Audacious Ambition

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” Matthew 20:20–21 (NAS)

This was an audacious request. You’d expect this from a Little League dad wanting his son to manifest his destiny as the team’s shortstop, but angling for the best seats in the kingdom? I’m at a loss to understand the motivation. It’s delusional. I too would have grown indignant very quickly. The nerve!

We’re glad the Lord was the Lord in this instance. He recognized the teaching moment. He was essentially telling them, even though they would drink of the same cup as he would, i.e., that they would die a martyr’s death, humble service would be the measure of greatness in God’s kingdom.

We think greatness is derived from political or military power, that we must be capable of forcing compliance by way of fear to lead. Not so in the Kingdom. All power and authority is derived from almighty God, to whom even Jesus as his son deferred.

It’s possible, or maybe probable, that the 10 disciples weren’t mad because of the audacity of James and John, but because they were beaten to the punch! It’s human nature to think this way. But Jesus was now on mission, and he needed his men on board.

We need the same clarity of purpose and role as we look forward to his Kingdom.

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Lowest Common Denominator

17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” Matthew 19:17–18

“Which ones?”

Implied in The Ten Commandments, to me is, you can’t pick and choose. Even then, there’s that trivial matter of loving the Lord your God with all your might and heart.

If this young man were alive today he’d be checking out a YouTube on the three easy steps to eternal life.

Finally, the embodiment of God stands before him and he’s trying to get an angle on eternity. We do this when we stumble upon an expert in something. “Hey, Doc, what do you think about that new diet?” You’re thinking a quick recipe for success. He or she says, “it’s not about the carbs, but having the strength to push away from the table.”

Ouch! Jesus saw what was woefully lacking in this young man’s life in his “quest” for eternal life; a love for God.

He didn’t provide a list of commandments to “well to do” tax collector Matthew, just a simple invitation to follow him. He did. The “rich young ruler” didn’t.


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Red Letters

“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” exclaimed God the father on the Mount of Transfiguration with reference to Jesus (Matthew 17:5).

This is a direct order to three disciples, one of whom was proposing a response to what he was witnessing in keeping with the Israelites’ Feast of the Tabernacles or Booths.

With Jesus on the throne, we don’t do anything, especially putting the Son on equal footing with Moses and Elijah, as great as they were, and obviously, are.

It boils down to listening to Jesus, beloved of God, or in this context based on the use of the word “listen,” obeying him. It’s a simple calling.

And it’s not what we think he would do in a situation, but what he has said to do. If all we had were the Bible’s red letters, we’d have way more than enough direction to live our lives, even in the most mundane and complex situations.

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Filthy Rich

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 (NAS)

We spend our fleeting lives pursuing. Pursuing a diploma, a degree, a job, a spouse, a promotion, financial security, success, a bigger boat, a dream home on a lake, recognition, public office, fame, validation, and the list goes on. We wake up one day, polish our nails on our breast, and say, we’ve got it all. Jesus says there is no profit in gaining the whole world if it costs you your soul.

They say every man has his price, and guess what, Satan knows the figure. How can you bargain with the devil when he knows what you’ll pay? This Faustian Bargain we all are tempted to make to some degree, unless we fear God.

It must have been eminently frustrating to the evil one sensing Jesus would not give up on his quest, that he was willing to pay the ultimate price. He tried anyway and it did not end well. Worse, Jesus’ forfeited life gained all of ours in return.

We understand this in the context of the twelve disciples. One did forfeit his own soul for 30 pieces of silver. The remaining gave up their lives (or freedom in John’s case) for the Lord and found ultimate satisfaction in following him. The same goes for us.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

A man dragging around a cross doesn’t have a spare hand.

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Vain Worship

‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ ” Matthew 15:8–9 (NAS)

A church that teaches doctrines that accommodate man’s predilections, predispositions, and politics, despite providing an incredible worship experience, is defiled in God’s eyes. If you have a heart for God, you must cling to every word that proceeds from his mouth with all your heart (Deuteronomy 8:3). To selectively “keep” his commandments under the guise of showing “love” is nauseating to him (Revelation 3:16).

Yes, we are to love one another, but not at the cost of dethroning God. But what if we offend someone? What if the name “Jesus” offends by its utterance? Do we not say it? To whom is our allegiance? A heart that is not his might as well be miles away. The essence of God’s precepts is love, but love is worked out practically by strict adherence to the ways and words of Jesus, and he told it like it is.

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Merely Mortal

All seems to hang in the balance on Election Day. There are no more standard deviations, just chasmic shifts. But it’s always been that way. There are bad kings and good kings. The king is dead, long live the king. The Bible says this to those who think a man (or woman) will be our salvation.

Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. Psalm 146:3

And this.

Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed? Isaiah 2:22

We do hope for a righteous leader, but at best we get is a benevolent dictator. That’s why God was angry with Israel, who wanted a king instead of him!

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:7

There is one lasting hope in the this world, and He is the one who created it.

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever. Psalm 146:5-6

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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:58 (NAS)

They say, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Here was the son of the town’s carpenter, who spent his time building plows and yokes, perhaps furniture, teaching in the synagogue in his home town? Isn’t he just one of Joseph’s kids?

Today, maybe you’ll see a man with no pedigree rise up to teach, who has no formal training, but has received from the Word, by faith and the spirit of God, the truth. Maybe he’s been a friend of yours, or is your brother, who has “gone off the deep end.”

Unbelief focuses on the messenger not the message. Externals not internals. The tried but not the true.

Why is it that it wasn’t until Jesus died and rose again that his brothers accepted him as the Son of God? Jesus said to a doubting Thomas who had walked and talked with him for three years this:

“Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29

One day, Jesus asked his disciples who did the people say the Son of Man is, and the consensus was some kind of prophet, or as we might say today, a good teacher, or something. Then he turned the tables on them. Who did they think he was? And Peter said:

“You are the Christ, the Son of cthe living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:16-17

What’s it going to take to convince the gallery who hears and sees but somehow does not get it? Apparently a resurrected Christ. This did it for Thomas, and for brother James, who had a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7), and the untimely born Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4).

While they say seeing’s believing, it’s not automatic. If you see only a man with a hammer, saw and lathe, you’ll miss him. We need to see our Savior, the Son of the living God. But He’s the one who needs to open the eyes of our hearts. I know it’s a mystery, but that’s the way it seems to work.

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. Psalm 146:8

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Trigger Fingers

36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36–37 (NAS)

In this day and age, you might want to include the careless written word, i e., Twitter. “Careless” means “without thought,” or, reading the typical tweet, I could not “care less” about you.

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Less Martha, More Mary

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

The pastor said this Sunday, “it’s not so much about doing, but being.” It started me thinking. That pretty much diagnosed my problem.

Looking back, I can fill pages with the things I’ve done. Like a Pharisee, I can proudly recite the roles played and things done faithfully and consistently over significant chunks of time. To lack some kind of meaningful task even for a moment makes me anxious! Have I fallen from grace? Have I been put out to pasture? I wonder.

In the back of the Lord’s mind when he made the statement above were the words of Hosea.

For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

Be loyal to me. Sit at my feet and learn from me. While there’s still time, be less Martha, and more Mary.

It’s interesting, only Martha was chided by Jesus.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

In an environment which puts a premium on doing, those of us actually more comfortable sitting at the Lord’s feet—or who are summoned there even for a season—should remain there, and stay out of the kitchen.

When face to face with Jesus on that great day, he will not so much commend what you did—it’s important, yes—but who you were!

“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ Luke 19:17


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Unfinished Business

Now as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out; so the Jebusites live with the sons of Judah at Jerusalem until this day. Joshua 15:63

That the sons of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites is a sour footnote in Joshua’s amazing account of Israel’s acquisition of the Promised Land. Any preacher worth his salt would immediately compare and contrast this failure with a Christian not totally surrendered to the Spirit.

If sin’s strongholds are not dispossessed (e.g., flying off the handle, salty language, lingering eyes, incessant anxiety, etc.), our progress in the faith will be frustrated and our usefulness in the Lord’s service limited.

The last vestiges of the flesh are always the hardest to excise. What are they and why do they still loiter? Don’t rest until they’re run out of the city on a rail! Let the Holy Spirit have unfettered access to your heart!

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