Monday, October 24, 2011

Matthew 9:18-19 Surely He Has Borne Our Grief

In Matthew chapter 8, we read several accounts of Christ healing people of various ills. Some people teach, wrongly, that supernatural healing is normative for Christians and cite Christ’s healing ministry as proof that physical freedom from sickness is somehow part of the atonement. However, the evidence in scripture, not to mention the life experience of millions of Christians living and dead all over the world proves quite the opposite. Because of the effects of sin, our bodies and this world are both corrupted and therefore subject to disease and death. However, during His ministry on earth, Christ healed people not just to demonstrate compassion on them and certainly not to allow them to live their “best life now”. Rather, the primary reason was to be obedient to God and demonstrate that when He claimed deity, He wasn’t just making stuff up—it was true and the miracles were the proof.

As we come to our text in Matthew 9, we need to keep those truths in focus as we attempt to interpret the text. What Matthew is teaching us here is not that, as Christians, we will never get sick. Rather, he intends for us to understand that Jesus is God and as God can do things only God can do. The fact that people knew He was able to do these things is pretty evident. While He was correcting some misconceptions on the part of the Pharisees and John’s disciples (Matthew 9:11-17), He was approached by a leader of the local synagogue whose daughter was close to death (Matthew 9:18). Now, Matthew just gives us the general details about the scene—the man came to Jesus, worshipped Him (“knelt”—proskyneŇć 4352) and begged Jesus to come heal his daughter. Mark and Luke fill in the details for us as they did in Matthew 8:5-12. The man’s name is Jairus and his daughter was on the verge of death. Matthew records that the synagogue leader says his daughter “has just died”, but the English translation doesn’t really do the Greek justice—it could just as easily mean “by this time she must have died”.

Now, remember when Jesus healed the centurions servant, the Roman soldier refused to allow Jesus to come to his home, He claimed he was unworthy and cited Jesus’ authority in the matter. “If I have authority over soldiers, I don’t have to be present to make sure something is done. Likewise, since I recognize your authority over disease, I know you don’t have to be present for the disease to obey you” he essentially said. The man, who was considered a “dog” to Jewish people, had faith enough to trust Christ to heal his servant.

Observe here (Matthew 9:18), this man who knew God, knew the scriptures, and apparently recognized Jesus as able to heal His child, or else why would he have risked his position in Jewish religious life to call on Him, came to Jesus, worshipped Him, but needed Him to come to where the girl was dying so that He could heal her. He didn’t have the faith to believe that Christ could just speak, where they were, and heal his little girl.

However, this lack of faith doesn’t dissuade Christ. Out of His love, compassion, and obedience to His Father, Jesus agrees to go and brings His disciples with Him. As we read this and contemplate on the situation and Christ’s response, we should be touched by the compassion that Christ shows here and elsewhere for those who are sick and hurting. We should also be thankful that even when our faith is weak and we find it hard to trust Christ, Christ still loves us and accepts us where we are. He truly is our faithful High Priest.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Habakkuk 1:5-11 “Be careful what you wish for”

On Sunday evening, our pastor has been preaching through the book of Job. All throughout the book, Job proclaimed his innocence and wished for an audience with God to please his case. At the end of the book, Job gets his wish. However, I’m thinking about half a chapter in, Job wishes he had not gotten what he asked for. God of course give him a scathing rebuke that basically says “I am God. You are not. Be quiet”. Here, in Habakkuk, the prophet pleads his case before God. As I read verse 4, I almost wouldn’t be surprised if verse 5 read “And the Lord dissolved Habakkuk before His eyes, and Job was no more”. I mean, Habakkuk begins his conversation with God basically accusing God of not caring about the evil people did and not acting as judge of sin. I imagine, much like Job, Habakkuk envisioned his discussion with God ending with him setting God straight. However, much like Job, the conversation did not turn out at all like he thought it would.

Habakkuk asked God “What are you going to do about judging the sin of Israel?” God chooses, in His wisdom, to reveal His plan to Habakkuk. He tells him in verse 5 to prepare to be shocked—“You are not going to believe this. You think I’m not working. Well, just wait till you see what I’m going to do”. To judge the sin of His people, God has chosen the roughest, toughest, meanest bunch of hooligans the world had seen up to that point—the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:5).
The 101st Babylonian Infantry
Of course, we read about them elsewhere in the Bible as the Babylonians (Kings, Daniel, and Isaiah). The name may be changed here, but the carnage is the same. The Babylonians were the first real world power. Sure, the Assyrians conquered multiple nations, but the Babylonian empire was bigger and their armies were fiercer. In my mind, I imagine this group like a biker gang—they were some bad dudes and God revealed to Habakkuk in verses 5 and 6 that they were going to be His instruments of judgment to punish Israel for their continued sinful disobedience.

Notice the chilling description Habakkuk records of these people. In verse 6, we’re told they are “…bitter and hasty…dreaded and fearsome”. They stab first and ask questions later. They saw themselves not as above the law, but rather they saw themselves as the law (“…their justice and dignity go forth from themselves…”). They didn’t answer to anyone. Their motto was “I’m the boss, apple sauce” and they had the military might to back up their bully-like attitude.

They were the best there was at what they did.
Their cavalry, Habakkuk 1:8 tells us, was swift and deadly. The terrible picture painted leaves little hope for escape or mercy. You can’t outrun a leopard, you can’t out fight a wolf, and you can’t hide from the high flying eagle. No matter where you run, these guys are going to get you and when they get you, they’re not there to play tiddlywinks or Monopoly. Verse 9 further portrays the deadly peril that Israel faces—we’re told the Babylonians come marching with “all their faces forward”. In other words, they are persistent, determined. They didn’t come to negotiate. They’re not looking for your money so you can’t buy them off. They want territory and they want to enslave people. And we read in Habakkuk 1:10 that the people can’t even depend on their leaders for protection because the Babylonian see them as little more than the punch line to a joke. Your walled cities? They build up siege ramps and take your city like a hot knife through butter. They don’t worship God but rather this godless, heathen nation worships their “own might” (Habakkuk 1:11).

Just reading the description of the terrible judgment that God has prepared for the nation of Israel is gut wrenching. Can you imagine how Habakkuk felt when God revealed that to him? He had come to God with a legitimate concern, even if it was expressed disrespectfully and God gives him news that had to have turned his stomach. The same thing, brothers and sisters, happens to us all the time. Oh, God doesn’t directly reveal His plans to us like this but we face scary, trying circumstances. How should we respond? Where is the hope in our trials? We can hope in God. God is sovereign, in control of all things, and we can trust Him even in the midst of the saddest, scariest, most pain circumstances because He is God and He is faithful.

In this post, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review—Give Them Grace by Fitzpatrick/Thompson

First of all, stop what you’re doing now and go buy this book. If you’re a parent, you need to read this. If you’re not a parent but you’re a Christian, you need to read this. We need to be constantly reminded of the gospel and so I want you to stop reading this book review and go buy the book.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say first of all that I appreciate the message in this book and the sincerity of the messengers. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, a Christian mother and daughter, did not write this book to give a method or set of steps to improving your child’s behavior. If you’re looking for Twenty Ways to Change your Kid in Twenty Days you are going to be sorely disappointed. In fact, if I had to summarize the book’s message in one sentence, it would be this: Believe the gospel and preach it to your kids.

So often as parents we just want our kids to behave—in my case, I just want quiet. We focus on encouraging good behaviors and punishing bad behaviors and, as the book points out, this kind of training is necessary and has its place. However, what most of us tend to do as parents is focus on doing good and not doing bad as a goal as if it’s the be all end all of existence. In contrast, the gospel tells us the exact opposite. The gospel tells us that we are lost, sinful, and wretched and could never do anything good enough, let alone good. The fires of hell will burn for all eternity all around many good, moral people who showed up on time for work, never talked back to authority, helped little old ladies across the street. If all we do is teach our kids to be good, or worse, to feign goodness when someone is looking, we have failed our children and failed God in the calling He has given us as parents.

Rather, as the authors point out, we should look at our children’s misbehavior and recognize our own sinful heart and open rebellion against our heavenly Father. Further, we should use those opportunities to encourage our kids to see their own sinful heart and remind them that their sin condemns them before God but that God loved us. Because God loved us, He sent a Savior, Someone to rescue us from our sin. This is not to say that we don’t discipline our children and correct them when they misbehave, but rather that we don’t just stop there. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves and our children and using their own sin to remind them of their need for a Savior is a great way to do just that.

In short, I would recommend this book to anyone for that very reason—these ladies explain the gospel clearly and remind the reader of the depths of human sin. They also explain effectively the dangers of moralism. Those are two lessons no Christian can hear too often.