Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

April 23

(Matthew 18:23-35 NIV) "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. {25} Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. {26} "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' {27} The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. {28} "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. {29} "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' {30} "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. {31} When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. {32} "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. {33} Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' {34} In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. {35} "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.""

“I've been tryin' to get down to the heart of the matter. But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it's about forgiveness, forgiveness, Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.”   Don Henley in “Heart of the Matter”

Today Jesus speaks to one of the chief sins of the church: un-forgiveness. 

We look at the unforgiving debtor in this parable and think, “He’s getting just what he deserved. He should have been more grateful and more compassionate.”

Then it soaks in. If we are a Christian, we are that forgiven debtor. Just like him, we have been shown great mercy by God. On the cross, all our debt was forgiven by our Master, Jesus Christ. When we are unwilling to forgive others who owe us, we become the unforgiving servant in this parable.   

One of two things is true about Christians who will not forgive. Either we have not truly experienced and accepted the forgiveness of God, or we have received that forgiveness, but have decided to live in disobedience to the will of God. 

There are no loopholes in this parable. What anyone else owes me is paltry compared to the debt that was forgiven on my behalf. My sin alone was enough to nail Jesus to the cross. And so was yours.

Forgiveness seems unnatural and unfair and unjust, but it is at the heart of Christianity. Our mind rebels at the idea of “bad people getting off the hook”, but that’s what happened when we cried out to God for mercy. It’s called grace and we are commanded to pass it on.

Forgiveness may be hard on us... but un-forgiveness is even harder. Un-forgiveness turns our hearts bitter and that bitterness will eat us up from the inside out. It’s like battery acid in a wooden box. Eventually the box will be devoured.

Un-forgiveness is a poison that will destroy us and harm those around us. Many of the physical, mental, social, and emotional problems we face today are the direct result of un-forgiveness.

It is also a relationship killer. That’s why unforgiving people often end up alone in this world. The only antidote is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard on us, but un-forgiveness is even harder. That’s why with Jesus, it’s the heart of the matter.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

He Showed Them His Hands

April 20

(Luke 24:36-40, 45-48 NIV)  "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." {37} They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. {38} He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? {39} Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." {40} When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. … {45} Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. {46} He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, {47} and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {48} You are witnesses of these things."

(John 20:19-20, 24-29 NIV)  "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {20} After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord… {24} "Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. {25} So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." {26} A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {27} Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." {28} Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" {29} Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the disciples were fearful and in disarray. Then came the resurrection. Almost immediately we see the risen Jesus moving to help his disciples regain their courage and faith. He came and stood among them and did several things.

First, he showed them his hands and feet. They saw the holes caused by the spikes driven through his hands and feet into the cross. The wound from the soldier’s spear was still in his side. It was definitely an eye opener for them and it verified that this was indeed their Jesus… literally back from the dead.  

Second, he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them. Before this time the simplest parable seemed to stump the disciples. After this, they became teachers and evangelists.

Before Jesus opened their minds the disciples could not figure out why the Messiah would have to die. After this time they understood the gospel and became preachers for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Third, he changed their hearts. Wavering hearts became committed hearts. Despairing hearts became joyful hearts. Doubting hearts became believing hearts. Frightened disciples soon became fearless apostles. Expressions of fear became statements of faith: "We have seen the Lord!"  General faith in God became personal faith in Jesus Christ. Thomas proclaims: "MY Lord and MY God."

Fourth, Jesus called them to be witnesses. He hadn’t suffered the cross and risen from the dead so he could be the only spokesman for the Gospel. He called the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Fifth, he called them to deeper faith. He told Thomas, “Change your heart. Stop doubting and believe.” At that point, Thomas had a choice to make, and so do we.

Jesus Christ is risen! We too are called to a deeper faith and to be His witnesses. Stand up and step out for Jesus in the weeks and months to come. He rose so you could shine.    


Friday, April 3, 2015

Three Crosses - Three Attitudes

April 11

(Luke 23:32-43 NIV)  "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. {33} When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. {34} Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. {35} The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One." {36} The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar {37} and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself." {38} There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. {39} One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" {40} But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? {41} We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." {42} Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." {43} Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.""

Spring is the time when new life springs up all around us. What an appropriate season to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The day has become known as Easter, although that particular word is not found in scripture. Still, it could easily be called the most important day in Christianity.

But on this Good Friday, it’s important to remember that before the rising came the dying. Before the resurrection came the cross.

The bible tells us that Jesus died between two thieves on a hill called the Skull. There were three crosses on that hill… three men - three crosses - three attitudes.

First, there was the thief dying IN sin. He had been caught and found guilty. You can hear the anger and bitterness in this unbeliever crushed by his sin. He curses God. He mocks the Savior. He lived his life without God and he goes to his death without God.

The second cross held the thief dying TO sin. You can hear in his voice the recognition of God's holiness and power as he asks the first thief, "Don't you fear God?"

You can hear the acknowledgment of his sin and guilt as he says, "We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve."

You can hear the recognition of Christ's sinless innocence as he proclaims, "This man has done nothing wrong."

You can hear the acknowledgment of Christ's Lordship as he cries out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

This is one of the most beautiful salvation stories in all of scripture. We have honest confession, sincere repentance, and humble acceptance of Jesus as the way to heaven. This man had seen the light. In his last hour he chose repentance instead of rebellion. His body and his heart were broken by sin, but his soul was saved by Jesus.

He was fortunate that there was a third cross on the hill that day. And on that cross was the Savior dying FOR sin. 

God was there… dying between the two thieves... dying for their sin ... dying for my sin ... dying for your sin. With labored breath he tells the repentant thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

In a three second sentence, the thief who appealed to God's mercy was spoken into eternity. No time to straighten out his life… no time to be baptized… no time to join the church… just spoken into paradise by our Lord.

The three crosses on that hill divide all humanity into two camps -- those who reject Christ and die in sin… and those who receive Christ and die to sin.

Jesus died for us, whether we believe it or not. It is finished. The rest is up to us. Choose wisely. Choose the right camp. Choose the right cross.