Walking through the Gospels is so different from walking through the rest of the Bible. Yes, I know, I just wrote a blog post stressing how Jesus is the same person as the God of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is absolutely relevant to modern-day Christians. I still hold to what I said. In fact, I think I’m noticing how the book of Matthew is so different because I read through the entire Old Testament, and now it feels like I am getting this intensely intimate look at God in the flesh. Like I am constantly waiting to see what He will do next (!), even though I’ve read the Gospels before.
I’m reading the book of Matthew very slowly and taking it all in… in fact, I am underlining so much I think my pen will run out before I’m through. What really strikes me is not only the things that Jesus introduces that are “upside-down” to the culture of the time (esteeming women, advocating for nonviolence, hanging out with tax collectors & “sinners”, teaching a righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees, loving your enemies, etc.), but also the standard Jesus is calling us to if we follow Him.
Today, I was so convicted by these passages:
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners”?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:10-13)
What does it say about me if I only hang out with people who “meet my criteria”? Why haven’t I been seeking out and giving my time to the “sick” (those who are going through difficult times, the poor, the literally sick, the addicted, people who may be different from me, etc.)? Jesus has given me something to share, and if I never seek out the people who need it, what good am I? (cf. Matthew 5:13) This is a huge challenge for me.
And look at what Jesus says to his disciples early in their ministry:
“So do not be afraid of [men]. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:26-31)
What really stands out to me is 1) how the disciples must feel hearing this as they are about to go out on their own to preach & heal for the first time, and 2) how I’ve read the second half of that verse (about the sparrows) many times as a comforting passage, when it is really contextually about not being afraid of men (and possibly being killed for your faith) because God is your Father, knows you intimately, takes care of you, and has a plan for you, even in death.
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)
I confess that I do a poor job of acknowledging Jesus before men (and women). I have especially noticed this in the past few months when it seems like everyone and their sister is reminding me that God is in control over my health. I should be the one taking God’s Word to heart, proclaiming that God is in control over my health, and sharing what Jesus has done for me, because He is Lord. I really want to do better at not fearing men (and women), not being concerned about offending someone, and just sharing the truth. I believe in Jesus as my Savior, and I am challenged to be open about that.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)
Wow. I think this verse really speaks for itself. I am challenged once again to look at my priorities and make sure I am not loving anyone or anything more than Christ, including my husband. I imagine this will be even harder when I have sons or daughters.
I’m also challenged as I think about the strenuous way I’ve been comparing my life to those around me rather than seeking Jesus above all else. I’m talking about comparing my marriage to other marriages, my travel to others’ travels, my house to others’ houses, my car to others’ cars, my job to others’ jobs, my clothes to others’ clothes, and around and around we go. Whoever finds his life will lose it… well, it seems to me that I’ve been looking to “find my life” a little too much and not seeking the Kingdom first.
This has always been a challenge for me – the tension between seeking comfort in this world vs. seeking Christ. Our American culture forcefully teaches us to seek comfort, especially in the area of material possessions. I don’t consider myself materialistic, but I can truly get caught up in this, especially as we’re trying to make our house a home. You can really go overboard in that, just like you can go overboard in trying to look or dress a certain way, etc. Not only are you seeking comfort, but you can be indulging pride and heightening standards of competition and comparison with your neighbors, friends, and families.
I read this quote from Rick Warren (author of The Purpose-Driven Life) once:
“We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn’t going to make sense. Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.”
This could all sound very morbid until you realize that God is the source of all joy. God is the foundation and author of your purpose. Nobody loves you more than He does. He desires your good, not your harm, and He has compassion on you (cf. Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 9:36). In the midst of all these challenges, Jesus was also preaching the good news – that we can be forgiven of all of our sin and be in eternal relationship with our Maker, who is in the midst of making us perfect to His glory.
Today’s reading ended with this passage, which is a comfort to me:
“Come to me [Jesus], all you who are weary and burdened, 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)