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Advancing the Conversation of Jesus

Get your Daily Encouragement with the 180

Learn in this study step-by-step tools to help you be encouraged, lifted up in your faith, and to maintain a faith lift the rest of your life! This study will get you out of the dumps and gain the confidence in Jesus to conquer and accomplish anything He has for you in the future! This study will give you a true lift and change your life!
BY GOING, BAPTIZING, & TEACHING

The “great commission”, an extra-biblical term, many times viewed as marching orders to convert the world to Christianity, is an essential command from Jesus to all of his followers to be about the business of making disciples (followers) of Jesus in all of the nations of the world. We have spent lots of time over the past few days on what the process of discipleship means, but we haven’t spent much time on the participles Jesus used with this command. There are three: By going, By baptizing, and By teaching.

Here are Jesus’ words: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, by going, MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL THE NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

BY GOING—I think I get this. The process of discipleship is an action step of making some effort to reach outside yourself. Look around you. Be aware of those who are in your world, pray for them, and advance the conversation of Jesus with those who are interested.

BY BAPTIZING—We have normally viewed this as water baptism, however I believe there may be more to this than we have thought. John is the one who was known as the baptizer—John the Baptist. John came with a message of repentance, primarily to the Jewish people to repent—to change their minds and direction from the way they were going and turn around, back toward God and His Kingdom.

In Matthew, John says: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

Note he says that he, John, came baptizing with water, but he who is coming after him, the one who is more powerful than John, will use a different kind of baptism. He calls it the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. This seems to reference the Holy Spirit coming on a person who is interested as one might put on a coat or other clothing. The fire usually symbolizes a cleansing or a transformational change. This is the kind of baptism that Jesus will be doing, when he comes. And, Jesus makes this a hallmark of making disciples (followers)—to identify (baptize) those who are interested with the power of the Spirit and His transformational power.

Mark and Luke also record the same teaching by John about the Messiah. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)

BY TEACHING—Note that in the process of discipleship we are to teach those who are interested to observe all that Jesus commanded. This has always been a fascinating remark—all that Jesus commanded. What are these commands? Many have counted these commands. There seem to be 45-50 commands Jesus shared. I want to work my way through these commands on a daily basis along with you. I’ve not studied these before now, so this will be a fresh look for me. And, I invite you to share your thoughts on any ones you like as we progress through them all. Just leave your comments at the bottom of the blog and we’ll all learn together.

I have an underlying suspicion that by examining each of these commands of Jesus, that we’ll learn more about what it means to seek the Kingdom first and foremost. I do believe that wherever the King is, you will find the Kingdom. And as you seek the Kingdom, you will get to know King Jesus so much better.

The results? Our friend, Rick, was the facilitator today for our small group. He summed up the Luke 12 passage where Jesus gave the best solution for all of our worries and fears. The answer? Keep on seeking after the Kingdom.

“When we seek the Kingdom above all else, it’s God’s pleasure to give it to us, and then all these things are added to it besides. Instead of being tight with our money, we learn to give it away. Instead of worrying about our own selves, we start to care for others. After we finish all our prudent planning for the various concerns of life, we surrender ourselves and trust a fatherly God who knows what we need. After we’ve hedged every bet and calculated every contingency, we enjoy the morning birdsong and the beauty of a field of flowers. Having fretted over all of our many worries, whether real or imagined, we now learn to surrender and exercise our faith. Let’s live like what we believe is actually true.”

Let’s seek to do our best to observe all that Jesus commanded. Let’s do it together!

COMMAND #1 - Repent

Over the next several weeks we are going on a journey of discovery. Jesus made it clear that he wants his followers—his disciples—in all of the nations (cultures) of the world to be in the process of making disciples of him. And, one of the key actions in the process of discipleship is to be teaching these new followers to observe or obey or follow all of the things Jesus commanded to be done.

I want to walk through these commands—one by one—from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry while he was physically here, to the time of his ascension into heaven. I invite you to come along in this study with me and share your thoughts and insights or questions along the way on the website. Go to www.timtimmons.com, locate this blog and share your comments at the end of the blog in the space provided. In this way, we can have a more meaningful conversation and lots more will be gleaned from our study.

The first command of Jesus is found in Matthew 4:12-17: Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light,
And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death,
Upon them a Light dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND.”

As soon as John was taken from the active scene of proclaiming his vital message of calling people to repentance, Jesus, the one to whom John referred as the “one who is coming after me”, who will be more powerful than John and will perform a different kind of baptism we discussed yesterday, steps up into the leadership gap. Jesus begins with the same message as John: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” To John the Kingdom was coming in the future with the one who is to come after him. To Jesus, he is the one who is to come after John. John came to announce the Kingdom of heaven; Jesus came to deliver it.

The command here is to REPENT. Just the sound of this word raises lots of emotional and negative feelings, because of the ways the word has been misused. It has so commonly been defined wrongly that it is no wonder that people have a skewed view of repentance. If you go to your dictionary it will say that it means “to feel sorry for” or “to turn away from your sin.” Now, if that is the meaning of repent, then we have big problems. You see, in nearly half of the uses of repent in the Scriptures, it is used of God repenting. Does God feel sorry or need to turn away from sin? I don’t think so!

It literally means to change your mind or change your whole way of thinking. It means to think again, rethink this thing. You need a whole new mind. The way you’ve been going is wrong. Most literally, the Greek word means to change your mind “after” you find yourself going in the wrong direction.

Turn around and redirect your life in the way that Jesus is showing you. Or, my personal favorite is: Make a U-turn!

So, I think Jesus is using the term to challenge everyone, everywhere to change their direction from wherever they are going toward a whole new direction—the direction he is going to show them. This new direction is all about living life on a new level, with a new state of mind—the Kingdom state of mind! In fact, Jesus is challenging and inviting everyone into a new community that is to revolve around him, his teachings and his principles. This is precisely his next move in the second command, which we will examine tomorrow.

So, are you willing to follow this Jesus into the new Kingdom community? It may cost you something. The cost? You may need to change your life direction by repenting.  

COMMAND #2 - FOLLOW ME

Over the next several weeks we are going on a journey of discovery. Jesus made it clear that he wants his followers—his disciples—in all of the nations (cultures) of the world to be in the process of making disciples of him. And, one of the key actions in the process of discipleship is to be teaching these new followers to observe or obey or follow all of the things Jesus commanded to be done.

We are going through each of Jesus’ commands—one by one—from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry until his ascension into heaven. Come along in this study with me and share your thoughts and insights or questions along the way on the website. Go to www.timtimmons.com, locate this blog and share your comments at the end of the blog in the space provided. Or, you can simply hit REPLY to the daily email. In this way, we can have a more meaningful conversation and lots more will be gleaned from our study.

The second command of Jesus is recorded immediately after the first by Matthew in Matthew 4:18-22: Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “FOLLOW ME, AND I WILL MAKE YOU FISHERS OF MEN.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Jesus first commands us to “Repent!”—change your mind and the direction of your life away from where you are going and turn around toward the person of Jesus. His next command is a natural: “Follow me!” Once you have turned your mind and life around toward Jesus, follow him.

Two questions come up for me here: First—How is it that these fishermen are so willing to drop everything and follow after Jesus permanently? There seems to be a prior experience with Jesus in Luke’s account.

Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5:1-11)

Jesus performed a surprise miracle that benefitted them and afterward, they followed Jesus. However, most bible students believe this was a temporary following, not thinking in terms of following Jesus full-time. So, after their first dramatic encounter with Jesus, they are ready to answer his call. Jesus literally says here, “Come here and follow me.” They were ready to respond.

The second question that comes up for me is: “What is the purpose of this initial calling by Jesus to come and follow him?” This is answered in his command: “FOLLOW ME AND I WILL MAKE YOU FISHERS OF MEN.” He turned their fish business into a people business. They still fished, but now they have embraced a higher calling.

Jesus’ command is an invitation to follow him—to join with him in a new Kingdom community of followers. Following Jesus is all about community. It’s all about people. Are you following Jesus in such a way, that he is able to turn your business into a people business, too?

COMMAND #3 - REJOICE

As we move through the commands of Jesus he wants his followers to observe or follow, we come now to one that is counterintuitive. It’s just not what most would consider to be the norm. The command by itself is not so rare, but it is more than rare when dropped into this context.

The command is to REJOICE and the context is in the midst of being persecuted for the sake of doing and living rightly. Check it out: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. REJOICE AND BE GLAD, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

What? Rejoice, when you know of people insulting you and saying falsely all kinds of things against, because of your commitment and identification with Jesus? It’s actually a little more intense than this! Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad!” The word for “be glad” is to jump for joy or throw a party. Now, it’s one thing to rejoice when persecuted, but quite another to be so happy about it that you throw a party to celebrate!

What is there to be rejoicing about or what is there to celebrate? I’ll never forget our time of working on the campus of American University in DC in the early 70’s. In those days, American University’s student body was about 70% Jewish. We spent so much time discussing Jesus individually and in small groups around the campus. It was an amazing experience.

One day a friend of mine and I walked out of the elevator on the 6th floor of a men’s dorm. We were immediately confronted by 3 angry young men. They were with the Jewish Defense League and were told of our activity on the campus. They assumed we were trying to convert Jewish kids to Christianity. Well, that wasn’t what we were doing, but they threatened us that day with these words: “We’re willing to die to stop you from talking to Jewish kids at American University campus, so get out or get hurt!”

I cannot tell you how clearly this guy spoke to us. I mean, he was crystal clear in his communication and I got his point immediately. Although we had not urged any Jewish student to leave their Judaism and convert to Christianity, they believed we must be doing this somehow.

 

No matter how you slice it, this was the kind of persecution Jesus is describing here. I called up our staff team and we met for dinner to celebrate that night. They asked, “Why? Because something wonderful happened?” “No, not exactly”, I said. “A few JDL leaders have threatened all of our lives today, if we continue our work at American University.”

Here’s where the lesson is within this command to rejoice and be glad, when you are in the midst of persecution. Jesus sees this persecution as a good sign. It’s a good sign, because somebody is beginning to get the point.

Earlier in the beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Now that you have been hungering and thirsting for righteousness—for becoming more Jesus-like, someone is noticing and they are threatened. Therefore, they feel the need to bring you down—to say all kinds of things falsely against you. Somebody is getting a glimpse of Jesus, his ways, and the simplicity of his thinking. And, according to Jesus, most of the somebodies who are doing the verbal persecution are religious somebodies, who think they have it all figured out and your simple relationship with Jesus is making them feel very uncomfortable.

Next time this kind of thing happens to you, rejoice and throw and party! Somebody is getting a fresh look at Jesus through you!

COMMAND #4 - SHINE

When Jesus sent out his early followers to “make disciples of all nations”, one of the keys Jesus included in the process of discipleship was to be sure to teach new followers to follow after all that Jesus had commanded. Today we come to the 4th command of Jesus.

To put this into a proper perspective, here’s what Jesus said just before speaking his 4th command. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”

After articulating the beatitudes or the life attitudes Jesus wants his followers to embrace, he sets forth two unique roles for each follower. These aren’t to be viewed as goals, but facts. He says, “You ARE the salt of the earth.” and “You ARE the light of the world.”

The fourth command Jesus shares for us to follow relates directly to the second role—light—to SHINE as a light. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The verb is to shine as a light. I like to think of this action as living out your life, or in this case, living out your lifestyle in front of others. He says to let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works. Now, here’s what’s interesting. For some reason, Jesus believes that living out your lifestyle of good works—shining as a light—in front of others will somehow reflect God positively to those who are watching. How can this be?

Here’s how it works. One of Jesus’ identities fits in perfectly at this point. In the 8th chapter of John, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Note what Jesus says. First, Jesus is the light of the world. Second, those who follow him as the light of the world will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life in them. In other words, those who are followers of the light are also light in the world. When you live a light-filled lifestyle in front of others, you are living a Jesus-lifestyle in front of them. You are actually reflecting the light of Jesus in the world through your Jesus-lifestyle.

By the way, I just noticed that out of the nearly 50 commands Jesus shared that he wants us to follow, 18 can be found in his first seminar. And, this particular command refers to a lifestyle that is characterized by the light of Jesus. In other words, to follow all of these commands of Jesus is to be confident that you are doing the best you can to follow in the steps of Jesus. All of these compose what the Jesus-lifestyle looks like.

Think of it this way. When you as a follower of Jesus, the light of the world, encounter another person, you are a reflection of the light of Jesus. In fact, as you meet, speak, listen, touch or hug another person, you are being Jesus to that person in that moment. So, let your light shine. Think of yourself as being Jesus to everyone you meet, wherever you go. This gives a whole new meaning to WWJD?, What Would Jesus Do? It personalizes your lifestyle in a more powerful and most attractive way. 

GRACE AND SHAME

On this holiday, I want to interrupt the series with this thought on grace and shame.

Although grace is not mentioned by Jesus, it is one of the primary themes of Jesus as he touches the untouchable lepers and the unclean, as he opens the eyes of the blind, as he has compassion on the poor and the disenfranchised, as he receives those who are on the outside of the religious world, as he welcomes women and children—those normally pushed aside, and as he chooses the ordinary, uneducated to be the leaders of his movement.

Grace is undeserved favor. You can’t earn it or perform for it. Shame is the residue that hangs on from the damage of your fear, anger, and guilt. This shame is the source of our feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, insecurity, need to control, future-tripping, over-compensating, attitude of judgment and condemnation, critical attitude, depression, and lack of forgiveness toward others…and especially a lack of forgiveness of yourself.

In Paul’s first recorded message in a town in Turkey, he articulated the two most vital ingredients of what grace through Jesus is all about. He says,

“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from all things, a freedom you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

FIRST—Through Jesus is forgiveness. Most religious systems have a plan for dealing with our sins (where we fail and fall short of God's standard). And, they are all into some sort of performance—do, do, do—in order to fix their problems. Hard-wired in human nature is to pay for what we do wrong. We want to pay for it. So, we may try to compensate by giving gifts or stepping up our behavior a bit. Jesus came to make that payment for us. He is the only one to bring forgiveness to mankind.

I hope you sense how unique forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the only way to solve our relational bruises and wreckage. Forgiveness is not natural; it's a God-thing!

SECOND—Through Jesus is freedom. He says this is freedom from all things from which the Law of Moses could not free you. Ultimately, this is freedom from all of the performance that it takes to find that feeling of penance or payment—what forgiveness can produce most purely. Religious systems offer anything but freedom, but instead weigh you down with whatever their system believes is needed. Again, I say, "Religion is man's best attempt to avoid going to hell." God wants a relationship and Jesus came in the flesh to demonstrate what that might look like. God wants a relationship. A relationship is when you've already been to hell and don't want to go back. That kind of relationship with Jesus brings FORGIVENESS for anything and FREEDOM from all things!

Once you forgive another person, you set a prisoner free. That prisoner is you. Once you experience forgiveness, either by forgiving or being forgiven, you enter into a wonderful sense of freedom.

Through Jesus grace is available to anyone who wants it. This is the kind of grace that you just can’t get on your own. All kinds of religious systems and programs offer you lots of things, but only Jesus can give you true and lasting grace.

 

COMMAND #5 - BE RECONCILED

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. One way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that Jesus commanded. These aren’t commands to be checked off, but they do weave a large cloth of Jesus’ guidelines and desires of how he expects his followers to act. These generate a helpful description of what we see as the Jesus lifestyle.

The 5th command of Jesus is an all-encompassing principle of life. It is BE RECONCILED WITH YOUR BROTHER. This is found in a series of teachings where Jesus is answering the question: “Jesus, how does your teaching differ from what we’ve been taught?” This is still very relevant for us today!

Jesus says, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery gehenna.”

Jesus compares his teachings with what they have been taught from the teachers of the Law. Their teachers taught that murder is the problem. Jesus’ teachings go much deeper than that. Jesus says that if a person is angry with his brother, it is the same as murder. It’s a matter of the heart! Murder is wrong and has bad social impact—worthless enough to be relegated to the fiery, cursed, garbage pit of gehenna, but that murder began in the heart.

Jesus continues to articulate his principle here: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; FIRST BE RECONCILED TO YOUR BROTHER, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” (Matthew 5:24–25)

The powerful principle Jesus is teaching here is that your healthy relationship with your brother or sister means more to Jesus, than your worship of God. Note what he says, “First be reconciled to your brother.” When you are worshipping God and someone comes to mind that you may have offended and could make amends with that person, stop what you are doing before God, locate that person and do your best to make amends with him or her.

To reconcile means to settle the difficulty, if at all possible. If you have wronged him, make restitution. If you owe him a debt, which ought to be paid, pay it. If you have injured a person’s name, confess it and seek forgiveness. Do all in your power to settle the matter.

Three observations come up for me. FIRST—Jesus is very serious about our relationships with one another.

SECOND—Jesus wants you to work on your relationships first, before you come before God.

THIRD—This may be why we feel far from God. Remember the bumper sticker: If you feel far from God, who moved? I think it may be more accurate to ask: If you feel far from God, maybe you had better get a move on and be reconciled to your brother you have harmed.

COMMAND #6 - LET YOUR WORD BE CLEAR

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. One way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that Jesus commanded. These aren’t commands to be checked off, but they do weave a large cloth of Jesus’ guidelines and desires of how he expects his followers to act. These generate a helpful description of what we see as the Jesus lifestyle.

In the command prior to this one, the teachers of the Law were not going far enough. Even though they were meticulous about what is right or wrong, their emphasis tended to be a misapplication of the truth. That misapplication was to emphasize the externals over the internal heart of the matter.

The 6th command of Jesus is another misapplication of their religious teachings and practices—making oaths or vows they didn’t intend to keep.

They made many vows (promises), but found ways to get around them.

Here’s how Jesus articulated it: “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Jesus is referring to: 1—Swearing that something is true, when one knows it is false. 2—Failing to do what one has promised under oath. 3—Failing to be clear in your communication with others about your intentions.

In the Old Testament, if you would swear something and bring God's name into it, it better be the truth and you better do what you said—fulfill your vow. The Pharisaical practice was to trick people (usually the outsiders) by swearing to do something or that something was true "by heaven" or "by God's creation (earth)" or "by Jerusalem." The trick might be to swear "by the Holy Temple" that you will do this or that. But, among the Pharisees they knew that you had to swear "by the gold in the Holy Temple", then it was binding. They were caught up in getting around doing what they said they would do by the technical use of terms. They also felt that God, Himself, was not involved in these transactions and therefore they were not binding.

Jesus had 4 things to counter this action: FIRST—God cannot be separated from life's transactions. Heaven is God's throne, earth is God's footstool and Jerusalem is the Messiah's Capitol.

SECOND—Don't make vows you don't intend to keep.

THIRD—Don't make vows that depend upon your control, as if you are in control. God is still in ultimate control—"if God wills.”

FOURTH—Fulfill your vows to the Lord by being clear with your words—yes means yes and no means no.

FIFTH—Your promises and commitments you make to one another are also promises and commitments before God. Jesus is saying, “Be careful what you say. Let your word be clear—yes or no.

I like the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln here: “We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.”

COMMAND #7 - GO THE 2ND MILE

Let’s go right into what Jesus says on this subject of retaliation: “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)

WOW! This is a tough one! Jesus now turns to his way of dealing with RETALIATION. This is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in Judaism. Ask most people and they will say that this has something to do with retaliation in the Old Testament versus love and forgiveness in the New Testament. This isn't true. Judaism never interpreted it in this way. An eye for an eye had to do with providing for limited liability in matters of legal compensation. Jesus is teaching to go beyond the minimum required of you when you are wronged!

They were laws for civil courts to apply, but the scribes and Pharisees interpreted these statements to justify personal retribution and retaliation against their enemies. They used them to take matters into their own hands—REVENGE. However, the Old and New Testaments both teach that vengeance was to be left up to God.

Jesus taught two things here: 1. Do not resist an evil person. Not only should you not take vengeance into your own hands, but don't even oppose the evil person when the evil is being done.

  1. Respond to evil by doing good. · Turn the other cheek · Give more to the person suing you than what was asked · Respond to government oppression by offering to do more than what is demanded · Respond to those who ask for help by giving them what they ask.

NOTE in each case the principle is the same. We are not to resist the person who would mistreat us or who would try to deprive us of our possessions. Instead, respond in a positive manner to demonstrate the love of Jesus toward them, by freely giving them more than they were hoping to gain by force, oppression or manipulation.

Maybe if we had the courage to actually have this kind of response, then Jesus might demonstrate himself among us in a mighty and supernatural way. The next time you are mistreated in some way, take the challenge and look for ways to overcome evil with good. Then your righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

It's like Jesus is saying, when a person attacks you externally, go deeper and respond to them from the heart with love (internally). If a person slaps you on the cheek, you know that this person must really be in a world of hurt to do that to you. The inner aching in his heart is much worse than a bruise on the cheek. So, hit me again if you must. But I'm going to show you the love of Jesus that you so greatly lack by my response to you!

Jesus is looking for followers who trust him enough to do the revolutionary, supernatural thing, rather than the natural. Following Jesus is learning to live a supernatural lifestyle, naturally.

COMMAND #8 - LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6)

We now come to the last of the 6 comparisons Jesus uses to demonstrate his teaching versus that of the scribes and Pharisees—love your enemies! To "love your neighbor" was understood in their teaching. Loving your neighbor in the way neighbor was defined in their teachings was incomplete. Jesus enhances this teaching by taking it another level deeper. His point is that to love your enemies and even pray for those who persecute you is to act as a child of God, the Father. To be a son of God is to take on His character.

The last line of Jesus' teaching is that "you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" may be one of the most misquoted and misunderstood teachings of Jesus. He is not saying that we are to be into perfection. That just isn't going to work. There is no way! What Jesus is saying is to be full and complete in your love.

God causes the sun to rise on evil and good. God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Loving a person who loves you isn't anything special. Even the tax collectors do that. Greeting only your brothers isn't anything special. Even the non-believer Gentiles do that.

So, be full and complete in your act of loving as your Father fully and completely loves everyone—evil and good, righteous and unrighteous. Love everyone, everywhere you go, in every encounter. Demonstrate the full and complete love of Jesus. This is the Gospel—the Good News. This is Jesus, so be Jesus to everyone!

This revolutionary kingdom principle doesn't need further explanation or proof that it works. We can all bring up impossible situations where there is no way this will work. Your mind has probably been flooded with all sorts of "exceptions" to what Jesus is saying. But here's the problem. All of your exceptions are theoretical, not realities until you actually practice the principle. You see, Jesus and his principles need no further defense. Jesus and his principles require action. Don't just tell people about Jesus; be Jesus to those you love and especially to those who don't love you. Love your enemies. Try it out and watch Jesus begin to work in them and, more powerfully, within you.

Kill off all your enemies by loving them.

COMMAND #9 - PRACTICE PRIVATE FOCUS

As we examine what it takes to be a follower of Jesus, there are several recurring themes that emerge. These themes may be counter-intuitive. They will challenge your natural way of thinking. They will be revolutionary.

Earlier in this teaching session of Jesus, he taught, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) As we discovered, Jesus says to all of his followers, “You are the light of the world.” And, Jesus is eager for his followers to shine as lights in the world—to let their good works—their Jesus-lifestyle—be seen by others. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Now, just a few minutes later, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

Back then as well as today there is a tendency to go public with your spiritual walk—to show it off a bit or, at least, to compare it to the way others do their walk. Competition and comparison are spiritual killers!

On the one hand, Jesus wants you to let your light—your Jesus-lifestyle—shine in front of others. On the other hand, there are certain kinds of works that Jesus says must be private, even done in secret. There are some things that are necessarily public to be seen by others, yet there are certain practices within your lifestyle that require a private focus to them. Jesus warns of practicing your righteousnesses before men to be noticed by them. So, what is the difference between "good works" and "practicing righteousness?" "Good works" seem to be your lifestyle—allowing your light to be seen. "Practicing righteousness" seems to be actions that are only to be between you and God. He illustrates these righteous acts with giving, praying and fasting.

Jesus’ command here is to beware—pay special attention to—keep in mind NOT to practice your private acts toward God in order to show off in front of others. The phrase, “to be seen” in front of others, is where we get the word, “theatrical” performance. If you live your life in this way—to show off in front of others, you will receive no reward. You will receive no reward with your Father who is standing alongside you, as He looks at what you’re doing.

Can you think of areas in your life—actions, specifically, that you tend to make public and show off a bit, rather than cultivate your private, personal relationship with the God of gods? Times when you act as if you are God and He is not?

Remember, Jesus is never impressed by your external performance alone. Jesus is always focused on your heart. So, maybe you should pay attention to the same.

 

COMMAND #10 - PRIVATE FOCUS IN GIVING

Jesus gives three illustrations of the kind of “righteousness” that require a private focus. These three are meant to be between you and God and no one else. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)

The scribes and Pharisees practiced their giving in order to be noticed by men. When they went to the Temple, they gave their coins into receptacles called "trumpets". You can imagine how much noise they could make with the coins to "trumpet" attention to themselves for others to see how holy they were in their giving. Also, they made a show of it as they gave to those in need in the streets. It was a show to seek honor from men. Jesus points out that when you give in this manner, the applause and honor you stir up from those who are impressed by your giving will be the only reward you will get for that act of giving. So, maybe you should have taped it, because that's all there is!

Jesus then offers his advice on giving: 1—As much as is possible do your giving in secret. 2—Your secret giving will be noticed by the only One that matters—God, Himself. 3—Giving in secret will bring about a special reward from God. This teaching shoots down the publicizing of major gifts and contributions. It certainly challenges the motivation behind giving. Is it a  plaque, a mention in the program or newsletter or recognition among your friends or community?

Have you ever given money, a pledge, a gift in kind or some measure of your time that you really wanted others to notice? I've been there-done that, and is it empty! Then, I became the recipient of someone's giving to me when I really needed it and had no idea where it came from. Wow! It was as if God, Himself, knew exactly what my needs were and supplied the answer to those needs through an anonymous, secret giver. Now, I can say that the most important giving I have ever done or do today is when it is a secret between the Lord and me. By the way, this will enhance your special relationship with Jesus, too. Listen to the spirit of Jesus nudging at your heart. What are you hearing regarding your giving? Where can you give in secret in a special partnership with Jesus? Now, give and hush up!

COMMAND #11 - PRIVATE FOCUS IN PRAYING

Jesus says, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matthew 6:5-8)

Giving was the first righteousness and now the 2nd righteous act is PRAYING. Praying, just as giving, is a righteous act meant to be between you and God. The Pharisees loved to make a show out of it.

NOTE what they did. FIRST—They love to stand and pray in the synagogues. This is interesting. Isn't it OK to stand and pray in the synagogue (church)? Not when it is a SHOW for someone else. Several years ago, I had to ask one of our pastors not to pray inside the church facility, because it became such a spectacle. Can you imagine asking a pastor to please refrain from praying in church? I even have difficulty with public prayers. It's so easy to drift off into preaching to the people and not really talking to the God of gods.

SECOND—They love to stand and pray on the street corners so that they may be seen. To me, this is even more offensive! And note that those who pray in this way have already received their reward in full and its not from God. Some believe that if you pray out in the streets or other public arenas that it becomes a wonderful testimony to the non-believers. Jesus is against this kind of prayer that is prayed as a public testimony. Prayer is a righteous act before God. It's the principle of private focus!

THIRD-They love to pray using meaningless repetition and many words, believing that they will be heard better by God. Literally, Jesus says don't get into repeating meaningless phrases. Don't say "bata bata bata bata" over and over thinking this will be pleasing to God. Do you know anyone who prays in one or more of these three forbidden ways? Jesus is not impressed!

Jesus teaches, when you pray. Go into your inner room. Find a spot where you heard from God before, privately and away from all people and distractions, and close the door, talking only to your Father who is in secret.

Instead of using many meaningless words, try spending half of your time set aside for listening. Why? Because your Father knows what you need before you even ask. The righteous act of praying is to be: 1-Only to your Father. 2-Without showing off in front of others. 3-In a private place. 4-Listening as well as talking to your Father.

At your next time of prayer try speaking only half the time and listening the other half. I'm learning (slowly, but surely) that Jesus wants me to shut up and resign from working for him in an advisory capacity and listen to what he has for me. This has proven to be revolutionary for us! You see, the principle of private focus is revolutionary, because you begin to live your life before an audience all right—an audience of one—the Lord Himself.

COMMAND #12 - PRIVATE FOCUS IN FASTING

Jesus says, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Fasting is the 3rd illustration of the abuse of practicing righteous acts that were meant to be before God only, and practicing these acts to be noticed by others. We have seen giving, praying and now FASTING. He is saying that "when you fast", don't mope around with a long face, looking disheveled in order to show off the fact that you are fasting before the Lord.

Fasting is not simply nor necessarily to abstain from food, but from anything that hinders your communion with God. Fasting is the ultimate in practicing the principle of private focus. It's a discipline of removing all things that take your attention away from the Lord. We tend to spend most of our time talking to God in prayer and not listening. Fasting is a great way to force your self to be quiet enough and focused enough to really listen to what the Lord wants to communicate to you at the deepest levels.

PRACTICE THE PRINCIPLE OF PRIVATE FOCUS: #1-RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO GO PUBLIC! It's just not that important.

#2-REMEMBER THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE! Faithfulness means successfulness, living life long-term.

#3-RECRUIT GOD AS YOUR TEAM-MEMBER! It is said that if you want to win the high jump, you want to find one person who can jump 7 feet not 7 people who can jump 1 foot. When you practice private focus, these three righteous acts (giving-praying-fasting) must be done in secret. Then God will reward you openly.

#4-RESERVE TIME ALONE—JUST YOU AND GOD! Taking the time to focus on God and your heart before Him-read, pray, contemplate or take the time for fasting. We are urged, "Be still and know that I am God."

God wants to enlighten, empower, encompass, & encounter you! He will do these things as you meet Him through fasting. You must practice the presence of God! And when you practice the presence of God, you'll know where He is at all times. And when you know where God is, then you'll know where you stand.

Throughout Jesus' teaching he is encouraging you and me to get our support from God and relate to Him in a quiet, personal way. You see, in most cases believers operate in such a way that they have NO INVISIBLE MEANS OF SUPPORT. God wants to be that invisible means of support—invisible, yet very real and empowering.

See what happens when you practice the principle of private focus by your giving, your praying and your fasting. There is no better way to cultivate your personal relationship with God through Jesus.

COMMAND #13 - PRAY IN THIS WAY

Jesus says, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:9-15)

Jesus just said not to use meaningless repetitions and many words and now teaches us to pray a 30 second, 65 word prayer to pray! Although this is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer, it is really the disciples' prayer. Jesus gave it as an example on how a disciple should pray. [The real Lord's Prayer is found in John 17.]

There are 6 requests or petitions listed here. The first 3 are for God's glory and the second 3 are for man's good. This is a great balance! Check it out:

FIRST—Hallowed be your name or "May your name be sanctified." To sanctify God's name is to set His name apart from all other gods, from everyone and from everything else.

SECOND—Your Kingdom come or may your Kingdom come. "May your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven." We are not only to be living our lives in such a way that we set God apart, distinct from everyone and everything else, but we are to be about His Kingdom and its movement to be here on earth more fully.

THIRD—Your will be done or may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. If God's name is set apart from all else and His Kingdom is making its way into the lives of people on earth, then God's will is working itself out in our lives as well.

Now, the second three have to do with our needs on earth.

FOURTH—Give us this day our daily bread. This is one of the most dynamic and practical principles of trust ever written. We are to look for and count on God to come through on our behalf—daily, as we have need. This doesn't cover all you want, but what you need.

FIFTH—Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors. As we are counting on God to come through on our behalf on a daily basis to meet our basic needs, we need God's grace in forgiving us and setting us free to be.

SIXTH—And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. This is a prayer for protection while we are living between the two kingdoms—God's and man's.

Three requests that will bring glory to God as His Kingdom comes down to earth and He dwells among us. Then, three requests specifically for our good. God's glory will always bring about good for us. As we focus on God—His name, His Kingdom and His will, we will discover what's best for us. I'm finding that doing things God's way is always the best way for us. It's like the principle of gravity. If you go along with it, all will be well. If you try to go against the principle of gravity, all will not be well for you. When you break God's universal laws, those laws will break you in the process. So, I pray, "May your name be set apart from all others in me!" "May your Kingdom come down to earth more fully in me!" And, "May your will be done in me!" In me, right here, right now, every day. These prayers can only be experienced in our relationship with Jesus.

COMMAND #14 - STORE UP TREASURES

Here is a negative and a positive to one of the commands from Jesus, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:19-24)

Remember, you were created to be dependent upon God. Jesus speaks more about money and how to handle it than most any other subject. That's not because he is taking up an offering or running a pledge drive. He has plenty without yours! It's because money and material things—earthly treasures—are the easiest to become dependent upon, the earthly treasures that most easily distract us away from God. So, here Jesus contrasts only two options. You can invest your life storing up heavenly treasures or you can invest your life storing up earthly treasures.

NOTE that earthly treasures are full of insecurity and the heavenly treasures will be secure! And NOTE that your heart will always reveal what your true treasure really is. In fact, your treasure leads the way for your heart!

The focus of your eye determines the health of your inner-side. If your eye is clear (has a clear focus upon heavenly treasures), then your entire inners will be full of light, wholeness and health. If your eye is bad (unclear—having a focus on earthly treasures), they your inners will be full of darkness, stressfulness and emptiness. I see this as your spiritual focus that will directly affect your psychological (and later physical) well-being, all due to your focus!

Now, Jesus gives the ultimatum of it all! You cannot serve two masters! We tend to think that we can get away with it, but we can't. We tend to make Jesus the Lord of the general, but make ourselves the Lord of the specifics. I have a masters degree in doing this. I call it "doing things my way for Jesus." Believers tend to talk about standing on the Rock of Ages, but their actions look like they are clinging to a piece of driftwood!

Jesus introduces a most dynamic principle. It's what I call the principle of primary focus or single-mindedness. “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Walking with Jesus always moves you toward evaluating every dimension of your life. Try on a couple of simple steps in applying this paragraph.

#1—Release your earthly treasures! Remember that you came into this world naked and will go out in the same way. After you die, there will be a large garage sale. You have been entrusted with what you are and what you have, to be the manager of it all while you're on planet earth. There will be an accounting review!

#2—Refocus on your heavenly treasures! What are you doing that will last forever? Think about it! The principle of primary focus means a single-mindedness toward God!

COMMAND #15 - SEEK GOD'S KINGDOM

Jesus says, “For this reason I say to you”, NOTE the connection to earthly and heavenly treasures. Now "for this reason" Don’t worry! “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

So Jesus says, "Stop worrying about earthly treasures!" Stop your worrying about EARTHLY TREASURES! Such as your life—(eating and drinking) “Look at the birds” implies that worry is natural and worry is useless. You can't add anything to your height or years to your life.

“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” So stop your worrying about your earthly treasures—such as your clothing.

“Observe the lilies.” If God takes care of them, He will most surely take care of you. Worry is faithless. When you worry, you take everything into your own hands, which is not trusting in God.

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-33)

Seek His righteousness of HEAVENLY TREASURES! Since God already knows your needs and is not surprised when something happens (or doesn't happen) to you, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of these things (eating, drinking and clothing) will be taken care of by God Himself. This is what is meant by "walking with Jesus." It's the principle of plenty.

The principle of plenty says that with God there is always enough. Without Him there is never enough! Trust God, enjoy the plenty. Trust anything or anyone other than God, and you will surely have a perpetual state of dissatisfaction! When you come to the end of yourself, then and only then will you come to the understanding that God is ENOUGH!

Look around you and be distressed. Look within you and be depressed. LOOK TO JESUS AND BE AT REST.

COMMAND #16 - JUDGE NOT

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. One way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that Jesus commanded. These aren’t commands to be checked off, but they do weave a large cloth of Jesus’ guidelines and desires of how he expects his followers to act. These generate a helpful description of what we see as the Jesus lifestyle. The command for today is extremely practical.

Jesus says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

This passage seems to say, "No judging!" and is commonly quoted in this way. However, there are so many other passages in the Scripture that imply the necessity for making judgment calls in a variety of ways. There has to be sound judgment in our world, otherwise there would be chaos, confusion, attractive cults and cultishness, rampant lying throughout our society and immorality reigning on every hand. But wait a minute! That's exactly what we have now! It's because of the misunderstanding of what this passage really means.

There are two types of judgment: 1—Condemnation judgment—a pronouncement of condemnation, reserved for God only. 2—Conclusion judgment—making a judgment call after examining the evidence, a personal responsibility for us.

This passage isn't saying not to judge, but when you judge (make conclusions about things and people) conduct your judgment in the proper way. Here are 4 steps for doing this:

#1—Judge with the proper spirit. When you judge (conclusion judgment), understand that others will judge you in precisely the same area. If you are critical of another's parenting style, you will be critically analyzed for your parenting prowess.

#2—Judge with the proper starting point. When you judge (conclusion judgment), look at yourself first. Don't go after the speck in your brother's eyes, until you have taken the log out of your own eye. It's all a matter of perspective. Once you remove the log out of your eye, then you will be able to see clearly how to take the speck out of your brother's eye. What's interesting is that when you haven't dealt with your own "stuff", you tend to pick away and condemn others for whatever their "stuff" happens to be. The favorite indoor sport for most churches is to confess the sins of the world!


COMMAND #17 - CAST NOT PEARLS

When you judge:

#1—Judge with the proper spirit.

#2—Judge with the proper starting point.

#3—Judge with proper screening. When you are making judgment calls, it calls for discernment. Jesus says it this way, “Do not give what is holy to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

When you judge (conclusion judgment), don't just randomly make your judgment calls wherever you might be. For instance, don't walk into a bar and start making pronouncements against drunkenness and alcoholism. This will be throwing your pearls before swine. They not only will not appreciate your words, but they will not be able to hear them at all. In turn, having grounds to criticize you.

These words of Jesus are allegorical. I’ve never heard of anyone who was actually throwing their valuable pearls to the pigs. Don’t keep offering what is sacred or valuable to those who have no appreciation for it. What you offer will not only become contaminated and be despised, your generous efforts could also be rebuffed and perhaps even openly attacked.
The "dogs" and "swine" here stand for the unappreciative and worldly; unappreciative and uncaring men and women who belittle or misunderstand the value of what is offered to them.

This calls for discernment. Jesus is our prime example in exercising this kind of discernment. After Jesus miraculously fed over 5000 people, the leadership still didn’t want to follow after Jesus. Instead, they asked for Jesus to perform additional miracles. Jesus refused to give them their flimsy request. Why? Because they were not ready—not leaning in with ears to hear and eyes to see.

Many in their eagerness to be compassionate and or be a good witness for Jesus tend to say things that are totally unwise. It’s truly spiritual TMI—too much information!

To understand what it means to give what is “holy” to dogs or to throw your “pearls” before pigs, let me ask a few questions. Do you ever feel the need to let people know you are a Christian or are a member of a Church? In my experience, no one—dogs, pigs or anyone else—cares whether or not you are a Christian or a Church member. Do you find yourself feeling the need to share a bible verse or two in the midst of your conversation with others? First, ask yourself if they care or will understand what or why you are sharing these Scriptures. Then, ask yourself if your audience is longing for someone to preach to them. If your words, clichés, stories, or Scriptures have little possibility of resonating with others, then don’t share them. This is the kind of discernment Jesus wants from you—to know when to speak up and when to shut up!

COMMAND #18 - ASK, SEEK, KNOCK

At the beginning of the week, when we discussed “Judge Not”, I suggested there are four steps for judging properly. All four of these steps are found in Matthew 7. The first three were:

#1—Judge with the proper spirit. Don’t condemn others. That’s God’s prerogative. However, you can make judgment calls—conclusions. But even then, be aware that you will be “judged” in the same way in which you “judge” others.

#2—Judge with the proper starting point. Begin with yourself. Take the log out of your eye, before taking the speck out of another’s eye.

#3—Judge with proper screening. When you are making judgment calls, you need discernment on what to say and what not to say. This is the primary limitation to your judging that Jesus shares.

Today is the fourth step: Judge with the proper perspective. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

When you judge (conclusion judgment), don't rely only on your insights and wisdom. Be sure to seek God's perspective on the matter. Ask for wisdom!

Ask and keep on asking. Seek and keep on seeking. Knock and keep on knocking, and your heavenly Father will give you what you need! These three commands are the best! Don’t just ask, seek, and knock; keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. There is a persistence here that is required.

NOTE the promise here. If you keep on asking, you will receive it. If you keep on seeking, you will find it. If you keep on knocking, it will be opened to you. About 40 years ago, I began practicing a discipline that I have kept on a daily basis. Daily I ask, seek, and knock on God’s door for wisdom. Before every meeting, during every surprise, or whatever life brings me on a daily base, I want the wisdom of God abiding in me. And, I ask, seek, and knock, believing that I will receive what I need for every situation.

Are you asking, seeking, and knocking for heavenly perspective on the happenings of your life every day? Do you see your need for discernment as you make judgments in your world? Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. Believe me! You’ll get it!

COMMAND #19 - DO UNTO OTHERS

Jesus ends this teaching segment in Matthew 7 with what we know as the "golden rule"—a non-biblical term. Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

There are many versions of this teaching within the religions of the world, but Jesus’ version is the most positive and most universal of all. NOTE Jesus’ teaching is not “don’t do things to others that you would not want done to you.” Jesus is positive and pro-active! If you would like something done for you, you must be doing it for others; and this is true in "all things" or in "everything."
This is not to be applied, only when you want to, but in everything.

In Judaism, it is: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary." This version is not telling us to do good to others; it is telling us not to do bad to others. InBrahmanism, a form of Hinduism, it is: "This is the sum of duty: do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." This version is not telling us to do good to others, but only not to do bad to others. In Buddhism, it is expressed this way: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Again, this version is not telling us to do good to others, but only not to hurt others.
In Islam, it is: "No one of you is a believer, until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."

Jesus’ teaching here is so simple and yet easily misunderstood. Some have understood Jesus to have said, "Do unto others so they will not do unto you" or "Do unto others that they might do unto you." Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Rather than call this teaching the “golden rule”, think of it as the principle of reciprocity or the ethic of reciprocity. What if Jesus’ followers actually applied this teaching in the universal sense, as he intended? This has the potential to impact the world in a most positive way. Beginning with individuals, friends, families, neighbors, corporate interactions, political and civic intercourse, international relations, what would your world look like, if this positive and proactive principle were to be practiced? Loving kindness, compassion and consideration of others first, could be the norm and relational harmony could be the enjoyable atmosphere within which we all operate. This could have major impact upon families, communities, businesses, and even nations, if practiced pro-actively as Jesus teaches it.

This powerful principle is one of the many teachings that set Jesus far apart from all other teachers. Jesus took all of God’s laws that pertain to man’s interdependent relationships and filtered them through this principle. Instead of seeing this as a nice and even high-level principle we call the golden rule, what if we actually practice this principle as Jesus teaches it? What if practicing this principle of reciprocity, by doing unto others what you would have them do to you or for you, could solve our misery and failures within our relationships? What if Jesus is right here? What are you going to do about it?

COMMAND #20 - ENTER THE NARROW WAY

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14)

NOTE the narrow gate is small and therefore difficult to go through and the wide gate is wide and therefore easy to go through. NOTE also that Jesus begins with the command urging us to enter in through the narrow gate. Remember, the entire Sermon on the Mount is answering the question, "How does your teaching differ from what we've been taught, Jesus?" His answer here is that to follow him and his teaching will be difficult, but will lead to life. To choose not to follow him and his teaching will be the easiest thing to do, because the masses are going in that direction. Don't follow the crowd. Follow Jesus!

Now that's the standard way of looking at this passage. But there is something more here. So much is made of the narrow gate being so narrow that only a few find it. I have a little different take on this imagery of the narrow and wide gates. I see it as Jesus making a very important point of how people authentically embrace life rather than destruction.

Think of it this way. When you are going along with the crowd—even a good crowd, it's so easy to pass up personal participation. There is no way to tell whether or not someone in the crowd really got it and understood or actually participated in acts of faith. But when you are within the context of the few, participation is required and it is very easy to tell whether or not someone really gets it. When I meet with a person-one-on-one, I know what they are getting.

Jesus came to launch a dynamic movement—a few here and a few there, gathering together in his name. This is where he promised to show up—where two or three are gathered together. And when Jesus shows up among the gathering of the few, he changes lives dramatically and authentically.

This is vital! The church of Jesus is all about transformation and that transformation that leads to life happens within a "narrow" space where you will experience the life of Jesus within the context of a relational few.

Jesus was into the power of the few! Instead of going on CNN and seeking to produce mass seminars, mailers and email blasts, Jesus sought out three religious rejects to come and be with him. And, from this relationship with the three, then the twelve and the seventy-two, the Jesus movement rippled throughout the world and the revolution is still on today!

We are seeing this play out in our work. We are focusing on the few and as those few really get it, the message of Jesus spreads like a wildfire. You see, within the context of the few, you are able to really get to know one another and put the principles and teachings into practice. This kind of experience is the taste of reality everyone is longing for. This is the Jesus movement at its best! Jesus taught: "Where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will show up." This is what we want. This is what we desperately need. And, this is why I have said from the beginning of this Jesus journey, “It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever set out to do.”

COMMAND #21 - BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS

He says: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:15-20)

This is a significant and strong teaching about the deception that is present within the circles of those who claim to know Jesus and his teachings. For years I have asked, "Who are these guys?" And, the usual answer is filled with a listing of everyone just to the right or left of the one who is answering. But Jesus gives us a clear understanding of who these people are, so that we can identify those who are false and those who are genuine with respect to their relationship with Jesus.

Now, don't get the idea that a false teacher or false prophet has an FT or FP tattooed on his forehead. It's not that recognizable. However, Jesus does make it clear what the difference is. Jesus warns that there will be false prophets who seem harmless, but are out to destroy. He says that you can decipher them by their fruits. But even this may be difficult to judge (conclusively judge) whether or not a prophet is false or genuine, because many false prophets show a certain kind of fruitfulness in what they do. That's what makes them so attractive!

But NOTE what the test here really is. The term fruit is the operative word here. In order to check out a prophet's fruit (not their show or outward demonstration), you need to observe the person and ministry over a prolonged period of time. It takes time to produce fruit. There is no instant fruit. So watch for the fruit over a long period of time and you'll know.

If you read further down, Jesus describes 4 things these false prophets do. They will call Jesus “Lord”, speak, cast out demons and perform many miracles in the name of Jesus.

WOW! These are some powerful things that the false prophets do. So how can you tell the difference between the false and the genuine? Jesus offers two identifiers here of what false teachers and prophets are all about. First—Watch their fruit! Second—"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter." And, what is the will of the Father?

Jesus answers it in the last paragraph by comparing the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder “hears Jesus’ words and practices them. The foolish builder “hears Jesus’ words and doesn’t practice them.” It’s pretty clear and simple what Jesus requires of his followers in order to enter the Kingdom—“Hear my words and practice them.” Beware of the behavior of the false prophets who hear Jesus’ words and don’t practice them. Beware and make sure you are not guilty of the same thing!

COMMAND #22 - PRAY FOR LABORERS

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. One way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that Jesus commanded. These aren’t commands to be checked off, but they do weave a large cloth of Jesus’ guidelines and desires of how he expects his followers to act. These generate a helpful description of what we see as the Jesus lifestyle. The command for today is easy to side-step.

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.'' (Matthew 9:36-38)

This is one of the most powerful and insightful statements Jesus ever made. It is challenging to me! Jesus wants us to allow him to lead out, especially when it comes to fulfilling the primary mission of spreading the message of the Kingdom.

From Jesus' perspective, there are no nations, but only the world. How many of us pray without regard to the persons, but with regard to only one Person—Jesus? He owns the harvest that is produced through distress and discontent. This is the harvest for which we have to pray that laborers be sent out to reap.

We tend to stay busy at work, while people all around us are ripe and ready to be harvested; we do not reap even one of them, but simply waste our Lord's time in over-energized activities and programs. The key to our mission is not money, not powerful and talented people, not buildings or programs, and not our body of knowledge; it’s surrender to our leader—Jesus!

Check out these observations:

  1. In the prior context, several gave Jesus lame excuses to not follow him.
  2. The world of people around you is ready to be harvested—ready to follow.
  3. Those who are ready for harvest are distressed and dispirited people.
  4. There are so few workers, ready to reap the harvest—few followers.
  5. A harvester or laborer is a follower of Jesus—a participator, not spectator.
  6. The answer to reaping this harvest is to look to Jesus to send laborers.
  7. You must be ready to allow Jesus to run the movement with his laborers.
  8. Then, you must accept those Jesus has sent into action to work with you.

"Pray the Lord of the harvest," and he will engineer your circumstances to send you and others out as his laborers. So our primary responsibility is to pray—to be fully aware and to follow the direction of Jesus—to get our orders from him. This is what it means to trust him. It means waiting on Jesus to lead out with his orders and opportunities. It means making disciples of all nations.

COMMAND #23 - BE WISE AS SERPENTS

Jesus says, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:16-20)

REMEMBER, this is a special time in history in which you have the long-awaited presence of Messiah Jesus, filled with the Spirit, approved by the Father, bearing direct witness to the people of Israel. The Messiah was being presented to the Jewish people as the One Who was promised. They only had a prophecy and a promise before (Sodom and Gomorrah), but now is the real deal.

The ancient Jewish writings about the time of the Messiah all included this thinking of difficult times—persecution, division of friends and family—all over a person's response to this powerful, personal witness. Jesus warns this first round of direct witnesses what they will face and what they must do. I personally believe that this same context of trouble and therefore the same required response from his disciples is to happen again today, prior to the Messiah's return.

We are to be as "shrewd as serpents and harmless as doves". "Shrewd" has the idea of a wisdom that sees through all that might be deceptive. "Harmless" is a unique word meaning to be unmixed, pure as with metal or wine-no mixture of deviousness.

NOTE that Jesus says not to worry about what you will say when dragged into a difficult situation, but the Spirit of your Father will give you what you must say, when you need it. I am finding this to be a more useful principle than I had thought. I think I have prepared too much many times what I am going to say and not relied upon the Spirit of my Father to "speak in me." And as I have been practicing this principle, the words that I have been speaking are so powerful, appropriate, timely and pointed at the need of the moment!

In addition to the assurance you will be given what to say, when in a difficult situation, don’t forget the promises of Jesus as he gave the mandate to make disciples of all nations. Jesus said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then, Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Therefore, with all of these assurances you can feel the freedom and the confidence to be wise as a serpent and to be as harmless as a dove.

 

COMMAND #24 - FEAR GOD, NOT MAN

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. One way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that Jesus commanded. These aren’t commands to be checked off, but they do weave a large cloth of Jesus’ guidelines and desires of how he expects his followers to act. These generate a helpful description of what we see as the Jesus lifestyle.

Here we come to the "fine print" of discipleship! These are the toughest words about the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. This is boot camp, pure and simple! The drill sergeant is Jesus.

I see this section as revolving around one question-"Who controls your life?"

FIRST—Does fear control your life? “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:24-31)

This is an amazing observation from the Jewish point of view. We tend to fear the wrong things and therefore we worry about things we can’t control. You only have the God of all gods who cares most for you to fear!

SECOND—Does owning and directing your own life control you? “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Here we are back to a familiar issue—TRUST. Am I willing to lose my life—dreams, aspirations, comforts, in order to find my life in Jesus? We're back to "ruthless trust" as the late Brennan Manning defines it. It's coming to the understanding that we are created to be dependent people. If we place our dependence upon our Creator, then we will experience the most fulfilling life we could ever live. Everything works best when we are plugged into the original intent of our lives—to be like Jesus!

When you entrust all that you are into all that he is, you find that he is all that you will ever need! So, God is the only one in the universe to fear—to be in awe of and to revere as greater than yourself. Not man, but the God of gods!

 

COMMAND #25 - KEEP ON HEARING

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.'' (Matthew 11:7-19)

The world conditions were ready for something different to catch their attention and turn their hearts toward God. There was much religiosity and secularism thriving at that time, but "authenticity" was woefully lacking.

NOTE that John came with a serious tone like singing a dirge at a funeral to catch the attention of those who were playing games with their faith. Jesus, on the other hand, came with more of a tone of a wedding party where music was being played for dancing. Yet, Jesus says that this generation responded negatively to both! To John they claimed he had a demon. To Jesus they were critical of His partying, calling him a drunkard, gluttonous and a friend of sinners.

One more interesting note here. Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he. In the earthly sense, John is the greatest with the greatest human mission—to introduce the Messiah to the world. However, when it comes to the kingdom, even the least enjoys a greater positioning than John. John was preparing the way for the King. Those in the Kingdom enjoy the king and all of its riches.

Both John and Jesus resonated a breath of fresh air to the people, yet the religious were critical of each one for different reasons. In other words, it was a matter of the heart. There is only one thing Jesus continues to require and that is that you be interested. Jesus says it this way, “He who has ears to hear, let him keep on hearing.” Can you hear him?

COMMAND #26 - COME, TAKE UP, & LEARN

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus says that one way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that he commanded. We’re working our way through all of the commands of Jesus, each one helping us to understand the lifestyle Jesus wants from each of us.

Today, we’ll briefly examine three of the most dynamic commands Jesus shared about the ‘how to’ of following him. You don’t have to hang out with me very long before knowing this is my very favorite teachings of Jesus. The three commands are all found in the same paragraph.

Jesus says, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.'' (Matthew 11:28-30)

FIRST—Come to me. Jesus offers the simplest explanation of what it means to believe in Jesus' way versus the ways of the religious. Remember the call of Matthew that illustrated how it works? The whole world is out to try to make themselves right before God by jumping through all sorts of hoops. That's religion, busily piling on ways to conduct your life in such a way, so as to be accepted by God. Jesus only wants a ‘best-friend’ relationship with his followers—"Come to Me." Some of the most hellish pressures we experience in life have to do with doing our best to conduct our lives in such a way, so as to be accepted before God.

Jesus invites all who are sick and tired and weighed down by all of the do's and don'ts of trying to be acceptable to God, to simply come to him.

SECOND—Take up my yoke on you. A yoke is a wooden beam, normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. Taking up Jesus’ yoke means tying yourself to him—sticking to him, going where he goes, and acting the way he wants us to act.

THIRD—Learn from me. This is precisely the reason for following Jesus—to keep on learning from him about how to live our lives most effectively.

Just come to Jesus and he will give you rest. He gives you rest in two ways—salvation rest (you are accepted by God just the way you are), and rest for your soul (stop the treadmill of stress). This is the most amazing thing ever! Jesus is the only one who can make you acceptable, simply by coming to him, taking up his yoke on you, and learning from him. He'll do the rest! If we follow after him in this way, he will give us rest for our souls. Blows my mind!

THE MESSAGE says it best: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

COMMAND #27 - HEAR & UNDERSTAND

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why, do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them,

“Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? “For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' “But you say, ‘Whoever, says to his father or mother, “Whatever, I have that would help you has been given to God,'' he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:1-11)

The Pharisees came to Jesus with all of their add-ons and religiosity, criticizing his disciples for not following the tradition of washing. All of what they bring to him is a man-made system of do's and don'ts.

Jesus' response was to point out what their man-made traditions did to the truth: 1. Violated the commandment of God. 2. Invalidated the Word of God.

  1. Taught as true teachings of God the made-up rules of man.

Jesus then turns to the crowd around him and teaches them a valuable lesson. What proceeds out of the inside of a person is what defiles a man and not something he takes in from the outside. In other words, Jesus is tracking on one of his major themes—internal over external.

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14)

Jesus then turns back to his disciples and handles their concerns about offending the Pharisees. He tells them clearly to leave the results to God.

So, what traditions or comfort levels do you make more sacred than the simple commands and desires of God? What do you add on to Jesus? Might it be your Church membership, your denomination, your job, a special relationship? Is it your stuff?

Whatever it is that becomes a non-negotiable with God is not only an add-on, but becomes your add-on god. Jesus does away with PC thinking. Jesus says to those who hold on to whatever may be sacred or politically correct to them, “Hear and understand!” Get over your external little gods and get back to the heart of the matter—your heart before the God of gods!

COMMAND #28 - BEWARE OF THE LEAVEN

And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:5-12)

Wow! This story almost hits too close to home! Jesus is speaking about spiritual things while the disciples are thinking about the physical. Jesus was dealing with something that mattered—very important. The disciples were thinking in terms of something that didn't matter and not very important in the scheme of things. In the presence of Jesus bread was simply not a problem. He had proven this in a dramatic way a couple of times earlier.

How many times do we find ourselves worried about or fussing over things that just don't matter while something very serious is going on?

Leaven has a second meaning, which is metaphorical and not literal and physical. It was the Jewish metaphorical expression for an evil influence. To the Jewish mind leaven was always symbolic of evil. It is fermented dough; the Jew identified fermentation with putrefaction; leaven stood for all that was rotten and bad. Leaven has the power to permeate any mass of dough into which it is inserted. Therefore leaven stood for an evil influence liable to spread through life and to corrupt it.

Jesus was probably referring to the leaven in these ways: 1—The leaven of the Pharisees. Their leaven that is bad and dangerous was their negativity, filled with "thou shalt nots" and their emphasis upon the external actions over that of a person's heart. They are naturally seen as super spiritual!

2—The leaven of the Sadducees. Their leaven was their emphasis upon their wealth—their material perspective of life. They were wealthy and political and therefore cared a lot about positions and prosperity. Again, super spiritual!

The true blessings are the blessings of the heart; and the true change is not the change of outward circumstances but the change of the hearts of men. These warning commands of Jesus here are to not get caught up in externals, positions and prosperity, but be people of the heart, bent toward God Himself. That's the way of Jesus! So, Jesus says, “Discern (see clearly) and pay attention to the subtle deception of the religious, whose focus is politically correct, but not spiritually correct.”

COMMAND #29 - DON'T DESPISE THE LITTLE ONES

Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine, which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” (Matthew 18:10-14)

In the prior paragraph Jesus is speaking about those who are followers who can easily be caused to stumble. They are new in the faith-walk within the Jesus community and they can easily be hurt or go astray. Jesus uses dramatic language to challenge his followers to never allow this to happen. I think Jesus is continuing this thought, when he says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” In my opinion, I don’t see the “little ones” as children, but the newbies—the children in the faith.

When Jesus says not to despise them, he is saying not to devalue or undervalue them. Don’t treat lightly the people who have strayed away or are stumbling. Instead, see them as little ones who matter to God.

See the straying person as a lost sheep.

Here is the heart of God. Jesus came to seek out and save those who are lost. He is looking for the one who is lost and doesn't have it altogether. This should be one of the most encouraging of Jesus' words.

This parable teaches many things about the love of God for all of the people and teaches us to have that same love and concern for every last and lost person.

  1. Don’t cause anyone within the Jesus community to stumble or go astray.
  2. Don’t look down on those who seem to be straying away from the community.
  3. Don’t view their straying lightly.
  4. Don’t let them go; do your best to find them and bring them back in.

To me this demonstrates clearly how the love of God is so individual. The 99 were not enough; one sheep was out on the hillside and the shepherd could not rest until he had brought it home. However large a family a parent has, he cannot spare even one; there is not one who does not matter. God is like that; God cannot be happy until the last wanderer is gathered in.

This also demonstrates the relentless and patient love of God. Sheep are proverbially foolish creatures. The sheep has no one but itself to blame for the danger it had got itself into. Men are apt to have so little patience with the foolish ones. When they get into trouble, we are apt to say, "It's their own fault; they brought it on themselves; don't waste any sympathy on fools." God is not like that. The sheep might be foolish but the shepherd would still risk his life to save it. Men may be fools, but God loves even the foolish man who has no one to blame, but himself for his sin and his sorrow.

How do you view the people who tend to be weak and stray in your community of faith?

COMMAND #30 - TAKE UP HIS CROSS

Today gets to the bottom line of what it means to follow Jesus. And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (The Message)

For anyone who wants to follow after Jesus, here are three dimensions to do: The first dimension of Jesus' teaching is "a follower must deny himself." This seems to mean that following Jesus is not to be an add-on to our already full, self-directed life. Discipleship means deliberately choosing to follow another person's way rather than making our own way.

The second dimension of Jesus' teaching is to "take up his cross." This is the command in this section. Jesus seems to be saying that just as a condemned man is forced to carry the crossbeam of his own cross, we are to "take up our cross", as Jesus did. This would be how a follower of Jesus might identify with the grand demonstration of Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross. Although this is true—to be identified with the death of Jesus, I take this is more to the point of identifying with Jesus and trusting him no matter what—taking on his identity, even to the point of death.

The third dimension of Jesus' instruction is to do it "daily," literally "daily, every day." If you are going to follow Jesus, it’s vital to identify yourself with him daily. Trusting Jesus daily and this intentionally is the ruthless trust we keep referring to.

Jesus sums up his teachings by saying it is all about following after him. It’s about walking along with him wherever he leads. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (9:24) In fact, Jesus said, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (9:25)

Jesus is saying here that this is the only way to really live. It is the only path to life. We either follow Jesus' path, or we lose our way. Which path are you on? If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

COMMAND #31 - GO, SHOW, TAKE, TELL, & LET IT BE

This teaching of Jesus includes five commands—go, show, take, tell and let them go. This is one of the most unknown, misunderstood or misapplied teachings of Jesus. In my opinion, the most frequent offenders know what to do, but don’t do it. This may be one of the least applied principles Jesus ever taught. What’s interesting to me is that really good and faithful believers are not disciplined in following through on what Jesus says to do, when there is conflict within the community. Let’s check it out:

Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

Again, THE MESSAGE paraphrase clearly and simply states what Jesus is teaching here. “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”

Here’s the clear plan of Jesus, when there is conflict between believers within the community of Jesus followers. Jesus outlines it this way: FIRST—When a person has apparently performed an offense, GO and SHOW this person his perceived fault in private. Most conflicts within the community can be resolved with this action alone!

SECOND—If after you have confronted the offender in person (privately) and he doesn't listen to you, then TAKE one or two other followers with you to talk with the offender. THIRD—If the offender still doesn’t listen and is defiant, then TELL it to the wider community of Jesus followers.

FOURTH—If the offender is still defiant, then LET HIM BE as an outsider—a non-participant within the Jesus community. If the offender is unwilling to live and fellowship together within the Jesus community, then he doesn’t have to. And, if the offender still wants to participate in the Jesus community without doing his best to resolve the conflict, then he can’t!

When this is not practiced, the natural activity is to move into talking behind the offender’s back—trying them with or without a jury of peers. What’s sad is that the person who has supposedly done something wrong has no say or way to explain his or her perspective on whatever happened. It’s called gossip, destructive talk behind a person’s back. Recently, I heard a great definition of gossip: Gossip is the Devil’s radio!

It’s your choice. Resolve conflict Jesus’ way or listen to the Devil’s show!  

COMMAND #32 - BEWARE OF GREED

WARNING! Don’t gloss over this command and illustration. Give it some careful thought before reacting.

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;" Now, these commands are relevant for today.

Jesus goes on to say: "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." The word for "life" Jesus uses is the word that speaks of quality of life. So, he is saying that your quality of life doesn't consist in all of your stuff.

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' NOTE in those days everyone was in relationship to one another—family lived together and villages worked together in times of abundance and in times of loss. Yet this man "thinks to himself". You see, he consulted no one on his decision—no one, not even God.

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.' Instead of sharing it with those in his family and village who are in need, he makes the decision to "store" his surplus in bigger barns.

And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." The purpose for his decision is so that he can take life easy, eat, drink and be merry. This is called retirement in most cases. However, Jesus has us all on a mission. It's our real purpose for being here. We are only satisfied if we fulfill our God-given purpose and that purpose is not hoarding stuff for ourselves, but to be self-giving. This has nothing to do with making money and increasing your possessions. There is nothing wrong with that. It has everything to do with how you use what you have. Since all you have belongs to God Who enabled and empowered you to gather it, He wants you to use it compassionately.

NOTE what happens to this man: "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' That very night of his boasting and his self-centered decision, God "demanded" not only his stuff, but his life! The word used here means to "take it back" or "repossess" all you have and all that you are—your very life.

Jesus ends his story with a strong summary application: "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God." RICH TOWARD GOD. It seems by Jesus' words that a person who is rich toward God does not live for himself—gathering, storing, and holding on to more and more stuff for himself. Rather one who is rich toward God takes thought of how to share his stuff and use it for the Kingdom. Well, where are you in this story? "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."

COMMAND #33 - LOVE GOD & LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR-1

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus says that one way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that he commanded. We’re working our way through all of the commands of Jesus, each one helping us to understand the lifestyle Jesus wants from each of us.

Today’s commands I want to examine are not simple commands or imperatives. Both of the commands in our study today are linguistically structured in such a way, so as to function as commands. And, these may be the most well known of Jesus’ commands—love God and love your neighbor!

There are three occasions when Jesus talks about the most important commandment ever given to man. What's interesting is Jesus is unable to give just one commandment, but consistently shares two as equally important. Let's examine each instance.

Matthew records the first: But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:34–39)

Jesus sums up with an astounding observation about these two commandments: "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." You just don't get any better than this. Jesus is saying these two inseparable commandments are the foundation—the underpinning—of the entire Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets amount to the whole truth God has given. It's all about loving God and loving your neighbor!

Notice that neither stands alone without the other. Jesus could have separated them and set one above another, but didn’t. They must always go together. If you love God and hate your neighbor or brother, then you really don’t love God. To love God and love your neighbor is to act like God. To love is God-like.

This reminds me of the words in the 1st chapter of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

Love is the ultimate trademark of God and the calling card of Jesus. This is why Jesus makes it clear that the greatest commandment is to be found in this inseparable couplet of loving God and loving your neighbor. Jesus embodies them and wants his followers to embrace and embody them, too!

COMMAND #34 - GREATEST COMMAND BY MARK

Mark records the second instance of the greatest commandment: "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." (Mark 12:29-34)

Note the summary response Jesus makes in this instance: When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." In other words, if you embrace these two commandments, you are practicing the very things that bring you near to the presence of God—the Kingdom of God! He couldn't choose just one. He chose to set forth two inseparable commands—love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

The way Jesus positions these two directions for your love requires that they must be viewed as inseparable—undividable! You can't have one without the other. I've always visualized this couplet as a right angle—the perpendicular vertical direction is love toward God and the horizontal direction is love toward others. It's like a big L, which stands for LOVE.

There is an interesting self-checkup within this love connection. If you feel a bit estranged or distanced from God, check out your love for others. By loving others you will find love for God. If you are feeling detached from others, check out your love for God. You will find your love for others in the heart of God. Think of the right angle L-shaped visual and do your best to practice them together.

So, who is your neighbor? Jesus was asked this and seemed to say that your neighbor is anyone you come upon who is in need. To be a neighbor you must not walk past or avoid the person in need, if you have the wherewithal to be helpful. Jesus also makes it clear that you are not to help someone, expecting anything in return.

These two commandments—to love God and to love your neighbor—are foundational to all of Jesus’ commands. In fact, if you ever get overwhelmed with all of the teachings and principles of following Jesus, always default back to these first. If you practice these two as a lifestyle, you will be practicing the Kingdom purely and powerfully. If you embrace these two, you will learn how to really live life to its fullest! So, why not go for it, starting today?

COMMAND #35 - GREATEST COMMAND FROM LUKE

Luke records the third instance: And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (Luke 10:25-28)

So, in the last two days, we’ve seen that if you get into loving God and loving your neighbor, you are at the core of all God's truth and you are near to the Kingdom of God. Now, Jesus adds one more observation: And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." This time Jesus says if you embrace these two commandments, you will know what it means to really live!

Just as Jesus lived his life in a loving relationship with the Creator God he called his Father, so are you as a follower of Jesus to do the same. These two commands to love God and love your neighbor as yourself were not even listed within the 10 commandments. It's because this couplet is way more important than even God's big 10. I’ve come to believe that loving God is the essence of the first 5 of the 10 commandments and loving your neighbor is the essence of the second 5 of the 10. The greatest commandment by Jesus summarizes God’s big 10!

NOTE how similar the first of the 10 commandments is to loving God with all your heart, strength and mind. You shall have no other gods before Me. There are three specific meanings here. FIRST—You shall have no other gods instead of Me! God wants to be your God without any substitute. SECOND—You shall have no other gods in front of Me! God takes offense at even seeing any other god placed in front of Him. THIRD—You shall have no other gods in addition to Me! God is against any sort of add-ons. The God of gods wants to be just that to you—the God of gods!

NOTE Jesus says to "love your neighbor as you love your self." What's this all about? I think it's clear that the quality and care you take to love your neighbor ought to be equal to how much and well you love your self. Now here's the problem. If you don't love your self, then your neighbor is in a heap of trouble!

We live in a world where self-love and acceptance are rare. This may seem strange with all of the selfishness that permeates our cultures. Self-love and acceptance are not based upon your performance; they're not based upon anyone else's approval of you, although this is precisely where we naturally go for approval—to others. You won't find any sense of satisfaction in seeking approval from others. You don't want others' approval; you might want and need their affirmation of you, but not their approval. If you give the "others" in your world enough power to give you approval, you also give them the power to destroy you. Only your Maker can place the stamp of approval on you. (God has also given the right to parents to give His stamp of approval on their children, whether they do it or not.)

So, love God and love your neighbor as yourself! To follow after Jesus in this way will prove to be the most fulfilling expression of Jesus ever! This will not only make a difference in your neighbors; it will transform your life inside out!

COMMAND #36 - WATCH FOR MY RETURN

Prophecy is so fascinating and those who claim to have it all nailed down and figured out have missed what Jesus is saying so simply. For instance, in the last paragraph, Jesus sets the context as "in the days of Noah" and one is taken and the other is left. Who was taken and who was left behind? Those who were the faithful were left behind, yet one of the all-time, best sellers ever is the "Left Behind" series. In that series, they teach just the opposite! Go figure!

Jesus goes on warning his disciples to be on the alert: “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:42–51)

The overall message seems to be: BE READY!

There is a fable, which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and ruin men. The first said, "I will tell them there is no God." Satan said, "That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God." The second said, "I will tell men there is no hell." Satan answered, "You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell." The third said, "I will tell men there is no hurry." "Go," said Satan, "and you will ruin them by the thousands." The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time to get your act together with Jesus. The most dangerous day in a man's life is when he learns that there is such a word as tomorrow. There are things, which must not be put off, for no man knows if for him tomorrow will ever come.

Think of the tragic morning of September 11th. That morning rocked our world dramatically! It just doesn't take much to turn the world on its head. This brings a new perspective on "one day at a time." We are to set our course for the long haul, but live as if this is all we have today. Jesus may come for even you today! Are you ready?

COMMAND #37 - KEEP ON KEEPING MY COMMANDS

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Literally, this is better said, “If you keep on loving me, you will keep on keeping my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Jesus uses an interesting word for “commandments” here. Another way to say it would be “keep my prescription for life.” We spend lots of time speaking and singing about God’s love for us and our need to love one another, but Jesus introduces a new dimension to our relationship with him. Jesus wants your love for him—a heart-felt, full of gratitude, love for him. He is serious about having a two-way relationship—daily and moment-by-moment—a best friend relationship!

He makes it clear that any works on our part—keeping his commandments—will be energized and motivated out of a personal, love-relationship with him. This is so important to Jesus that he scolds the church of Ephesus for lacking this relationship. He says to the church: “I know your works, your deeds and your exhausting labor and how you tested out frauds and proved them to be false for the sake of Christ.” He was excited about their diligence in this regard. But then he says, “But I have one thing against you, that you left your first love.” The “first love” is your personal relationship with Jesus and your love for him. He’s not saying that they have “lost” their first love, but they have “left” it—neglected it.

An even more direct illustration of this is found in John 21, when the disciples were out fishing after his resurrection. They weren’t very successful that night. Jesus showed up on the shore and yelled out, “Are you catching any fish?” After they answered in the negative, he suggested they cast the nets on the other side of the boat. Their catch was overwhelming to the point of breaking the nets. When they realized this was Jesus on the shore, they made their way to him. As they got to shore they saw Jesus cooking some fish, waiting for them. Now, here are the disciples who must be overwhelmed with guilt for abandoning Jesus during his time of need (especially did Peter feel some guilt for denying Jesus 3 times during the night as Jesus warned him would happen).

Now, they are faced with an amazing encounter with Jesus. He turns to Peter and asks him only one thing. He doesn’t mention any guilt or lack of commitment. He doesn’t say, “I told you so!” No, Jesus was interested in only one thing—DO YOU LOVE ME? At first, Peter must have been relieved with this question, but Jesus became even more intense with Peter over this issue and asked this question to Peter two more times. DO YOU LOVE ME? Do you love me?

In your case right now, Jesus isn’t concerned with your performance or your theological perspective as much as he is with your love for him. He is still asking the same question to you today: DO YOU LOVE ME? DO YOU LOVE ME? Then, keep on keeping my commandments!

COMMAND #38 - FEED MY SHEEP

Now, in response to Jesus’ three questions to Peter over breakfast, as we noted yesterday, Peter answered in the affirmative. YES, Jesus, I love you! Jesus takes this conversation just a bit deeper. Jesus acts out exactly what he had said earlier in his ministry, when he said, “If you keep on loving me, you will keep on keeping my commandments.”

As soon as Peter responded with a yes to the question of “Do you love me?”, Jesus gives Peter three commands to do. Let’s listen in on the interaction:

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

(John 21:15-17)

This is a fascinating three-fold command from Jesus. The three commands, although often translated the same way, are subtly different. The first is: “If you love me as you say you do, then tend my lambs.” This literally means pasture my lambs. “Lambs” seems to be speaking of younger followers of Jesus. Jesus wants Peter to tend them or pasture them. Make sure to care for them that they will be fed and cared for. It’s a continual action of tending, feeding and caring for them.

Believers are referred to as sheep throughout Scripture. “For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:7) Also, Jesus refers to himself in John 10 as the Good Shepherd and the door of the sheepfold.

The second command by Jesus is: “If you love me as you say you do, then shepherd or feed my sheep.” The difference here is the word shift from lambs to sheep. I think this must be to refer to older followers that still need care and feeding. And, then the word shifts from tend to shepherd. The term shepherd gives a tone of responsibility and leadership in caring for the many followers.

The third command by Jesus is: “If you love me as you say you do, then he returns to the word “tend” my sheep.” Even though sheep are a little more mature, they still need the tender, loving care and feeding.

To me, these three commands of Jesus spell out the process of discipleship and the need for it. Followers of Jesus—new and old alike—are in need of being cared for and brought along in the feeding process of their walk with Jesus. By the way, shepherds only directly feed baby and sick sheep. Otherwise, the feeding process is to lead the lambs and sheep into green pastures where they can feed themselves. This is precisely what discipleship is all about. It isn’t giving them something to eat, but inviting them into the process of learning to eat the spiritual food of Jesus themselves and to do so within a flock of other sheep—within the community of followers of Jesus. It’s the age-old “don’t give them a fish, but teach them how to fish.”

What Jesus is commanding is what’s missing most within the Jesus movement—the process of eating together—the process of discipleship. Jesus is still saying: “If you love me as you say you do, then care for one another.”

COMMAND #39 - FOLLOW ME

Jesus’ primary theme and imperative given to his followers is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus says that one way to do this is to teach these new followers to follow after all that he commanded. We’re working our way through all of the commands of Jesus, each one helping us to understand the lifestyle Jesus wants from each of us. Jesus even uses the word that indicates these commands he shares are like a prescription for life.

At the end of the Gospel of John Jesus has an intriguing encounter with Peter.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”

Jesus shares with Peter how his life is going to change as he ages. Peter is going to grow old, will have to be dressed, and will be led around by others, rather than being able to go and do the things he wants to do. After he shared this end of life scenario for Peter, Jesus gave him the best advice: “Follow me!” Then Peter looked up and saw John nearby and became concerned about John’s end of life story.

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:18-22)

At the beginning of the encounter with Peter, Jesus simply commanded Peter to follow him. Now, after Peter pointed out John, Jesus basically says to Peter: “What’s going to happen to John is none of your business.” Then, Jesus emphatically says to Peter, not just “follow me”, but, “You, on your part, follow me!”

Jesus emphasizes twice what he wants from Peter and from you and me—FOLLOW ME! These are the two words that have become the most powerful words in all of recorded history. There are three words that come up for me.

Transformational—FOLLOW ME and you will be changed from the inside out!

Revolutionary—FOLLOW ME and I will turn the world upside down as I turn you right side up!

Single-minded—FOLLOW ME and everything else will be taken care of. This is truly Jesus plus nothing!

Don’t get caught up in anyone else’s walk with Jesus. Pay special attention to your relationship with Jesus. Nothing else nor no one else is your business, until you are focused on your business with your best friend, Jesus.

COMMAND #40 - MAKE DISCIPLES OF ME

Today is the 40th of Jesus’ commands he specifically urged his followers to be careful to follow. These commands make up Jesus’ prescription for your life. We haven’t examined every one of them, but we have definitely given you plenty to think about and to practice. I’ve decided to close out this series with this one today. I have several more series I am eager to get into.

Outside of the greatest commandment—to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself—I believe this one is one of the most important and strategic commands Jesus ever uttered: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore MAKE DISCIPLES of all the nations, by going, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

After Jesus explains that he has all authority in heaven and on earth, he uses an interesting term—“therefore”. In other words, since Jesus has all authority, and by the way, that means all authority, he wants to be sure his followers are focused in on doing one thing—to make disciples of him. Making disciples means to make followers or learners of Jesus.

Then, after commanding us to make disciples, by going, by baptizing, and by teaching, Jesus adds something even more assuring. He says, “I will be with you always, throughout your entire life of making disciples.” He’s not asking us to come back and report how it’s going. Jesus is promising to be right next to us as we make disciples. This is mind-boggling!

Note one more thing. His command isn’t for us to make disciples of Christians. We who are his followers are to be making disciples of all nations or cultures. How can this be? It’s because Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and promises to go along with us. It’s because Jesus is greater and already active in all of the nations or cultures of the world. Jesus is the only one ever who is lifted up high enough to attract people from all the nations of the world.

Now, think with me for a second here. How important do you think this command is to Jesus? Is it more important than the greatest commandment to love God and love your neighbor as yourself? I don’t think so. I think it may be just under that one.

But, let’s not leave that thought of importance yet. How important is it to Jesus that we be about making disciples over all other activities and interests we may have acquired? Is it more important than your Church membership, your knowledge of the Scriptures, your financial giving, your healings, the practice of the gifts of the Spirit, miracles, casting out demons, prophetic utterances, and knowing the end times? No, Jesus wants you and me to make disciples. He’ll take it from there! How important is it to you?

WHEN JESUS SHOWS UP

Jesus shows up “where two or three come together in His name.”

When Jesus shows up no one is the same again. • The dead are brought back to life. • The blind see. • The lame walk. • The deaf hear. • The mute talk. • Enemies and rivals become friends. • Women’s status is elevated. • The poor are made rich. • The rich realize their poverty. • The lost are found. • The weak finds strength. • The strong are made aware of weakness.

No transformation is more vivid than what happened to the early disciples. They were weak-willed and timid, then found inner strength and courage. The usual reason given for this dramatic life-change is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection is no doubt paramount, however I see their transformation coming from something else. Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples, where He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. Check out what Peter shared regarding that time, when he spoke to those gathered in the house of Cornelius: "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

I think the real transformation took place during the time spent with Jesus, eating and drinking and discussing principles of the Kingdom of God. And, this is the same today. When two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he will show up and make a significant difference in all who see him.

In E. Stanley Jones’ book, Christ On the Indian Road, he shares this same principle of Jesus within the Indian culture. He says, “Jesus does not stand before the blind and the leper and the poor and the sinner and discourse philosophically on why they are in such condition, but lays his hands of sympathy upon them and heals them through his servants; and more—he puts his gentle but condemning finger upon the conscience of the hale and hearty Pharisee in the crowd and asks why he has allowed all this.”

Jones goes on to say, “Christ is confronting men everywhere. He has got hold of us. A Hindu lawyer of fine ability gave an address to which I listened on the topic, ‘The Inescapable Christ.’ He said: “We have not been able to escape him. There was a time when our hearts were bitter and sore against him, but he is melting them by his own winsomeness. Jesus is slowly but surely entering all men in India—all men.’”

“How is it possible to limit or demarcate the lines of the Kingdom any more? He steps beyond them, and shocked and frightened like the Pharisees of other days, we stand and wonder how far he will go in his warm sympathy and understanding. He eats with publicans and sinners and with the Hindu, too. No wonder H. G. Wells in summing up the influence of Jesus upon human history in his Outline of History exclaims, ‘The Galilean has been too great for our small hearts.’”

Now, here’s my point. If Jesus brings positive transformation in every life He encounters, then doesn’t it make sense for us to introduce everyone we can to this Jesus? You see, when Jesus shows up, no one is ever the same again!

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