment? Because “only God gives the growth.” No, you are not “growing God’s kingdom.” Only He can cause seeds to sprout and grow. Only He can cause yeast to rise. You can’t do those things, and you will never be able to. This is a good and right thing to come to this understanding. It is good and right because then only He gets the glory for what He does. Oh, how quick we are to broadcast our successes, accomplishments, and numbers! When you plant a tomato seed, a grass seed, any kind of seed, do you say, “Look at how I made that tomato come up out the ground! Look how tall I’m making it grow!” Do you say, “I spread grass seed all over the lawn. You won’t believe how I made so many of them sprout! I’ve counted them! There are over two thousand of them!” But that is exactly what the Church does after it broadcasts the seeds of God’s Word and it sprouts.

Lord, please forgive us for taking the glory to ourselves for what You alone have done.

 

 The Wrong Road Taken_Ebook

Our new book. Asking questions. Challenging traditions.

Here is the link to the paperback edition:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wrong-Road-Taken-Questions/dp/1500977802/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1410808802&sr=8-2&keywords=the+wrong+road+taken

Here is the link to the Kindle edition:

At Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-wrong-road-taken-jim-thomson/1120326880?ean=9781500977801

 

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Legalism is a word that is usually applied to adherents of Christianity. It refers to a code of religious laws or rules that are followed but with a negative effect—the Christian begins to judge others’ righteousness based upon external adherence to those laws. In severe instances, the salvation of the “offenders” may be doubted. When the topic comes up, I’ve been told more than once by pastors that a person who smokes cigarettes cannot be a Christian. Christians debate such topics as, “Which movies should Christians watch?” “What exclamations are permitted when one is angry?” “May a Christian drink wine? Beer?” Some of the laws that Christians adhere to are indeed biblical. Some have no biblical basis, or a spurious one. The problem is not the standards to which a believer holds. The problem is when Christians begin to think that they are righteous based upon their ability to keep religious law. If they do so, they are in serious error. Christians are made righteous only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He took our sin and death upon Himself and received the punishment that we deserve. In return, He gave us His perfect righteousness, which enables us to have fellowship with the Father and to be His children and the inheritors of all that He possesses.

Throughout my lifetime, the pervasive drumbeat in the U.S. culture is the intolerance and even danger of Christianity. The three main targets have been the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, and Puritanism. Let’s be honest. We cannot defend brutality in the name of Christ. We also cannot defend an imposed, legalistic, religious life, if that is how Puritanism is perceived by its detractors. However, we can defend Jesus. Grace. Love. Forgiveness. The sovereign greatness of God, and many other essential truths.

Another target of the culture has been religious hypocrisy. Christians cannot defend hypocrisy either, and we must admit that it comes with the territory. We are held to the highest of standards—be perfect as God is perfect—but we cannot reach that standard. We teach those standards, endeavor to live by, and encourage others to do so, but we should be honest and admit that we fall woefully short—which is why we need a Savior.

Have Christians been improperly legalistic? Probably. There is no doubt that the culture has considered Christians to be “straight-laced,” “goody two-shoes,” or other perceived joy-killing pejoratives, as well as intolerant of others’ beliefs. However, now there exists an insidious, religious legalism within the secular culture of the United States. It is a legalism that is as deadly as anything legalistic Christians in the United States —rightly perceived or not—ever adhered to. In contrast to the forgiveness of sin and God’s grace that are pillars of Christianity, there is no such forgiveness for moral offenses in this secular legalism. I may lose my job if I am perceived to be a racist. I will be publically condemned, and my life ruined. I may lose my job if I’m considered a sexist. I will be publically condemned. However, the most dangerous of all the secular legalistic laws is that a Christian has the audacity to assert that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way one may go to heaven. I am therefore an intolerant bigot, a cultural supremacist. The odd thing about this is that this bigotry seems to only apply to Anglos. Black and Latino Christianity gets a pass in the media in the United States.

The Christian response? Admit to sinfulness, both yours and of past generations. I don’t recommend fighting silly cultural wars that only reinforce the idea that Christians are legalistic. Does it really matter if a secular culture “properly” celebrates Christian holidays? Let’s be honest. Christmas has become a frenzied, materialistic orgy. Christian believer, does that please God? Our concern should really be on our own values, not of those who do not even know our wonderful Savior. Why should I expect secular schools or meetings to allow Christian prayer? The United States is a post-Christian culture. It makes sense to me that secular authorities don’t allow such prayers. If they did, they would be faced with the issue of allowing the prayers of all religions. Do Christians really want that? No, we should not insist on having our way in such superficial issues. Let our light be the love and truth that is in Jesus. Let’s endeavor, by our love for others, put lie to the belief that we are intolerant, legalistic, and bigoted. Jesus and the early believers lived within cultures that had not been influenced by Christianity at all. They never attacked or criticized cultural norms. They preached the gospel. They prayed for others. They made disciples. Let us go and do likewise.

 

 

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Another characteristic of Jesus’ lowliness is His servile heart. I am not convinced 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 only a nobody, a servant. How low did our Creator condescend in His ministry here? He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed them breakfast. However, the supreme example of His servanthood is found in Philippians 2:8: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here is the improbable truth: The mighty God of the universe and Creator of all that exists is a servant who was willing to die like a criminal for those who treat Him like dirt.

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 by relying on our wisdom and intelligence, even by believing we know Him by understanding what we think His Word tells us. We can memorize His Word, parse it, outline it, systematize it—and still not know Him. 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. However, those twelve, among others, 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 or His work.

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

What is the way to know God fully? What is the way of obedience? He is. Not only does He know the truth and can make truth known to us, 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, or so-called principles, and traditions, even if we can wind our way back to find them in an isolated Bible verse—and all too often, we cannot even do that correctly. 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, ultimately, to every question. 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, His love as well as His Word, and that is primarily relational, not solely educational, traditional, legal, or intellectual.

Therefore, we take His yoke. We endeavor to learn from Him. We endeavor to obey Him. He graciously forgives us when we fail and then repent. We will not “get it” completely as long as we walk on this earth. However, He is kind. He is good. He is not arrogant in His immense intelligence. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). The word “reproach” means “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming.”1 In other words, He will not say, “I can’t believe how stupid you are! Why haven’t you figured this out yet? You are an idiot! A moron!” Thankfully, we will never hear that from Him. We will learn from our loving God 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. Simple as well as difficult because He is the God we do not know.

            1Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

 

 

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             I order to understand Matthew 11:16-30 more fully, to help us comprehend how to know Jesus by taking His yoke, a question must be asked. Why does Jesus need to be lowly and humble in heart in order to teach us? (“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”) He gives us the answer in the very next phrase: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The Greek word “chrestos” is translated “easy” here in verse 30. However, this is the only place in the New Testament where it is interpreted this way. It is rendered “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?”

            Therefore, it is proper to say that Jesus’ yoke is “kind and good.” The word “easy” gives us the false idea that somehow following Jesus is easy. Indisputably, it is not.

            Again, let us ask, why does Jesus need to be lowly and humble in heart in order to teach us? As we struggle to learn of Him, we, in our rebellious sinfulness, will end up trampling all over Him. We will sin against Him. We will arrogantly take the glory for the wonderful acts He has done through us, the astonishing truths He has taught us, and the natural and spiritual gifts He given us. If He was not low and humble in heart, if His yoke was not kind, He would not allow Himself to be treated in this way. He would rise up and punish us. However, He knows how eminently unable we are to grasp who He is and His ways. He understands. In addition, if His yoke was not good, He would impose a burden that would engender a fear of unknown and uncertain outcomes because of our sinful failures. His yoke is good because He ultimately has our good in mind. We know this because He, the spotless Sacrifice, God Himself, died for us to eliminate any and all possibilities that there is some sin, some fault, some retrogression that will keep us from Him. This is the greatest act our great God could do—die. If He did that, if He gave the ultimate sacrifice, why would He not give us whatever else we might need? Regardless of what happens in one’s life, this is the overarching truth: that is Christian victory. Paul wrote this his marvelous paean to God’s love in Romans 8: 31-39. In verse 32, Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” What greater thing could the Father have done in love toward us than give up His Son to death? Having sacrificed what is most valuable, will He then not give us whatever else is necessary? The rest of this passage is simply too splendid to omit:

            “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35–39).

            The definition of Christian victory resides in the love and goodness of God.

           The yoke of Jesus is kind. The yoke of Jesus is good.

 

            Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

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            We in the Church would not encourage Christians to take on a yoke as the Jewish leaders did, would we? Is it possible that we have offered a yoke based on law and tradition that is wearying and burdensome, one that would encourage us to think that, by adherence to some listed principles, we will be able to “have this Christian thing down”? We must be careful. We can, with one simple step, move from our ultimate goal of knowing Him to imposing requirements to know Him, activities which make good sense to our human understanding. Some of what we expect as necessities to grow in our knowledge of God are founded in good and essential biblical truth. However, can you determine which is which from these typical admonitions? Since I am familiar only with evangelicalism, here is a short list: Read your Bible daily. Pray daily. Journal daily. Go to church on weekends. Go to a small group meeting during the week. Be under an organization’s authority. Be personally accountable to someone. Tithe. Give above your tithe. Get involved at church in at least one service. This may be an outdated list. I understand that galaxy of requirements now includes learning how to breathe and how to listen. (How to breathe is nowhere taught in Scripture. In addition, for those who think they must learn how to listen, let me encourage you both from Scripture and personal experience. When God speaks, you will hear Him, regardless of your ability to “position yourself” to hear.) Whether one is able to discover that these admonitions are specifically addressed in Scripture 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 way to know 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 religious legalism. We begin to wonder about other believers, “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 the Lord chooses to reveal Himself. It results in, surprisingly to our intellect, an inadequacy of the true knowledge of God. We become like the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. No promising future lies ahead for that community.

 

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

 

 

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After His counter-intuitive, hostile-to-human-intelligence 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 ESV). Although Jesus exhorts His followers to take His yoke upon them, 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. If I may cautiously paraphrase and expand, He is saying, “Do not think that by taking upon yourselves the yoke of the law and traditions, you will know Me (John 5:37-40). 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. Although I am the possessor of all knowledge, I understand, in grace and compassion, your lack of knowledge. However, if you know Me, you will know Truth. I will share this Truth with you—I am the Truth—not to arrogantly show you how intelligent I am but to help you. My goal is not to enable you to rise in the ranks of your religious community by virtue of your knowledge of law and tradition, but to know Me. You will find rest with My yoke, which you will never find through your wise and intelligent understanding.”

                Knowledge of God’s Word Alone Is Not Enough

            The Pharisees knew the written and oral law thoroughly. They memorized it. However, they missed Jesus. He did not meet their expectations of what the Messiah should be. What kind of Deliverer did they anticipate? That would be a fascinating study in itself, but they hoped for 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 anticipated a Prophet 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).1 However, according to their understanding, Jesus was a “glutton and a drunkard” and therefore did not fulfill their messianic expectations. They conveniently ignored not only His miraculous works, but many scriptural truths like Isaiah 53, which includes these precious verses about how low the Messiah would be:

“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 ESV).

Those who think themselves wise and perspicacious, Jesus said, fail to see 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 who they understand 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 clever—to find an understanding of God according to law and tradition. Jesus wanted them—and wants us—to be relieved of this burden. It is a futile effort. We will never find Him in this way.

I am not sure we understand how burdensome to the Jews this fruitless, seemingly well-thought-out, disciplined endeavor 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.’”2

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, His grace, and be discipled by Jesus like humble 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. He is Knowledge—perfect Knowledge. If we don’t know how to proceed in our lives under His rulership, the answer is found both by seeking Him and the truths about Him in His Word—not by placing a yoke that requires legalistic adherence to Scripture and tradition, based upon tragically inadequate human knowledge

            1Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ps Sol 17:42). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

            2Sayings of the Jewish Fathers 3:11-12 (Pirqe Aboth), translated by Charles Taylor.

            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 had 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 ESV).

            Although Jesus had done mighty works in those cities, they had not repented and turned to God. He tells the inhabitants 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. Jesus’ last devastating hammer stroke to the citizenry in those areas is that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom than for them. That is a jaw-dropping condemnation. To be compared to the wicked city of Sodom is quite a rebuke, but Jesus delivered it because He knew how important it was for His people to acknowledge Him as the Messiah. It is 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.”

            Jesus expected the people of Israel to understand that He was the one spoken of in Isaiah: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18–19 ESV).     

            However, the prophecies from Isaiah and the miracles were not enough, apparently. These leaders were so unconvinced that they claimed He was casting out demons by the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 ESV).

            So, why had these cities rejected Him, in spite of these works? He was so unlike the Messiah they anticipated that they could not 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 were not 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 three 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 meant 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 rational, 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.

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

 

 

The adjectives used in the Word of God to describe the Lord are rich with words of magnificence. He is loving, mighty, merciful, glorious, wise, holy, strong, creative, and wonderful in all His ways, to name just a few. The passage that follows is an overwhelming example of how glorious the Lord is and how John attempted to describe the heavenly scene he was witnessing:

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God…” (Revelation 4:2-5).

The sovereign Lord appeared to be made of chiseled, precious stone. Astonishing. Lightning flashed and thunder reverberated from His throne. This is a joyously powerful, fear-inducing, sovereignly turbulent place. Amazing stuff, and I’m sure we all agree that human words will always be insufficient to describe our remarkable God. We shouldn’t be surprised, should we? In spite of our incompetence at describing the Creator of all things, I would like to reflect on two of His characteristics that we don’t often consider, words which seem quite incompatible with the depiction we just read, although they were used by Jesus to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29: He is gentle and lowly in heart. Gentle and lowly in heart would indicate that that attribute is at the core of His being. However, it is not only Jesus who is gentle and lowly in heart—the Father is, as well, since Jesus told us that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (John 14:9).

Is this the God we know? One who is gentle and lowly in heart?

            A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) gives this definition of “gentle”:

“pertains to not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.”1

BDAG offers these three definitions of “lowly”:

  1. “pertains to being of low social status or to relative inability to cope, lowly, undistinguished, of no account”
  2. “pertains to being servile in manner, pliant, subservient, abject, a negative quality that would make one lose face in the Greek-Roman world, opposite of a free person’s demeanor”
  3. “pertains to being unpretentious, humble”2

Surprisingly, Jesus is telling the Jews that He is not overly impressed with his self-importance. Instead, He considers Himself undistinguished and of low social status. He, the Creator of all that exists, the King of the universe who upholds all things by the word of His power, is unpretentious. This is not how kings and rulers throughout history have viewed themselves. Kings are distinguished personages. Overlords. They are not subservient; they rule, often ruthlessly. They are not lowly, they are high. We do not expect a humble and servile God, and He certainly was not the Messiah that the Jews anticipated. They could not believe that Jesus was the One about whom the prophets spoke.

            1Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            2Ibid.

If someone were to broach the idea of starting a church with us, I would ask them to do the following research in the Bible and supply scriptural answers before we had a serious discussion about how to proceed:

Do a study in the Gospels about what Jesus taught about leadership. How did He tell us to lead? How did He tell us not to lead? How does what Jesus taught about leadership compare with what we teach?

What do these scriptures tell us about how church was done in the New Testament: Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:11, and 1 Corinthians 14:26.

Compare the gift and ministry inventories in I Corinthians 12:7-11, Ephesians 4.11-14, Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 and compare them to the gifts and ministries you have seen functioning in services of the churches you’ve attended.

Do a study in the New Testament letters and find where Paul, Peter, John, Jude, or James wrote to Christians about how many people had been led to Christ, baptized, healed, delivered through their ministries; how many churches they had planted, and how many people attended their meetings.

What structural organization did Jesus leave behind before He ascended?

What attracted people to Jesus in His ministry? What attracted people to Jesus in the ministries of His apostles and disciples?

What mandates did Jesus leave for those who would follow Him?

Jesus said we cannot be His disciples unless we fulfilled what criteria?

What was Jesus’ attitude toward children who were present when He taught in a group of people?

Jesus said we would never enter the kingdom of God unless we did what?

If you were to disciple someone, what would be the first things you would teach them? Supply scriptures.

 

 

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