In the Presence of Your Lord

Jesus turns the standards of the world on their head when he defines greatness in the kingdom as humbling yourself like a little child. In Matthew 18:15–20 Jesus’ commands on dealing with conflict contradict the expectations of the world.

Go to your brother. Resolve problems just between the two of you. Keep in mind the context. As Christians, we are “little ones” in Christ’s kingdom. Even when your brother sins against you, treat him, not as an enemy, but as a brother. All of God’s people, children as well as adults, need to handle conflict in a way that glorifies God. Some offenses are small enough that they should be simply overlooked. But problems that are big enough to harm others or the sinner, should be resolved. Going to your brother is a positive action, that replaces hatred and resentment in your heart, Leviticus 19:17. The first step is to go to your brother or sister. Don’t gossip about him, don’t talk to others. Go with a tentative attitude and a willingness to listen. Keep on going. The imperative implies a continued action. Resolution and reconciliation at this stage mean that you have won your brother—and that’s much better than winning an argument! “Loving confrontation is often the key to repentance, which can remove the root causes of conflict and open the way for genuine peace.” (Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, p. 20)

Continue reading “In the Presence of Your Lord”

Children’s Church

Is church for children or for grown-ups? Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of children’s church, don’t get the impression that the important part of church is just for grown ups! In Matthew 18:1–14, Jesus not only talks about children, he calls a child into the middle of a discussion with his disciples.

Enter the kingdom as a little child. Humble yourself like a child. The disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They had caught part of his teaching about the kingdom, and assumed that the chief positions would soon be available–and they were positioned advantageously! Jesus had a little child stand among his disciples. We tell children, you need to grow up. But Jesus says, you need to change and become like a little child. In the ancient world, children were sometimes considered relatively unimportant. Our culture gives more attention to children. Even today you need to be old enough to do certain things. Avoid the self-centeredness, the positioning, the self-assertiveness which the world associates with the successful. As he did in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns the world’s standards upside down. The mark of true greatness in the kingdom is humility! Be willing to assume the position of unimportance, be willing to be unnoticed. “That man is truly humble who neither claims any personal merit in the sight of God, nor proudly despises brethren, or aims at being thought superior to them, but reckons it enough that he is one of the members of Christ, and desires nothing more than that the Head alone should be exalted.” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels)

Continue reading “Children’s Church”

Tax Exempt!

Wouldn’t you like to find a way for your income to be legitimately tax exempt? Matthew alone includes this short account (Matthew 17:24–27) of a question about a tax, Jesus’ response, and his strange instruction to Peter.

The royal family is tax exempt! The two-drachma tax supported the operation of the temple. The origins of this temple tax lie in the provision for maintaining the tabernacle. Literally this tax is the “two-drachma tax,” but since it was used for maintaining the temple it took that name. Its institution is described in Exodus 30:11–16, in the midst of other instructions about the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the consecration of the priests. It is described as “atonement money.” Each male adult Israelite was to pay the half shekel as an offering to the Lord. Unlike some other offerings, this was not income based. It is to be distinguished from the free, generous giving for the construction of the Tabernacle, Exodus 35:4-29. The initial offering was used to make cast silver bases for the Tabernacle and its surrounding curtain, Exodus 38:25–28. Regularly the offering was to be used for the Tabernacle, Exodus 30:16a. After the building of the Temple, it was used for its maintenance and repair, 2 Chronicles 24:8–12; Nehemiah 10:32. The currency in which it was given over the years may have changed, but the purpose remained similar. Peter, when questioned whether Jesus was going to pay that tax, answered affirmatively. Perhaps he intended to discuss the matter with Jesus later, but Jesus spoke to him about it first. It may be that most had paid the tax earlier, while Jesus and his disciples were in the area of Sidon or Decapolis. Unlike the later question of the Herodians about taxes to Caesar, the question appears to be sincere, not an effort to trap Jesus. There may have been legitimate questions about whether Jesus and his followers were subject to the tax. The priests in the temple did not have to pay it. It appears that some others involved in religious work were exempt. Should the rabbi, Jesus, and his disciples be required to pay?

Continue reading “Tax Exempt!”

Mustard Seed Faith

What are the challenges to your faith? When you pray for something and don’t get the answer you hope for, is the problem that you just don’t have enough faith? In Matthew 17:14–23 (and our focus is verse 20) Jesus not only rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, but he also assures you of what happens through your faith.

Beware of little faith. The effects of sin are evident in illness and suffering. Jesus, Peter, James and John were descending from the Mount of Transfiguration when they met a crowd. Its focus was on a boy and the unsuccessful efforts of the remaining disciples to help him. The boy may have been an epileptic. The father uses the term moonstruck in line with the medical thinking of the day. The boy suffered from severe physical symptoms. But this was not just the ordinary effect of living in a sin-cursed world. Additionally, in this case, was the presence of a demon who caused this suffering. There is a horrible contrast. The incarnate Son of God had just been transfigured on the mountain. Now, as he comes down, it is as though Satan is saying, “I too can inhabit humans. And instead of glory, look at my destructive power.” Though we today need to be cautious about assuming that demon possession lies behind illness, certainly suffering, illness and death entered the world because of sin and are part of the impact that Satan has had on creation.

Continue reading “Mustard Seed Faith”

His Face Like the Sun

Children, do your parents ever say, “this is really important, listen carefully,” before going on to give you some instructions? In Matthew 17:1–13 God the Father tells you, children and adults, to listen to Jesus, his beloved Son.

Listen to Jesus because of his glorious kingship. Jesus appears in his kingdom. He had said that some listeners would see the glory of the kingdom, Matthew 16:28. “After six days” indicates a connection. His title, Son of Man, is related to the kingdom, Matthew 17:9; 16:28. In Daniel 7:13,14 it refers to Christ as the triumphant ruler.

The transfiguration is a foretaste of Christ’s triumph. Christ did appear in heavenly glory. His clothes became as white as the light. His face shone with his heavenly glory. The language reminds you of the exalted Christ, Revelation 1:13-16. When Moses had spoken with God, his face shone, Exodus 34:30. But that was a reflected glory. Jesus is God. Glory comes from him. Why was he transfigured? Jesus was facing the most difficult period of his ministry. The cross was ahead. Don’t underestimate Christ’s humanity. The event on the mountain reminded him of the glory which awaited the completion of his work. But the transfiguration was not just for Jesus. It was for Peter, James, and John, as witnesses, who after the resurrection, were to tell the story. Peter reflects on that in 2 Peter 1:16–21. Jesus is the great King, and he calls his people to share in his wonderful kingdom. He gives authority to his people. Do you see the glory of Christ as you see fellow believers who, by the power of the risen Christ, are enabled to break sinful habits and shape their lives more and more according to his will? As the glorious Christ, the King of kings, he is to be heard. You need to listen to him! “Jesus… is the Son of God not because he is Messiah and king, but he is king because he is the Messiah, because he is the Son of the Father. God is his Father (Luke 2:49); he is the only Son, whom the Father loved and whom he sent as his last emissary (Mark 12:6). At the baptism (Matthew 3:17) and later at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), God calls him his ‘beloved son with whom he is well pleased.’” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 252)

Continue reading “His Face Like the Sun”