Matthew 24:36-44 and The Rapture

Left_Behind (1)The doctrine of the rapture is a relatively recent one in the life of the Church, only having been around for almost 200 years. My general opinion on new doctrines is to receive them with a healthy dose of skepticism until they have stood the test of time. Some may argue with me that 200 years is the test of time, but we are talking about God’s special revelation in this world, which began 4000 years ago with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and culminated 2000 years ago with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the writing of the New Testament. Two hundred years in light of those numbers is just a drop in the bucket.

Nevertheless, one way to investigate new doctrine is to look at some of the Scripture used to prove it. One major passage comes from this section of the Gospel according to Matthew:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Here is the argument: two will be there; one will be taken and one will be left. This is used as proof positive that the living saints, the true Christians, will be taken out of this world before the end will come.

But that is not what this passage says at all, quite the contrary. Verses 36-39 give the background for how to understand the rest of the verses. In the days of Noah, after the ark was completed, Noah and his family entered the ark. Then the floods came and took them all away. Took who away? The people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, all of the people who were not Noah or his family were taken away by the floods. These are the evil people of the world who are taken away by God’s judgment.

Now look at the rest of the passage. Two are in a field where one is taken and one is left. Two are grinding and one is taken while the other is left. In this teaching of Jesus, being taken is not a good thing! The ones being taken are equated by Jesus with the ones who were taken away by the flood. They were not the righteous. The righteous were spared being taken.

Whether the rapture is true or is not true will be a long debate over the next several decades, I am sure. One thing is certain, though. Supporters of the doctrine of the rapture cannot use these verses from Matthew as support for the doctrine without taking them out of context and giving them the exact opposite meaning that Jesus gave to them. That is not something I would ever want to do with Scripture.

Matthew 18:23-35 and The Absolute Necessity of Forgiveness

PD-Gold-Bars-and-Coins17-300x199Most people who are at least a little familiar with Christianity will know that forgiveness is a necessity for us. We have all fallen short of who we were created to be, and therefore we all need forgiveness from God. This is a staple of Christian preaching, from the most gracious and positive preachers to the hellfire and brimstone preachers.

Jesus talks about our need for forgiveness, but he also places an equal emphasis on our need to forgive others. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to link the two together. Look at this parable:

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.31 When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

In this parable, Jesus uses money to illustrate how we are to forgive. We have an unpayable debt to God. In the parable Jesus uses theSilver-Morgan-Dollars-and-Walking-Liberty-Half-Dollars-300x208 amount of ten thousand talents. This amount, in today’s prices, would be $22,012,560,000. Twenty-two billion dollars! This is almost unimaginable to us today. In a world where most people lived on $1.68 per day this was an astronomical amount. Yet this is what God forgives us. Then, the one forgiven turns around and finds someone who owes him $168 and has him thrown into prison. Here is the amazing part of the parable when we apply it to God–because this man did not forgive the small debt (the sin against the other person), God took away his forgiveness and condemned the man he had forgiven!

Forgiveness is absolutely essential to the Christian life, and not just us being forgiven by God. If we truly want to experience God’s forgiveness, we have to extend the same grace to others who have sinned against us. If we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us no matter how many times we pray a sinner’s prayer, call out to God in repentance, serve the poor and needy, or do anything else in the name of Christ. If we harbor grudges and will not forgive others, we can never be expected to be forgiven by God.

That is straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Matthew 13:22 and Failing to Produce Fruit

sow-seed-irri-images-2-flickrThe Parable of the Sower is one of the most interesting parables. It is the first parable Jesus is recorded as preaching, probably because it typifies all the other ones. There are multiple groups of people contained within the parable, and therefore many different points of contact with different people’s lives:

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”

Just a quick rundown through the parable shows people who do not respond to the Gospel message, those that respond quickly but do not make a lasting commitment, those who do not produce fruit, and those who have a variety of positive responses to the message in their lives. It is easy to see how the first one happens. The seed is removed because it could not take hold in someone’s life. The second is fairly easy, as well. Some people respond favorably as long as nothing is demanded of them in life. As soon as there are any kind of hardships or setbacks, they fall away quickly. The last group is the one in which we should all want to be, bearing much fruit. But I am afraid that all too many of us are in the third group, the one that fails to produce fruit.

Look at how Jesus explicitly explains this group:

22  As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit.

Notice that this group, unlike the one in the rocks, did take root. This means the conversion was genuine. They did accept the Gospel message, and they allowed it to grow in them. Yet when it was time for the wheat to sprout seed, there was nothing because too many other things around them choked them out. These people, while having accepted the Gospel and allowing it to take root in their lives, were too distracted from the Kingdom of God by everything else in this life to allow it to grow to fruition and actually produce something.

For all intents and purposes, these wheat stalks became weeds–a plant that just grows and produces nothing.

As Christians in the West, how many of us truly believe in Christ, are very faithful in our religious and spiritual lives, yet are not producing any fruit for the Kingdom because it is not really a priority in our lives? There are always other things that take us away from serving Christ. We believe in him. We love him. But we have a very hard time denying ourselves in order to follow him. We have family concerns, work concerns, money concerns. We have soccer games, football games, shopping trips. We work all week and are tired and just need to rest. We believe, but there are so many other things in our lives that living out our belief rings hollow, we faithfully go through the motions when we can, and we wonder why there is no spiritual fruit in our lives.

It is really a matter of priorities in our lives. If we truly give all of ourselves to Christ, and really deny ourselves to follow him, he will produce the fruit in our lives. If we believe, but we do not believe fully enough to allow it to change our lives, we may have been sown as wheat by the farmer, but we are living like weeds having never produced fruit.

The good news is that Christ is in the redeeming and transforming business. If he can turn water into wine, he can turn weeds back into wheat. If he can multiply bread, he can multiply how much fruit we can produce. All we have to do is be seriously committed to him, denying ourselves, and trusting in God. When we order our lives around Christ and his Kingdom, transformation happens and fruit is produced: some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some a hundredfold. But the choice is ours.

Matthew 12:25-29 and God’s Power in This World

John Wesley led a movement that was filled with the Holy Spirit and changed the world around them.

John Wesley led a movement that was filled with the Holy Spirit and changed the world around them.

I know many people in the West who see our society crumbling and growing darker, more evil. They remember what life was like decades ago, see it now, and wonder how the Church has lost so much ground. Of course, most of them are also quick to point out how the Church is growing in other parts of the world and wonder why not here. (I should say here that the Free Methodist Church in the USA has been growing for several years now. You can see the statistics here.)

Jesus’ comments say something about this situation:

25 Because Jesus knew what they were thinking, he replied, “Every kingdom involved in civil war becomes a wasteland. Every city or house torn apart by divisions will collapse. 26 If Satan throws out Satan, he is at war with himself. How then can his kingdom endure? 27 And if I throw out demons by the authority of Beelzebul, then by whose authority do your followers throw them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. 28 But if I throw out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, then God’s kingdom has already overtaken you. 29 Can people go into a house that belongs to a strong man and steal his possessions, unless they first tie up the strong man? Then they can rob his house.

Who is the strong man? Satan. What are his possessions? Those who are possessed. How does Jesus have the ability to cast out demons? Through God’s Spirit and because Satan is already bound. When God entered into this world, Satan was bound. Because the devil is not equal-but-opposite from God, there is no dualism or yin-yang concept in Christianity, where the Holy Spirit is, Satan has no power.

Given this reality, the situation in the West means something that is hard to hear, but very true. Our culture is becoming more dark because we do not have the Holy Spirit within us as much as we had in the past. We have, as John Wesley was so fond of saying in his own day, the form of godliness without the power. We know how to do Church. We know what the right and wrong things are. We know how to stand up for justice and be in ministry to and for others. But we have lost our first love, and we are doing all of this because of rote tradition, because of political ideologies, because it is what we have always done (or think we should have always done).

Yet for all of our action on behalf of Jesus Christ, we no longer have the living, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. We have the form of godliness without the power.

We need to repent of our self-sufficiency. We need to repent of our resistance to change. We need to repent of our political activism. We need to seek God with a passion that realizes that without him, we will cease to exist. We need to be relentless in asking for the Holy Spirit to be poured out once again in our congregations and fellowships. We need to have a serious discontent with any Christian group that would try to organize around personal preferences, hanging out, or certain causes, and seek out other people who will settle for nothing less than the very power and presence of the Living God in their lives.

Jesus has bound the strong man. If we are in fellowship with him, we will see that reality all around us. Just look at the Christians in the two-thirds world and how the Good News is being proclaimed with power there. May we in the West cease settling for tradition, familiarity, political activism, and fellowship based on affinity. Instead, let us seek the power of God in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then we will see God’s wonders once again.

Matthew 5:11-12 and Persecution of Christians

PrinceOfPeaceIf you have been following the Daily Bible Reading Schedule, you will know that we finished the Old Testament over the weekend and began the New Testament once again. (For those of you who do not know what this means, follow the link above.)

In Matthew’s Gospel, we have Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Right at the beginning of the sermon, Jesus gives several Blessed statements. Almost all of them are from different places in the Old Testament, but Jesus brings them all together here. One that is new, though, is this one:

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Notice here that Jesus says we are blessed when we are persecuted or ridiculed for his sake. This is a big distinction. We are not blessed when we are reviled because we did something bad or wrong. We are not blessed when we are persecuted because of our own wants and desires. We are blessed when we are persecuted because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has called us to do and who he has called us to be.

This is also one of those points in the text where Jesus equates himself with God. The prophets were persecuted because of their commitment to God and to God’s truth. We are persecuted because of our commitment to Jesus and to Jesus’ truth. Never let anyone fool you into thinking Jesus never made any claims to being God. This is one of them.

Zechariah 12:9-10 and An Odd Victory

christus-victor1Christianity is a very odd religion in the grand scheme of things. We live with major contradictions in life–the immortal God dies, to save your life you have to lose it, love your enemies, it is more blessed to give than receive, and the victory of God was in the death of Christ. From a purely human, logical point of view, none of this makes sense. But perhaps that just shows how wrong the world is on most things.

This passage from Zechariah holds this contradiction as well, while making a prophecy concerning the victory of God:

On that day I intend to destroy all the nations who come against Jerusalem,
10     but I will pour out a spirit of grace and mercy on David’s house
        and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
They will look to me concerning the one whom they pierced;
        they will mourn over him like the mourning for an only child.
        They will mourn bitterly over him like the bitter mourning over the death of an oldest child.

Here is God proclaiming victory over the nations through mourning over one who was pierced. From the very earliest days of the Church we have understood this to be the crucifixion of Christ. The nations can be taken literally, as there is no nation left that was around when Jesus was crucified that had anything to do with the crucifixion, or it can be taken spiritually since there really are only two nations in the world–the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. In Revelation, these two kingdoms are represented by the names New Jerusalem and Fallen Babylon. The Covenant People of God are the New Jerusalem and the rest of the world is a part of the rebellious order labeled Fallen Babylon.

Through the crucifixion of Jesus, the victory of God is secured and the nations are judged. Those who seek the Lord and desire to be with him will become a part of David’s house and receive the grace and mercy that is promised to it.

This is the Good News, even if it does sound a little contradictory.

Zechariah 8:23 and An Image of Evangelism

evangelistThere are lots of different methods of evangelism. Some are very positive and some are very negative. I have met lots of people in lots of different churches who are terrified of evangelism because 1) religion is something private you don’t talk about in public and 2) they are worried they will be asked questions to which they do not have the answers, and then they will look silly or somehow let God down.

There is an image of evangelism in Zechariah that is completely different from this idea:

23 The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims: In those days ten men from nations with entirely different languages will grab hold of a Judean’s clothes and say, “Let’s go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Here is a radically different form of evangelism. The people know that this one has the presence of the Lord with him or her, so the rest of the people, all from different places in life, voluntarily attach themselves to the one in order that they, too, might be with the Lord. This eliminates the idea that religion is private (because it is the most public thing we have in life, for what we believe and in whom we believe will guide how we act and react in the world), and it removes the fear because the people are drawn to the one.

Why? Because it is obvious that the Lord is with the one. God’s power and presence in this life is obvious to all who see, and they know they need what the one has in his or her life.

When we live lives that are full of God, others notice and want what we have. The best method of evangelism is a transformed life that is obvious for all to see.