Bring on January

When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Matthew 6:3

 

I saw this meme making the rounds the other day, and it’s a good one. It seemed a little out of place on Giving Tuesday, however.

My response to one friend who posted that verse:

 

In other words, do in January what you do in December.

 

We Americans love to be generous around the holidays. We give thanks on Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we buy presents our relatives don’t need or probably even want, often with money we don’t have, just because that’s what the holiday is all about.

On Giving Tuesday – one day a year – we are reminded that there are other people in the world besides us. So, we are encouraged to throw money at them.

Can you tell that December is not my favorite time of the year?

I’m jaded.

Motive

It’s great that we give alms to the poor around the holidays. But what’s our motive? Is it to salve our conscience? Is it to keep up with the Joneses in a giving kind of way?

Or, is it that we’re doing something that we know deep in our hearts that we should do more often than once a year?

Many people have needs this time of year, certainly. The food pantry where I volunteer saw its busiest week of the year right before Thanksgiving. A couple of people asked if we were giving away turkeys (we weren’t, but we did give away extra meat, thanks to the generosity of our director.)

Many of us are lonely this time of year. We’ve lost loved ones, and we miss them during family times over the holidays. For them, some of the gifts we offer this month should be spiritual or even physical – our presence, I mean, even more than a present.

Everyone in my immediate family, including my parents, is still among us, so I have yet to experience this up close. But many of you understand this deeply.

Many agencies and companies are collecting toys and gifts for the needy for Christmas. That’s a good thing. I don’t want to downplay that.

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, that’s all. If the rest of you are donating to a cause, the cause doesn’t need my gifts too.

Like I said, I’m jaded.

In the dark

I just might wait until January, when most of you have put all this generosity behind you.

January is cold and dark. Winter has arrived in full force. Sub-freezing temperatures are the norm. There are no major holidays to look forward to. It’s back to the daily grind. Vacations are over.

And the needy are forgotten.

Hunger is not a once-a-year phenomenon. Neither is loneliness. Memories of our loved ones don’t fade after the calendar turns and we view December through the rear-view mirror.

Indeed, my mother-in-law’s birthday was in January. She passed away quite a few years ago. We don’t talk about that at home, but maybe we should. My in-laws’ photo still hangs on the dining room wall with other family photos, and it will remain there forever.

When Jesus talked about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, I think this is what He meant. When the bright lights of publicity are gone and no one is looking, will we continue to serve the needy in our communities then?

When January comes

The quote from Jesus at the beginning of this blog is an action statement from Jesus. In the same breath, He talks about motive.

Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

Matthew 6:2

 

What is their reward? Praise by others. That’s all they get.

Praise by others lasts a day or two, and then we move on to another issue. That’s the way life on this Earth rolls.

 

… so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:4

 

This is why we give in January, as well as in December. It’s dark. We’ve moved on. No one is watching anymore.

But the living God sees. He knows what we’re up to. We can’t hide from Him. He knows the motive in our hearts.

Even in December, God knows what motivates us. Are we real, or are we just doing what we’re supposed to be doing?

I can’t answer that, because I can’t see your heart.

I volunteer occasionally with the American Red Cross. We don’t have to follow God to serve there. Motives vary among volunteers, I’m sure. The Red Cross is just glad when volunteers care enough to assist.

Rewards

Where does our reward come from, though? Is it from the Red Cross, or is it from the living God?

Our motive provides that answer.

Jesus said elsewhere in the Bible to store up treasures in heaven, and not on Earth. God is holding those rewards for us in heaven, even the secret rewards, and He will give them to us when we get there.

But we don’t have to wait for heaven to receive rewards from the living God. When I give in secret, God gives me a blessing right here, right now. Many of you understand this.

We give gifts because the living God gave us the best gift of all – Jesus, born on Christmas Day. It’s our feeble response to the gift of life and meaning that we have received.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Or supposed to be all about.

Where is your heart today?

Even more important, where will your heart be in January, when all the Christmas decorations have been put away for another year?

Does the Christmas spirit live on in you, year-round?

Just a thought.

The prominent, the unknowns and the evil ones …

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. Matthew, a former tax collector and one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, wrote his Gospel letter to a Jewish audience, to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

In that vein, he began his genealogy with Abraham – who the Jews considered their father – and included David, since the Messiah was to come through David’s line.

As with any group of people, some of Jesus’ descendants were prominent, such as Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Jehoshaphat and Josiah. Some are unknowns. (Even among Jesus’ 12 apostles, we know quite a bit about a few of them, and not much about most of them.)

A few in this list were downright evil, including Joram (Jehoram), Ahaz and Amon. Yet they were ancestors of the savior of the world.

Each of these men had a purpose. I used a resource on my bookshelf, “Everyone in the Bible” by William P. Barker, copyright 1966 (history doesn’t change), to bring this genealogical list to life.

 

Abraham: The patriarch who was the father of the people of God … Promised a land and descendants, Abraham lived most of his life without either, having to live on trust. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, assuring him that He kept His word. Finally, in his old age, a son called Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham’s supreme test of faith came when God … ordered Abraham to sacrifice the boy. Abraham obediently prepared to carry out the orders, but was stayed at the last minute when God intervened … Appropriately, his name in Hebrew means “father of a multitude,” and he is revered as the spiritual ancestor of all Jews and Christians. Genesis 11-25

Isaac: Isaac accepted Rebekah as his wife after a trusted family servant brought her from Abraham’s home country to be his bride, and became the father of the twins, Esau and Jacob … Isaac became wealthy during his sojourn with the Philistines, and they became jealous … Isaac, in his old age, blind and feeble, was tricked by Jacob into bestowing his final blessing on Jacob, the younger son, instead of Esau, the older and Isaac’s favorite. Genesis 17-35

Jacob: Jacob – known later as Israel – was the father of the 12 sons whose families became known as the tribes of Israel. Jacob’s name means “supplanter,” and literally from his birth onward he tried to supplant his older brother, Esau … Esau, of course, was furious at his scheming brother, and Jacob fled for his life. During his flight, at Bethel one night, Jacob experienced the vision of God’s angels descending on steps to him – his first awareness of God’s plans for him … Jacob, with the many members of his family and his large flocks, journeyed toward Palestine. Jacob, however, remembered his past injustices to Esau and worried about the reception Esau would give him. After dividing his following into two forces, so that one at least might escape if Esau attacked, Jacob found himself alone. That night he dreamed that he wrestled with an angel … Shortly after, Jacob met his brother Esau, and was relieved to find that Esau held no grudge. Jacob then settled down to the quiet life of a family patriarch. Genesis 25, 27-37, 42, 45-50

Judah: Jacob’s fourth son, Judah was the progenitor of the tribe known by his name. He was involved with his brothers in selling Joseph into slavery … In Egypt, Judah pleaded that Joseph release their youngest brother, Benjamin, even offering to take Benjamin’s place, when Joseph pretended to frame his brothers with charges of non-payment for grain. Judah later received the privileges of the oldest son after his older brothers, Reuben, Simeon and Levi, disgraced themselves. Genesis 29, 35, 37 38, 43, 44, 46, 49

Perez: Judah’s older twin son through his incestuous relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law, Perez was an ancient clan chieftain in the powerful tribe of Judah … Nothing of his life, however, is known beyond his parentage. Genesis 38:29, 46:12

Hezron: Hezron was a grandson of Judah and a son of Perez, and, according to the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus. Genesis 46:12

Aram (Ram): He is mainly remembered because he was an ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:19

Amminadab: A member of the tribe of Levi, Amminadab was the father of Elisheba, Aaron’s wife. Exodus 6:23 Perhaps the same (person, this) Amminadab was an ancestor of David, according to Ruth’s genealogy. Ruth 4:19-20

Nahshon: Aaron’s brother-in-law and a descendant of Judah, Nahshon was a “prince” of Judah who was an ancestor of David and of Jesus. He was also known as Naashon, Naasson and Naason. Exodus 6:23, Numbers 1:7, 2:3, 7:12, 17, 10:14

Salmon: A descendant of Caleb … he was the reputed founder of the town of Bethlehem. Although there seems to be some confusion in the accounts between Salmon and Salma, careful study seems to indicate that they were the same person: the husband of Rahab, the father of Boaz who later married Ruth, and the ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:20, 21

Boaz: A well-to-do landowner of the tribe of Judah near Bethlehem, Boaz took pity on a young Moabite widow named Ruth who was working in his fields. The tender story of Boaz’s kindness and Ruth’s loyalty is the plot of the Book of Ruth. Ruth

Obed: Ruth’s mother-in-law by her first marriage, Naomi, looked after the young Obed. Obed was fondly remembered as the father of Jesse, David’s father, and an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth 4

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Jesse: Jesse is best remembered as the father of the great King David. He was a prominent man, perhaps the leader, at Bethlehem, and the father of eight sons. During David’s outlaw days, Jesse and his wife were sent to relatives at Moab for safety. He was undoubtedly elderly by that time, and probably did not live to see his youngest son crowned as king of the united monarchy. Although in David’s day the term “son of Jesse” was spoken with a sneer, to call attention to David’s humble origins, in time it came to be used as a synonym for the expected Messiah. Ruth 4:17, 22; 1 Samuel 16, 17, 20, 22, 25

David: Israel’s most famous king, David was considered to be the ideal ruler and the prototype for the promised Messiah, in Jewish thinking … Sent to soothe the emotionally ill King Saul with his music, David rapidly advanced in Saul’s court until his popularity made Saul insanely jealous. David fled for his life, and became leader of a band of outlaws. After Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa, David returned home, was made the king of Hebron and waged a long but successful war against the Philistines … David made Jerusalem the religious center of the new nation by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the capital … He extended the nation’s borders in all directions, and brought prosperity and prominence to his people. His later years were marred by a sordid affair with Bathsheba … Incest, murder, rebellion and plots within David’s own household turned his final days into ones of deep trial … Nevertheless, David’s deep trust in God, his sense of justice, and his personal attractiveness were apparent until nearly the end of his life. The nation fondly remembered his reign as its golden age. 1 and 2 Samuel

 

Solomon: David’s 10th son and his successor to the throne, Solomon came to power principally because of the intrigues of his mother, Bathsheba, during David’s senility … He introduced the system of forced labor gangs to furnish manpower for his ambitious building programs, and broke down the old system of tribal rule with his well-organized administrative districts … The great Temple was but one of his ambitious building projects. To finance all this opulence, Solomon taxed his subjects so oppressively that the nation simmered with revolt during his last days. Although his wisdom and piety were extolled by some Biblical writers, Solomon was a shrewd, overbearing, worldly, comfort-loving dictator. 1 Kings 1-14

Rehoboam: The stubborn, arrogant son of Solomon, Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king of the nation in 937 B.C. … Rehoboam insisted on continuing Solomon’s policies. The northern tribes, never welded to the united kingdom, promptly seceded. Rehoboam, forced to retire in humiliation to Jerusalem, wanted to march against the 10 rebellious tribes, but was prevented by the prophet Shemaiah’s warnings and by Shishak of Egypt’s invasion. 1 Kings 11-12, 14-15

Abijah: Great-grandson of David, Abijah was the favorite son of Rehoboam. He ruled Judah for about two years at a time when Jeroboam had been king of the northern kingdom, Israel, for about 20 years. The Book of Kings states that Abijah continued all the sins of his ancestors. Chronicles, however, portrays him as a defender of the faith whose moment of glory came when he defeated Jeroboam’s larger army and captured three Israelite cities and great booty. 2 Chronicles 11-14, 1 Kings 14, 15

Asa: The king of Judah from about 918-877 B.C., Asa was one of the few rulers who tried to bring about some social and religious reforms. He was also an energetic builder, astute statesman and competent military leader. During most of his long reign, Judah enjoyed a breathing spell of prosperity, peace and morality. In his old age, however, Asa showed a lack of trust in the Lord by buying protection from the Syrian king, Ben-hadad, when Baasha, king of Israel, mobilized against Judah … Not long after, he contracted a painful foot disease, regarded as punishment for his failure to trust. 1 Kings 15-16, 22:41-46

Jehoshaphat: The king of Judah who was the son and successor of Asa, Jehoshaphat tried to be a model of piety and a guardian of the faith by sending teachers of the Law throughout the kingdom and closing down Baal shrines. Probably his biggest contribution was to stop the long-running feud between Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. However, when Jehoshaphat married his son to Athaliah, daughter of Israel’s notorious Jezebel and Ahab, he unwittingly brought trouble … His 25-year reign was considered a high point in Judah’s history. 2 Chronicles 17-22

Joram (Jehoram): The son and successor of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. To seal an alliance between his father and Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram was given the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah, as his bride. Athaliah dominated her husband, persuading him to reintroduce and encourage Baal worship in Judah. Jehoram even stooped to murdering his six brothers when he was crowned king. During his sorry reign, Libnah and Edom broke away from Judah. He was so loathed by his subjects that when he died they refused him burial in the royal tombs. 2 Chronicles 21:1-16, 22:1-11

Uzziah: Amaziah’s son and successor as king of Judah, Uzziah became king at the age of 16 and ruled 52 years. During his long reign, he successfully defended Judah against the belligerent Ammonites, Philistines and Arabians, developed a strong standing army, and rebuilt the nation’s fortifications … In spite of the continuation of cults, contemporary historians gave Uzziah high marks for his religious devotion. He was so crippled with leprosy toward the end of his reign that he was forced to turn over the government to his son, Jotham. 2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26

Jotham: A contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, Jotham ruled as de facto king during the last years of King Uzziah’s life, when Uzziah was ill. After the death of his illustrious father Uzziah, Jotham succeeded to the throne of Judah and proved to be an able administrator. He subdued the Ammonites, built the upper gate of the Temple, and was highly regarded by Hebrew historians. 2 Kings 15

Ahaz: Eleventh king of Judah, Ahaz was Jotham’s son and Hezekiah’s father. His 16-year reign (about 735 B.C. to about 720 B.C.) was the backdrop for the prophet Isaiah’s great career. Ahaz preferred to play international politics rather than heed Isaiah’s sound advice … Inevitably, Ahaz and Judah came out as losers, paying expensive “presents” to larger powers. A superstitious dabbler in idolatrous cults, Ahaz left his country weakened morally and financially. 2 Kings 15-17

Hezekiah: The famous reform-minded king of Judah, Hezekiah … successfully led his country through the frightening days when Assyria was sweeping over the world in the eighth century B.C. … Hezekiah heeded the prophet Isaiah’s advice and stood fast. The Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem suddenly and miraculously ended when a plague decimated the Assyrian army. Even today, visitors to Jerusalem can see Hezekiah’s tunnel, the conduit through rock which brought water into the city during the siege – one of many projects initiated by the energetic king. After the glorious deliverance from the siege, Hezekiah launched a long-needed reform of morals and religion in the nation. 2 Kings 16, 18-21

Manasseh: The son and successor of King Hezekiah of Judah, Manasseh became king at age 12, upon his father’s death. An anti-reform group used the boy to stop the reforms in worship and morals begun by Hezekiah. For many years, Manasseh outdid himself to accommodate cults and please their adherents. He even practiced human sacrifice, using his own son. The prophets attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the cruelty and superstition that was allowed to flourish during most of Manasseh’s 55-year reign … According to the Chronicler, Manasseh was taken prisoner briefly by the Assyrians in his later years, finally realized his disobedience to God, and was allowed by God to return to Jerusalem, where he mended his ways before he died. 2 Kings 20, 21, 23, 24, 2 Chronicles 33:1-23

Amon: The king of Judah who succeeded Manasseh, Amon reigned two years in a dreary repeat of his father Manasseh’s immorality, luxury and corruption. He was assassinated in a palace intrigue (639 B.C.), and died unmourned. 2 Kings 21

Josiah: The king of Judah whose reform staved off the collapse of the kingdom for a few years, Josiah was the son and successor of the notorious King Amon. He was crowned when he was only 8, after his father’s assassination, and began his active rule when he was 18. At the suggestion of the high priest Hilkiah, Josiah ordered the Temple repaired. During the repairs, a lost book of the Law was discovered (what we call Deuteronomy). When this was read to the King, he ordered its requirements observed, and took active steps to clean up the mess in Judah. Josiah effectively closed down the dozens of local shrines … and centralized all worship in Jerusalem … He died as boldly as he lived: When Neco, the Egyptian pharaoh, invaded northern Palestine, Josiah recklessly jumped into battle and lost his life at Megiddo. 2 Kings 16-34

Jechoniah (Jehoiachin): The son of King Jehoiakim of Judah, Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar snuffed out the valiant but faithless little nation. Succeeding a father who left the kingdom in a hopeless condition, 18-year-old Jehoiachin ruled only three months … (He) was imprisoned during Nebuchadnezzar’s entire reign. He was finally released when Evil-Merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar, and was kept under house arrest in Babylon for the rest of his life. 2 Kings 24:6-15, Jeremiah 22, 24, 28.

Salathiel (Sheatiel): A descendant of David and a son of King Jeconiah, Shealtiel was best remembered as the father of Zerubbabel. Ezra 3:2, 8.

Zerubbabel: The man who led the first group of dispirited exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon, Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem in the dismal days at the close of the Exile. Zerubbabel directed the resumption of worship, the rebuilding of the altar, and the foundation construction for the new Temple. A descendant of David, he was a member of the royal family. 1 Chronicles 3:19, Ezra 2:2, 3:2, 8, 4:2, 3, 5:2, Nehemiah 7:7, 12:1, 47.

Abiud: Mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (and not elsewhere) as the son of Zerubbabel. https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/abiud/

Eliakim: An ancestor of Jesus, Eliakim is included in Jesus’ family tree by both Matthew and Luke. Matthew 1:13, Luke 3:30

Azor: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Azor was listed in Matthew’s genealogy as a grandson of Zerubbabel. Matthew 1:13-14

Zadok: An important “chief of the people” after the Exile, this Zadok was one of the leaders in Jerusalem who joined Nehemiah in signing the covenant promising to keep the Law. Nehemiah 10:21

Achim: One of Joseph’s distant ancestors, Achim is mentioned only by Matthew in his genealogical table. Matthew 1:14

Eliud: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Eliud is listed in the genealogy of Joseph by Matthew. Matthew 1:14-15

Eleazar: He was listed in Jesus’ family tree by Matthew as a son of Eliud, and Joseph’s great-grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Matthan: One of Jesus’ ancestors, according to Matthew’s list, Matthan is listed as Joseph’s grandfather. He is undoubtedly the same man as “Matthat,” whom Luke names as Joseph’s grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Jacob (Heli): The father of Joseph, who was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, Heli was also believed to be an uncle of Mary. Luke 3:23

Joseph: The kindly carpenter of Nazareth who agreed to go ahead with wedding plans although he knew his betrothed, Mary, was to have a baby, this Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father. He was a conscientious Jew who adhered faithfully to the Law, but was considerate enough to plan to spare Mary the indignities required by the Law. When he learned the Divine origin of her unborn Child, he immediately trusted God’s promise and married Mary. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the harrowing flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of male babies, Joseph resettled his family at Nazareth and lived the quiet life of a village builder-repairman. He was the father of several other children, but apparently died before Jesus began His active ministry. Matthew 1:16-24, Luke 2:4-43

Jesus: Born at Bethlehem during the last years of Herod the Great, Jesus, at His birth, was acclaimed God’s Chosen One by shepherds … Luke 2:8-20

 

‘That is the whole duty of everyone’

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

So says the wisest person who ever lived, king Solomon. He tried everything: wine, women and song; working hard; seeking pleasure and riches. Nothing satisfied him.

At the end of his days, after he experienced all that life has to offer, he drew the conclusion in this quote.

We still don’t get it, do we?

Solomon doesn’t say that fearing God is the whole duty of the religious, or of a certain nationality or group. No. Every one of us, no matter who we are, must fear God and keep his commandments.

We will be judged. Not by the U.S. Supreme Court, by a fractured Congress or by the court of public opinion. We can argue with our political opponents until we’re all blue in the face, and it means nothing.

Really.

Fear God, and keep his commandments.

That’s it.

That’s what life is all about.

Of course, fleshing that out isn’t as simple as it sounds.

So, how do we do that?

Only one person, in fact, has figured that out.

Since Solomon didn’t get it until it was (almost) too late, let’s look at the life of the one person who understood it right from the start.

One life at a time

That would be Jesus, the sinless one.

His life is explained in the four “gospels” at the beginning of the New Testament. Here’s an overview of Jesus’ adult life as recorded by Matthew, one of his original 12 disciples.

Jesus’ first act was to begin calling future disciples to follow him. He preached to the masses, yes, but he specifically trained a group of only 12 people. Those dozen later changed the world.

As his disciples watched, Jesus preached his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount, to a big crowd. For example:

 

  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
  • “… everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
  • “… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …”
  • “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
  • “… store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
  • “For with the judgment you make you will be judged …”
  • “Beware of false prophets … you will know them by their fruits.”

 

Jesus stepped up our game. Murder is wrong, of course, but so is anger. Adultery is wrong, but so is lust. Stuff like that. Jesus knows our motives, what we think about. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Next, Jesus proved his authenticity by healing people – a man with leprosy, two demon-possessed men, a paralyzed man, and others.

He spent time with Matthew and his friends. This was a big deal, because Matthew was a hated tax collector. Imagine inviting over your favorite IRS agent who not only collected your taxes but bribed you, taking more than you owe.

Jesus spent more time training his 12 disciples, then sent them out to do cool stuff themselves. He also warned them that they will face persecution because some powerful, influential people will not appreciate them elevating the poor and sick.

If Jesus walked across the United States in the flesh today, he’d give us a similar message, would he not?

A new command I give you …

Then, Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, rest for the soul and the meaning of Sunday (the Sabbath, actually).

Now, Jesus had crossed a line. When he taught that Sabbath is not about following a host of man-made rules, “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Mat. 12:14).

Next come a few parables, stories that Jesus told with a moral. He talked about different types of soil, weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl and a fishing net. He used these illustrations to describe the kingdom of heaven and its value.

Then Jesus did a series of miracles – he fed 5,000 men, besides women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish, then walked on water, then healed many people of their illnesses.

Soon after that, three disciples – Peter, James and John – saw Jesus “transfigured” on a mountain, with his glowing heavenly body next to the heavenly bodies of Moses and Elijah. Jesus was a man, yes, but we can’t forget his divinity as well.

In keeping with his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus then taught about several other subjects:

 

  • Marrying a divorced woman is adultery, except for unchastity. (The point: No one is perfect, including a spouse. Understand what that means.)
  • “Let the little children come to me …”
  • “If you are rich, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor; then come, follow me.” (The riches themselves aren’t sin, unless they supersede God, which they did in this particular exchange.)
  • “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

The world doesn’t think like this, much less live like this. Christians are to live differently than the world does.

Why follow Jesus?

Next came Palm Sunday, when Jesus orchestrated his own parade and entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He taught lessons for a few more days, then was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Why death and resurrection?

Because Jesus knew we couldn’t keep his commandments, as Solomon discovered. Jesus said so in his Sermon on the Mount, too: “Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Only when we follow Jesus can our hearts be changed to “fear God and keep his commandments.”

This is a daily struggle, as those of us who follow Jesus know.

That’s what forgiveness is all about. As God forgives us each day, we learn how to forgive each other.

We need to learn what Solomon learned.

But let’s not wait until the end of our lives to figure this out. A changed life equals a changed heart equals a changed society. We need that, certainly.

We need that today.

 

The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

Jesus not running for office

They say that in polite society, we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion. Well, let’s break all the rules and talk about both. At the same time.

No, I’m not going to talk about Donald Trump and the Christian vote. Let’s tackle something bigger, with longer-lasting consequences.
Jesus Christ is not a political figure. He had – and has – a much wider purpose than that.

Some people try to politicize Jesus, claiming that He stands for their political or social viewpoint. He hates gay marriage and abortion so He must be Republican, right? He’s all about love and wouldn’t judge anyone, so He favors the Democrats, right?

You and I can make the Bible say just about anything we want it to. We do that by emphasizing certain parts of it and ignoring the rest.

But God doesn’t work that way. If we decide what parts of God we like and which parts we don’t, then we are making ourselves to be God – and the true God is just our puppet, whatever we want Him to be.

No wonder God says He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

God has a much higher calling than to play these games. He is God, after all.

Jesus is God. This becomes clear in the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” (John 1:1-3,14)

Therefore, Jesus also has a much higher calling than to play political games.

Let’s take a tour through the gospel of Matthew, written by that disciple of Jesus to an audience of Jews, to show that Jesus is not a political figure, even though other people tried to turn him into one.

First opponent: King Herod

Not long after Jesus’ birth, King Herod saw him as a future political enemy. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to pay homage to Jesus. “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened …” (Mat. 2:3) As a result, Herod tried to kill Jesus: “… for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mat. 2:13)

Why would King Herod care about a baby, unless he saw the child as a threat to his own power?

In response, his parents, Mary and Joseph, fled the scene (Mat. 2:14) until Herod died and the threat was over.

First adult opponent: Satan

As an adult, Jesus could choose His own path. First up: Satan himself tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Mat. 4:1). Among other things, Satan offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, “if you will fall down and worship me.” (Mat. 4:9) If Jesus wanted political power, He had the chance right there to be the greatest ruler this world has ever seen. Jesus turned him down cold: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Mat. 4:10)

Blessings and faith

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5 through 7, records nothing political. He talks about blessings, salt and light, fulfilling the law, anger, lust, divorce, vows, retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, money, worry, criticizing others, asking, heaven, fruit, and building our house on rock or sand.

These are spiritual issues. Jesus has a much different take on anger, lust, divorce and money, for example, than politicians do. Read the Sermon on the Mount and discover this for yourself.

Faith trumps politics

Next, Jesus encountered a Roman centurion, a military figure in that time period. Jesus praised this centurion for his faith (Mat. 8:5-13). Faith rises above politics in Jesus’ eyes.

Soon after, Jesus called Matthew, author of this book, and challenged him to “follow me.” Matthew was a tax collector (Mat. 9:9), a Jewish person employed by the Romans to tax the Jews, often unfairly. We think the IRS is evil; the IRS is nothing compared to the cheating, traitorous, overcharging tax collectors of Biblical times.

When Matthew left his job to follow Jesus, he made a permanent break. He lost his tax booth permanently. Faith trumped politics big-time in Matthew’s life.

Something old, something new

Next, Jesus told the disciples of John that the Holy Spirit is an entirely new game, not even a new take on the religious/political system of the day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Mat. 9:16-17)

Jesus brought an entirely new way of thinking and living to this Earth. It didn’t fit in with the old system; it required a different mindset and lifestyle.

This was radical then, and it’s radical today.

For example, the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath into a do-no-work-under-any-circumstances day, with a couple of loopholes. Jesus threw all that out and changed the game. Jesus let his disciples pick wheat on the Sabbath because they were hungry, and he healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath because He could (Mat. 12:1-14).

Next comes a chapter of parables, none of which are political: four soils, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure and a fishing net. Jesus is changing the mindset and lifestyle of His listeners, nothing less.

Misunderstanding the parade

Let’s jump to Palm Sunday. Jesus orchestrated a parade for His entrance to Jerusalem, even though He knew the religious leaders there wanted to kill him. He did not hide from his accusers at all.

Most interesting is the response of the general population. Those attending the parade shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mat. 21:9)

Why “hosanna?” They wanted a military leader to overthrow oppressive Rome.

Hosanna, according to http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hosanna/ is a joyful Aramaic exclamation of praise, apparently specific to the major Jewish religious festivals (especially Passover and Tabernacles) in which the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was recited. Originally an appeal for deliverance (Heb. hosia na, please see Psalm 118:25), it came in liturgical usage to serve as an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. When Jesus came to Jerusalem for his final presentation of himself to Israel, the expression came readily to the lips of the Passover crowds. (emphasis added)

Hosanna is a military term of deliverance from oppression. Later in the week, when the crowd realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that, they ordered Him crucified (Mat. 27:15-26).

Jesus’ real purpose

One footnote during Holy Week: Jesus supported paying government taxes. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mat. 22:21)

Jesus even supported the government leaders and their taxing authority as they were finalizing details to crucify Him. He did not change his “morals” just because His life was threatened. Who has that kind of moral backbone today?

Jesus had one purpose in coming to Earth: to make His Father personal, to offer intimate relationship with Himself to us. That’s it.

Jesus’ mission and ministry were 100 percent spiritual. Politicians and religious leaders could not kill him or defeat him, although they tried. Jesus had – and still has – a much higher calling.

This is good news! As Jesus taught, we are so much better than what we’ve become. It’s time we started living like it.

 

For further reading:

http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/blog/19069-jesus-is-not-political