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Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 28:18-20

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" - Matthew 28:18-20

It's a well-worn passage that any regular churchgoer has come across. Jesus' call to the apostles to take His message to the ends of the earth, to baptize and make disciples of any and all they come across so that they may come to faith and obedience in Christ is echoed during many a Sunday service and missions conference. The Great Commission, as we call it, carries great weight in giving believers a clear command to hold in their heart as they think about what following Jesus means.

Yet what often gets lost in our singular focus on this central verse are the two verses before and after it. One of the chief lessons you see in Scripture is that imperatives are always preceded by indicatives. Another way to put it is that God commands only after after God first comforts. All too often, the temptation for believers is to have the mindset that now that we're saved by grace and trust in Jesus by faith, let's go back to living by the law, checking off commands as we fulfill them one deed at a time. A slave that is set free but then chooses to have chains placed back on himself was never truly set free in the first place. 

The danger of the Great Commission is divorcing it's command from it's surrounding comfort. We live in a context where evangelicals regularly leverage their version of Christianity in cultural wars that influence the parts of the country they inhabit. The disciples didn't exactly have that kind of power. Jesus was telling a ragtag collection of twelve outcasts to go and share a completely counter-cultural message that would put them at risk of suffering, pain, and death. Even if Christians today went door-to-door doing evangelism, we generally don't have to worry about those repercussions.

This is why the comfort Jesus provides around this command matters and why we should meditate and delight in it as we think about it. To have the resurrected Christ, with fresh wounds in his wrists and feet, proclaim that He has authority over heaven and earth means something. There's proof behind that statement, an undeniable power that then feeds into His command. Likewise, when Jesus, who hundreds, if not thousands, saw crucified, comes back from the dead and says He will be with them, always, to the end of the age, you have a statement that can be taken to the bank. It's as sure and real as you can possibly get. This is the reality that empowered the disciples to be the first church planters. It wasn't techniques or four spiritual laws or charisma or rhetorical ability or sheer will that became the fuel for their fire. It was the truth that Jesus was King and would reign forever.

Indicatives before imperatives. Comforts before commands. As you read the Word and come across inspiring and motivating commands from God, just remember there is always an underlying truth about who God is or what He's done as seen and accomplished in Jesus Christ that forms the foundation for what He fills us up to do by the Spirit. We live not out of those commands but out of those comforts, knowing that as we rest and are restored by grace through faith, the more we actually become like Him and live like Him and naturally obey Him in what think, say, and do.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 21:1-11

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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!" And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."  - Matthew 21:8-11

Expectations are a hell of a thing. Misplaced expectations bring hell to things. When Jesus made His way back to Jerusalem, He was returning to a dry powder keg.

Many Israelites had grown tired of Roman occupation and desired to get out from under the thumb of Caesar. Dissent fermented among the people putting the civil authorities on high alarm for any military powers or coup attempts. Meanwhile, the spiritual authorities of the time were on the lookout for messianic claims, those who would dare go against their teaching and usurp their sway over the people. Any threat was to be put down and recently, the itinerant preacher who supposedly was borne of a virgin had been causing problems. 

Jesus stepped into this mess. He did not command the people to spread their cloaks, to rip down palms, and to sing His praise. He most certainly didn't ask for them to put on this show when many of those who bowed their head would later spit on Jesus' as He trudged His way down the road to Calvary. It was simply what they expected. 

I'm sure we've all felt the sting of both sides of the coin. Failing to live up to the expectations of others can bring on guilt, shame, and force us into a shell of fear. Never having our expectations met often leads us to sadness, anger, and frustration. Nobody wants to live in either of these worlds. You might think that the answer is to never have expectations. But that's impossible. Nobody can operate in a person-less vacuum. Even if you were to divorce yourself from any meaningful relationship in the world, you still have expectations of the waiter you order food from and the mechanic who works on your car. We even have expectations placed on things. You expect your oven to properly heat up your leftovers and your smoke alarm to go off when your oven doesn't meet your expectations.

Jesus didn't make it possible for anyone to take a wait-and-see approach. You either liked Him or you didn't, thought He had some valid things to say or called Him a fool. There was no in-between. What makes this all so interesting was how Jesus utterly failed every single definition and expectation that was placed on Him during the triumphal entry. Nobody grasped the importance of what was about to happen, of where this road was leading, not even Jesus' closest friends, the disciples.

A good test of your value system is what happens when your expectations aren't met. What crushes you when it doesn't go your way? What gets your hopes highest? What keeps you up at night when you don't know how it's going to turn out? It's generally an accurate sign of where your treasure is.  

When Jesus died, those who had the most hope in Him were crestfallen and depressed. They mourned, rightfully so, the death of their friend and brother. Even more so, they mourned the death of their hopes and dreams. Yet the beauty of the cross is that the very symbol of their disappointment and destruction of their greatest expectations would turn out to be the very symbol of love, grace, and hope that would blow away any and all expectations. At the cross, justice and mercy embrace as reunited lovers. Death, thinking it had struck its eternally fatal blow, kowtowed before the fount of eternal life as she flowed freely.

Faith in Christ doesn't guard us from disappointment, failure, or frustration when it comes to our expectations. What it means though is that we may be defeated but never destroyed. We may be broken but never irredeemable. For God's economy doesn't work like the world's. Our weakness becomes His strength, our foolishness His wisdom. With God, we may not get what we want but we very often receive what we need. The ultimate expectation we should live with is that our God is with us, for us, and delights over us. We should expect to be surprised by His grace and rest easy knowing He loves us.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 4:1-11

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But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Matthew 5:4

God doesn't rest but neither does our adversary, Satan. Though the victory has been won in Christ and the result is firmly in heaven's hand, Satan still attempts to steal battles here and there. The devil's desire is to tempt us, trick us, and trip us, to divert our gaze away from the Lord and lead it to lesser things, most often which is ourselves.

The wilderness Jesus walked in was not a lovely walk down a tree-lined path, with birds chirping and a soft wind brushing His skin. It was trudging under the hot desert sun over dirt, dust, and rocks. And after 40 days of fasting, the hunger had to have been gnawing at all His insides.

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Addiction recovery counselors often tell people about the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired. These are the four overwhelming emotions that often lead a person back into using a substance, or in the case of the Christian, falling into sin. Jesus was definitely hungry, clearly tired, and probably lonely. That's when Satan came along.

The devil attacked in every which way, appealing to provision (feed yourself), pity (fail yourself), and pride (flaunt yourself). Yet Jesus would not take the bait.

Instead, Jesus defended Himself with the sword of the Spirit, looking not to His own strength and wisdom but depending on God's very Word to be strong and wise for Him. Satan even quoted Scripture to Jesus, perverting it as only the devil can, yet Jesus would resist for He knew his tactics. More importantly, He knew whose voice mattered most.

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Understand that committing to read the Bible in a year isn't just a monumental task that you want to check off your list. It is spiritual preparedness. You are practicing the chord progressions, taking your practice swings, and every other analogy for getting ready. Because when the salacious whispers of sin float your way, you must be ready to act. Knowing the Word, memorizing it, meditating on it, and marinating in it before that moment strikes makes a difference. Being familiar with the lay of the Bible's land, knowing what promises and truths you need to rest in matter. This is why journeying in the Word together is good for all of us. After all, it was good enough for Jesus in the midst of His battles.