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Posted By Nan

Matthew 9:14-17
But we have always done it this way!
How often do you hear those words when anyone suggests change?
This is what Jesus heard. He heard it from the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and He heard it from the disciples of his cousin, John the Baptist.
We have always fasted. Why aren’t you and your disciples?
In the rush to follow God we often fall into the trap of thinking we should follow Him by worshipping Him as it has “always been done”. There are a number of things wrong with that attitude. The first one that springs to mind is that the religious observances we cling to are those of a few hundred years ago. But Jesus walked on this earth 2,000 years ago! If we try to worship as was done then, we are branded as being extremists who don’t know how to worship God and probably are being led by satan.
Sound familiar?
This is the accusation levelled at Jesus when He healed people and when He preached the true word of God.
As Jesus said, you do not put new wine into old wineskins. We all know this was symbolic of the need to do things differently with the new teaching. The old practices were no longer suitable for the new teaching.
Somewhere in the passage of believers through the millennia after Jesus walked the earth, people became more interested in legalism than God and stopped worshipping Jesus and switched to worshipping routines and habits. It became more about having personal power and influence and serving self than giving the glory to God and using His power. That is one of the tragedies of the “church” of God. It diverged from the Ekklesia, the bride of Jesus and became the social club, personal empire, non taxpayer funded charitable organisation of the current church. The Ekklesia survives and some members of the Ekklesia attend these religious buildings. Many don’t. What members of the Ekklesia do is between each person and God. What is important is that you worship God in spirit and truth. You seek to be as God intended us to be when He created Adam and Eve. Surrender all that you are to Him for His purpose. May it be about Jesus and not about me.

Posted By Nan

Matthew 9:10-13
Matthew, the outcast, sinful tax collector has been called by Jesus and has made the decision to follow Him. Now Jesus is eating a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. This must have been so profane to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. First He asked this sinner to be a disciple, now He is eating a meal with him and his cronies! I can see us, in our pious, comfortable lives feeling the same way. We say we are open minded and accept all people, but do we really? Do we really welcome into our safe middle class lives those who don’t fit in? I am aware as I go through my day that I am different to my clients. I have a husband and four children, all born years after the wedding. Yet I am encountering people who pick up partners on dating sites and move in with the latest boyfriend and decide to have a baby. And maybe they will stay together, or maybe that relationship will end and there will be a new partner and a new baby. It horrifies my value system, yet it is not what I think that matters. St Augustine wrote that we must love the sinner and hate their sin. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and we are told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44). We also must overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Jesus loved us all, despite us being sinners. Who are we to judge others when we are also sinners?
So I give other people acceptance because I am accepted by Jesus, despite my sinfulness. I do not necessarily approve of what they do but I hand it to Jesus and give them His love and acceptance. And I know that Jesus does not approve of everything I do but He loves and accepts me despite that. And sometimes Jesus provides an opportunity for me to witness to others so they may come to know Jesus and allow Him to change them.
In Matthew 12:7 Jesus tells us he wants mercy rather than sacrifice. And mercy is what He gives to us.
Jesus wants us to be aware of our own sinfulness and our need of help. We are not to be like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who bound people by rules and regulations and failed to show mercy. He wants us to love others, as He loves them, and reach out to them. When I do that to the people I come across in my life, I find people who, like me, just want to be loved and accepted. Who am I to refuse them that love? Serving Jesus is not about always seeking to have my needs met. Jesus knows my needs and He meets them anyway. What He wants from me is to meet the needs of others because I know how much He has done for me and I am not better than anyone else.
We would be wise to note the traps the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had fallen into:
• They were more concerned with preserving their own holiness than helping their fellow man in his sin. Their religion was selfish. Their concern was for their own souls not those of others. If we are following Jesus our first instinct should be to help rather than condemn the sinner.
• They were more interested in criticising people than encouraging them. A true follower of Jesus should be willing to help, rather than condemn, the sinner.
• They were very willing to identify a person’s sin, but not prepared to help that person change and stop sinning.
Jesus frequently quoted Hosea 6:6 because it was at the heart of God’s message. God is not interested in us being legalistic and pious. What He wants is for us to have mercy on our fellow men. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day lived a façade of great piety and observance of the law but they lacked the love that God was. Jesus was telling them that to count themselves followers of Him, they must be prepared to help those in need - the sinners.

Posted By Nan

Matthew 9:9
The hated traitor is asked to follow this amazing man! Can you imagine the headline?
Here was a man who spoke of God with such authority no-one could fault him. This was the man who healed people of terrible illnesses and sent demons packing. He was such a wonderful man with such a strong, outspoken faith in God. And here He was asking a traitor, a thief, the worst kind of scum, to follow Him.
What about Matthew? He had a good life. He may not have been liked but he had his fellow tax collectors to be friends with. And there was money, a lot of it. In a time when life was hard and most people struggled to find enough food to eat, Matthew could buy what he wanted. He never had to worry about having enough clothes to wear, and what amazing clothes he owned! He never had to worry about having enough to eat, and he had so much abundance of fine food. He never had to worry about having a roof above his head. He could afford to live in a palatial home with all the comforts others just dreamed of.
Now this man is asking him to leave all that and follow Him. Could he do it? Was the price he would have to pay to follow this man worth it? Could he give up a secure and ample income to live an uncertain life where he could not be sure of his next meal or where he would sleep each night? As we read Matthew 9 we can see that Matthew happily accepted that price and followed Jesus. He didn’t appear to quibble or ask for time to think. He just went.
This tax collector, a learned man, turned his skills into the service of Jesus. He had the ability to write, to put words together well, a skill that few of the other disciples, who were mostly fishermen, possessed.
When we accept Jesus’ call to follow Him we may lose material things. We may have to surrender our worldly ambitions. We may even be called on to leave our comfortable lives to follow Jesus to a new venture. Following Jesus is not a comfortable, safe existence, but in following Jesus we will have peace in the Lord and honour. Jesus will call us to leave our comfort zones. It takes courage to step out in faith, away from our safe places, and follow Jesus. We must take that leap of faith into uncertainty. We must leap off the cliff into the unknown, not knowing where or how we will land but trusting we will land in the exact place of Jesus’ choosing.

Posted By Nan

Matthew 9:1-8
Most of us learn the story of the paralytic man, lowered through the roof by his four friends, as children. To those who come to faith later in life, it crops up in teachings. It is a well known story and well discussed. Jesus sees the man and forgives him his sins. Something hard for us in this present day to understand. In Jesus time to forgive someone their sins was something only God could do and no man should ever presume to do it. This scandalised the teachers of the law and priests who were witnesses to this. Yet, as proof that the man’s sins were forgiven, a prerequisite to healing in Jewish belief, Jesus directed the man to walk. And he did. What more proof did they need?
I love verse 8 that reports that the crowd were filled with awe at this event and praised God who had given this authority to men. They may not have grasped that Jesus was the Son of God, but they realised God had given Jesus power. What beautiful faith. Reading this verse before I wrote this I sat for a long time wondering at the joy of the crowd and the revelation they had received. Yes, it was incomplete, but it was an awesome revelation all the same.
The other thing that strikes me about that passage is that the paralytic man did not get to Jesus on his own. He needed friends to carry him there. In this modern, individualistic society we live in, there is a tendency to withdraw from others when things are bad. Yet this is the worst thing to do. Truly resilient people survive bad times because they know that the strong person is so because he knows to ask for help and accept it.
I love the line in the “Servant Song”
“Brother let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you, Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”
We get so caught up on the idea of serving others that we forget that, if we all serve each other, there is no each other to serve. We do need to serve, but sometimes we need to be served. It takes a lot of humility and grace to accept help from others, but we must. God created man then woman because He knew that man should not be alone (Genesis 2:18). God created us for relationship with others and to be part of a community. In our modern society community is increasingly hard to find. Even in Christian community, there is insularity and an unwillingness to welcome newcomers and outsiders. We are happier staying in our cliques and safe little friend groups than take the time and risk to talk to someone new.
Our role in following Jesus is to be willing to be served, to ask for help when we need it and receive it willingly. To reach out to others to offer them friendship and the help they need. To serve and be served. If we cannot reach out to each other, how can we learn to reach out to God from whom all our strength comes?

Posted By Nan

Matthew 8:28-34
This passage is about Jesus healing two demon possessed men. Mark 5:1-19 has a fuller version of this story told slightly differently. In Mark’s version there is only one man but in Matthew there are two men. They are on the other side of the lake, in a gentile area. The men are demon possessed and are dangerous. The demons immediately recognised Jesus and immediately identified Him as the Son of God. It is interesting that often demons would identify Jesus but still people did not believe He was the Son of God, the Messiah. The demons asked Jesus why He was in their land. It is possible they believed that Israel belonged to God but the gentile lands did not. They knew a day would come when they would be judged but until then they felt they had free reign. They were realising that this was not so. So they begged Jesus not to send them out of the area and asked to go into a herd of pigs. When the pigs found the demons amongst them they panicked and ran into the water and were drowned. The pig herders ran back to the town and all the people came. They were very frightened. It is possible they were frightened of the power they saw in Jesus. They may also have been afraid they would lose more livestock. For whatever reason, they asked Jesus to leave. In the version we read in Mark, the now healed man begs to come with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go back home and tell his family and friends what happened to him. It is interesting that in the gentile areas Jesus does not stop the healed from telling others about Him, but in Israel He will not allow them to talk.
When I am looking through the Bible to write this blog, I always consider what message God has for us in the passages I read. So what message does today’s reading contain? I see the way the people of the region reacted to events as a parallel to how we react to Jesus in action in our lives. How many of us, when confronted with a mighty example of Jesus’ work, react with fear at the power of Jesus and fear at what accepting this power may cost us. After all, if we accept the evidence of Jesus working in our lives, then we have to accept the fact that our response to that power is to change what we are doing. When we are comfortable in our sinful ways can we accept the things we have to stop doing? The things we need to start doing? Changing the way we lead our lives is not easy. Such change carries a great cost. Are you prepared to pay the price of the changes you need to make in your life in order to follow Jesus more closely?



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