Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Unstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lasts" by Timothy Lane

Unstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lastsUnstuck: A nine-step journey to change that lasts by Timothy Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A clear (if not always straight) path to lasting change.

I will be handing Tim Lane’s “Unstuck” to anybody who has felt unable to shake off old, unhealthy, and sinful ways of thinking and living to become the person the Lord wants them to be. The picture Tim paints of the change process is vivid, graspable, wise, realistic, and hope-giving. Highly recommended.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “The Song of the Sick King”

“The Song of the Sick King” 
April 14, 2019 :: Palm Sunday :: Psalm 41

Today’s message will be about Psalm 41, but I want you to turn with me first to the Gospel of John chapter 13.

I want to show you why we are going to study Psalm 41 at the beginning of this Passion Week. John chapter 13.

In John chapter 12, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We call it the Triumphal Entry, and it was on Palm Sunday, the day we are recognizing right now. The crowd greeted Jesus was “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

By the time you get to chapter 13, it’s Thursday night, and Jesus is meeting with His disciples in the Upper Room.

We tend to call this the Last Supper. They ate the Passover Meal. Jesus reinterpreted the meal to point to Him, especially the bread and the cup.

And John tells us that He washed His disciples feet. That’s at the beginning of the chapter, verses 1 through 17.

I want to pick up the story in verse 18.

It’s a story of a predicted betrayal.

Jesus knows that He is going to be betrayed.

And He wants His disciples to know that He knows.

He knows in advance, and He wants them to know that He knows.

This is not a surprise for Jesus. He knew this betrayal was coming.

Do you think that made it any easier?

I doubt it.

It probably made it harder in this case.

Look at John 13:18.

‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.

I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’ After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved [we know that’s John, the writer of this book], was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’

Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.  Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor.

As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”

Did you ever notice how the Bible is full of hypertext?

You know what I mean? Like when you are on a website, and the words are blue or underlined? And if you move your finger or your cursor over that word, it’s clickable? And then if you click on it, it will take you to another place that is connected to that place? And then to other places?

The Bible is overflowing with clickable links to other places in the Bible.

It’s all connected. It’s like a giant web of connections, that when you study them long enough, you see how they are genuinely related to one another.

Did you see why in John 13, we are going to study Psalm 41?

Why we are going to click from the Last Supper in the Upper Room back into the Old Testament to the Song of the Sick King?

Look again at verse 18.

In talking about this betrayal, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.'”

That scripture is Psalm 41, verse 9.

Click there with me. Turn there with me. Psalm 41.

I call this Psalm 41, "The Song of the Sick King."

Have you ever sung a song about a king who was sick and wanted to get better?

Me neither, but Israel had a song in their songbook about that very thing.

King David wrote it for his director of music.

And the Holy Spirit inspired it and made sure that it was preserved and included in the sacred songs of the Hebrew psalter.

“The Song of the Sick King”

I’ve been learning a lot about the Psalms this year.

Instead of reading all the way through my Bible in 2019, I’ve set out to really study the Psalms in my personal devotional times.

There are 150 of them, and I’m taking a few days on each one.

I read a portion of a Psalm set out by Pastor Tim Keller in this little book, “The Songs of Jesus” and then he has a short explanation and then a prayer. Kind of like The Daily Bread.

And then I turn into two different commentaries to study that same passage more indepth. Derek Kidner and Tremper Longman. And see what light they have to shed on that portion of scripture.

And then I turn in the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that I bought my wife last year (and then stole from her this year) and I read and pray through their setting of the Psalm to music.

I’ve just gotten today to Psalm 50, so it was a week or two ago that I studied Psalm 41, and I thought, “We might go back to this when we get to Passion Week.”

The psalms are songs.

They are so helpful for expressing our human emotions.

For expressing our deepest desires and thoughts and feelings.

For praising God in the highest ways and also for expressing our other feelings.

The bad feelings. The painful feelings. The suffering.

The best book I’ve read so far in 2019 is this one called, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.

It’s by a pastor named Mark Vroegop, and it’s pure gold.

Pastor Mark teaches about this painful but powerful form of prayer that’s all over the Bible called lament. It’s those prayers that are in a minor key. Those prayers that are full of pain and suffering.
There’s whole book of them in the Bible called “Lamentations.”

And about a third of the Psalms have lament in them, as well.

Did you ever notice how sad the psalms can be?

They can be really joyful, for sure. That’s the major key. Hallelujah!

But the Bible is about all of life, not just the joyful parts.

And there are songs in the Bible’s fullest book of songs that give voice to suffering and pain.

And Psalm 41 is one of them.

Actually, it has both praise and lament in it.

It’s kind of a mix of the two.

But because of its sorrowful lament, Psalm 41 was perfect for the Man of Sorrows to reach back into when He was pondering the pain of His betrayal.

Let’s begin reading it together.

Verses 1 through 3 of the Song of the Sick King.

“For the director of music. A psalm of David. Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.”


Now, this song does not start out sad.

It starts out confident.

It starts out with a confident declaration:

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.”

We sing that, can’t we?

What good news that is.

This song starts with blessing.

The Hebrew word is “ashre,” which is a lot like the word “makarios” that we learned about last year in the Beatitudes.

Remember “flourishing?”

“Good for you! Congratulations. Way to be!”

Blessed is he who has regard for the week.

Or some translations say, “Who consider the poor.” “Who treat the poor properly.”

David is talking about the lowly. The people at the bottom.

Perhaps they are sick. Perhaps they are unpopular. Perhaps they are oppressed. Perhaps they are literally poor or just weak and lowly.

David says that the person who is kind and generous and merciful to people like that are the kind of person that the LORD loves to bless.

In other words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Right? What Jesus taught in Matthew 5:7.

The pattern that David is pointing out is that God is generous to those who have been generous, especially when you are generous to those who can’t pay you back.

Now, this is not something that you earn by being generous.

Tim Keller points out that the opposite is also true. This works the other way around, in that we can only be merciful and generous because God has already shown us mercy and grace.

We don’t earn it.

But if we have gotten it from the Lord, we will pour it out on others, and in the process, we’ll find that the Lord is pouring it out on us again.

But if we don’t pour it out on others, we can’t expect to see it either.

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. [Like what?] The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land [That’s very Old Testamenty] and not surrender him to the desire of his foes [his enemies]. The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.”

Now, we get to why David is singing about this.

David is on his sickbed.

David is on his bed of illness.

And David believes that God is going to raise him up again because he’s been kind to the lowly, considerate to the poor, and shown regard for the weak.

He’s singing about himself.

Do you find that strange?

We don’t always think like this, but it’s really just praying back to God His own promises.

“This is how you operate God, I’m asking you to operate like this now.”

Before we get to his actual prayer for healing, it’s important to stop and ask each of us ask ourselves the question, “Do I have regard for the weak?” “Do I show consideration for the poor?” “Do I help out the lowly?” “Am I loving the people at the bottom?”

Not perfectly.

We’ll see that King David did not think he did this perfectly.

But he believed that he did do it.

How about you and me?

Do we help out those who are poor and needy and can’t pay us back?

David expected the blessings of the covenant to come to him because he believed that God was faithful to keep His promises. Enough to sing about them and enough to pray from them. V.4

“I said, ‘O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.’”

See? He doesn’t think he’s perfect.

He knows that he’s a sinner.

I don’t think he’s saying that this sickness is because of a particular sin.

I think he’s saying that he knows that he doesn’t deserve healing. He’s a sinner. He doesn’t deserve anything good.

But he knows that God is merciful especially to those who have been merciful, as David knows that he has been.

And so he asks, “O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
And then...this song takes a turn for the worse.

This song of confidence grows dark and sad.

And full of lament.

There are 5 verses in a row that are full of pain.

We don’t sing enough songs about pain.

We like to skip those verses, don’t we?

I mean, I do. Who wants to feel pain, much less sing about it?

But pain is real. Suffering is real.

The Bible is not Candyland.

The Bible is not fake.

The Bible is not the wonderful world of Oz.

The Bible is full of all of the realities of reality, including the painful realities of reality.

“In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus said.

And you probably need some songs to sing about life being hard when life gets hard.

So He gives us songs like Psalm 41.

Verse 5. “My enemies say of me in malice, ‘When will he die and his name perish?’ Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad. All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, ‘A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.’”

David put that in his song.

By the way, we don’t know when this happened.

The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot more about this particular occasion, this particular situation.

And that’s alright because it is easier to apply to a lot of our own situations.

We don’t know exactly what happened to David, but we know what it’s like.

Do you have enemies like this?

Two-faced enemies.

They come into to David’s hospital room, and pull back the curtain, and say, “O man, David, I’m sorry. What’s wrong? What’s your prognosis?”

And then they pull the curtain back and go out into the hallway and say, “You’ll never guess what’s going to happen to him! He’s going to die! He’s got a deadly, devilish disease. He’s on the way out.”

I wrote about this psalm in my book on resisting gossip. That’s what these are enemies are doing.

And it hurts.

Can you hear how much King David hurts when they are doing this to him?

He’s sick, and this is how they are treating him.

I hear the voice of Satan in their words.

But it gets worse.

It’s not just David’s enemies who are treating him like this when he is down.

It’s even his close friend. V.9

“Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”


Have you ever sang a song about being betrayed?

I think there are bunch of relationship songs like that.

Country and Western Songs about your girlfriend leaving you and taking the truck and the dog.

And I think that all of Taylor Swift’s songs are about this, right?

But this isn’t angry as much as it is hurt.

This is lament. This is singing out your pain.

And singing out your pain to your God.

“Lord, this hurts.”
“Father, I hate how this feels.”
“Dear Lord, why does it have to be like this?”
“How long, O Lord?”
“Why, Lord, why?”

“God, this is the worst.”

Have you prayed like that?

Why not?

I’ll bet you’ve felt those things.

The Bible invites us to pray like that.

Jesus prayed like that.

I’m not sure exactly what it means when David says, “he has lifted up his heel against me.”

Some commentators think it meant that he has turned his back on David, and so David is seeing his heels.

But I think it’s more likely that David is down, and his friend has lifted his foot up to crush him when he’s down.

Have you ever experienced betrayal like that?

King David knew what it was like to be betrayed.

And King Jesus does, too.

John 13:18 quotes this verse right here, verse 9 and says that Jesus fulfilled it.

Great King David was betrayed.

And Great King David’s Greater Son Jesus was even more betrayed.

He filled up that verse with all of the fulfillment that you could imagine.

Do you remember how Judas did it?

He kissed Him.

He betrayed Jesus with a kiss.

He marked Jesus out with the symbol of intimate friendship.

The one that had shared His bread!

That very night, Jesus and Judas had shared a piece of bread together.

And, you know what, Jesus died because of it.

David is going to pray again in verse 10 that he be raised up to health.

And he clearly believes that he will be.

But Jesus did not get to escape the Cross.

Judas betrayed Him, and He went to trial.
He went to crucifixion.
He went to the grave.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
“Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?”
“Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?”
“Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

And well it should.

In verse 10, the Song of the Sick King grows confident again.

Actually, it is confident all the way through, but he’s just sung about his pain for 5 verses. Now, he’s going to reiterate his faith in the Lord one more time. V.10

My enemies have whispered...
My close friend has betrayed...

“But you, O LORD, have mercy on me; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

Verse 10 sounds a lot like verse 4.

God hasn’t done the healing yet. David is still praying for it.

But he believes it is coming.

And asks God to have mercy on and raise him up to health so that he can repay his enemies.


Didn’t see that coming.

It sounds vengeful, and there definitely is an element of that.

But remember, David is the king.

It’s David’s job to execute justice.

And what his enemies are doing is actually treasonous.

It’s not a joke. They are hoping the king will die and spreading news that he soon will.

And somebody in his inner circle has lifted up his heal.

David has to deal with that, or he wouldn’t be a good king.

This is not vengeance, but it is vindication.

It is justice on the way.

Which should probably remind us of the justice that King Jesus will one day bring.

David knows. He knows that God is pleased with him.

He knows that the Lord delights in him.

He knows that his God has good in store for him when this is all over.

How much more should you and I be confident in the Lord’s love for us, on this side of the Cross?

How much more should we rejoice that our enemies (the world, the flesh, and the devil) will not triumph over us because of the Cross and the Resurrection?

David knew that he was not perfect. He admitted that readily in verse 4.

But he also knew that he had a basic integrity of heart. He was a man after God’s own heart. He knew that he had a heart for the heart of God.

He knew that he had a real relationship with God and that it showed in how he treated others.

So, he knew that he was going to be upheld and set in the LORD’s presence forever.

How much more do we know that that’s our future, as well?

Jesus died, but He did not stay dead.

We’re going to celebrate that big time next Sunday!

King David just got up from his sickbed.

King Jesus got up from the grave!

His betrayal was greater, but His vindication was so much greater than we could ever imagine.


Verse 13 doesn’t just end the psalm, it ends the whole first book of the Psalms.

Did you know there are 5 books of the Psalms?

Psalm 41 is the last psalm of book 1.

And each book ends with this kind of high praise.

You know why?

Because the LORD is worthy of it!

“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.”

And everybody said?

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "Seed-Sized Faith"

“Seed-Sized Faith”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 31, 2019 :: Matthew 17:14-27

We’ve been learning that the Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of the Lord Jesus Christ. The key question that Matthew is answering every way he can think of is, “Who is this Jesus?” “What is the true identity of Jesus?”

We’ve said “Keep your eye on the ball.” And the ball is the question, “Who is Jesus?”

And once you know the true answer to that question, the only logical thing is to dedicate yourself to following Him.

That’s why our series is called “Following Jesus.”

Because that’s the appropriate application of the Gospel of Matthew.

Find out Who Jesus is and begin to follow Him by faith.

So, let me ask you a question.

Do you think that Matthew is basically done with answering the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Do you think he’s about out of tricks and tracks?

I mean, Jesus has asked the key question outright, and Peter has answered it correctly.

“Who do you say that I am?”

“You are Christ the Son of the Living God.”

That’s right.

And do you remember what Peter, James, and John saw last week? At the beginning of chapter 17?

How Jesus was transfigured?

How Jesus’ face shone like the sun?!

And God the Father answered the big question?!

“Who is Jesus?”

“This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.”

So do you think that Matthew is basically done with answering the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Probably not.

So do you think that Matthew is basically done explaining what it means to follow Jesus?

He’s told us that Jesus wants us to renounce ourselves, take up our own cross, and fall into line after Jesus.

Do you think there’s more that Matthew wants to say about that?

Yep, there is.

Today, Matthew wants to tell us how truly following Jesus means truly trusting Jesus with a seed-sized faith.

“Seed-Sized Faith.”

I get that from verse 20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Like most good stories, this one begins with a problem.

And this problem is a doozey. It starts with a demon-oppressed boy.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John have been descending from the mount of transfiguration.

They have just come down from the most amazing mountain top experience that these disciples could imagine.

And on the way down, they were talking about Elijah and eschatology. What has to happen before the end of history when all things will be restored. Elijah had to come. And Elijah had come in John the Baptist, but he had suffered, and so would the Son of Man.

And they get to the bottom of the mountain, and there’s trouble. V.14

“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. [Desperate] ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’”

That’s a problem!

This boy has these seizures. They get a hold of him, and he can’t control his body. He ends up falling into ponds and wells and cooking fires.

And this dad is desperate. Can you imagine?

And he kneels before Jesus and begs Him for mercy and aid.

And he says that these 9 disciples of Jesus were no help.

Peter, James, and John had missed all of this because they were there for Jesus’ metamorphosis. But these other 9 had had no success.

Should they have?

Yes, they should have.

Remember back in chapter 10 when Jesus gave them authority to do this sort of thing?

I don’t think that authority has been rescinded.

And neither, apparently, does Jesus. V.17

“‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’” Stop there.

I don’t know about you, but those words in verse 17 are haunting to me.

Jesus sounds exasperated. He almost sounds like a parent who is at the end of their patience.

“How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

How long will I continue to endure this?

We know that Jesus has tremendous patience, especially with someone who is trying. Someone who is taking the faltering steps forward.

If you are trying, if you are facing forward and trying to walk forward in faith, please ignore verse 17. It’s not for you right now in your walk.

Sometimes, I think the wrong people listen to the wrong verses.

They are all true verse, but they are aimed at different people in different places at different times.

Verse 17 is for those who are showing:


“‘O, UNbelieving and twisted generation,’ Jesus replies, ‘How long will this last? How long will I put up with people who are showing NO faith?”

That’s what really bothers Jesus.

When there is no faith where there should be faith.

I don’t think that’s this man or this boy.

The man is showing faith by asking for this mercy.

I think Jesus is aiming this comment at the whole generation who are unbelieving, that’s maybe why there are so many active demons at this point showing themselves.

And I think that Jesus is aiming this comment at the 9 disciples who were acting more like this unbelieving generation than they were acting like true followers of King Jesus, like they should be.

“Why NO faith?”

“Don’t you know Who I am?”

If you are here today, and you’re skeptical about this whole Jesus thing, I’m glad you’re here, hopefully seeking answers.

But if you’re rejecting Jesus today. You don’t believe. You know you don’t believe. You don’t think the evidence is there. You don’t think that Jesus is Lord. That’s just a liar, or a lunatic, or a legend. Then I’m really concerned for you.

That’s a dangerous place to stay.

Because eventually, this exasperated longsuffering patient Jesus will say, “Time is up.”

So I encourage you now to put your faith in Jesus.

Don’t forget keep your eye on the ball.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus has called for them to bring this suffering boy to Him.

And Jesus discerns that he has a demon.

Now, not all seizures are caused by demons. Let’s be clear about that.

But these seizures clearly were. V.18

“Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.”


Who is Jesus? Jesus is the exorcist.

Jesus is the Son of God Who has authority over even the unclean spirits. They have to do what He commands.

Why wouldn’t we trust Him?

But the disciples were discouraged. V.19

“Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn't we drive it out?’ [We thought we had the authority. We’ve done it before.] He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith.”


We’ve seen those words before, haven’t we?

Chapter 6, verse 30.
Chapter 8, verse 26.
Chapter 14, verse 31.
Chapter 16, verse 8.

It’s like Jesus’ favorite name for His disciples when they are acting like dummies.

Oligopistoi. “O you of little faith.”

“It’s because you have so little faith.”

In this case, it’s almost like you have none.

You’re acting like the unbelieving generation around you.

No wonder you have so little effectiveness!

Do remember the Canaanite woman that tussled with Him back in chapter 15?

He said that she had “Great Faith.”

A Canaanite woman from Paganland!

But these disciples who have been walking with Jesus, “little faith.”

I think their faith was “little” because they had gotten their eyes off of Jesus.  “Why couldn’t WE drive it out?”

“Why didn’t WE have the authority, the power?”

I think a lot of Christians allow themselves to get their eyes off of Jesus and onto themselves, and then their lives lack power and joy and blessing.

Yeah, they still believe.

But, there’s little faith there. And very little joy and love and hope and blessing.

Is that you right now?

Look at Jesus.

Turn your eyes back to Jesus.

Don’t ask what can I do, but think about what He can do.

Jesus changes the metaphor here. He keeps talking about relatively small faith, but He says that small faith is actually enough.

If it is faith in the Lord. V.20


“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”

Do you remember how small Jesus said a mustard seed was back in chapter 13?

It was considered the smallest of seeds that they knew.

I could pretend that I have one up here, and say, “Here is a mustard seed,” and you couldn’t tell the difference between that and me not having one, because it’s so small.

So the point, isn’t really how tiny it is, but how true it is.

What is really important is not how big our faith is but how big the object of our faith is.

If we are truly trusting in the Lord, then nothing will be impossible for us.

Now, I don’t mean this mountain moving literally.

If He did, I would have expected a somebody to actually do it in the Book of Acts.

Moving a mountain was a metaphor for them, just like it is for us.

It means doing something seemingly impossible.

Really hard stuff.

Pulling off a really difficult task, a great accomplishment.

Jesus says that you and I will be able to “move mountains” like that if we only trust Him with seed-sized faith.

Now, some of you need to kinda “not listen” to those verses, because they have been twisted for you by false teachers, especially prosperity teachers.

Some of you may be expecting big things to happen that God has not truly promised you.

Unfailing health, unbelievable wealth, happiness and comfort all life long.

I don’t think so.

Some of you because you don’t have those things have a nagging suspicion that you don’t have faith.

But this “nothing will be impossible for you” means “nothing that God wants you to do will be impossible for you.”

You will be able to do whatever it is that He truly calls you to.

Which could be very pleasant or very unpleasant.

Do you remember when the Apostle Paul said that he had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

Whether well fed or hungry?

What was the secret?

“I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.”

All things. Including go hungry.

All things. Including sitting in prison. Like Paul was doing right then.

All things that Jesus calls us to, He will provide us with the grace to pull them off.

Great things! And hard things.

“Nothing will be impossible for you” if you only trust Him with the smallest faith you can muster.

Seed-sized faith in a gloriously great God.

Are you trusting Him?

He’s so trustworthy!

“Jesus, Jesus, How I Trust Him
How I’ve Proved Him O’er and O’er
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus
O For Faith to Trust Him More”

Matthew uses this moment in His gospel to remind us again what Jesus is heading into.

It’s the second major announcement of His approaching passion. V.22

“When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.”

They still don’t understand, but they are starting to the get the picture.

Faith does not mean no suffering.

Even Jesus is going to suffer.

And He had great faith!

He had unfailing faith!

He had 100% faith, and it still meant betrayal and crucifixion.

By the way, this is the first time we learn about the betrayal that is to come.

It’s so right that they are filled with sadness grief.

They don’t know the half of it.

Of course, they don’t know the half of that “raised to life stuff” in verse 23, either.

So thankful for the third day!

One more short story before we end.

It’s about what we need to put our seed-sized faith in.

And that’s Who Jesus is and What Jesus has done. V.24

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, he does,’ he replied.” Stop there for a sec.

Matthew follows the announcement of Jesus’ betrayal, murder, and resurrection with this strange little story about the temple tax.

All men over the age of 20 (according to Exodus 30, verses 13-16) were supposed to pay a tax which amounted to two-drachmas, about a day’s wages.

And the temple tax collectors found Peter and asked him if Jesus paid his temple tax.

And Peter assumed that the answer was supposed to be “yes.”

Is that the right answer?

I mean, it’s in the law of Moses, right? This isn’t just a tradition of the Pharisees.

Should Jesus pay it?  V.25

Jesus already knows about this interaction.

“When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes– from their own sons or from others?’”

Who pays taxes, the servants of the king or the sons of the king?

“‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the sons are exempt,’ Jesus said to him.”

What’s He saying?

Keep your eye on the ball.

What is the ball?

“Who is Jesus?”

“Who is Jesus?”

Matthew isn’t done. He isn’t close to being done with answering the question in lots of different ways, “Who is Jesus?”

“Who owns the temple?”

“Whose is the temple?”

It’s God’s, right?

It’s God’s temple, right?

Who is Jesus?

He’s the Son of God.

Do you think He needs to pay the temple tax?

But here it gets interesting again. V.27

“‘But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’”

I love it.

Only Matthew gives us this story. It’s not Mark, Luke, or John.

And Matthew doesn’t even tell us if Peter went out and got that fish and that coin in it’s mouth. I’m sure he did.

He just doesn’t bother to tell that part of the story. You can just assume it.

What a strange miracle!

What a show of power.

“The first fish you catch” and there will be the tax money you need!

That’s as amazing as walking on the water or feeding the five thousand.

It’s just really quiet.

It’s seed-sized, too.

Unless you knew that it was happening, this miracle would have been completely miss-able.

What’s the point?

I think it follows verses 22 and 23 for a reason.

I think it’s a story about how Jesus supplies exactly what we need because of Who He is.

“Give us this day our daily tax money.”

Jesus supplies.

Jesus provides.

By the way, I was really struck by how Jesus says He is doing this so that we they not give unnecessary offense.

In other words, Jesus is giving up His rights.

“So we my not offend them.”

Jesus doesn’t HAVE to pay this tax, but here is paying this tax.

He doesn’t always stand on his rights.

I think we could learn a lot from that if we thought about it for a while.

We Americans aren’t very good at laying down our rights.

And right now in America, it seems to me that everybody feels like they have to exercise their rights, especially to free speech.

“I have a right to say whatever I think, and everybody around me just has to deal with it. If not, they are just snowflake.” As if Archie Bunker was our model instead of Jesus.

Now, I’m not saying we don’t have those rights. We do.
And I’m not saying that there isn’t a time to exercise those rights. There is.

And I’m not saying that we need to become politically correct, fearful of what others will think of us if we say what we think.

But I am saying that just because we have the right to say it, doesn’t mean that we should say it.

Jesus didn’t have to pay this tax, and yet he goes out of His way, doing a miracle[!] so as to not give unnecessary offense.

There is necessary offense, and we should give it.

There is a necessary offense when you explain the gospel.

Hell is offensive.
The Cross is offensive.
God’s justice is offensive to unbelievers.

We can’t and shouldn’t shy away from those things.

But there are plenty of hot takes and opinions and thoughts and sentiments that we don’t have to express and don’t help anyone and aren’t sourced in love.

And maybe we ought to take a page out of Jesus’ playbook here and do what we can to minimize offending others.

It takes a big person to do that. A big heart. A big soul.

Not a fearful heart or a fearful soul.

Jesus wasn’t afraid of anything.

It takes a big heart to not stand up for your rights.

And to pay the tax that you didn’t have to pay.

Think about that.

Jesus is paying a debt that He did not owe.

Does that sound familiar?

Jesus wasn’t just supplying their needs or paying a tax.

Jesus was paying a debt that He did not owe.

That’s what Jesus does, right?

That’s what the Cross is all about.

That’s why He was betrayed.
That’s why He was crucified.
That’s why He had to die and be buried.

And the rise again to life.

To pay the debt that He did not owe and that we could not pay.

The Son of Man.
The Son of God.
The Son of the Owner of the Temple.

I tell you the truth, if you put some seed-sized faith in that Person, nothing will be impossible for you.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun

Sunday, March 24, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "Like the Sun"

“Like the Sun”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 24, 2019 :: Matthew 17:1-13

We are learning together about following Jesus by carefully studying His theological biography entitled “The Gospel of Matthew.”

Last week in chapter 16, Jesus told His disciples exactly what it takes to follow Him.

He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus doesn’t ask anything of us that He isn’t willing to do Himself.

First, He will take up His cross for us before He calls us to take up our cross for Him.

That’s what it means for Him to be the Christ.

It means suffering and dying as the suffering servant predicted in Isaiah 53.

But we also have a cross to bear.

Jesus calls us to renounce ourselves as our own lords, to stop following ourselves, to deny ourselves.

And to take up our crosses, to accept whatever shame and reproach and pain and suffering it will take to be Jesus’ disciple.

And to follow Him.

That’s hard.

But it’s the path to glory.

Jesus said following Him will be worth it.

That He is going to return one day and reward all those who have followed Him.

I want that to be us.

And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

And then the very next story is this one. In Matthew 17.

I think these three disciples get a preview of coming attractions. They get a foretaste of what it will be like when the Son of Man comes in His kingdom.

We often call this story, “The Transfiguration.” And rightly so.

But this is my title for today’s message. It comes from a phrase in verse 2 that just has  enthralled my mind: “Like the Sun.”

And it’s talking about what happened at the transfiguration to the face of Jesus.

Remember, Matthew has just told us that Jesus expects to suffer. That He is going to HAVE TO suffer. He said, “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (16:21).

But before they get there, Jesus pulls aside three of His disciples and gives them a little glimpse of His glory. Chapter 17, verse 1.

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”

Now, believe it or not, there is a lot to see there in verse 1.

First, this “six days” thing. There aren’t a lot of time markers in the Gospel of Matthew, so this may be significant. Most scholars connect up these six days with the six days of Exodus chapter 24. Many Bible scholars have noted the connections between what happens to Moses in Exodus 24 and Exodus 34 with what happens to Jesus in Matthew 17.

Does anybody remember what happened to Moses in Exodus 24 and 34?

Moses met with God on a mountain.

And the glory of the Lord was there.

And a cloud covered the mountain.

A voice from heaven speaks from the cloud.

And those who witness it are struck with fear.

And Moses’s face was radiant. It reflected the glory of God.

 (See A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles, pg. 42-43.)

Sound familiar?

Wait till you see what happens here!

Jesus takes these 3 of His closest disciples up on a high mountain. We are not sure which one it is.

By the way, Matthew loves mountains. Sometime, go through Matthew and note all of the mountain stories.

Why do you think Jesus took 3 disciples?

It doesn’t say, but I’m guessing because it take 2-3 witnesses to establish the facts of a matter. These 3 are an inner circle for Jesus that He can be even more intimate with than the 12. And then they can tell this story and give their testimony.

Years later, the apostle Peter reflected on this event in his second letter, and he said, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Here’s what happened. It’s so amazing. Verse 2.

“There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”


I cannot imagine that was like, and neither can you.

The Greek word for “transfigured” is “metamorphothay.” And you can tell what word we get from that!

Jesus was changed. Or at least His appearance was. Not His substance. What they got to see was some more of His substance!

The veil was pulled back.

And “His dazzling appearance display(ed) His deity” (Zondervan NIV Study Bible).

Jesus lit up!  (cf. Doug O’Donnell)

“His face shone like the sun!”

The only thing that Matthew could tell us what it was like to look at Jesus at that moment was like look at the sun.

Should you look directly at the sun?

Anybody here tried it?

You could fry your eye!

That’s what Jesus’ face was like.

It doesn’t say that it was hot. Just that it was bright.

“His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

I don’t know if it was His clothes themselves, or if His whole body was shining so brightly that it shone through His clothes so that they were as white as white light.

This happened!

And here’s what’s amazing:

Jesus is always like that, I think, inside.

But most of the time, it’s hidden.

Jesus says in John 17 that He had glory with the Father before the world began.

And this afternoon, you should read the description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 1.

John says there that in His vision of the future Jesus’ “face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:16).

This moment on this mountain was a review and a preview.

It was a review of the glory that Jesus had always had.

And it was a preview of coming attractions of the glory of God the Son shining forth like it will again one day.

And Peter, James, and John were there to see it.

And so were two other people. V.3

“Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

How do we know it was Moses and Elijah?

I don’t know. Maybe they had subtitles.

Maybe Moses had a couple of tablets and Elijah had his prophetic mantle.

Maybe it was just something they knew. It doesn’t say.

It does say that there they were having a conference with Jesus.

Why Moses and Elijah?

It doesn’t say. But I think a couple of things are obvious.

Moses stands for the Law, and Elijah stands for the Prophets.

And both of them were forerunners of the Messiah.

The Law and the Prophets. That’s like the whole Old Testament together.

And here is the Law and the Prophets talking to the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

I get the sense that light has died down at this point. That they are able to look at Jesus and talk to Him. Not sure. It doesn’t say. V.4

“Peter said to Jesus [of course, it would be Peter!], ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”

Three tents. Literally, three tabernacles.

“Let’s have a camp out, Jesus!”

Why did Peter say this?

Matthew doesn’t tell us, but Mark and Luke say that Peter didn’t know what he was talking about. But that never stopped him from talking!

He apparently wants this moment to linger.

He wants Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay together, and not go away.

“This is good! I hope it last. Can we make it last?”

But Peter’s making another mistake. Not just hoping that this moment never ends, but he’s really kind of equating, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

“One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” All the same. You guys are equals.

But, and I love this, God interrupts Peter right here. V.5

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’”

He’s not just a prophet. He’s not just another Elijah.

He’s not even just another Moses.

He is in a class by Himself.

He is the Son of God and God the Son.

“[A] voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’”

I came up with three simple application points for this message.

Here’s number one:


The only proper response to a Person like this is worship.

It’s the fear of the Lord.

It’s holy reverence and awe.

Think about Who Jesus is!

Think about all that we’ve seen about Who Jesus is since the beginning of our study in Matthew back in December of 2017.

Think just about what it says right here.

The voice from the cloud which is God the Father Himself says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

That is totally amazing!

Does it sound familiar?

Yes, God said this before. He said these same words at Jesus’ baptism, remember?

Chapter 3.

God has a Son. (S-O-N.)

That’s why His face is shining like the solar sun (S-U-N).

And that Son is glorious and worthy of our worship.

All the singing we’ve done today. He is worthy to receive it as worship.

But He’s not just glorious.


Marvel at that.

Marvel that God the Father loves God the Son.

He is the very definition of beloved.

Don’t even try to think about what that means for us.

Just think about what that means for them.

A eternal relationship of glorious love.

Jesus is beloved.

And He is perfect pleasing to His Father.

“With him I am well pleased.”

I don’t know a little fraction of what that means!

I’ve been trying to learn more about what God is actually like.

I’ve been focusing some of my reading on His attributes and perfections and His Tri-Unity.

And I’ve been realizing more and more that God does not exist for me.

I’m glad that He exists. It is good news for me.

But He does not exist for me. Or even for us.

He exists for Himself.

The Three Persons of the Trinity exist in and for each other.

And that’s good news for us because they have no need that they do not fulfill in each other. God has God in God of God. And that’s everything.

And that’s good news for us because God doesn’t need us. God isn’t needy.

We don’t have to rise to some god-level ourselves to fill in what is lacking in God.

There is nothing lacking in God!

In fact, God is so full in Himself, that He can freely give Himself to us in salvation.

I think that’s a fraction of what He means by “with [my Son] I am well pleased.”

And it causes me to marvel in worship!

Who is this Person?!

Whose face shines like the sun.

Who talks with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets.

Whom God Himself says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”


And number two. This one is obvious.


It only makes sense, right?

If this Jesus is Who the Voice just said, then we probably ought to listen to what He says.

I think that builds in Moses and Elijah, right?

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Remember that from the Sermon on the Mount? Chapter 5, verse 17.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Listen to Him.

Or Hebrews 1:1, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [listen to Him], whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word [listen to Him]. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Listen to Him.
Listen to Him.
Listen to Jesus.

Do we do that?

What does Jesus say at the end of Matthew?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Listen to Him.

God wants us to obey Jesus and everything He has told us to do.

How are we doing at that?

Some people what Jesus to tell them what to do with their lives.

And He will. He loves to guide His people.

But He already has told us what to do with our lives.

Remember the Sermon on the Mount?

He told us how to live.

He told us about living for the inside-out and upside-down kingdom.

Loving even our enemies.

Listen to Him.

Are you listening?

Verse 6.

“When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. [I can’t imagine any other reaction.] But Jesus came and touched them [How tender]. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don't be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”

Center stage.

Jesus is in a class by Himself.

Not Moses. Not Elijah.

Just Jesus.

V.9 “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’”

That must have been so hard for them to do! But it would have given all of the wrong messages if this had leaked out before the resurrection. V.10

“The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ [The disciples are confused. They are trying to put together their end-times charts, and they’ve been told that Malachi chapter 4 comes into play here. Elijah must come first.  V.11] Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”

Jesus had already explained this to them back in chapter 11, but now the penny has finally dropped.

They understand that Elijah was coming so to speak, not just briefly in this conference on this mountain, but in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist.

And His restoring all things was pointing people to the true Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God.

And, yes, he came, but it wasn’t a happy ending.

They “have done to him everything they wished.”

Remember what happened to John the Baptist...

But here’s what I want to point out as we end:

This same Jesus whose face shone like the sun, is the same Jesus who will die on the Cross.

Same one.

Here He is all light and so is the cloud.

A bright cloud, verse 5 said.

That’s got to be the Shekinah glory, right?

On that day it was all bright light.

But on the day Jesus died, from twelve to three in the afternoon, the sun refused to shine. It was dark across the land.

Because, verse 12. “In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”

There’s the Cross again.

Even on this day when the His face shone like the sun, the Son of Man is contemplating the Cross.


He’s not just glorious; He’s the Savior.

He absorbed all of our darkness to give us His light.

He suffered!

This glorious, beloved, well-pleasing Son of God died a cruel, painful, shameful death on a Roman cross for you and for me.

And for all who trust in Him and what He did there, there is nothing but blessing and salvation.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3-6).


This One whose face shone like the sun.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Contemporary Theology" by Kirk MacGregor

A valuable explanation of the leading theologies of the last 175 years.

Contemporary Theology: An Introduction: Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical, and Global Perspectives came at just the right moment for me. I have been trying to grow as a pastor-theologian, doing more strategic theological reading and deeper theological thinking, but I keep feeling like I’m missing some crucial foundational knowledge.

I already have three degrees in Bible and theology, but I still often feel like I’m playing catch-up when some theological controversies pop up on the radar. So in January, just when I was planning out my reading strategy for 2019, Scot McKnight blogged about this new book by Kirk MacGregor that concisely summarized all of the prevailing theologies of the modern period. 'Yep, that's what I need" I said as I pushed "Add to Cart." I’ve been reading one chapter in a sitting several times a week (just 5-9 pages each), so it’s taken me about 3 months to work through the 38 chapters.

I had heard of the subjects of each chapter, but I wasn’t super familiar with all of them. Before reading Contemporary Theology, I couldn’t have explained the big ideas of many of the theologians of the 20th century such as Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Rahner, Yoder, Cone, Plantiga, and dozens more. I had been introduced to many many of them back in seminary and had to read some of their works, but today, I couldn’t have explained their thoughts to someone curious. Now having read the book, I still probably couldn’t explain those big ideas to the satisfaction of their leading proponents, but I believe that those leading proponents would be very satisfied with MacGregor’s explanations. He has a knack for capturing and restating the deep thinking of deep thinkers.

MacGregor tries to keep his opinions to himself. For the most part, he doesn’t offer his own evaluations of these diverse theologies, attempting mostly to help people grasp what the idea is, not whether or not it’s a good or right idea. At times, he can’t really help it, and his own admiration for a particular position, argument, or theologian seeps through (and sometimes his disdain for one does, too). That’s not really a weakness. In fact, I enjoyed reading between the lines to guess at what his theological proclivities are. I also thoroughly enjoyed the parts where several of my own professors showed up as key movers and shakers in the story.

I’m really glad I read Contemporary Theology. It was a refresher course (also now available as an actual video course) in theological movements that have shaped the time period in which I have lived. I’m sure I will refer back to it many times as I continue to grow bit-by-bit as a pastor-theologian. “Oh yeah, that’s what that theologian taught!” Recommended.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Rehashing an Internet-Age-Old Debate: European vs. Japanese Swords

Guest Post by Andrew Mitchell of Anuron Ironworks

There is an ancient tradition among online sword enthusiasts of going on the internet and spitting out falsehoods to make the katana out to be a god-sword. The fanboys spreading these myths love the idea of the katana being the god and king of all cutting implements. They make ridiculous claims about the cutting power of the blades, such as the pervading myth that katanas can cut straight through steel plate armor. And while they prop up their hole-filled theories of how the katana works, they turn around and swear that European swords are nothing more than crude chunks of iron that have been beaten into a rough shape and sharpened. The truth of the matter is that both Japanese and European swordsmiths were master craftsmen with similarly lengthy histories of developing and making excellent weapons. The Japanese smiths and their blades were no better nor worse than European ones.

To answer questions about Japanese swordsmithing we must first know what that means. What does it take to be a quintessentially Japanese-style smith? Well, to start with the Japanese are famous for laminating their blades, that is, forge-welding a high carbon edge onto a iron or mild steel spine. These pieces of high carbon steel are called kawagane, and they are usually folded and welded over and over many times to work impurities and extra carbon out of the steel. The most iconic Japanese blade is the katana, a one edged sword made almost purely for their cutting power (As a result of this cutting-forward design they have a slightly blunted point. They will stab but they aren’t made for it.). These katanas have the hard kawagane on the cutting edge and a softer shingane on the blunt spine. The Japanese smiths poured many years into refining the laminating and forge welding technique that makes the katana and other swords perform like they do.

The katana and its brothers are impressive swords, but like all things there is a mix of good and bad forged into them. The laminated blades lead to a huge amount of durability. The mix of soft and hard steel makes a blade that would be nearly indestructible in the combat that they saw. The downside is the shape. The katana was made for cutting, not stabbing. This becomes a problem if you want to fight a fully armored man, which is hard enough under the best circumstances. The blunt tip would have trouble probing and slipping into the gaps in armor, and no sword can cut straight through steel plate. The Japanese sword is not perfect, but it is supremely effective at what it’s made for--killing people.

What exactly is the European approach to swordsmithing? Well, this may surprise you because no one talks about it, but the Europeans also laminated their sword blades. Not only does the laminating technique add strength to the sword, but the high carbon steel for the cutting edges was far harder to make or buy than the iron to go in the sword’s core (the piece of soft metal sandwiched in the blade making up a large part of the structural support for the sword.). The European sword was often double-edged and came to a sharp piercing point (with the exception of some blades like falchions, but they are not the subject of this essay). The longsword, a flagship model for European smithcraft, is an excellent example of this, two cutting edges and a spear-like tip. The shape of the various European swords has evolved and been tested and proven again and again in the hundreds of battles and wars that were fought during the Middle Ages.

Despite their attractive resume, the European blade is not all rose petals and bloody war. European weapons were too heavy or unwieldy to simply tote around on a journey. Instead, a short arming sword most often had to be substituted for the devastating power of a longsword or similar weapons.

I must admit that I had to do some searching before I found anything bad to say about either of these swordsmithing styles though; all the bad is more than made up for by the good. For example: a European longsword, with it’s reach and sharp point, could slip between the plates on a fully armored knight. A Japanese katana is short enough that it may be hung from a belt and comfortably traveled with. I may be able to bring up points where these blades fail, but that’s because they weren’t designed to do those things. The katana isn’t for stabbing through armor, and the longsword isn’t for traveling with.

With these definitions of the various styles of swordsmithing in mind, how do they shape up against each other? To start with, the proponents of the Japanese style lose a major point when we realize that laminated blades were known to and used by both sides. Combining hard and soft metal to save money and increase durability is an old trick known by many smiths. Both European and Japanese weapon types were made for essentially the same purpose, rending flesh and killing people. Both weapon types evolved through thousands of years of fighting and craftsmanship. Asia and Europe have both had expert smiths living and working in them honing the craft of making weapons for centuries. With these credentials and histories in mind, I don’t think a decision can be reached on the subject. We have to simply say that these blades and their makers were equals.

All this is, of course, a generalization of the craft. Not all smiths are equal; some can do things with steel that other can only dream of. Pumping out low quality weapons for the average fighting man was also a responsibility of the smiths. The weapon itself never wins an encounter. A good swordsman with a bad weapon will defeat a bad swordsman with a good one nine times out of ten. The performance of these blades is totally situation based; it depends entirely upon the skill of the smith and swordsman. For the purpose of this essay, I have assumed that we can compare the best of the Japanese with the best of the European, but it is important to note that these criteria fit only a very small percentage of historical situations.

In summation, the ancient and less ancient swordsmithing techniques of both Japan and Europe are equals. If we look at the facts, we see that neither style can be simply better or worse than the other. It depends on too many variables to be objective in that respect. This debate has never been about the facts, however. This debate is about culture and opinion. Though I am not without opinions myself, I wrote this essay for the odd internet traveler who waded into this debate seeking truth and objective facts. I hope you found it.



Editor's note: This article was originally the final paper for Andrew's homeschool writing class this year. It was supposed to be a research paper, and it is, but it turned out to also be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek persuasive essay written in a breezy yet combative style. I enjoyed how Drew, with some playfully barbed language, took on devotees of both sides of the debate to argue for his own conclusion. He packs a lot into nine paragraphs--the longest thing he's written to date. I appreciate his willingness for it to be published here.

For more about my son the blacksmith and his work, check out his YouTube Channel and popular Etsy shop. He is neither an European or Japanese style bladesmith. So far he's more of a retro-Americana tool and craft blacksmith. His newest video is the heating and hammering of a door-pull into existence.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Take Up His Cross”

“Take Up His Cross”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 17, 2019 :: Matthew 16:21-28

The first verse of our passage for today marks a major turning point in the book.

Last week (in verses 13 through 20), Jesus was about as far away as he ever got from the city of Jerusalem. He was up north in Caesarea Philippi, and He asked His disciples “THE QUESTION.” The question that this theological biography of Matthew has been asking and answering for us from chapter one, verse one.

“Who is Jesus?”

Jesus said to them, “Who do you say I am?”

And we thought together of how there are several potential answers to that question: liar, lunatic, legend, or Lord.

And how you answer that question determines the course of your life both now and forever.

Well, do you remember what Simon Peter’s answer was to that question?

Peter passed that test with an A+! He said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

That’s right! God gave Peter the correct answer.

And then Jesus gave Peter a big promise. He named him, “Rock” and said that on the basis of his right answer to the big question, Jesus would build His new covenant community, the church, on the Rock of Peter and his right answer.

And He would give Peter and the church the authority needed to be an unstoppable force for the kingdom of heaven. Not even death can prevail against us.

Jesus said, “I will build my church.”

And so now in verse 21, Jesus turns a major corner.

He begins to set His face towards Jerusalem.

No more strategic withdrawals to a Gentile-populated territory.

He begins to head towards His fate.

And He begins to explain in plain terms to His disciples exactly what was going to happen to Him.

In fact, He began to explain what kind of a Christ He was going to be.

Peter was right that He was the Christ, but he didn’t really know what that meant.

In verse 20, Jesus told them not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.

That was because they didn’t understand what that was!

But now He was going to explain it to them.

Let’s read the first verse. Verse 21.

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Finally, today, we are going to get to our Hide the Word verse. Matthew 16:24. This has been our memory verse since like the second Sunday of January. I thought we’d reach it more quickly than we did.

But it’s been good to repeat it over and over again.

Say it with me once more:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

“Take Up His Cross.”

What a thought that is!

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ...and we all do, right? That’s why we’re here. If you want to be a follower of Jesus (that’s the focus of our whole series on the Gospel of Matthew, following Jesus), then you need to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him.

Maybe this should be our memory verse all year long!

It’s definitely worth meditating on.

But before Jesus tells us to take up our cross, He tells us that He will be taking up His.

I have two main points this morning, and here’s number one:


Let’s look more closely at verse 21.

There is a tiny little word in verse 21 that is just mind-blowing.

“From that time on [from the time when Peter got the question right] Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Now, we are very familiar with this, but it was news to the disciples.

Jesus has alluded to this all along. There have been hints and foretastes.

But now Jesus is making it explicit and crystal clear.

He will be suffering. He says, “suffering many things.”

That’s an understatement, isn’t it? When you read to the end of this book. What He went through...the trial, the torture, the mockery.

They spit on Him!

They pressed a crown made of thorns onto His head.

So that His head was bleeding.

Jesus knew that was coming.

He will be suffering many things.

He will be killed. Unthinkable.

And...on the third day rise again.

Which is amazing news that is even harder to understand.

It says in verse 21 that Jesus “began to explain” this to them. He’s going to do it several more times as the book unfolds. This is the first of three or four major predictions of His passion.

It becomes the theme of the last half of this book.

And did you catch the little word that packs such a big punch?


“He must got to Jerusalem. He must suffer many things. He must be killed...”

The Greek word is for “must” even smaller. It’s only three letters: delta epsilon iota.


In New Testament Greek, that almost always means it’s a divine necessity.

God requires it.

It must happen.

This is something Jesus MUST do.

Jesus had to take up His cross for us.

Now, that’s not the kind of thing that Peter had in mind when He said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ.

That’s not the kind of thing that most people in Jesus’ day thought the Messiah ought to do.

The Messiah, they thought, should be their rescuer from the Romans.

The Messiah should conquer.

The Messiah should bring a conquering kingdom.

Not be killed on a cross!

So, Peter decides to rebuke Jesus.

Yes, you heard that right.

Peter, I think was feeling his wheaties, from his A+ answer in verse 16, so he decides to correct Jesus, and that never goes well. V.22

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

Well, I’m glad that He loved Jesus. I’m glad that He didn’t want to see Jesus be hurt.

But Peter went from an A+ to F- minus. V.23

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”

So much for Peter being the first pope.

He certainly wasn’t infallible. The first thing he said after being told that he was the Rock, was that he was an unwitting spokesman for Satan!

“Get behind me, Satan. [Cut it out. Get out of here.] You are a rock alright, but it’s a stumbling rock. You’re trying to tempt me. To tempt me to give up doing things God’s way and do things Satan’s way.”

“Satan already tried this approach in the desert (chapter 3)! He tried to get me to acquire the kingdom without the cross. To go around the cross.”

“But it doesn’t work that way.”

“I’ve got to go through the cross.”

“That’s God’s way.”

Jesus had to take up His cross for us.

That’s what God said.

Any way of trying to bring the kingdom without going through the cross was (v.23) man’s way, not God’s way.

The cross is God’s way.

This is profound.

Jesus knew what being the Christ really meant.

Yes, it will mean conquering.

But first it means being crucified.

Yes, it will mean the kingdom.

But first it will mean the cross.

Jesus knew that the Messiah was predicted not just in just in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110.

But also in Isaiah 53.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus had to take up His cross or we would not be saved.

It was the Lord’s will.

On that day, Peter did not understand. But thankfully the Lord is patient with us, and eventually Peter did understand. Probably better than most.

In His first letter, Peter riffs on Isaiah 53 when he says, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

This is God’s way of doing things.

It’s different from the world’s way. It’s different from man’s way. And it’s definitely different from Satan’s way.

The world, the flesh, and the devil will tell you that you can have all kinds of blessing with no suffering.

“Just name it and claim it.”

There are people who claim to be Christians who teach this sort of thing.

“You don’t have to suffer.”

“God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.”

“And live your best life now.”

But Jesus had to suffer.

Paradoxically, in God’s plan, suffering is the path to glory.

The kingdom comes through the cross.

But Jesus is not the only one who has a cross to take up.

Jesus is not the only one who is called to walk the path of suffering.

Following Jesus also calls for cross-bearing. v.24 Our “Hide the Word” verse.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Not only did Jesus have to take up His cross for us, but:


What does it mean to follow Jesus?

It means self-denial and cross-bearing.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me,” that’s another way of saying, “If anyone wants to be my disciple.”

Sometimes we say “come after me” to mean “chase after me to arrest me or harm me.”

But this is literally saying to drop into line behind Jesus.

He’s going this way, and I’m right behind Him.

Jesus says that if anyone wants to line up behind Jesus, there are just a few simple ground rules. Simple but not easy.

#1. Deny yourself.
And #2. Take up your cross.
And #3. Go ahead and follow Him.

Deny yourself.

What does that mean?

Does that mean fasting? Does that mean giving up nice things?

Sometimes, I think it does. It can lead to that.

But to deny here basically means to “renounce yourself.”

Not just to deny yourself some good thing for a time, but to repudiate yourself.

I would add “as lord.”

To deny yourself as your lord.

To give up being the boss of your life. To disown yourself as the lord of your own life. The captain of your soul.

To stop following yourself.

Stop following yourself.

Have you done that?

The shorthand word for that in the Bible is to repent.

To turn around from following yourself, your own desires, your own path, your own lordship, and take up your cross.

That means to count yourself as dead.

Or as good as dead.

These people had all seen a cross do its terrible work.

We have not seen it, and we would puke if we did.

It’s a shocking metaphor that Jesus would call us to take up our cross.

For Him, it wasn’t a metaphor.

And for some of his disciples, it wasn’t a metaphor either.

Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down.

I think that Jesus wants to be ready to take this cross thing literally. WE must be ready to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake.

To accept the rejection of the world.

To live our lives as on a death march to the world, the devil, and our own flesh.

To deny yourself and take up your cross.

That’s what it means to follow.

How are you doing at that?

How are you doing at denying yourself?

That’s not a question that we ask ourselves enough.

How are you doing at living a life of repentance?

One pastor has written this about v.24:

“Christ-follower, how’s the self-denial going? Are you saying not to sin, those sins that so easily entangle you? And are you saying yes to Christ, doing something difficult for Jesus’ sake? Do you sacrifice time, money, convenience, comfort, safety to do those things that Jesus especially sees–the list he gives at judgment day–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned? Yes, self-denial is the sum of the Christian life.” Douglas O’Donnell (“Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth,” pg. 462).

I was struck last Sunday when Abe prayed for the Wild Game Dinner.

He prayed for all of the same things that I would have if I were the prayer coordinator for this outreach.

But he also prayed that God would humble us.

And I thought, “Huh. I wouldn’t have prayed that. I need that. But I wouldn’t have thought to pray that.”

When was the last time that you prayed that the Lord would humble you?

When was the last time that you prayed for the Lord’s help in denying yourself?

Of renouncing yourself as your own lord.

Jesus says that it crucial! Look at the “for” in verse 25.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

That’s paradoxical isn’t it?

That’s the opposite of what we tend to think.

That’s upside-down!

Jesus said something almost exactly like this back in chapter 10, verse 38.

He’s calling us to choose. Which one do you want more?

“For whoever wants to save his [earthly] life will lose it, but whoever loses his life [in repentance and self-denial and crossbearing] for me will find it.”

Which do you want more?

The apostles lost their lives for Jesus. Paul lost his life for Jesus.

And they found life in Jesus!

There is another “for” in the Greek of verse 26.

“[For] What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Jesus is explaining why we should take up our cross.

Because He’s worth it!

It’s so easy to get our priorities out of whack.

To go after the world:

...and even family!

For so many family has become an idol.

Health, wealth, prosperity, family, a good job.  What if you give up your life to gain those things and don’t give up your life to gain Christ?

Would it be worth it?

What is your soul worth?

Jesus is worth it all.

The most important words in verses 24 and 25 are the little two letter word “me.”

If anyone would come after ME...follow ME...loses his life FOR ME.

Jesus is worth it all!

And one day soon, He will show that to be true. V.27 Another “for.”

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

I think that last promise in verse 28 is at least partially fulfilled in the Transfiguration which we will look at next week, Lord-willing.

But the first promise in verse 27 will show that we have made the right choice in deciding to follow Jesus.

The Son of Man (that’s Jesus) is going to come in His Father’s glory. What a thought that is! And with His angels. I can’t imagine.

And when He comes, He will reward each person according to what He has done.

If you have denied yourself and taken up your cross and followed Him, then you will be richly rewarded in Him!

But if you have denied Him and denied your cross and followed yourself, then you will get what you deserve.

I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I know that it’s 2000 years sooner than it was when Jesus said this.

And I know that Jesus said this to underscore how important it is to do it before it’s too late.

Do you want to come after Jesus? To line up behind Him, to be His disciple, His follower, to be rewarded by Him when He returns?

Renounce yourself.
Disown yourself as lord.
Deny yourself.

And take up you cross and follow Him.

That’s the path to glory!

That’s the path that Jesus walked for us and the path He call us to walk for Him.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise