Get Behind Me Satan – Matthew 16:23

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Matthew 16:23 ESV

This is part of an amusing, but also sobering, interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jesus has shared with his disciples that he is going to the cross, and Peter lets him know that will never happen; essentially saying ‘Over my dead body!’ It’s really hard to fault Peter here. It was so contrary to Peter’s vision of what he thought should be happening. I can’t imagine that I would have reacted much different to Jesus’ pronouncement. I am thankful though that Jesus followed through on going to the cross, and for the redemption he brought to all who believe.

I wonder how often today we, myself included, are a hindrance to God’s working because we are either unwilling to follow his direction, or because we think our way is better, or even assume that our way is God’s way? Is it possible that as a finite human, I might have a better plan than the infinite God? On the surface that seems silly, yet in practice it appears to be pretty common. Lord, help me not to be a hindrance to your plan and purpose in my life and in your church. Instead, let me trust you to direct my ways, one step at a time; following your direction.

Brothers and Sisters of Jesus – Matthew 12:50

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50 ESV

Jesus has been teaching the people when his human family comes to see him. Jesus’ response at first glance seems dismissive of his mother and siblings, but I don’t think it was intended that way, Rather Jesus is using the occasion to illustrate a greater truth. Human family is good, and is important. But there is a more significant relationship that we can have, and that is with Jesus. We can be brothers and sisters of Jesus, not physically, but spiritually. A relationship that will endure forever, untouched by death.

How does one come to be a brother or sister of Jesus? By doing the will of the Father. This mirrors Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:21 where he says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven. What is the will of the Father? First, that we come to him (2 Peter 3:9), and then that we walk with Jesus as his disciples. Doing the will of the Father is not legalistic obedience to a set of rules or laws. Rather it is living in relationship with Jesus, like the disciples Jesus points to and identifies as his brothers; that we willingly put into practice what he teaches us (Matt. 7:24).

The Yoke of Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

In the previous chapter Jesus called on us to take up our cross, dying to self, and to follow him. In this passage Jesus calls on us to take up his yoke, and to find rest. A yoke is a wooden beam used to allow a pair of oxen, or other animals, to pull together on a load, although sometimes it is used with a single animal. The yoke allows the herder to most effectively harness the strength of the animals to accomplish the needed task.

While Jesus only mentions his yoke here, there are actually two yokes in view. Jesus is calling to those who are yoked to another master, and whose burden is heavy. He calls them to take up Jesus’ yoke and serve him instead. His yoke is well fitted and the load that we will be pulling is well within our capabilities.

Do you find yourself struggling to get ahead in this world, or even to keep your head above the water? Is life a struggle with no end in sight? Jesus is calling us to throw off the yoke of this world by taking up our cross, dying to self, and the old master. And then we are free to take up the yoke that Jesus holds out to us. While the challenges we face in this world will likely continue, Jesus promises that we will find rest for our souls.

Taking Up My Cross – Matthew 10:38

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10:38 ESV

Jesus tells me here that it is essential for me to take up my cross and follow him. If I do not, then I am unworthy of him, and according to the next verse, will lose my life. But what is my cross? And how do I take it up?

The cross was an instrument of death. Jesus took up his cross on the way to his crucifixion and death. Am I expected to do the same thing? To die on a Roman cross? Galatians 2:20 gives Paul’s answer to this question: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul had died to self and was now living his life by faith in Christ. Is anything less expected from me? Taking up my cross and following Jesus means that I no longer live this life for self, seeking to satisfying my own desires and goals. Instead I live in a way that would be pleasing to Christ, following his goals for my life.

Calling Matthew – Matthew 9:9

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

On the Jewish ladder of society, tax collectors were about as low as one could go. Tax collectors were traitors to the Jewish people, collecting taxes for the Roman occupying force as well as enriching their own pockets. It is quite likely that Matthew had no friends other than fellow outcasts of society. That makes this event all the more significant. What would happen to Jesus reputation when others found out that he was hanging out with a hated tax collector? Would it cost him in the latest popularity poll? Would he have a revolt within his closest followers?

Jesus seemed not to care if others approved of his choice in disciples. Nor, I suspect, did he check first with those he had previously called to see if they could work with him. Instead, Jesus simply called this hated tax collector to follow him. And Matthew, like the four fishermen earlier, left his former occupation behind and followed Jesus, inviting those he knew to come and meet his new Lord.

I must confess that I am not comfortable interacting with some segments of our society. Lord, give to me a heart that would love like you do, and eyes that would be blind to the outward appearance but open to seeing people the way that you do.

Following Jesus – Matthew 4:19

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 ESV

Jesus meets Peter and Andrew out fishing on the Sea of Galilee and calls them to follow him. If they do, he will make them fishers of men rather than fishers of fish. And a couple of verses later he issues the same call to James and John. The gospel of John indicates that Jesus had had earlier dealings with these men, so he wasn’t a stranger walking up and called them to follow. But this was still a serious decision, to leave behind family and occupation and to follow Jesus wherever he led. But all four immediately left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

Jesus called these men, and others, to leave the life they knew behind them and to journey with him into the unknown. And I believe that even today he issues the same call to some. But does he call every believer to follow him? I believe he does. He may not call us to literally walk away from everything we have known in order to follow. But he does call us all to follow him as his disciples. For most of us the call is to follow him where we are. He called me to follow him as a husband and father, as an active and faithful church member, as a computer programmer, and now in retirement; but always following him rather than self. Where is he leading you today? Will you follow him?

Leaving Babylon – Rev 18:4

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; – Revelation 18:4 ESV

The 17th and 18th chapters of Revelation deal with the great prostitute, Babylon the Great. She is described in detail throughout these two chapters, yet who she actually is has been debated over the ages and is still unclear. Some have identified her with the literal cities of Rome or Jerusalem and some have identified her with the Roman Catholic church. Personally, I am partial to Augustine’s “Two Cities” view where Jerusalem and Babylon represent two spiritual realms that are at war with each other. Jerusalem represents those who love God while Babylon represents those who love this world and the pleasures that it has to offer.

Throughout this chapter we see judgement being executed against Babylon, along with a warning in this verse for God’s people to come out of her lest we take part in her sin and her judgement. We cannot have dual citizenship in the spiritual realm. If we would belong to Jerusalem, we need to abandon citizenship in Babylon and come out from her.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 ESV

What About Him? – John 21:21

When Peter saw him [John], he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” – John 21:21-22 NIV

After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to some of his disciples beside the Sea of Galilee and feed them breakfast. After breakfast he took Peter aside and charged him to shepherd the flock and then looked into his future. In the midst of this, Peter noticed that John was hanging around and asked Jesus what the future held for him. We don’t know for sure why Peter asks this, but I assume that Peter did not like what his future held and wanted to compare it with John’s; who had it better.

How like us to not be content with where God has placed us and how he is using us. I would love to sing like Michael W. Smith, or evangelize like Billy Graham, or run like a Kenyan, or . . . . But God has not called me to be like them. He has called on me to follow him. Don’t try to be someone else, or envy who or what they are. Instead, be the best you you can be, and glorify God in your life and in your service to him.

A New Command – John 13:34

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. – John 13:34 NIV

Jesus gave to his disciples a new command; that they love each other in the same fashion that Jesus had loved them. This was not a suggestion, nor was it optional; it was a command. Nor should it be considered as something unique to them. Love one another!

How did Jesus love his disciples? The first thing we will likely think of is that he died on the cross for them; and that is indeed the greatest example of his love. But notice here that Jesus wants them to love as he has loved them, not as he will love them. For the past three or so years Jesus has been loving his disciples, setting them an example for love. And now he is telling them to follow his example. Just prior to this Jesus had taken the role of a servant and washed his disciples feet, instructing them to follow suit. We struggle today with understanding how to follow this example, but I believe that as we serve each other we follow both commands: to wash each others feet; and to love one another.

How can we love one another? I do not believe Jesus is calling on us to have warm cuddly feelings for each other. Rather he is calling on us to choose to do what is best for each other. His call to love is an act of the will rather than the emotions, although the emotions will likely follow. We love each other when we work to build up the body (Eph 4:16), encourage each other in Christian living (Heb 10:24), and serve others (John 13:12-17). Choose to obey Christ and love one another!

The Mark of a Real Disciple of Jesus? – Matthew 7:21-23

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 NIV

There are many people in the world today who call Jesus ‘Lord’, and many of them are active within the church or in other ‘Christian’ ways.  I count myself among them, claiming Jesus as Lord as well as teaching and leading both in the local church as well as locally in the denomination.  But how does Jesus feel about me?

The passage quoted above makes it clear that saying the right things, and even doing the right things, is not enough to gain Jesus approval.  He makes clear that many who claim he is Lord, and who are actively involved within their local church (performing miracles, driving out demons and prophesying), are only fooling themselves.  While they may claim Jesus, he is unwilling to claim them, or even to know them.

So what is it that Jesus is looking for in his disciples?  He is looking for those that are doing what God wants them to do.  If Jesus really is my Lord, them I am going to follow his direction, and go where he goes.  If I don’t, but instead go where I want, and do what I think is best, then it really does not matter what I call him; he is not my Lord.

I might think that having a bunch of jobs in the church, tithing, reading my Bible every day and going to prayer meeting would be enough to make Jesus like me.  But it is not.  I don’t believe there is anything wrong with any of that.  But they are no substitute for a real relationship with Jesus.  He wants your heart, not your resume.

Don’t just call Jesus Lord.  Let him be Lord.  Learn to listen to him, and be responsive to his direction.  Don’t make the mistake of replacing real discipleship with religious activity.  The consequences are dire.