Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17

Some doubted!?! Let that sink in! They stood in the presence of the resurrected Jesus and still doubted. What? This is the same Jesus that casted out all manner of demons, demons who couldn’t stand to be in His presence. This is the same Jesus who healed all manner of diseases. This is the same Jesus who conquered sin and death.

To me it begs the question, “Why wasn’t doubt obliterated in His presence?”

I believe the root of this reality is that Jesus refuses to override our free will. Our faith will never be forced. God is not a coercive or abusive God, forcing Himself upon people. Instead, God patiently waits for our “Yes.” It doesn’t have to be a big yes. It can be as small as a mustard seed. But He won’t force Himself upon us.

This means the opportunity to doubt will always be there. Even if the resurrected Jesus stood right in front of you, you would still have the option of doubting. You will always have that option. We will also always have the option to believe and not doubt. This is the beauty of it all.

If people can still doubt Jesus even when His miraculously resurrected body stands right in front of them, then people will find reasons to doubt any sort of miraculous event. The spirit of unbelief is a demonic weed that will find any crack in your heart and set down roots as soon as possible.

Faith is choosing to trust. And no matter what we face, no matter the impossible situation in front of us, we can always choose to trust God, to trust His character, to trust His nature. He is worthy of our trust.

Have the seeds of doubt found a way into your heart?

Eyes of the Heart

The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

…the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Matthew 28:4 & 8

An angel showed up at Jesus’s tomb to tell the women that Jesus has risen. Scripture tells us that this angel caused quite a commotion. First, the earth shook, then the stone that sealed the tomb rolled back, and the angel himself was white like lightening.

Both the women and the guards standing there were afraid of the appearance of this angel. They all had that in common. However, their heart conditions must have been different because we see two very different responses in the midst of that fear. The women were “afraid yet filled with joy.” But the fear experienced by the guards became shock-inducing terror as they fell down like dead men.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) reminds us that the condition of the soil of the heart makes all the difference in how an event, a message, or an encounter is received. These women had hearts that were filled with faith. So when they were given the message that Jesus was alive, the hope of that message sparked the kindling of faith and ignited joy in their hearts.

The guards did not experience this at all. Their hardened hearts had no faith. The encounter with the angel increased the fear that already lived in their hearts. So fear upon fear became terror. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these guards were blind to the hope that his angel represented.

We are responsible for tending to the condition of our heart. We cultivate good soil so that when we encounter something fearful in life, good fruit can come from it. We cultivate good soil–a heart full of faith–so that if we have an encounter with the Lord or with something powerful from His Kingdom, we don’t shrink away in doubt but instead step forward in faith.

Notice that the very next line of Scripture, as the women are leaving to tell the disciples about all of this, says, “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him“(Matthew 28:9). If a person can’t handle the presence of an angel, they certainly won’t be able to handle Jesus showing up to them. Our hearts have to be able to handle it. Hearts full of faith and hope are the only kind of hearts that can handle an encounter with Jesus.

So many people say they wish Jesus would just show up to them, either to answer their questions or calm their doubts. But most people would drop down as if dead, just like the guards, if He showed up in their room. Their ill-prepared hearts couldn’t handle His Presence and glory.

Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God“(Matthew 5:8).

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians echoes something similar, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…“(Ephesians 1:18).

Making a Mockery

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

Matthew 26:66-68

When Jesus was arrested and on trial, they made all kinds of false accusations about Him. But noticed how they mock Him. In each case of mocking, the irony is the element of truth that they don’t understand and can’t see. Here they mocked Jesus as a prophet with the ability to prophesy, yet Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. Jesus had already talked to the Father about it in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the mocking would continue.

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Matthew 27:28-31

At His trial, the Jewish leaders mocked Him as a prophet. Here soldiers mock Jesus as a king. They dress Him in mock royal garb as they abused Him and beat Him. Again, the irony is the truth that they can’t see. This was the King of Kings that they were mocking. And the mocking would continue.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 

Matthew 27:39-43

After Jesus is crucified and hanging on the cross, people walking by and the religious leaders mock Him. There are two things that are getting mocked here. The first is the claim that Jesus is the Son of God. The second is about His priestly role and His relationship with the Temple. As the Son of God He went around healing many people, but here He wasn’t willing to heal Himself. He is Savior of the world, but here He wasn’t willing to save Himself.

The mockers didn’t know the irony of what they were saying. By not coming down from the cross Jesus was proving Himself to be the Son of God who lives in perfect obedience to the Father. By not saving Himself, He was saving the world. Jesus did trust His Father and Father God would rescue Him, but not from the cross. Soon Jesus would be totally victorious over death and the grave.

They mocked Him for not destroying the temple, but they didn’t know they were watching the temple be destroyed (His body) right before their eyes. They mocked Him for not rebuilding the temple in three days, but that is exactly what was about to happen in three days when Jesus walked out of the tomb.

All of this exposes the irony of the mockery that Jesus endured. People only mocked because they couldn’t see the truth that was right in front of them. This is often the case with those who mock Christians and Christianity today. Mockery comes from the prideful assumption that a person has the full grasp of the truth. But we see here that those who were mocking were blind to the full truth of what was right in front of them.

Being mocked by those who only see a sliver of truth is and has always been a normal part of a life of following Jesus. If we are stepping out in faith to do what Jesus asks us to do, we will likely be mocked. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. If the world mocked Jesus, they will mock His followers. If we aren’t doing anything for Jesus that opens us up to mocking attacks, we likely are settling for a nominal kind of Christian life. Mocking is one of the languages of the enemy.

Extravagant Love

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 

Matthew 26:6-10

Jesus regularly talked about using money wisely and certainly seemed to shun extravagance. So when this woman wasted this valuable resource, the disciples gave this woman a dose of righteous indignation. Like the many social justice warriors that would come 2000 years later, they thought they were doing the right thing.

But Jesus rejects their form of righteous indignation. When it comes to love and grace, Jesus is extravagant. For Jesus, this was a beautiful act of extravagant love. It was preparing Him for burial and for His own extravagant act of love.

We can get embarrassed by acts that seem wasteful or over-the-top. Extravagant displays of love for God can make the rest of us uncomfortable. We can tend to defend our lack of extravagant love with reasonable arguments about propriety, order and decency.

Yet, this woman was not so prideful that she let propriety, order or her own sense of decency get in the way of her extravagant display of love for Jesus. And we learn that, far from Jesus rejecting her, Jesus is very comfortable with extravagance when it comes to love.

There are times in worship services when people pour their heart out to God extravagantly. It causes a little bit of a scene. It makes people uncomfortable. What about propriety and order? What about decency? Jesus isn’t as concerned about those things as He is about our heart. And if our heart is in the right place while we pour out extravagant love, Jesus is not embarrassed. We shouldn’t be either.

There are other times in worship services when God pours out His Presence on His people in a way that is extravagant. There are times when His Presence comes so powerfully upon people that it causes them to weep, shake, fall down, or cry out. This extravagant love of God pours into the body and soul of a person and can cause some extreme reactions. Propriety and decency go out the window.

God is not unwilling to show His children physical affection. And when the Holy Spirit begins to show up physically in someone’s body or emotions, God is not embarrassed by the result. We shouldn’t be either.

Jesus dying on the cross, paying for our sin, is the ultimate act of extravagant love. When it comes to love, God is very comfortable with extravagance.

Have you been holding back on extravagant acts of love to God? Are propriety, order, and decency being leveraged by your pride as excuses to avoid extravagant love?

If God extravagantly poured out His Presence upon you right in the middle of a worship service, would you be willing to receive it?

Good Question

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they tried to trap Jesus with a theologically difficult hypothetical situation. They wove this complex story that they thought would trap Jesus.

Jesus responds with the above reply. He tells them that the question itself is based off of faulty assumptions and that the question itself is in error. He would then go on to give them an answer to their question and challenge their assumptions about the resurrection.

But we should stop and notice that it wasn’t the answer that the Sadducees got wrong; it was their question that they got wrong. If we ask questions that are filled with faulty assumptions and poor understandings then it doesn’t matter the answer; any and all answers will be in error. Jesus had to correct their question before He corrected their answer.

Notice why their question was in error. Jesus lists two reasons: 1) they didn’t know the Scriptures and 2) they didn’t know the power of God. In other words, if we don’t have a working knowledge of BOTH the Scriptures and the power of God we’ll not only get our answers wrong, we’ll ask questions that are full of error.

How many evangelicals know the Scriptures but have no understanding of God’s power? How many charismatics have understanding of God’s power but have no understanding of the Scriptures? How many mainline protestants have no working knowledge of either? We shouldn’t then be surprised when the questions people are asking are full of error, not to mention their answers.

If you’ve never operated in the power of God, then learn from those who have. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. If you don’t know much about the Bible, then learn from those who do. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. Only then will we start to ask good questions, questions that lead to the truth instead of questions that lead to unbelief and doubt.

For example, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question that is full of error. It assumes the people are good and puts God’s goodness on trial, as if God should prove Himself to us, and yet our goodness goes without question. Can you see how arrogant this question is? Can you see how full of error it is? Once you ask such a poorly framed question, you’re bound to get a bad answer.

Yet, we know people are not “good” but are full of sin. We know people do all kinds of evil in the world. We know secret sins of every kind abound. Yet, God can only and always be perfectly good. So His goodness is never on trial. He never has to prove Himself to humanity (especially not after what He did on the cross).

So a better question would be “Why do so many good things happen to all of us who are so deeply messed up?” This is a good question, one worth pondering. And ultimately, while our goodness is on trial (as it should be), God is revealed for who He really is–a loving and gracious Father, slow to anger and abounding in love.

If you ask bad questions, you’re bound to get bad answers. Are there questions that you’ve been asking that are full of error? Do they need to get reframed in light of truth?

If we want to ask good questions, we must know the Scriptures and the power of God. Only then will our questions align with the truth. And God is pleased to answer all of our questions aligned with the truth.

At The Temple

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

Matthew 21:14

Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last few days of His life on earth. The crowds shouted, “Hosanna!” Then He entered the Temple courts and overturned the tables of the money changers. His house was to be a house of prayer not a den of robbers.

Then this sentence sneaks in there. If we read it too quickly it’s easy to miss. Jesus was always healing people so we may not think much about it. But if we sit with it for a bit, we can learn somethings from it about healing.

These were not medically easy cases. Blindness has many causes and, even with all of our advancement in medicine, we still can’t cure most of them. If someone was lame, it could have been a skeletal issue, a muscle issue, or a neurological issue. Medicine is still struggling to find solutions to neurological problems. Yet, for Jesus, He easily healed them all. It didn’t take more effort for Him to heal these very difficult cases.

I’m sure these blind and lame folks had cried out to God for healing right where they were, right where they sat or in their own homes. But they never received healing. It wasn’t until they got up and went to Jesus that they were healed. Here we see the scandal of “particularity” or “chosenness,” and we see this all throughout scripture.

Israel was God’s chosen nation. That means other nations were not chosen. Yet, part of the reason they were chosen is because Abram responded to God’s invitation with faith. I wonder how many other men got invited before Abram but never responded to God’s invitation. We only know about Abram because he was the one who took that step of faith to trust God. The result is that his entire ancestry was blessed as the chosen nation.

Yet, chosenness isn’t just about being blessed. It’s about being a blessing to others. Israel’s role was to be blessed so that they could bless the world with a revelation of who God really is and what He is really like. The Messiah, Jesus, was the full embodiment of this role. If you want to know what God the Father is like, just look at Jesus.

And so God’s Kingdom came pouring through Jesus in the form of love, truth and power. Imagine a huge storm with clouds overhead. It is true that a tornado could drop from anywhere. But storm chasers go toward the tornados that have already dropped. They don’t sit around looking at the clouds. They run toward where the storm has dropped to the earth.

This was Jesus. He was the embodiment of God’s Kingdom come to earth. The scandal of “particularity” is that Jesus didn’t heal everyone on earth, yet He did heal everyone that came to Him. Then He raised up His disciples to be sent out and be lights in the world just as He was. The massive tornado became many tornados, spreading out as they invited God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

We learn from this that we must go to where God is moving. We can’t sit back and look at the storm clouds waiting for a tornado to drop. We don’t sit back and declare that God is sovereign so He can drop a tornado in our laps whenever He wants. That truth about what could happen doesn’t negate the truth about how God tends to operate in the world.

Learning about God also means learning His “ways.” And the pattern we see from Jesus and the New Testament is that we must go to where God is moving in power. We must go there first, and then we take that back to wherever we came from. This is exactly how it played out in Acts 2 with the Holy Spirit and the Jews that were in Jerusalem that day for the feast of Pentecost.

God is not a random and capricious God. He has certain ways of doing things. Our job is not to demand that God do things the way we want. Our job is to learn how He operates and adjust our lives accordingly. His ways are better than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Our lack of understanding should direct us back to Him as we continue to learn how He moves in the earth.

Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?