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The Faith of the Centurion January 28, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:5-13.

Summary: In this passage, a centurion approaches Jesus in Capernaum and requests Him to heal his paralyzed servant. Jesus declares that He will go to the centurion’s house and heal his servant. The centurion then displays the depth of his faith in Him by asserting that He can heal his servant at that moment – as He is sovereign over all disabilities. Jesus responds by:

  • drawing a sharp contrast between the saving faith of the Gentiles and the worthless faith of the Jews
  • healing his servant at that moment – thereby displaying His sovereignty over all disabilities.

Thoughts: Here, a centurion acknowledges the sovereignty of Jesus over all disabilities. This caused me to consider the depth of my trust in traditional and modern medicine. Many believers – either knowingly or unknowingly – assume that the answers to important questions of health and wellness lie in our corpus of medical knowledge. Yet one can make the following inference from this passage: Christ is also sovereign over our corpus of medical knowledge. How can we properly acknowledge the sovereignty of Christ in this regard? Perhaps we can:

  • continue to give thanks to Him for the advances in our medical knowledge that have occurred throughout human history, as He is the source of all knowledge
  • view any insurmountable barriers in this realm as signposts pointing to His kingdom – which will be free of all diseases and infirmities when it is fully realized.

The Man with Leprosy January 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus departs from the mountain where He has just preached the Sermon on the Mount. A leper approaches Him and declares His faith in Jesus’ ability to heal him. Jesus responds by healing him; He then tells him to obey the command in Leviticus 14:1-4.

Thoughts: My small group recently discussed the Transfiguration of Jesus. Each of us struggled to connect with the events in that passage, especially since we were not present on that dramatic occasion. Now I also struggle to connect with the events in this passage; while I believe that Jesus did heal this leper, I think that belief is closer to mere intellectual assent than a conviction. To help us overcome this stumbling block, one of the other group members posed the following queries:

  • How can we open our eyes to God and His work in today’s world?
  • Do we believe that He continues to perform miracles in our lives?
  • What constitutes a miracle in God’s eyes?

Indeed, if we believe that God does not perform miracles today, then we essentially attempt to place limits on His power and authority. We need the discerning – and humbling – power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our biases in this regard.

The Wise and Foolish Builders January 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:24-29.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to build their lives on Him. To reinforce this point, He presents a parable contrasting two men:

  • one builds his house on rock – and it survives a storm
  • the other builds his house on sand – but it does not survive a storm.

This parable marks the conclusion of His sermon. His audience is astonished at the authority that He has displayed in His teaching.

Thoughts: Ryle reflects on the Sermon on the Mount:

So ends the Sermon on the Mount. Such a sermon never was preached before; such a sermon perhaps has never been preached since. Let us see that it has a lasting influence on our own souls. It is addressed to us as well as to those who first hear it; we are the ones who will have to give account of its heart-searching lessons. It is no light matter what we think of them.

Now that I have completed my mini-stroll through the Sermon on the Mount, I can say that I am thankful for that experience. In particular, I know that Christ has challenged me to:

  • be more sincere when making promises
  • truly love my enemies
  • battle against my censorious, fault-finding attitude.

These challenges have revealed the weaknesses in my walk with God – and remind me that I am not fully sanctified. I pray that the Holy Spirit would enable me to make meaningful progress on these issues as I dwell in my frail, sinful body. If I can be successful in this regard, then God will be more fully glorified in my life and others – especially those whom I dislike – will be blessed through my words and deeds.

A Tree and Its Fruit January 19, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:15-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary of their religious leaders, since they are deceptively dangerous – like a ravenous wolf dressed in a sheepskin. Indeed, they promote sinfulness in their teachings, revealing their sinfulness – like a thornbush that naturally produces thorns.

He then asserts that those who merely offer a verbal profession of faith in Him have not been saved; if they had been saved, their deeds would have revealed their genuine faith in Him.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following question: how can we tell if we are bearing good fruit? Our attempts to answer this question are hampered by the following realities:

  • only God can answer that question with complete certainty
  • the standard that He applies in assessing the quality of our fruit may not constitute a quantifiable metric.

For example, consider a long-term missionary living among a tribe of unbelievers who passes away without converting even one member of that tribe. Has this missionary necessarily borne less fruit than an evangelist whose sermons cause many to dedicate their lives to Christ? This – admittedly extreme – example leads me to believe that in terms of bearing fruit, a believer must begin by assessing their personal relationship with God. If we sense that we are becoming more like Christ – as revealed by our thoughts, words and deeds – then that could be a sign that we are bearing good fruit. We must also be attuned to any clues that God provides in that regard; for example, He may use other believers to evaluate our fruit.

The Narrow and Wide Gates January 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:13-14.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples must allow themselves to be mastered by either 1) God (and prosper) or 2) sin (and perish). Since a denial of self is concomitant with mastery by God, the whole world tends toward mastery by sin.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the following question: how can we know, at any moment, if we are walking on the “broad” road or the “narrow” road? While I cannot provide a definitive answer to this question, one thought is that if we become complacent in our walk with God, then we could wander from the “narrow” road; in particular, we could believe that we do not need His presence on a daily basis. Another thought is that experiencing discomfort in our walk with God does not imply that we will remain on the “narrow” road; in particular, one can respond to suffering by blaming Him for it. In light of these challenges, perhaps we need to ponder these questions:

  • How can we guard against spiritual complacency?
  • Will God lead us into trials as we guard against spiritual complacency?
  • If we suffer in the midst of these trials, can we still rejoice in Him?

Indeed, rejoicing in the midst of trials constitutes an important step along the “narrow” road.

Ask, Seek, Knock January 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:7-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to persist in asking God to meet their spiritual needs – enabling them to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The following analogy encapsulates His point: just as parents delight in meeting the physical needs of their children, so God delights in meeting the spiritual needs of His children. Moreover, as God continues to love them by meeting their spiritual needs, they will be empowered to respond by loving others.

Thoughts: This passage forces us to consider what we need as believers – since our needs often conflict with our desires. An additional complication stems from the fact that our desires may not be inherently sinful – yet our sanctification may not hinge on their fulfillment. In that case, we struggle with questions such as:

  • Is this desire consistent with God’s plan for my life?
  • Am I actually failing to glorify God by contemplating this desire?
  • What do I need in order to be sanctified?

These questions often lack simple answers – unless God chooses to clearly reveal His will to us. In light of this difficulty, how can we glorify God in the midst of our struggles? One thought is that at the end of each day, we can give thanks to Him for His grace to us. While we will always have unfulfilled desires in this life, we can always count our blessings – especially His gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Judging Others January 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not judge others harshly by exaggerating their faults, since those who judge others harshly:

  • will be judged harshly
  • minimize the seriousness of their own faults.

Instead, He exhorts them to address their own faults before attempting to address the faults of others. He concludes with the following caveat: if others reject their attempts to address their faults, then they should leave them alone.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus warns His disciples against judging others harshly. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

What our Lord means to condemn is a censorious and fault-finding spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses or matters of indifference, a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments, a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors and make the worst of them – this is what our Lord forbids.

Unfortunately, I struggle with this particular sin, as I tend to identify weaknesses in others – even those of close friends. My hunch is that this sin is fueled by my competitiveness, since I constantly seek to demonstrate my superiority to others. Consequently, when I interact with another person, I fall into the trap of asking myself the following questions:

  • Where do they fall short of perfection?
  • How am I superior to them in that regard?

Of course, my hypocrisy is magnified by my failure to consider the ways in which I fall short of perfection. Given that this is a deep-rooted sin, I know that only the Holy Spirit can help me to struggle against it. I sense that He calls me to grasp the true identity of my neighbors: they are made in His image. Thus, they are worthy of dignity and respect; if I fail to grasp this point, then I offend them – and, by extension, God Himself.

Do Not Worry January 5, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:25-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not be anxious about anything, since:

  • God cares for birds and flowers – yet humans are worth more than birds and flowers
  • anxiety is unproductive.

Instead, He exhorts them to be zealous for righteousness.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following point: Christians have perished from starvation and exposure. In light of this point, how should we comprehend this passage? A quick Google search revealed this article that makes a cogent – albeit painful – argument. It confronts us with questions such as:

  • Can we accept God’s sovereignty over our lives?
  • Can we accept the possibility that at some point, God may choose to withdraw His gracious provisions of food and clothing so that His name may be most fully glorified in our passing?
  • At this moment, how can we glorify God?

I struggle with these questions; perhaps my struggle reveals the difficulty that I face in fully surrendering my life to Him. I need more strength from the Holy Spirit to maintain my trust in Him even if He chooses to withdraw these provisions that sustain my physical life.