4 Books: 4 Questions ~ The Book of Matthew, Change, and Courage

saint-matthew-1147134-1279x1057On Sunday we started our series looking at each of the gospels and why they are written the way they are. Because each gospel is wrote with a different purpose, context, and audience – and we need all 4. Life is complex and we cannot reduce the gospels down to “one story”. Instead, we have one story told from four perspectives and we need all 4.

So on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Matthew.

We learned that it was most likely written to Jewish Christians. We can tell this by how Matthew never explains Jewish customs (like Mark), grounds Jesus’ ministry with echoes to Moses and Abraham (unlike Luke who grounds it in Adam), and focuses in on Jewish questions of how to live.

From this we learned though why this might be so important in that day and age. We learned how the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and how Jospehus writes that millions were killed, and “Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom”.

And while that is certainly brutal, here is why it matters. The Jewish world was utterly rocked by the destruction of the temple. The Jewish way of life as was known was over, and they faced tremendous change, uncertainty, and confusion. And it’s into this milieu that Matthew writes. Matthew writes to a group of Jewish Christians whose way of life has been so utterly compromised that they can’t see the way forward

So Matthew writes about moving through change and confusion.

While we looked at some high level themes, we really landed on the story of Peter walking on the water, and how this story would be so helpful to a group of people processing change. Peter, in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, and confusion does something crazy. He steps further into the unknown. He actually moves further away from what little safety and security remained for him and stepped out into the wind and the waves. He places all his faith, and trust in Jesus and with courage steps out.

And I think this is Matthew’s point commented on in various ways throughout the gospel: the way we get through change is courage and trust in Jesus. 

That’s how we move through the wind, waves, and sea of chaos and uncertainty. And while the temple being destroyed doesn’t change many of our Western lives, we all have our own temples that we rely on. Whether these temples are faith, jobs, health, or wealth they occasionally crumble and seem to crack. And Matthew’s word for us to trust and have courage in the face of uncertainty. Matthew’s words for us when the world is falling apart to step further out in trust with Jesus and follow with courage. Matthew’s message isn’t to huddle in the boat, trying to keep the thing together, but to step out with trust. And that’s where we ended too. Asking us all to take a step of trust.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaFace change with courage and trust.

Teaching Points:

  • We have 4 gospels and need all four.
  • The Gospels tell us how the early church told the story of Jesus in four different contexts – Michael Hardin
  • Matthew is about how to face and deal with change.
  • We still have our own “temples” today.
  • I have no certainty about my future, and you might not either.
  • A theme of Matthew is to have courage and trust.
  • Face change with courage and trust.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Are you in the midst of facing any change? What excites you, or worries you about it? What might “stepping” out of the boat look like? How can you be sure to remain focused on Jesus?

Challenge for the Week: To ask Jesus to call you out of the boat, and step out with courage and trust.

4 Books and 4 Questions

On Sunday we are starting a brand new series that will look at something both so utterly obvious and simple, but also controversial and challenging:

The gospels are different.

I know that’s so patently obvious to anyone who has read…well two of them. Mark is very different than John for example. And anyone who has ever read the gospels quickly notices differences and different perspectives. And some in the past have tried to “iron” out some of the differences. The problem is that the early church said that’s heresy.

We have 4 gospels told from different perspectives and we need all 4.

So come Sunday we are going to be introducing this series, and looking at the book of Matthew and asking this question: why are they different?

Because when we start to understand the different contexts, the different audiences, and the different questions the authors were trying to answer new insights leap off the page. So join us as we take a high level look at some of the most important 4 documents ever written.

4 Gospels

Loving Enemies and Following Jesus

1336079_98421028So on Sunday we looked at a really difficult but defining teaching of Jesus: love your enemies. This is a defining teaching of Jesus because it should define us as his followers. As Jesus himself says, everyone in the world loves those who love them. That’s normal, that natural, and that’s easy. Christians are called to be different than those around us, but the way we love not just our neighbors but our enemies.

This is Jesus’ teaching. Love your enemies.

And he grounds this teaching in something so important for us. He grounds this teaching in his revelation of who the Father is. He says we are to love our enemies in Matthew 5:45 because this makes us true children of our Father. That just as the Father loves those who oppose him, how he sends rain and sunshine on the good and evil, and how he has particularity for grace ~ so should we as Christians. The point is that if God is about grace, forgiveness, and love of enemies, we too need to be as Christians. The truth is this: there is no room for hate in the Kingdom because there is no room for hate in God.

And we need to get this straight because our view of God shapes our behaviors. If we believe God is hateful, we become hateful. If we believe God is loving, we become loving. So Jesus grounds our behavior in our belief of a loving God.

We ended with the challenge to actually love our enemies. We recognized the ridiculousness of this. That it might not change our enemies, it won’t protect us from hurt, and it won’t be easy. It is though the way of the Kingdom. Bonhoeffer says this: “Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us. They certainly will. But not even that can  hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them.” Our love, prayer, and good deeds regardless of the change in our enemy needs to be our behavior. Bonhoeffer continues, “The will of God is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them. Am I asked how this love is to behave? Jesus gives the answer: bless, do good, and pray for your enemies without reserve and without respect of persons”.

And that’s how we ended the challenge from Jesus: pray for enemies, do good to enemies, and bless your enemies. Let’s just see what might happen in our world and our lives if we take Jesus’ teaching seriously.

What might happen if we actually lived it out?

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Love your enemies

Take Aways…

  • What if we actually did what Jesus said?
  • God is not a God of hate
  • If we are not clear on who God is we will not be clear on how to live.
  • If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are the worse it is for you – it were better for you to be an atheist. William of Canterbury
  • You become the god, you follow.
  • Praying for an enemy and loving him will prove mutually reinforcing. The more love, the more prayer; the more prayer the more love. D.A. Carson
  • Love your enemies
  • Our enemies are not “people in general” but “personal people” we know and interact with.
  • Loving your enemies won’t make your life easier, better, or less problematic ~ it will make your life like Jesus’
  • Jesus was not crucified for saying or doing what made sense to everyone. Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas
  • The Christian principle ‘love your enemy is good … there is nothing to be said against it except that it is too difficult for most of us to practice sincerely. Bertrand Russell
  • Through the medium of prayer we go to the our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot for themselves. Every insult they utter only serves to bind us more closely to God and them. Bonhoeffer
  • Love your enemies.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?

What did you find hardest about this teaching? What did you find compelling? Who right now is an enemy God might be calling you to love? How can you pray for them? How might you do good towards them? How can you bless them? Who can help support you in this and encourage you in loving your enemies? Whom can you support in their effort to love their enemies? How can you help them?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Talk to your kids about today’s teaching. Talk to them about how there can be no hate in God’s kingdom. Ask them who they have as an enemy right now. Ask them if they’d like to pray for them and pray for them together.

Challenge for this Week: Love your enemies: do good, pray, and bless them.



Jesus’ Simplest and Hardest Teaching…

love enemiesOn Sunday we are looking at one of the simplest and most radical of all the teaching of Jesus. It’s this: Love your enemies.

Bertrand Russell, a Christian man who later became an atheist and deep thinker, once famous said:

“The Christian principle ‘love your enemy is good … there is nothing to be said against it except that it is too difficult for most of us to practice sincerely”.

What I think is interesting is that he doesn’t debate the beauty or rightness of Jesus’ statement. He debates its practicality or the average person’s ability to practice it. And I agree with him wholeheartedly, that this teaching of Jesus is difficult to practice. And it is difficult because it is counter cultural, it requires discipline, and most of  all, it requires inspiration as well.

So on Sunday I want to really explore and dream about how our lives might be different if we actually practiced this teaching of Jesus. As Jesus himself says, “everyone loves who love them back”. What might happen though if we became a community of people who took seriously Jesus’ teaching to love others. How might that shape and change us?

And so we are going to be diving into the world of neuroscience, our view of God, and of course, a few thoughts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

My argument on Sunday will be pretty simple.

  • It’s not that loving enemies is easy: it isn’t.
  • It’s not that loving enemies makes sense: it doesn’t.
  • It’s not that loving enemies will make them be nice to us: it probably won’t.
  • It’s that loving our enemies is the way of Jesus Christ.

Loving our enemies is not easy,  it’s certainly not practical, and it won’t ensure you never get hurt again. Loving your enemies sometimes mean you end up on a cross; sometimes it means being left alone and abandoned, and sometimes it means that the entire world gets changed…

So that’s where we’re going, but why wait to hear it on Sunday. Why not practice it today? Why not try to love those around you today? It won’t be easy or simple, but it will be the way of Jesus. And that should be enough…

Advent: A Time of Waiting and Finding

432071_70194656On Sunday we looked at the art of waiting. In Advent there is a sense and need to wait. We look forward to Christ’s coming, to his entering the world, and to our salvation.

And for many of us we are waiting for some significant things to happen in our lives. So how do we patiently wait in this season, how do we not give up, and even find what we are waiting for?

This is what we looked at on Sunday, preaching from an odd place ~ the page between the Old and New Testaments. This page represents a people of waiting. It represents the Israelite people expecting and desiring God to fulfill his promises. It represents a people waiting and longing for the Messiah.

The truth is though that the longer we wait, the less hopeful we get. But even while we wait we can still have hope, because the page always turns, the story doesn’t end.

We turned the page from the Old to the New Testament and read the first verse in Matthew 1:1 that says, “This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus, the Messiah, a descendant of King David and of Abraham”. Jesus arrives, the promises are fulfilled, the Messiah comes, and the waiting isn’t wasted. And we need to remember this in Advent with the promise of God’s arrival. That the waiting is never wasted, and Jesus does come, he does arrive.

Pope John Paul writes, “Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.” Jesus does come, he is always on his way, and he does arrive. So we have hope even in the waiting, and we must never ever give up, because Jesus is the one who comes to us.

Advent is about waiting, but it is also about finding. And when you wait for God it is never wasted. So we ended with this main point that Christ is coming, don’t give up waiting. If you are waiting from a dream, a healed friendship, marriage, a job, whatever it may be: don’t give up, Christ is coming.

We ended with three simple ways to put this waiting into practice. First, that we need to acknowledge and name what it is we are waiting for. Second we need to share with God the depths of what we hope for, long for, and strive for. We need to be honest with ourselves, and with God for what we hope for. And then thirdly we need to watch for his arrival.

Some missed Jesus’ arrival because they stopped watching, but Advent reminds us that Jesus does arrive. So watch for the arrival of Jesus in your life because with him comes health, life, and hope.

So the challenge for this week was simple: watch for Jesus’ arrival. And we prayed together this prayer from Revelation 22:20. Our Lord says, ‘Surely, I come quickly.’ Even so; come, Lord Jesus. May that be true in your life as well.

This is truly a different waiting from our familiar ‘waiting’. We wait for something different, quite different – we wait for God. Waiting for God cannot be like that kind of waiting which says or thinks: ‘It would be wonderful if he came; but if he does not come , then we must go one living without him.” We cannot wait for God so ready to resign ourselves to his not coming, so indifferent, so foolish, as we might wait for an increase in salary. No, that would be foolish, meaningless waiting if we really mean God.  But if we will not be satisfied with what is offered us today as godlike words, we will go on waiting, with longing, seeking ,and hoping until at last, it is God himself who comes to help and to comfort…Then our waiting and hoping is not like a piece of wishful thinking, or a fantasy, but life itself. Then we live only because we wait for God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Christ is coming, don’t give up waiting.

Take Aways…

  • Three responses in advent: Waiting, Willingness, and Worship
  • Waiting is a part of life as a Christian
  • God’s timing is not on-demand
  • “Celebrating advent means learning how to wait waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen” Bonhoeffer
  • The longer we wait, the less hopeful we get.
  • You turn the page from a place of waiting to a place of finding
  • Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes. Pope John Paul
  • Jesus is the one who comes to us.
  • Advent is about waiting but it is also about finding.
  • When you wait for God it is never wasted.
  • Christ is coming, don’t give up waiting.
  • We truly acknowledge what we need and what we are hoping for
  • Share with God what you are waiting for
  • Watch for Jesus arrival
  • Our Lord says, ‘Surely, I come quickly.’ Even so; come, Lord Jesus. Rev 22:20

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What made you laugh? If you were given the marshmallow test as a child – how would you have done? What are you currently waiting for? What makes it difficult? What helps to make the waiting “easier”? How are you watching for the arrival of Jesus in your life? How might you try to watch for him this week? Who can help to journey with you as you wait and watch?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Try the marshmallow experiment with your kids. See how long they would last. Tell them if you would have found it really tough to do. Take sometime to talk to them about the importance of waiting, and patience. Remind them too that in the big things of life Jesus promises to show up.

Challenge for this Week: Watch for Jesus’ arrival