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#TME Day 18 – The Transfiguration

Transfiguration_RaphaelI can still remember being awestruck standing in St. Peter’s Basilica grazing at this reproduction of a painting by Raphael. It was one of those moments where I had to remind myself the moment was real, because for a moment I was swept away to another place, where beauty seemed more beautiful and reality seemed more real.

It’s impossible to see anything before seeing Jesus when you glance at this painting. His beauty, and the beauty around him, is spellbinding. But once your eyes begin to notice there are other objects to see, you notice Moses and Elijah beside Jesus, and Peter, James, and John at below him. And then you begin to understand that this painting is bringing to life the transfiguration of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-22).

And then your eyes begin to notice something. A contrast between the glory of what’s happening at the top of the mountain, and the horror that is happening below. You notice that the top is full of light, and the bottom is filled with darkness. The top is marked with peace and serenity, while the bottom is full of demons and shadows. And this is exactly how Matthew records it in his gospel.

You see, right after Jesus reveals his glory at the top of the mountain to his inner circle; he then walks them down the mountain into the mess of ministry. And there at the foot of the mountain where they had just beheld his glory, they encounter a man with a demon possessed son, whom the disciples were unable to help for lack of faith.

And here we find the glory of Christ meeting the mess of this world, and those following Jesus experiencing both. You see, in the midst of the mess, the disciples needed to see greater glory. And after seeing his glory, the disciples needed to go back into the mess, to minister in the mess, for the sake of his glory. So as you stare at the beauty of this painting, soak up the glory at the top, because Jesus wants his eternal glory to sustain you as you minister in the temporary mess below.

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#TME Day 17 – Gain through loss

After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus introduces an unusual object into the conversation. He introduces an object that was used in the ancient world to execute violent criminals in the most excruciating way. This object was a curse to the Jews, and uncivilized for polite Roman conversation. This object was the cross.  And not just his cross, but also yours and mine.

Verse 21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Notice the urgency in his statement. Jesus doesn’t tell his men he is planning to go, or willing to go, but that he must go to Jerusalem and face the cross; and after the cross, rise again.

Of course this is scandalous coming out of the Messiah’s mouth. That’s why Peter objects and rebukes Jesus, telling him he will certainly not die, for the Messiah is supposed to live and rule. And then after blessing Peter for getting his confession so right, Jesus now calls him Satan because here he gets it so wrong. Here he is trying to stand in the way of God’s redemptive plan, a plan that had a cross as its centerpiece.

But Jesus doesn’t stop his cross talk here. But he continues it by moving from his cross to our cross. This is what he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

The cross was an instrument of death, their version of lethal injection, though much more bloody and barbaric. And for the triune God to welcome us back into fellowship, Jesus had to climb a hill with a cross upon his back; a cross where he would lose his life so that we might find ours. And in a similar way, all those who come after him, also come by way of a cross. For every disciple of Christ walks through death, gives up life, and loses all for the sake of finding true life. Indeed, we forsake the whole world in order follow the One who created it.

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#TME Day 16 – Who do you say that I am?

Questions can be powerful, and the answers to some questions can mean either life or death. Have you ever been asked a question that really mattered? A question that, depending on your answer, you knew would have dramatic consequences? In Matthew 16, the disciples were asked such a question, and the world stood still as they processed their response.

Before asking the question, Jesus asked a general question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) And in response his disciples repeated the various opinions circling around about Him. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus moved from general to personal and added, “But who do you say that I am?” And here we have the question of all questions. A question for the disciples to express their understanding about the man they were following, and then to see if their understanding was right or wrong.

I can imagine the disciples standing before Jesus with sweaty foreheads, looking at each other thinking, “Who is going to answer? I want to say he is…, but what if I’m wrong? What if he isn’t?” And then the long silence is broken and these words come out of Peter’s mouth, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And the next few seconds must have felt like an eternity to Peter. “Did I answer right? He is the Christ, right? Oh, I really hope He is!” And then these words come from Jesus’ mouth, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” And with that, a huge sigh of relief from Peter.

And since that day until now, the same question has been posed to every human being who hears the news about Jesus of Nazareth, “Who do you say that I am?” And for all those who answer correctly, who affirm He is the Messiah, they should not pat themselves on the back but rather give thanks to God. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” You see, Peter didn’t just know the right answer; he had been given the right revelation. So don’t rejoice in your knowing this Christmas, rejoice in your Father’s giving.

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#TME Day 15 – Hearts verses hands

If you can believe it, Jesus gets into another squabble with the religious leaders over the actions of his band of misfits. This time his disciples did the unthinkable, they forgot to wash their hands before they ate. Yikes! Call the police. These guys are clearly out of control. We may chuckle at this because we can’t imagine hand washing, or lack of hand washing, would raise eyebrows. But the leaders of Israel saw this as something more, a rebellion against tradition.

Hand washing was a tradition that had been passed down, a tradition meant to help keep God’s people clean before Him. Hand washing kept people from defiling themselves by what passed from their hands, through their mouth, and down to their stomaches. Keeping your hands washed meant keeping sin out, where it belonged.

And instead of rebuking his disciples for not washing their hands, Jesus turns the whole thing on its head and rebukes the hand washers. “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes our of the mouth, this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:1-11) The hand washers were washing their hands to keep from being defiled, but Jesus tells them to stop worry about their hands, and instead start worry about their hearts.

“For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander,” says Jesus (Matthew 15:18). You see the Pharisees had it backwards. They thought sin was a problem outside them, a problem that could be kept away from them, a problem that could be cured by washing and avoiding sin and sinners. But Jesus stares into their eyes and looks deep into their souls, and exposes their real problem. Their hearts.

So while the pharisees and scribes were worried about the disciples defiling themselves, they were blind to the fact that they themselves were defiled. And their defilement could not be cured by soap and water, but only by the blood of the lamb who was standing in front of them.

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#TME Day 14 – Jesus is worshipped

Chapter 14 is jam packed with action. John gets his head cut off, Jesus feeds 5,000+ people with a few fish and bread, walks on water, and then heals many who simply touch his clothing. But there is one thing done to Jesus that should catch our attention. Jesus is worshiped.

It happens right after Jesus walked on water, rescued Peter, and then calmed the wind beating against the boat. We read, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “truly, you are the Son of God.”’ If you grew up in Sunday School and spent your summers hopping from VBS to VBS, you may be asking, “What’s the big deal with them worshiping Jesus?” Here’s the big deal.

Jesus had already refused to worshiping Satan in the desert by quoting the law, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve (Duet 6:13).” Jesus knew worship belonged to God only. The Jewish disciples in the boat knew worship belong to God only. And here Jesus is being worshiped and accepting worship.

There are a few cases in the Bible where folks give improper worship to others, but they are always quickly and sternly rebuked. In Revelation 19, John begins to worship an angel and the angel rebukes him and says, “Don’t do that! Worship God!” In Acts 14, some of the apostles are worshiped by the crowds, and they tear their clothes and beg them to stop because they are mere men.

But in the boat Jesus makes no protest, because He is exactly who they say He is, “the Son of God.” And as the Son of God He deserves the worship that is reserved only for God, because He is very God of very God.

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#THE Day 13 – The greatest treasure

We all have that one verse that changed everything for us. It’s that one verse that caused us to see the whole thing differently. It’s that one verse that passes through your teeth without hesitation every time someone asks you your favorite verse. Well, here’s mine:

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 

In this chapter Jesus begins to teach the people in parables, which are short stories comparing something to the kingdom of God. In my favorite little two line parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven, or you could say he compares himself, to treasure.

Treasure is value. Just put yourself in the man’s shoes. You happen to take a walk through a field and discover a box in the middle of the field. You open the box to find treasure; gold, diamonds, silver, and money. Lots of money! You immediately calculate the treasure to be worth millions, if not billions. Next, you notice a sign in the field that says, “For Sale by Owner”, with a phone number attached to it.

Without hesitation, you dial the number and inquire about the price. The voice on the other line says, “$150,000”. You know this is way too overpriced for this two acre lot, but immediately you shout, “Sold!”, and hang up the phone. Next, you find yourself running as fast you can to your house, with your garage and your cars, TV, and all your stuff. At that moment, you take inventory of all your assets, all your money in the bank, all your retirement and stock options, which all adds up to about $150,000.

Then it hits you. In order to buy the field, you must first sell EVERYTHING you have. And then a smile begins to fill your face, and you dial the realtor. As news begins to circle around town, people begin to ask questions, “Why in the world are you selling all your stuff? Have you lost your mind? Are you crazy?” But you just keep smiling.

You see, the point of the parable is not how much the field costs; it’s about how much the field is worth. Because the worth of the field outweighs the cost of the field a trillion to one. And the same is true with the gospel. As Jesus demands that we repent, sell, even give up our very lives in order to gain Him, Jesus gives us something a trillion times better. He gives us Treasure. He gives us Himself. And for those who have gained Him, the smile is still stuck to your face when you think about all you have gave up, versus all you have gained.

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#THE Day 12 – the greater temple

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Matthew 12:7)

What an odd and explosive statement from Jesus’ lips. This happens in the middle of Jesus getting in trouble with the Pharisees once again over the actions of his disciples. They had plucked grain from a field and ate it, all on the Sabbath. And according to the law, that was a big no-no.

So Jesus uses the example of David to show he did a similar thing and God was okay with it, but then he went several steps further by claiming Himself to be Lord over the Sabbath (God) and saying that he is greater than the temple. So what does it mean that Jesus is greater than the temple?

In the days of Adam and Eve, God’s presence was fully and completely with his people. Then after Adam and Eve sinned, God removed his presence from his people and made them leave his perfect place. Next, we find God giving a man named Moses instructions for building a huge tent known as the tabernacle, so that God could once again share his presence with his people.

Years later, the tabernacle got replaced with a temple, a new permanent place for God to dwell with his people. If you were one of the people of God, you knew where the presence of God was. It was in the temple, behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies. Or at least that’s what you were told. After all, you could not go look for yourself, because if you saw, you would die.

So the temple is the place where the presence of God meets his people. It’s the place on earth where the very footstool of heaven touches the dust of the earth. It’s the place you could walk to, touch, and say, in here is the presence of God. And Jesus is claiming something greater than that sacred building is here; Him.

In the person of Jesus we find the new temple; the new manifestation of God’s presence among his people. Though this time, his presence is not houses in brick and mortar, but in flesh and blood. This time the eternal Word, who was with God and is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. And this time we don’t have to wonder if he is there; we can clearly see that he is here.