Giving to Caesar – Matthew 22:21

Then he said to them, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:21b CSB

In the chain of command, or of authority, managers are arranged in a hierarchical fashion, with non-managers at the lowest level, and the big boss at the top. Ultimate authority resides at the top level with varying levels of delegated authority residing at lower levels. Each level in the hierarchy is responsible to enforce the policies of the higher levels, but can add to those polices as appropriate, so long as the additions are not in conflict with what comes down from higher up.

Many people today, as throughout history, think of our human government, represented by Caesar, as being at the top of the chain of command. But Scripture teaches us that there is a level above Caesar. It is God who is the ultimate authority, and Caesar’s authority is delegated from God (Rom. 13:1-7). Jesus tells me to give to Caesar what is his and to God what is his. But what belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?

God has delegated the conduct of human activity to human government, but has not given them any authority over spiritual matters. So, in matters concerning the physical realm, I live in obedience to my government. But in matters concerning my relationship and walk with God, I obey God. And if the two come in conflict with each other, I obey the higher authority, God.

Parable of the Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-31

“What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go work in the vineyard today.’  “He answered, ‘I don’t want to,’ but later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered, but he didn’t go. Which of the two did his father’s will? ” – Matthew 21:28-31a CSB

This is not one of the more familiar parables, but is one that is very applicable both to Jesus’ original audience as well as to a more modern one. In the parable, the father sends two sons out to work. The first initially resists but then goes. The second gives lip service to his father, but does not follow through. So, Jesus asks, which one did what their father wanted him to do? Most people would likely respond in the same way the chief priests and elders did, saying that the first son is ultimately the one who did his father’s will.

It would be very easy to read this parable and miss the point, so Jesus makes it clear. The priests and elders, who are debating with Jesus in the later part of this chapter, are like the second son, the one who gives lip service, but never really follows through. These ‘leaders of the people’ are making a show of serving God, but they really aren’t; instead, they have rejected Jesus, the one who came from God. The ones who actually are being obedient are the ‘sinners’, who initially rebelled, but have turned to God and are responding to Jesus in faith.

How many of us today are guilty of only giving lip service to Christ, bearing his name and going through the motions, but not actually living in obedience to him? That is not enough. He wants, and deserves, our full obedience.

Leaving It All Behind – Matthew 19:29

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19:29 ESV

What are you willing to give up in order to follow Jesus? The passage preceding this verse answers this question from the perspective of both a wealthy young man and the disciples. The young man, when called on to give everything to the poor and then follow Jesus, went away sorrowful, unwilling to give up his great possessions. The disciples, on the other hand, had given up everything, and were promised thrones in heaven.

Jesus’ promise to us in this verse is that we will ultimately be more than compensated for the things we leave behind for him. Clearly Jesus is not asking us to totally abandon our family relationships; even on the cross he expressed concern about his mother. But he is calling on me to not allow those relationships, or any of my possessions, to come before him. He wants to be Lord, not just in the inner reaches of my heart, but in my relationships with other people, and in my handling of the things of this world.

Is there anything that you are unwilling to surrender to the lordship of Jesus? His promise to us is that if we will give him our all, our eternal reward will be much greater than anything we leave behind for him.

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.

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.

The Cost of Following Jesus – Matthew 8:19-20

And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Matthew 8:19-20 ESV

At first glance this passage seems kind of strange; what do birds and foxes have to do with following Jesus. But what Jesus is doing here is making sure that this scribe is aware of what it means to follow Jesus, to first count the cost. Unlike the foxes and the birds that have a home, Jesus did not, and to follow him would result in homelessness. So in essence he is asking the scribe if he was willing to be homeless with Jesus.

While we no longer have the option of physically accompanying Jesus on his travels through Israel, I do believe that the principal still applies here. Jesus does not just call on us to accept him as our Savior, freeing us from the penalty of our sins. He also calls on us to take him as our Lord, following him wherever he would lead. But how often in our presentation of the gospel to people do we emphasize the former and neglect the latter. Salvation in not a fire insurance policy; it is a call to leave behind the old life and take up the new life he created us for. We would do well to make sure that people who are considering following Jesus are aware of the cost of discipleship.

House on the Rock – Matthew 7:24-25

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. – Matthew 7:24-25 ESV

These two verses, along with the two that follow, make up the lyrics to one of the first songs I can remember. But even though these are the words to a preschool song, their truth is just as relevant to me at the other end of life. The challenge Jesus gives here is to not just listen to his words, but to incorporate them into my life. Being a doer of the word (Jam. 1:22) is like building your house on rock. Being only a listener of the word is compared to building a house on a foundation of sand. When life is good and smooth, the foundation does not seem all that important. But when troubles come into our lives, and they will, the foundation is vitally important.

Don’t be satisfied simply with listening to, or reading, the Bible. The Bible really has very little value to us if we are not willing to be obedient to its instructions. Listen to its instruction, and then make it a part of your life. Build your house on the Rock, and the storms of life will leave you unshaken.

Loving God – 1 John 5:3

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. – 1 John 5:3-5 ESV

Can you love God without obedience to him? John pretty clearly responds to that question saying that obedience to God is love for him. I cannot rightly claim to love God and blatantly disregard his instruction for my life. This is not to say that we will be perfect, but we should be striving towards obedience.

Lest you despair of being able to obey his commands, John assures us that obedience is not to hard for us, because our trust in God enables us to overcome the world and it’s pull on us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
     and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
     and he will make straight your paths.
                                                 Proverbs 3:5-6

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.

Loving Human Praise – John 12:43

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. – John 12:42-43 NIV

Most people care what others think of them. We are social creatures and it is only natural that we want to be accepted by the rest of the herd. But Jesus calls us to come out of the herd and to walk with him. For many of us it is a difficult thing to stand out from the crowd; to face ridicule and derision is hard on my self esteem.

Jesus is only days away from the cross when we find that many among the Jewish leadership have believed in him. But they will not publicly acknowledge their belief because their social standing was more important to them than their relationship with God. And that is such a tragedy. In Matthew 10:32 Jesus tells us that if we will acknowledge him before others, he will acknowledge us before the Father. The implication is that if we fail to acknowledge him, he will also not acknowledge us. What a shame to be a secret believer; to know the truth and yet have Jesus deny that he knows you.