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True Christians Bear Fruit

Fruit

Israel was God’s chosen people. They were chosen by God to represent Him to the nation. As God’s chosen people they directly interacted with God, His prophets, and His chosen leaders. If anyone should know God’s will and what He expected of them, it should have been the Israelites.

But even though they knew God’s will and they looked promising, they didn’t live according to His commandments. They didn’t bear fruit. Sure, they were religious. They went to the Temple to worship. They said their prayers. They made sacrifices. They kept the religious festivals, but even in all that they weren’t obedient to God. They didn’t live according to His will because their heart wasn’t given to God.

Since Israel was unfruitful they faced God’s judgment just like the fig tree faced Jesus’ judgment when He found it didn’t bear any fruit in Matthew 21.

What Does Israel’s Actions Teach Us?

Israel’s actions teach 21st Century Christians it is not enough to be Religious. It is not enough to look the part. God doesn’t just want us to use spiritual language or do spiritual things. No, God wants more.

What God Wants

God wants us to give Him our hearts. He wants us to live for Him. He wants us to be a true follower of Jesus. He wants us to be someone who takes what He says and applies it to our lives. He wants us to bear fruit and bring glory to Him.

What Happens If We Don’t Bear Fruit?

If we don’t bear fruit and just live a life of religiosity, we are no better than the Israelites. And we will face the same fate they did – we will face God’s judgment.

A Plea

Don’t be like the Israelites. Don’t be like the fig tree. Truly bear fruit. Truly follow Jesus, that’s what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian doesn’t just involve saying a prayer or being dunked in a baptistry. Being a Christian means giving your whole life to Jesus. When you give your life to Jesus and follow Him, you will bear fruit.

What Do You Do?

Have you given your life to Jesus? Do you live according to God’s will? Do you follow Jesus? Or do you just come to church on Sunday and do some religious activities because you think you have to in order to appease God, your spouse, or your family? Which one are you?

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are you the true follower of Jesus who bears fruit?
  2. Or are you the religious person who bears no fruit?

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon: The Unexpected Enacted Parable of Jesus

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On Personal Bondage

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At its most basic level the Bible teaches that bondage to sin is deeply personal. It is not only a cosmic or social reality that exists “out there,” but also an inward imprisonment. As Jesus declares, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg explored the implications of this text in a way that might surprise our democratic ears:

There is no natural freedom [according to the Bible], and making choices does not yet guarantee our freedom. In John 8, we have this conversation between Jesus and his Jewish partners who are proud of being freeborn and not slaves. Jesus tells them, “If you sin, you are a slave. You will be free when the Son makes you free.”

Pannenberg goes on to explain:

Christian proclamation should have criticized the Western ideology of freedom by telling the public that having choices doesn’t mean freedom. The alcohol-addicted person or the drug-addicted person is also making choices. The problem is that he or she always makes the same choice – to take the drug or drink the bottle – again and again. Having choices doesn’t yet guarantee freedom.

Even though we don’t sense that our freedom has been compromised, Jesus said that it has. Under sin’s dominion this virus affects everything we do. In fact, it affect every aspect of who we are.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you believe Pannenberg that having choices doesn’t yet guarantee freedom?
  2. Do you believe sin not only affects what we do, but also who we are? If so, how does that affect our surroundings and what we believe ourselves to be?

Resources

Kelly Kapic, God So Loved, He Gave, 37.

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On Our Accomplishments Being God’s Gifts To Us

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Of course, most of us have an easier time believing that God created the universe in the past than that he has provided us with everything we have in the present. This is especially true when we think of personal paychecks and college diplomas, which God tends to give us after periods of hard work and personal exertion.

The Bible teaches that it is never easier to forget about God than after he has richly blessed us.

Affluence can produce a spiritual amnesia. While our society teaches us to keep careful catalogues of all our accomplishments, the Bible reminds us that everything on our personal resume belongs to God, for the power of productivity itself comes from him:

“You may say to yourself, ‘ My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut. 8:17-18; cf. 1 Cor. 4:7).

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you believe God gives you all that you have or that you work for it on your own?

Resources

Kelly Kapic, God So Loved, He Gave, 24.

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The Uneasiness of Change

Change

Change, it is not easy. It is not something we usually want. It, however, is necessary. It was necessary for those in Jesus’ day, and it is necessary for us today.

The Day Jesus Changed Things in Jerusalem

In Matthew 21, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey with a procession essentially shouting He is the Messiah. Given the commotion, the shouts of the people, it is clear this man is claiming some sort of Jewish kingship. Rome ruled the Jews at this time. Rome wouldn’t take this man’s claim lightly. They didn’t in the past. If you remember, in Matthew 2 when the Wise Men came into the city asking for the king, Herod had all the first born babies killed.

The people are worried. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t know how Rome would react. Threatened by this man’s presence, they want to know who He is. At the end of verse 10, they ask just that. They ask:

Who is this?” (Mt. 21:10b)

The crowd responds by telling them:

This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Mt. 21:11)

While there is debate over this point, I believe they mean He is the prophet like Moses prophesied about in Deuteronomy 18. There the text says,

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is him you shall listen -…And whoever will not listen to my words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:15, 19).

So the crowd, observing all that Jesus has done and said, determines He is the prophet like Moses that God has sent. He is the One who has come to lead God’s people. With that pronouncement Jesus is not only set against Rome but also against the religious leaders of the day.

Hearing the crowds answer, the citizens of Jerusalem knew their comfortable peaceful life was being disrupted. Their life as they knew it was being threatened.

Jesus Disrupts Our Life

Isn’t that what Jesus does? He comes into our life and shakes things up. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us don’t want Jesus messing with things in our life. Disrupting what we have going for us.

We don’t want Jesus to change things because we like our sin. We like being in control. We like what’s comfortable. We don’t want anything to change. Jesus, however, wants things to change in our life. He not only wants things to change, He changes things. He comes into our life and changes things just like He did in Jerusalem.

Jesus Doesn’t Change Things To Hurt Us

Instead, He changes things because that is what is best for us. He does it to set things right in our life so we will live according to God’s will, which is what we were created to do. So Jesus doesn’t change things to hurt us, He changes things because it is what is best for us. He changes things so that we will better accomplish our God given purpose.

Question for Reflection

  1. What is Jesus changing in your life right now?

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Embrace Your Mission

Army Plane

When Jesus enters Jerusalem in what is known as the Triumphal Entry, He doesn’t come in quietly. Matthew 21:8-9 says:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:8–9)

So Jesus’ didn’t ride in quietly. Instead He was given the royal treatment. A makeshift red carpet was rolled out for Him, and a large crowd went in front and back of Him shouting words of praise reserved only for the Messiah.

No Mystery

So there is no mystery who Jesus is as He rides into Jerusalem. He is the One the prophets prophesied about. He is the humble and peaceful king. He is the long awaited Messiah. He is not hiding it anymore. He is not telling anyone to keep quiet.

Embracing His Mission

Instead He comes barreling into Jerusalem during the Passover. A time when the city was filled to the brim, when its population grew by the 1000’s. Jesus comes into the city surrounded by a huge crowd proclaiming He is the Messiah, so He is not hiding it anymore. He puts His claims out their for all to see.

In doing so, Jesus is embracing His mission. He is embracing His ultimate fate. He is embracing the cross.

Embrace Your Mission

Seeing Jesus embrace the mission for which He was sent, should cause us to embrace our God given mission – to grow together as disciples and be disciple makers.

Growing as disciples and being disciples makers should be something for which all Christians are known. It shouldn’t be something we hide. Instead we should embrace it and do all we can to grow together as disciples and be disciple makers.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you embrace your mission?
  2. Are you seeking to grow together as disciples and be disciple makers?
  3. Does Jesus embracing His mission encourage you to embrace yours?
  4. How can we grow together as disciples?

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Temple Cleansing and Leadership Failure

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In Mathew 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem, sees the temple is being defiled by money changers, animal salesmen and their customers, and He drives them out. He cleanses the temple. While He explicitly confronted these three groups, He is also confronting a fourth group – The religious leaders in Jerusalem.

The Leaders Failure

You see, the money changers and animal salesmen were only in the temple because the leaders allowed it. So through His actions, Jesus is both revealing and confronting the leaders failure to lead the people properly.

Instead of shepherding the Israelites, they let them do whatever they desire. Instead of leading them to honor and glorify God, they allowed them to dishonor Him and seek their own glory.

What Does This Have To Do With Us?

While their actions are negative, they reveal to us what godly leaders should do, and that is lead those in their care to honor and glorify God.

This goes for any form of leadership. From Pastors, to Husbands and Fathers, to Mothers, we are all to lead those under our care.

PASTORS

It’s the Pastors responsibility to lead His people to honor God, just as it is the husbands responsibility to lead their wives to do the same.

HUSBANDS

As husbands, we have been given this role by God. We are to wash and sanctify our wives, so that they honor and glorify God. This involves ministering to them in times of need. As well as encouraging and counsel them from God’s Word. If you don’t know God’s Word well enough to accomplish your God given task, then you better get started learning it.

PARENTS

Parents, just like Pastors and Husbands are to do the same. They are to lead their kids to honor and glorify God.

Challenge

So through the negative example of the Jerusalem leaders, we learn how we are to function as leaders. May we take our role seriously and do what God calls us to do. May we lead those whom God has placed under our care to honor and glorify Him.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Godly leaders are supposed to lead their church, family, and children to honor, glorify, and obey God. How can each group practically do that?
  2. How are you doing at leading the flock God has put you over?

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A Right View of God’s Grace

Wash

Are we able to clean ourselves up enough so that God would say,

“I see you have put some effort in. You have cleaned yourself up a bit. Since you have worked so hard, I will now extend my grace and mercy to you.”

The Crowd and the Blind Men

In Matthew 20:29-34, Jesus is walking by two blind men, who call out for healing. The crowd, not thinking they were deserving, tells them to be quiet, to quit calling out to Jesus. They did this because they wrongly understood God’s grace and mercy.

What They Thought

They thought God only extended His grace and mercy to those who were deserving. Since they saw these two men as unholy sinners who were being punished by God, they didn’t think they deserved God’s grace or mercy.

Many Think That Way Today

Many people today think they they have to clean themselves up before they come to Jesus. Or they believe they don’t deserve God’s grace and mercy because of who they are or what they have done in the past. That, however, is simply not true.

No One is Deserving

According to the Bible no one is deserving. No one deserves God’s mercy and grace. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23:

We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”

So according to Paul, no one is worthy of God’s mercy. No one deserves His grace, which is why it is called grace – it is a gift God gives to us. Since God’s grace is a gift, it is something we don’t earn or deserve.

A Gift Open To All People’s

Even more, it is a gift open to all peoples. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, or who you are right now. God’s grace is open to you.

A Return To Our Initial Question

Returning to our initial question, the answer is that we can’t clean ourselves up enough for God to extend His mercy and grace to us. No, God’s grace and mercy is extended while we are still unholy sinners deserving of His wrath. So then, it is God who cleans us up, not the other way around.

Question for Reflection

  1. Why do people often think they have to make themselves presentable to God?

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon: How should we think about and act toward the disabled?

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