“O woman, great is your faith!”

From today’s reading of Matthew 15 and Mark 7

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)

I have always found this passage to be a little hard to read. It seems out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? At least up until that last verse.

But there are clues here into the heart of Jesus and the heart of his mission. A question one might ask: what was Jesus doing in the district of Tyre and Sidon anyway? According to commentaries I’ve consulted, there aren’t any other records of his acts in Tyre and Sidon except for this one act of blessing on behalf of this Gentile woman.

Have you ever noticed how many examples of the prayer of desperation in the Gospels come from the lips of parents interceding for their children? This woman comes to Jesus desperate, with no resources in herself to deal with the oppression and suffering a demon has wreaked upon her daughter.

I don’t know all the nuances behind the term “dogs” to refer to Gentiles, although I know that was a common epithet used by the Jews of that time. I don’t know if Jesus smiled at her when he said it, as an encouragement to her to continue to press into him for this blessing, although that is how I imagine the scene playing out.

Here’s what I do know: the needs of women in the culture of the time were not considered important, and it was hard to get lower in the eyes of a Jewish man than to be a Gentile woman. The disciples seemed to consider her a nuisance, and wanted her sent away. As Jesus said himself, she wasn’t even in the people-group that he had been sent to minister to. But in all the district of Tyre and Sidon, she is the only one who’s blessing at the hands of Jesus made the record of the Gospels.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

This woman of great faith and courage entreats the Lord for just a crumb of his grace and mercy. She, a parent with a desperately oppressed child seeks healing from the one our heavenly Father has sent to redeem his wayward, oppressed, and desperately lost children. And for her audacious, humble courage in approaching the Lord she receives not only instant healing for her daughter but honor throughout the ages from the Lord himself:

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”

Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but I like to think, and believe that the evidence supports, that he went all the way to the region of Tyre and Sidon just to minister to this woman of Gentile race. He did this to show that there really are no “dogs” under the table; all are welcome to come and feast at the table of his grace.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 (ESV)

“So Philip ran to him”

From last week’s message on Acts 8:26-40

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” – Acts 8:26-30 (ESV)

I love this episode from the early days of the church. Everything is new, the church is young, full of energy, just figuring things out, doing things and experiencing things she never would have dreamed up on her own. The church is realizing just how big the Good News is and just how inclusive the invitation is, and is just trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit. The church is going through hard times but is full of joy.

Philip has been preaching the gospel in Samaria, another one of those formerly untouchable lands populated by what the Jewish people would consider an unsavory people group. Signs and wonders begin happening, conversions, former magic-workers coming to faith, baptisms, receivings of the Holy Spirit, corrections, repentance. Read it, it’s all there in Acts 8.

In the midst of this an angel of the Lord tells Philip to go basically nowhere, otherwise known as the desert place to the south on the way to Gaza. Philip goes – I love the immediacy of obedience in the phrase “he rose and went” – and is confronted with probably the most “other” of all the others he has yet dealt with: a wealthy eunuch from Ethiopia, a worshiper returning from Jerusalem, in a chariot, no doubt surrounded by an armed entourage.

One quick prompting from the Spirit, and Philip runs to this man. Don’t you just love that? When he arrives at the chariot he hears the familiar words of Isaiah 53, Isaiah’s moving description of God’s Suffering Servant, Jesus. The rest is history; a conversation over the open Word, the good news of Jesus proclaimed, a heart reborn, water, baptism, joy. And then – boom – Philip is carried away to Azotus, a distance of probably thirty miles or so.

Lord, I want to be like Philip. He is quick, energetic and fearless in obedience. He lets the scripture breathe, and can explain the good news of Jesus from it.

He never sees an “Other”, he only sees one invited, just like he has been, into the wonders of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Only Jesus

From today’s reading of John 6

Following the feeding of the five thousand, many in the crowd became, understandably, enthralled with the idea of Jesus as their king and resident miracle worker. John 6 is a record of them, basically, responding to Jesus’ patient teaching with the repeated request “can you please do the trick with the bread again?”

You can imagine the strategies many of them were entertaining. “This guy can multiply bread, easily enough to keep an army fed. He heals people; we’ll never lose a soldier. Let’s make him King; he will free us from the Romans and supply us with bread and fish forever. We’ll be set for life! It’s a new day!”

Jesus responds to them in a way that baffles and repulses many of them:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. – John 6:51-56 (ESV) (emphasis mine)

Many of them can not handle this hard saying and they leave. It is often assumed they leave because they don’t understand what Jesus is saying, and that his words offend their religious sensibilities or are misconstrued as promoting cannibalism. But at the core, they leave for the same reason many of us wander. They want Jesus’ benefits (Hey! Free bread for life!) but he comes to give them and us so much more; to give us himself. He is our true food. He is the fuel for our lives, he himself is the Feast set before us in the wilderness in the presence of our enemies.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:66-69 (ESV)

I have an abiding pet-peeve having to do with the cheap shots some preachers and teachers take at Peter. You know, poor old goofy, clumsy, lovable, brash, always-getting-it-wrong Peter?

Listen, Peter here and in a number of other places in the gospels, absolutely nails it. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

To whom shall we go? Only to Jesus.

Who else has the words of eternal life? Who else is the Holy One of God? Only Jesus.

Who else gives us himself as living bread and living water, satisfying us in ways no one and nothing else can, meeting the deepest desires of our heart to be fully known and fully loved, accepted in him, adopted in him, once strangers and enemies but now children and heirs of the King?

Only Jesus!

Well said, Peter! I’ll never make fun of you again.

“Feed my sheep”

From today’s reading of Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

– Mark 6:34-44 (ESV)

This is our Lord, our great Shepherd.

If you’ve been a Christian for any time at all you have probably heard about how dumb sheep are, how lost they are on their own. It’s an apt comparison to the human condition, and that’s probably the reason God employs the sheep metaphor so much in scripture. I’m no expert on sheep, but I’m pretty sure that without a shepherd sheep are dead. They don’t survive very long on their own.

Humankind had been so lost for so long when Jesus arrived; Lost and alone and wandering, like sheep without a shepherd. God had compassion on us, and sent Jesus, who is the compassion of God. The relentless nature of this compassion can be seen in the surrounding context of the passage above. Jesus’ disciples are back from the mission he has sent them on, tired and needing rest, yet no rest is to be found. This comes hard on the heels of the execution of John the Baptist, which was most likely foremost on everyone’s mind, and an ominous portent for the future of this little band.

Jesus and the disciples are looking for somewhere to be alone, to no doubt decompress and debrief and take a small break, but the desolate place that they were heading to turns out to be overrun by people seeking Jesus.

Compassion is not just a feeling. It is costly. It changes plans. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and begins to teach them until it grows late. They are in the middle of nowhere and people are hungry. The pragmatists think it’s time to bring today’s ministry to an end and send the crowds away so they can buy their own food.

Jesus reply to them is basically “No, you feed my sheep”. And they do, bringing the little they have and placing it into the wonderful, compassionate, blessing, multiplying hands of the Lord. Everyone ate and was satisfied.

They didn’t have a lot, but they had Jesus, their Great Shepherd, who has compassion on his sheep and prepares for them a feast in the wilderness.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 23 (ESV)

“Go and learn what this means”

From today’s reading of Matthew 9-10

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)

So much of the opposition and astonishment of the religious leaders toward Jesus can be boiled down this way: You don’t look or act the way we thought you would look or act.

He didn’t. He didn’t on purpose. What are we to make of this?

Jesus could have been more sensitive to the needs of the Pharisees for a messiah who was more like them. He would certainly have enjoyed more support for them if he had engaged in a righteousness that aligned more closely to theirs.

But that would have been shooting way too low. Jesus used the religious leader’s righteousness as a yardstick of what “falling short” means. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees . . .”

Teachable moments abounded in Jesus ministry. He continuously confounded the pious onlookers: “Doesn’t he know what kind of woman she is?” “How come you don’t ceremonially wash?” “Healing on the sabbath? Don’t you care about the law?” “Why don’t you or your followers fast?”

“Why are you eating with them? Don’t you know how bad that looks?”

To all this Jesus replies “Those who are well have no need of a physician”. The irony in this statement is that both Jesus and John the Baptist before him had communicated repeatedly and emphatically to the religious leaders of that day that those leaders were not well. But they didn’t have the ears to hear it. Yet Jesus, in his grace and patience, continues teaching.

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Mercy becomes anemic in the heart of the self-righeous, self-made man, and must be re-awakened. Otherwise we will fail to recognize Mercy embodied when he is standing right in front of us.

Thank you Lord for being our Immanuel, for being with us! Thank you for coming and befriending sinners such as we are. We had no power to attain you, so you came and attained us. We are all of us, each and every one, a lonely Matthew, sinful and needy and poor. You, friend of sinners, have come and spread a feast for us in the presence of our enemies, anointed us with the royal oil of your Holy Spirit, and filled our cup to overflowing. What manner of love is this?

May we never bar the way of escape for others. May we never cut the chords of grace for others once we have received it for ourselves. May we never look upon another human being and think “not one of us”. And, Lord have mercy! – may we never judge you for going where we fear to go and mingling with those we fear to mingle with.

May humbled hearts receive your teaching: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

Thank you so much for your mercy upon me.

“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
they commit villainy.
In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.

For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed,
when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6 (ESV)

The new tree of the knowledge of good and evil

From last week’s message on Acts 17:16-34

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:16-34 (ESV)

Paul begins this episode provoked in spirit over the idolatry all around him. Indeed, Athens was so full of idols that they even had a catch-all altar to the “unknown god”, just in case they missed one.

It’s easy from our modern perch to ridicule the ancients for their idolatry, but if you think about it our generation is no different. The joy that explodes in social media over the release of a new phone OS, the way we fawn over our celebrities, the energy and time spent pursuing that ancient, unholy trinity of sex, money and power; all of this points to a society no more free of idolatry than Athens was, and probably even more idolatrous. We don’t bow before statues, but there are all sorts of things that get us out of bed in the morning that aren’t Jesus.

Paul takes the opportunity in a culture awash in idolatry to introduce them to the one true God. He is a God who has been unknown to his audience, for the most part, though they have been given clear communication of him from creation and have been feeling their way toward him all this time. Of course, when you are groping in the dark you will make mistakes, for our God doesn’t need or want all these man-made temples and sacrifices into which they had put so much energy. This is a God who is very near, and who created everything and everybody.

Paul then comes to the point.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Jesus is the turning point of history. Jesus has come, has lived a perfect life, has suffered under God’s wrath for our sins, has died, and has been raised again. Jesus is the great decision of God to save his offspring, and about whom a great decision is called for in each one of us. Repent, or not. Trust in his great gift, or don’t. Reject our idols and worship the one true God, or continue swimming in a sea of idolatry. Breathe the free air, or drown.

When Paul speaks of the resurrection, some of his listeners begin mocking him. This is because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in the history of the world and is itself the hinge upon which history swings, but it is also a great scandal and offense to our natural minds, living as we do with the natural assumptions of karma and natural ignorance and misconceptions of holiness and unholiness. Into this ignorance Jesus steps, and in him the cross truly becomes the new tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because when we see him high and lifted up we finally see what holiness truly is, and can discard all our self-idolatry and our misnamed, false goodness. In the cross we also see what unholiness truly is, because of our own deep evil that put Jesus there. The cross is like looking in a mirror that shows us our true reflection. It isn’t pretty, in fact it’s horrifying, but Jesus is beautiful. When he is lifted high he will draw all men to himself.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Jesus is alive! He has come to free us from idolatry and hopelessness and sin and bring us home to wholeness and holiness and him. Praise his name!

Talitha cumi

From today’s reading of Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:35-43 (ESV)

“. . . they laughed at him. But he put them all outside . . .” may be my favorite line from this narrative. It comes shortly on the heels of Jesus’ tender exhortation to a grieving father: “Do not fear, only believe.” Words to live by. To really live by.

Jesus has no time in this narrative for the pragmatists, the cynics, those who laugh (literally) in the Face of faith, hope and love. He puts them all outside.

The miracle of the raising of this little girl is not for show; indeed, Jesus allows only a very small audience for it and strictly charges them to tell no one afterwards. As with all of Jesus’ signs, there is both a near and far impact. The “near” is, of course, the joy-drenched raising of a beloved daughter, not to mention the effect this would have had on Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus gently called her back from death and she immediately responds to him. There is Jesus’ thoughtful request that she be fed. We are witnesses here to a wonderful and wondrous, gracious gift of life from Jesus to this family.

It prefigures the farther, wider impact of Jesus’ gracious gift of life to us. As the pragmatists thought that the little girl was too far gone, so were we. She was dead, after all. So were we.

No. After all the despair and destruction that the curse of death wreaks on us, there is Jesus to call us back. He calls us when we are dead in our trespasses and sins, enemies of God, pragmatically without hope or a future, with no way to rise to him. In a moment, from dead to immediately – I love Mark’s repeated use of that word throughout his gospel – alive, walking, being fed. This is what Jesus has done for those who are in Christ, for those who have heard his call.

Talitha cumi.

She came trembling

From today’s reading of Matthew 13 and Luke 8

And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” – Luke 8:41-48 (ESV)

I love this episode from the gospels. Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’ twelve year old daughter who is at the point of death. This woman, twelve years into a physical malady that was not only debilitating but also rendered her permanently ceremonially unclean, touches the fringe of Jesus’ garment and is made well.

Jairus and the woman occupy very different stations in life, but both have come to the end of themselves. Jairus is on the brink of losing a daughter that he has treasured for twelve years. The woman has spent all her treasure trying to gain back the health that she has been denied for twelve years. Jairus is an important man, a ruler of the synagogue; the woman would have been considered quite unimportant in that culture, an untouchable, due to her discharge. But both are important to Jesus, and both receive the healing that only Jesus can give.

There is a sweetness to this narrative; Jesus not only heals the woman, but as he so often did for the untouchables and outcasts the he ministered to, he takes special care to publicly honor the one who has had dishonor heaped upon her for so long. Jesus could have allowed her to be healed when she touched him, and left it at that. It could have been their little secret. Instead, he calls her out; “Who was it that touched me?” As Peter points out, a lot of people have touched him; he is in a press of people. But only one touched him in faith for healing.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” This trembling, timid, yet valiant woman has been touched by Jesus, and is blessed publicly by our gallant Savior, the one who lifts up the downcast and honors the desperate, timid faith of those on the outskirts of polite society and at the end of themselves.

Greater than Jonah

From today’s reading of Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. – Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus refused to do signs to gain position with the powers that be. He simply wouldn’t do it. The signs and wonders Jesus performed were for the good of those healed and set free, and for the glory of God. They were not for those well-integrated into the upper echelons of power and self-sufficiency, but for those who had come to the end of themselves and had no resources left but to call on the name of Jesus. While Jesus’ fame spread early in his ministry because of the signs, the signs weren’t the point; this is one reason why Jesus would often tell those healed and set free to not broadcast the event.

The signs weren’t the point. Jesus was, and is. That’s why in this passage he so fervently refuses the request of the scribes and Pharisees to do a carnival trick for them. They are only going to get one sign out of him: the sign of Jonah.

You probably are familiar with Jonah, that famously reluctant Old Testament prophet who sailed as far away from the Lord’s calling for him as was possible and still ended up fulfilling the mission of God after a three day come-to-Jesus meeting in the belly of a whale. Jesus here asserts that he is the greater, the better Jonah.

Here is the sign that the scribes and Pharisees will receive, the greatest sign in history: like Jonah, Jesus will spend three days in the heart of the earth, dead and buried.

But he will be there only three days! On the third day he will rise again, alive and glorified forever, our great Cornerstone, but the great rock of stumbling and offense to those who seek salvation in political power and their own righteousness. He will be exalted to the right hand of the Father and every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is Lord!

How much greater is that sign than what they requested of him! It is the only sign an evil and adulterous generation will receive, and it is the only sign they really need. In Jesus death, burial and resurrection is everything needed to cleanse away the evil in our souls and replace it with Christ’s righteousness, and to take away the idolatry of our spiritually adulterous hearts and replace it with the faith, hope and love that are themselves gifts of the risen Savior.

It’s the greatest sign of the greatest and only Savior of the world!

As many of us often do, the scribes and Pharisees seriously undershot and under-asked when making their request of the Lord because they were seeking the thrill of a sign, rather than Jesus.

Rest for your souls

From today’s reading of Matthew 11

At that time Jesus declared, “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. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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 11:25-30 (ESV)

“You will find rest for your souls.”

The rest Jesus speaks of is not a physical rest; many of us in the affluent West live lives of comparative physical luxury, rest, plenty and convenience that would be the envy of royalty in past ages. Unfortunately, the curse of our fallen nature and fallen cultures is one of spiritual, mental and emotional unrest. The entirety of human history is one of striving; a “striving after the wind” as the author of Ecclesiastes would say.

Jesus offers to us what we have always wanted. We don’t earn it through intellectual effort; in fact, the good news of this rest is hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed to those with the faith of a child. We don’t earn it through moral effort, that endless pursuit to fill our sash with the merit-badges of righteousness, to clean ourselves up to become presentable to God. We don’t earn it through physical effort, the self-denial and self-punishment that characterizes so much religious activity. We don’t earn it at all.

This is such good news. God has delivered all things to Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the deepest need and longing of our hearts; to be found once again in our long lost garden of fellowship with our Creator. Jesus is the revelation of God to us and he calls us to quit turning over the same unfruitful furrows and to submit to his lordship and learn from him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

We don’t earn it. We bring no qualifications. We’re not the “best and the brightest”. This good news of rest from Jesus flies in the face of all the human wisdom, philosophy and striving that we have been immersed in our whole lives. But it is the only way to finally become what we were created to be: fully known and fully loved children of God.

Come to Jesus. He will give you rest.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

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.” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-31 (ESV)