Wednesday, February 4, 2009

01/22 - A Disregard for the Normal Things of Life

Matthew 8:18-27

Jesus seemed to be in a testy mood.

First, he challenged the religious teacher, apparently one of the disciples (i.e. students) following him. The man seemed to be a nice, decent fellow, and his declaration about following Jesus sounded very sincere. However, his teaching position brought a nice, pleasant lifestyle, and although Jesus did not reject his offer, he made sure the man knew what he was in for if he continued to follow. We are not told whether the teacher was scared off by Jesus’ comments.

Next, Jesus challenged one of his disciples who wanted to go handle a family matter. It is not clear whether the man’s father had just died or was either old or ill and close to death. Regardless, he wanted to do a good, decent thing. Jesus’ response seemed at least insensitive if not heartless. We are not given enough details to know, but perhaps the man’s father was months or longer away from death, and the man was really a half-hearted follower.

Third, Jesus rebuked the closest disciples because they were afraid. The situation was certainly desperate, with strong waves sweeping over the boat, and clearly they expected to drown at any moment. After rebuking them for lack of faith, Jesus rebukes the storm. It was a miracle even more astounding then the healing and casting out of demons they had seen him do earlier.

We feel sympathy for the teacher, the man concerned about burying his father and the disciples in the boat because we think like them and their responses seem reasonable. We think it is normal to expect decent housing, to take time for family matters and to panic when life is threatened. However, Jesus had a certain disregard for the normal things of life.

He believed he was on a mission from God, so he was not afraid of storms and could even sleep through the worst of them. His vision of a spiritual kingdom was so great he was willing to give up the expected comforts of life to accomplish its mission. Even family was not as important as the spiritual kingdom.

Jesus was not challenging his followers just because he was having a bad day. He was trying to get them to put the kingdom of God first in their lives.

Today he challenges us the same way. Will we too have that certain disregard for the normal things of life? Will we put the spiritual kingdom ahead of all else? Great blessings are ours if we do.

Monday, February 2, 2009

01/21 - Surprised and Delighted at Faith

Matthew 8:2-17

Of course Jesus was delighted, even excited, about the Centurion’s faith. But, Matthew wrote that Jesus was “astounded” by it! How can Jesus be astounded?

The Centurion, head of Rome’s military troops in the town or region and likely a follower of Roman, polytheistic religion, was an unlikely candidate for faith in Jesus.

At first he probably thought of Jesus as leader of a grassroots, splinter movement in the Jewish religion. He likely had observed Jesus from the periphery of the crowds to decide whether Jesus should be arrested for treason and the crowds dispersed because of all the talk about a new kingdom.

The Centurion grew to respect Jesus so much that he thought himself unworthy to have Jesus come to his house. He even called Jesus “Lord,” in respect for the moral and spiritual authority Jesus displayed.

From his observations, the Centurion knew Jesus had great authority over nature to heal and over the spiritual world to cast out demons. As a man under authority who in turn exercised authority over others, he recognized Jesus was under authority of God and in turn exercised authority.

Although the Centurion probably did not understand many things about Jesus, such as him being the incarnate Son of God, Jesus was delighted at his simple, strong faith.

Even more interesting for us is that Jesus “was astonished” at the man’s faith. This may contradict our belief that Jesus had to be all-knowing (omniscient it the theological term) when he was here on earth because he was the Son of God. If he was omniscient, how could he be surprised by the Centurion’s faith?

Hebrews 12:2 called Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Some translations say, “pioneer of faith.” Jesus, like each of us, lived by faith. Just as the Wright brothers were pioneers of flight because they expanded the boundaries of human flight, Jesus is the pioneer of faith because he expanded the boundaries of living by faith.

By faith, Jesus went through the temptation in the desert. By faith, he began his teaching ministry, believing God would bless his efforts and build a great spiritual kingdom on Earth. Later, by faith, he would face the most difficult situation of all—his crucifixion.

Jesus was surprised at the Centurion’s faith because it was so unpredictable. He appreciated the Centurion’s faith because faith was the foundation for his own life.

Today, Jesus is omniscient and not surprise when one of us shows unusual faith. However, he is still very delighted when one of us takes any little step in faith or trusts him to take care of some need or concern.