Why Is God Jealous?

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Here’s a story for you: It’s about a darling married couple who are madly in love with each other. Well, at least the husband is madly in love with his wife. The wife, however, has wandering eyes.

Wherever the wife goes, suitors follow. Even when the husband is present, these suitors knock on the door to the couple’s home and woo the wife. The husband, of course, isn’t pleased, but he respects his wife and is certain that she’ll make the right decision.
But the wife doesn’t make the right decision. She sleeps with one (or several, take your pick) of these suitors—despite his trust in her. The husband is outraged and, most of us would say, rightly so. Why, then, do we think God is overreacting towards us when we do the same exact thing?

Today’s passage of scripture takes place immediately after Jesus has sent the twelve disciples out in a frenzy [link to Second Sunday of Pentecost blog]. His heart was moved within him when he saw that the crowds following him were like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Today, however, we learn that these sheep, despite lacking a shepherd, still followed something around and, just like the wife, what they were following wasn’t any good.

During our lifetime, four things will compete for primacy in our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Our inner being can only have one master, as Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:24. To love Jesus, then, we must reject the primacy of all four suitors—or we may relegate Jesus to a lower love and elevate one of the other suitors.

As Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37, we must “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind.”

In this passage, Jesus shows us that our punishment is assured: Give your whole being to Jesus and you will certainly be punished in this lifetime by one or more of the other suitors. Choose one of the other suitors and you will certainly be punished body and soul in hell.

Who are these suitors? The first may surprise you.

  1. The Religious Authorities (Including our church or pastor) (Matthew 10:25)

As Christians, our religious authorities include the church, our pastors, our priests, our Bible study leaders—any Christian leader, denomination, or congregation can fit into this category.

Religious authorities aren’t bad in and of themselves. Many want nothing more than to help us grow in Christ. On a good day, they’re servants and shepherds: they direct us away from themselves and toward God.

On a bad day, however, they can be the ones who woo us away from our husband.

Sometimes our church may ask us to make an unbiblical sacrifice. Say, for example, that your family is a little dysfunctional. You are constantly arguing with your spouse and the two of you are close to splitting up. Your children (who know about the possible divorce despite your best efforts) have become reserved and fearful. Your family needs help.

Your church, however, has another plan for you. There is a new opening in the church’s ministry—and you’re the perfect candidate. Sure, they know about your marital troubles, but who else can do the work? God has called you to do it, and the church tells you that if you make sacrifices for God, God will make sacrifices for you.

We know that God tells us in 1 Timothy 3:5 that we cannot manage his church unless we know how to manage our own households. But we also know that the church has given us so much. And the ministry is for a good cause…

So we take the job. Our family suffers, but we don’t have the time to deal with the problem. When people ask, we just say that we’re sacrificing for God. But, really, we’re just making a sacrifice for the church.

As for our pastor, sometimes we think that whatever our pastor preaches (whether it be sermon, politics, or practical advice) comes straight from the mouth of God. But God doesn’t need to give his word to our pastors—he’s already given his word to each of us through the Bible!

Can our pastors help us understand the Bible? Certainly. But our pastors still struggle to understand the Bible, themselves. So we have a responsibility—to ourselves, to our pastors, and to God—to compare our pastor’s sermon with God’s living word. If the two do not match, we should speak with our pastor.

Sometimes, we are tempted to limit God to our denomination or our local church. However, in the Bible we see that God routinely chooses not to restrict himself to specific sects or groups. Whenever we show loyalty to sects, we place religion above God. Our method of religion or our specific local church becomes our idol.

From the Reformation through European wars of religion, Christians learned that the institutional church is very different from God. We learned that the church is NOT God on Earth; it is the servant of God on Earth.

When we regard religious authorities as God, we forget what happened to Jesus in the gospels. The religious leaders of the day called Jesus a servant of the devil (Beelzebul). Their voices were the loudest during his crucifixion. Religious leaders, whether they be Jewish or Christian, can see Christ as a threat to their way of understanding the world.

Yes, you can serve the Christ through the church, and yes, you can learn about the Bible through your Pastor’s sermon. BUT you must always be aware that neither of these things are God. Paul once told us that if an angel came down from heaven and told us something contrary to the Bible, we should not believe him (Galatians 1:8)—how much less a religious leader!

  1. Our Country or Culture (Matthew 10:28)

Government and culture will always compete for our heart. After all, if we are good citizens of our country, then aren’t we a good witness for Christ? The Bible even tells us that if we are “irresponsible to the state, then [we’re] irresponsible with God, and God will hold [us] responsible” (Romans 13:2)!

When we decide to put our country or culture first, we preach political sermons on Sunday and rally behind war and destruction. Christianity becomes a religion that belongs only to our country (and perhaps those of our country’s allies). We divide our sermons along ethnic or cultural lines. We conflate service to our country with service to God.

Jesus, however, tells us that if we have to choose between what our government wants and what God wants, we should always choose the latter. If we blindly follow what our government wants us to do, we will break several of God’s commands. If the government, for example, tells us not to evangelize in public places and we obey this, we are disobeying God!

Furthermore, just as God does not limit himself to any one denomination, he does not limit himself to any one country: he is just as much the head of North Korea as he is the head of South Korea!

When your country and Christ don’t see eye-to-eye, you’ll have to choose one or the other. Either way, you will be punished. If you evangelize, you will be punished by “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” However, if you choose to “be a good citizen” you will be punished by “the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Choose wisely.

  1. Our Family (Matthew 10:35)

Just like our churches, it is easy to put our families before Christ. After all, the Bible commands us to take charge of our families and manage them well! There is a difference between managing your family well and putting your family before Christ.

The difference is Christ, himself.

What is the foundation of your family?

Christ tells us that he did not come to make peace in our families—he came to create conflict.

Why is this?

Almost all families have been built upon the wrong foundation. Some families cannot come together without violent outbursts—so we’ve chosen to avoid one another to create the semblance of peace. Other families experience a deep trauma and, instead of dealing with this trauma, they lapse into unhealthy habits (eating in separate rooms, feigning happiness, drifting apart). But these unhealthy habits make the trauma the foundation of the family.

If we are to put Christ before our family, it means making him the foundation of our family—something that is easy to say, but difficult to do. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that when conflicts arise, we resolve them in the way he intended. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that we will have to confess our own faults and imperfections. If Christ really is the foundation of our family, it means that we will respect our parents and direct them to Christ.

When we try to make Christ the center of our family, everyone will resist. Man will be set against his father and daughter will be set against her mother. We may be kicked out of our own homes. Our children may tell others all sorts of nasty things about us. We may even be permanently disowned by the rest of our extended family. But Christ does not consider family to be a valid excuse not to follow him.

“If you deny me before your family,” Jesus says, “I will deny you above my family—my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33; man changed to family, Father changed to family)

  1. Our Self (Matthew 10:39)

Jesus tells us that if we wish to follow him, we must first take up our cross (Matthew 16:24). However, that is the last thing that our self wants to do. When we do this, our flesh raises every objection it possibly can:

“But we’re already on bad terms! If I don’t lie, it might end things for good!”

“But if I don’t tell everyone I did it, no one will notice!”

“But this is what pleases me sexually! Research has shown that it’s actually unhealthy for me to restrict myself sexually.”

“But if I do that, it will be dangerous. I have a family. God tells me to take care of them. I need to keep myself safe.”

“But I won’t be spiritually mature until I get married! I need to find a boyfriend right now!”

“I know this woman isn’t my wife, but I don’t want to marry her or leave her! If I marry her, I might marry the wrong person and if I leave her, I might be lonely!”

 

If we let these voices rule us, then Christ has only one thing to tell us: “You are not worthy of me.” He’s deadly serious about this. Just like the spurned husband, Christ respects us. As our suitors woo us, he remains silent and trusting. If we choose to sleep with other lovers, he is, just as rightly, outraged and shall cast you out into the “outer darkness where there will be weeping and much gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).

How do we love Christ? By putting himself above everything else and ignoring the sweet calls of your suitors. Their calls never stay sweet for long, after all. The moment you turn away from them, the suitors are outraged and do everything in their power to punish you—but the power they have is negligible when compared to God.

If you think this message is too strong, I encourage you to re-read this passage. It isn’t a weak passage. In it you will find words like “sword”, “disown”, “hell”, and “deny.” It’s certainly a passage that deserves your careful consideration.

However, there is good news: Alone, you’ll never be able to love any of these things more than God. As human beings, we naturally tend to love the things we can see (our churches, our governments, our families, and ourselves) more than the God we cannot see. But Christ came to put a new heart in us.

God can give you a new heart that loves him more than anything. The first step is to repent, be baptized, and enter into Christ’s death. When this happens, you will receive the Holy Spirit and the Father and son will come to make their home in you. Then, you will be able to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.

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“Why the Calling of the 12 Apostles is About Much More than the Calling of the 12 Apostles”

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Before we look at this week’s scripture, we need to remember:

The Bible was not originally divided into chapters, verses, or sections, nor did it have section headings or titles. In fact, if you looked at the original text, you would see that it was simply one enormously long string of letters, without so much as a single punctuation mark or space between words!

Why is this important? Most publishers split todays’ scripture into three parts—two chapters and three sections. If we take the publisher’s organization to be God’s divine structure, then we miss the continuity across the whole passage—and thus we miss the point of it, too. We might conclude, as many artists have over the centuries, that the selection and sending of the apostles was a formal and self-contained occasion—rather than (as the scripture shows us) a revelation of a particularly deep and recurring theme in God’s character.

With that in mind, and with our finger blotting out the section titles and chapter divisions, our scripture for the week is:

Matthew 9:35-10:8

If we read all three parts together as one episode, we understand that Jesus sent out the twelve disciples specifically because he had compassion on the crowds who were always trailing after him. Matthew 9:36 says that Jesus saw the crowds as “sheep without a shepherd”—a phrase which reveals much about God’s character.

First, it reveals that Jesus is God. Why? Because throughout the Old Testament, God keeps bringing up this very point again and again and again: The people whom God appoints to watch over his sheep are either asleep or running away at the first sign of danger. This lament can be found as early as Numbers 27:17 and continuing on in Kings 22:17 and Ezekiel 34:5. God keeps bringing it up.

Remember, the Bible was not written to be a series of stories. The Bible was inspired by God to be a continuous revelation of God’s character. So just because Numbers ends does not mean that the story ends with it. When Jesus looks upon the crowds and sees them as sheep without a shepherd, it is not an isolated event but the continuation of a millennia-old divine beef. Jesus’ compassion is built upon the anguish and compassion that God has always felt about the poor shepherding of his people—and which God will always feel about his people.

If sheep are left alone, they wander. Wandering sheep are a danger to themselves: they can fall into deep chasms or be eaten by wild beasts. A wandering sheep is never safe.

Thus, God turns to his appointed shepherds. He appointed them, but they are not looking after his people. This is one of God’s deepest ongoing concerns: not that his people be “happy” but that they be properly shepherded.

If you have ever watched a shepherd at work, you know that keeping a sheep safe does not mean keeping the sheep happy or in love with the shepherd. Shepherds even use dogs to frighten sheep into staying in a safe area. They use staves or crooks to yank the sheep back into place. If a sheep repeatedly wanders away, a shepherd may break the sheep’s leg. The shepherd will then keep the sheep close to him as it heals, so that the sheep may become accustomed to his presence.

In many cases, the sheep he watches over might not belong to him. Despite this, he will constantly put himself in harm’s way to ensure the sheep’s safety.

In the Old Testament, we read that King David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Part of the reason for this is because King David began life as a shepherd. In 1 Samuel 17:34-35, David tells Saul about his life as a shepherd:

I used to keep sheep for my father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.

Whenever a wild animal attacked the sheep, David would come between the creature and his sheep. He would hazard his own life to save his father’s sheep. This was why when God saw David, he said, “This is the man I want in charge of my people.” This was why the Bible says that David has God’s own heart.

How do we know? Because when God became man, this was exactly what he did for us.

This is God’s leadership standard for anyone: the pastor, the youth leader, the politician, the mother, and even the friend. Over our lifetime, God entrusts a myriad of people—his people—to our care. He gives us family members, friends, and co-workers. He does not give us these people to benefit us. We are not supposed to use them to please ourselves or submit ourselves to please them. They were given to us to shepherd: God wants us to keep them on the narrow path to him.

If they wander, we are expected to grab our shepherd’s crook and drag them back. “The Lord holds me accountable for your wellbeing,” we need to tell them. “And I’m willing to lay down my life for that.”

This highest standard of care arises from God’s heart. In fact, in Ezekiel 34:25, God becomes so frustrated with human leaders that he promises, “I myself will tend to my sheep and have them lie down.”

Then Jesus comes.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says (John 10:11). When Jesus says this, he isn’t just painting a pretty metaphor: he’s revealing that he is God.

In the Old Testament, God promised that he would shepherd over Israel. Now he is here—in the form of a man—and this is exactly what he is doing in our scripture this week.

Immediately before the scripture this week, Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue. The religious leaders had seen him strengthen the legs of a paralyzed man, raise a girl from the dead, give sight to two blind men, and, most recently, heal a demon-oppressed man. Yet they muttered, “He does this through the devil” (Matthew 9:34).

The religious leaders, who God had charged with leading people to him, could not recognize God—even when he stood right in front of them. They even said he was in league with the devil!

Yet wherever Jesus went, God’s people followed.

When Jesus saw these people, he was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:34). The original Greek is much more graphic: When Jesus saw the crowds, his guts twisted in pain. What Jesus felt was much deeper than compassion. Because of this gut-wrenching instinct, he ordered his twelve closest followers out on the road.

The “Sending of the Twelve” was not a glorious and formal affair. There was no ceremony on the mountaintop. It was instead an event birthed in the deep, biting pain that Christ felt upon seeing his lost sheep. It was more like an emergency than a graduation ceremony. Jesus barked out rapid-fire instructions: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8).

Then Jesus reminds us of a crucial truth: “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). In other words, never forget that everything you have came from me. If God tells us to go out—if God entrusts us with people—it does not mean that we have special standing or that we should be treated well, or that we should expect anything (like sheep-gratitude) in return.

More than anyone, we leaders should be humble. We should know that everything that is given to us comes from Christ and that Christ is the shepherd—not us. We are sheep. Sheep who have travelled with the shepherd long enough to recognize his voice, but sheep first and last.

If we are only sheep, how can we possibly lead other sheep?

Think about cows that live on a farm. Every morning, a bell is rung and the cows are released into the grazing lands. Without the urging of the rancher, the cows walk out to the pasture in a long and tidy line. Why? Because the cows leading the line have followed the rancher to the pasture so many times that they know where the pasture is and why they are headed there.

Notice, the lead cow does not snap orders at the other cows. He does not have a special costume or live in a special barn. He does not demand that other cows bow down to him. He simply knows where he is going and why. As Christian leaders, all we are is the lead cow. We are in front because we have travelled this path for so long, not because we are more worthy or holy.

Christ has returned to shepherd his people. He has reached out to us and walked with us. Because he has walked with us, he expects us to lead others along this path as well. However, we should know that leading others along this path will cost us everything—just as it cost Christ everything to lead us.

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The Great Commission or the Great Claim?

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Matthew 28:16-20

Today’s scripture is one of the most monumental—and controversial—scriptures in the entire Bible. Or, rather, it would be, if we truly took seriously what Jesus is claiming.

Most modern Christians refer to this scripture by the name, “the Great Commission.” That is because when we read this scripture, we focus on what Christ commands us to do:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19).

This command is important. It’s the reason I’m writing this post from Korea, for example. But focusing on the commission as the main point of this passage is a fairly modern misunderstanding. For the first 1,800 years of church history, no one referred to this scripture by that title.

And that’s preferable. Because as we’ve learned, scripture isn’t written as a revelation of ethics. Instead, it is written as a revelation of God’s character. When we read the scripture, then, we do well to focus first on who God is and what God does, before we ever turn our attention to us.

When we focus on God in Christ in this passage, we find what may truly be the most astonishing claim in scripture:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Christ claims (Matthew 28:18).

Note Jesus’ use of the word, all. Jesus claims to have all authority in heaven and on earth. He doesn’t claim to have “more authority than many others” or “a lot of influence.” He doesn’t even say, “In the future I will have all authority.” He says that all authority presently rests in his hands.

This means that Jesus is as much in charge of North Korea as he is in charge of your church.

“How can that be?” we ask. “People starve to death in North Korea! Christians are persecuted! Homeless orphans freeze overnight! What kind of God would choose to allow these atrocities despite having the authority and power to fix them!”

This question shows us that we’re on the right track. Why? It’s a question that God’s people ask time and time again in scripture (Revelation 6:10, Habakkuk 1:2, Psalm 13:1), with his encouragement: “Lord, why do you let the unjust flourish? Why will you not return to judge the world and make it right?”

Note that none of these authors doubt that God is fully in charge. In fact, it is because they know that God has full authority that they are troubled by the choices he is making.

“Why do you abandon us?” they ask. “Why don’t you avenge us?”

For much of church history, this claim has been the focus of Matthew 28:16-20—not verse 18. This is why, historically, when Christians have been persecuted and imprisoned, many respond with cheer and goodwill rather than fear—they know that Christ has all authority. Instead of titling this passage “the Great Commission,” then, we might consider calling it “the Great Claim!”

Nonetheless, this is a heavy claim to bear. Many of us may be tempted to walk away and say, “I love God, I believe Jesus rose from the dead, and I believe the world was created by God’s hand—but this I can’t believe.”

But we can’t walk away from it. This claim is fundamental to the Christian faith. We can believe that God created the world, that Jesus is the son of God, that Jesus’ blood washed away our sins and that Jesus rose from the dead. However, if we do not believe that Jesus possesses all authority on heaven and earth, we cannot call ourselves Christian.

Why?

If we do not believe that Jesus possesses all authority, then we are worshipping a different God than the faithful church that came before us—and a different God from the God of the Bible.

Scripture and church history concur with us on this point. Jesus tells us that he “hold[s] the key to death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Peter tells us that God allows us to suffer for a little while—then lifts us up (1 Peter 5:10). Paul reminds us that God perfectly molded us (and the world around us) in the way that he wished, and that it is silly for us to complain otherwise (Romans 9:19-21). Early Christians “turned the world upside down” by professing a power greater than Caesar (Acts 17:6-7). During the Japanese occupation, many Korean Christians refused to bow to a portrait of the Japanese emperor because they knew God was the true sovereign.

But then how can he be a God that allows suffering? How did the early church understand this aspect of his character in a way that allowed them to rejoice in the midst of persecution?

The first thing we need to remember is that God does not ask for us to understand him.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” God says in Isaiah 55:8. “Neither are my ways your ways.”

Sometimes we think of God as a president; we think that he has a responsibility to follow our agendas of right and wrong. When we pray, we come to him like a lobbyist: Lord, I think we should get rid of communism, and here’s why; Lord, I think that all countries in the Middle East should become democracies and here’s why; Lord, I think that my candidate should be president and here’s why. This is perhaps because we have short memories: the reason why the world is in turmoil is because of our own corrupt sense of “right” and “wrong”.

God doesn’t desire for us to suffer, but it is something he allows to happen. Suffering is a byproduct of free will: With every breath, human beings are given the choice to bring healing to the world or extend suffering. We often choose the latter, and God allows us this. The most amazing thing, however, is that God manages to bend even our most heinous actions toward his purpose.

Individuals in scripture understand this. Furthermore, they know that God is fully capable of ending everything at any point in time. Their question is why God doesn’t just do this. As the saints shout out in Revelation 6:10, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?”

In other words, given that God has ultimate authority, why doesn’t he choose to end suffering by ending the world and reigning in his promised judgement?

Any Christian family with a child who has fallen away from Christ can give you the answer: because there are still people to save.

Saying that Jesus loves his enemies is too tame a phrase. Jesus is the good shepherd who will leave behind ninety-nine sheep to search out one lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7); he is the woman who leaves no cushion unturned when searching for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); he is the father who ran and embraced the son who severely mistreated him (Luke 15:11-24); and he is the son of God who suffered death on behalf of his enemies. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and he uses this authority to reach out to his enemies.

And he uses us to do this.

“Now go,” he tells us, “unto all nations, and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

But Jesus doesn’t leave us to do this work alone. In verse 20, Jesus makes a promise to us that God has only made to the Abrahams, the Moseses, the Joshuas, and the Jeremiahs of Bible: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

When we take the gospel to God’s enemies, we will be humiliated, we will be attacked and we will suffer. But we will also have Christ with us—the very same Christ who was humiliated, attacked, and suffered on our behalf.

After all, if Christ had listened to the words of the saints and ended the world when they thought was right, none of the rest of us would have been saved.

 

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