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Matthew 16:21-26 NET.

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?

Our Adult Sunday School class recently watched a video series based on Kyle Idleman’s book Not a Fan. In his book, Idleman said “There is a tendency to define yourself as a follower based on how you feel about Jesus, but following requires there to be more than a feeling. Following requires movement.”[1] The book title reflects the fact that many think they are followers of Christ, but they are merely fans. A fan is enamored with Jesus, but not committed to obeying him.

In today’s passage of scripture, Peter starts acting not like a follower of Christ, but like a fan of Christ. He gets off target in his relationship with Jesus, and Jesus must rebuke him and get him back moving in the right direction. It would do us all well to study this Passage in more detail. We have determined to be more than just fans of Jesus. We are committed to following him.

The first thing we see in today’s text is that Jesus was fully aware of God’s plan for his life (21).

God had a plan for Jesus Christ. If you are familiar with the tract “The Four Spiritual Laws” you will recognize the first one is “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” Well, God’s wonderful plan for Jesus’ life meant that he had an appointment in Jerusalem. There he would suffer many things at the hands of the religious and political leaders. There he would be wrongly accused of all kinds of crimes. There he would be put on trial. There he would be beaten and humiliated. There he would suffer the agony of death by crucifixion.

God’s plan for Jesus’ life on earth involved many wonderful things. But it also involved much hardship, suffering and failure. Some people describe the life of faith as if it is one victory after another, with no defeats and no negative and discouraging thoughts. Well, if you judge Jesus by such a description, he fails the test of faith. For Jesus, following his Father meant doing things he didn’t want to do, and suffering for things that were not his fault.

One difference between Jesus and us is that we do not always know all the details of following God. I’m glad that is the case because I know myself. If I were to know all the ramifications and results of following God, I would be constantly tempted to turn away. I don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to be misunderstood and hated and ridiculed and condemned. Nobody does. But Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him in Jerusalem and he went anyway. That is what it means to follow God’s plan.

Peter – on the other hand – was an obstacle to that plan (22-23).

As soon as Peter heard Jesus describe God’s plan for his life, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” This is the same Peter who had just told Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That was true and is true. Jesus is more than just a prophet. He is more than just an enlightened teacher. He is more than just a Rabbi. Jesus is God’s one and only Son. He is also the Anointed One – the Messiah – the promised king of Israel. As the Christ, he is also the king of God’s new kingdom which is coming to earth.

Peter knew all those things about Jesus and testified to that truth. Jesus had told Peter that he did not get that knowledge from flesh and blood. It had been revealed to him by the Father in heaven. Peter knew a lot about Jesus, but he was not prepared to look at the other side of the coin. When Jesus started talking about the suffering that he would experience, that is when Peter said, “this must not happen to you.” He was prepared to hear the good news of the gospel, but he was determined to rebuke the bad news of the same gospel.

Just like that – Peter turned from being a proclaimer of who Christ is to being a stumbling block to Christ. Just like that – Peter changed from being a revealer of God’s plan to being an opponent to God’s plan. Jesus looked right into the eyes of his disciple, and he told him “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

We are not following God’s plan until we are committed to following his whole plan. His whole plan includes some wonderful things and some not so wonderful things. If we only accept part of the plan, we are rejecting the whole plan. That is why there are some “Christians” who will stand before Christ, and he will tell them to depart into the fire. They will think they are representatives of Christ and his kingdom, but they will really be stumbling blocks.

To repair this damage, Jesus challenged Peter and all believers to follow him to the cross (24).

He said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” That is one command that must be obeyed in three stages. The first stage is self-denial. Peter had to learn to let go of his own expectations and qualifications. He had determined to follow Jesus, but in his mind, there were certain conditions to his commitment. He would follow Christ to the throne, but not to the cross.

Whenever we say “Yes, Lord, but” we are putting conditions on our commitment. Those conditions are stumbling blocks for us, and they make us stumbling blocks for others. Self-denial means looking for all those conditions and caveats and qualifications that are part of our plans that may not be part of God’s plans for us. It means letting go of self to follow the Savior. Self does not want to suffer, but to follow God’s plan, we may have to suffer.

The second stage is taking up the cross. Jesus literally took up his cross and carried it to the place where they hung him on it. Many of his disciples did the same thing when it came time for them to die. But all true followers will have a cross to bear in some way. Your cross may be where Jesus wants you to live. Your cross may be the job he wants you to have. It may be the people he sends you to reach. Self wants to avoid the cross, but a denied self takes up the cross and bears it because it is God’s plan to reach others.

The third stage is following the Savior. He not only took up his cross, but he also allowed himself to die on it. To follow means to follow through. You are not following if you take an exit before you get to your destination. Peter wanted to start with Jesus in Galilee and end up with Jesus at his return, but he wanted to skip the difficult stage of the trip. It doesn’t work that way. When we commit to follow him, we are committing to follow all the way.

That is why Jesus warned all believers of the obstacles to their salvation (25-26).

He knew that along the way, we would be tempted to get sidetracked. That is why he told his disciples “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?”

A more literal translation of his statement would be “Because whoever wants to save his neck will destroy it, but whoever destroys his neck on account of me will find it. Because what does a man profit if he gains the whole world but loses his neck? Or what will a man give in return for his neck?” Cut off your neck and you will die. It is that important to preserve it. That was why Jesus used that image. Our instinct for self-preservation is an obstacle to our salvation. To truly follow Jesus, must be willing to die for him.

A second obstacle Jesus mentions is our desire for gain. We must be willing to lose everything for Jesus. He is the pearl of great price that we must be willing to sell everything to get. Of course, the irony is that we are going to eventually lose everything anyway. Even the breath in our throats is going to disappear someday. When that happens, all that we have acquired in life will be gone. None of it can buy us back a second of life. Following Jesus costs us everything, but it is the only way to gain the permanent life he promises.

There will come times in our life when the decision to follow Jesus will be tested. Today’s text reveals one of those times in Peter’s life. He wanted to follow Jesus, but his own desires and ambitions would not accept the direction Jesus was going. Peter learned a valuable lesson that day. The life of the true follower always leads to the cross. Any Christianity that does not begin with self-denial is always a false Christianity.

That is why Jesus said that we must enter his kingdom by repenting. It is not just our sins that we must repent of. It is us. It is our desires, our ambitions, our expectations. It is all those things that we want that would keep us from doing and being what Jesus wants. All those things are leading us in the wrong direction. We must turn around and face the cross. Our way is not the way. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

[1] Idleman Kyle. Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. Updated & expanded ed. Zondervan 2016. p. 106.



Mark 6:35-44 NET.

35 When it was already late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 36 Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 38 He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five — and two fish.” 39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up the broken pieces and fish that were left over, twelve baskets full. 44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.

The story of the feeding of the five thousand is a very familiar story to most of us. If you are like me, you heard this story many times as a child growing up. If I recall my Sunday School lessons correctly, the purpose for this story is to teach us to be like the little boy who surrendered his lunch to the disciples. It teaches generosity. I think there are a lot of lessons about generosity in Scripture.

But I want us to step back and take another look at this story today. We have been studying the commands of Christ in the Gospels, and our chronological study leads us to this text today. If we scan the words of today’s text as given to us by Mark, we find that the little boy is not even mentioned. Nothing Jesus says to the crowds is mentioned. The only conversation is between Jesus and his disciples. He has a lesson for them.

Now, Jesus had already taught his disciples the key elements of the gospel message. He had already also taught them how to preach the gospel and had sent them out on their own evangelistic campaigns. When he had sent them out, he empowered them to preach, heal the sick and deliver people from demons. Now he has returned to preaching and his disciples had returned to assisting him. In fact, what we see in today’s text came about because the disciples were seeking to assist Jesus in his ministry. Let’s walk through the story phase by phase and try to understand what Jesus is teaching his disciples through this event.

Phase 1 – the preacher runs a little late (35).

It appears that Jesus and his disciples were on a regular schedule for their ministry at this time. They would probably have regular times where Jesus would preach, then possible times for the disciples to go through the crowds talking and praying with the crowds, then if they found anyone needing healing, they could bring them to the Master. It appears that by late afternoon Jesus would wind things up with a final message for the day. Only, today Jesus’ final message just went on an on.

The book of Acts tells us that the Apostle Paul did that once. His final message of the day in Troas went until midnight. He probably would have kept on preaching, but a certain young man named Eutychus interrupted things by falling asleep and falling from the third loft, dead on arrival. Paul stopped preaching and gave the young man a hug, and he came to life again. We preachers tell these stories because chances are we are going to get long-winded someday, so we want you to know we are in good company.

Jesus was doing that. He was preaching late, and apparently had lost track of time. Sometimes we pray as if we are accusing Jesus of having lost track of time.

Phase 2 – The disciples say it’s quitting time (36).

 That’s what the disciples are doing. They are essentially saying Lord (points at watch). Now, to be fair, the disciples knew that Jesus had asked them to join him at that isolated place so that they could rest and regroup. Earlier in the chapter we read that “the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). So, they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place.” So, it makes sense that they would come to Jesus and remind him that they were running out of time to rest. Today was not supposed to be a typical day of ministry. They had gone to a remote spot for a retreat so they could talk over their experiences in their own evangelistic campaigns. But “many saw them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them.” When the disciples and Jesus arrived, they had found a huge crowd waiting with their Bibles and notebooks open, and ballpoint pens in hand. So, Jesus commenced to teach them many things.

But when it got late, the disciples said it’s time for us now. So, they reminded Jesus that it was getting dark, and the crowd had not come with enough provisions, so he should dismiss them so they could go where they could find food. It’s quitting time, Lord.

Phase 3 – “Y’all give them something to eat” (37a).

That’s a literal rendering of the Greek because unlike Yankee English, koine Greek has a second person plural pronoun. He told them “Y’all give them something to eat.”  This is the command. I think this command relates to all of us just as it did to those disciples that day. I think we are often too quick reduce our ministry to the things that we normally do for practical reasons. All the rest is off limits. We figure out our budget for the year, putting in all our pet projects and traditions. We set our calendar. We do what we have done. When we come across a need that we haven’t ever met, we pray about it, and leave it there. What Jesus was doing that day was challenging his disciples to go beyond their own limits. He told them to do something that they could not do. It was impossible.

Phase 4 – no money (37b).

The disciple pulled their pockets inside out. They said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” Now the silver coin they were talking about was a denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage for a hired worker.  The disciples had done the math. They figured that to feed that crowd of five thousand men, they would have to have worked over half a year – two hundred days. They did not have that kind of money. The disciples were pointing out that what Jesus had called them to do was not practical because they did not have the resources. We should not be too hard on the disciples for coming to this conclusion. Jesus didn’t berate them for what they said. He knew they would come to that conclusion. That just set them up for the next lesson.

Phase 5 – check your supplies (38).

Jesus told his disciples to make an inventory of their lunch boxes. This is where the little boy in the crowd comes in. The first miracle was not the feeding of the five thousand. The first miracle was that of all the crowds that gathered, only this little boy had thought to pack a lunch. So, this is what they had. Five biscuits and two fish. They might could have stretched those rations to feed one family, but it was way too little to feed a crowd of thousands.

Here is where the disciples would be thinking “See what we mean?” Jesus, you need to let these people go get some food elsewhere, because we don’t have enough.

This is where the miracle begins to happen, because Jesus intentionally let the situation get to this point. He is teaching his disciples that when it comes to ministry to others, he is ready to step in with his miraculous power, but he will often allow us to get to the point where we cannot do what we need to do. Remember, the command was “Y’all give them something to eat.” Their excuse was “We don’t have enough.” But Jesus did not command them to first check and see if they had enough. He wanted them to take what little they could scrounge up and start to feed the crowd.

He told them to check for what they had, not to determine whether they had enough. They all knew already that they did not have enough. The question for the disciples was whether they were willing to start something that they knew only Jesus could finish.

Phase 6 – the miracle happens (39-42).

Jesus “directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So, they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.” Jesus did what only Jesus could do but the disciples did the rest. He literally did not feed a single person that day. He only blessed the meal and distributed it to his disciples. They passed out the bread and fish to all the groups of hundreds and fifties. When a disciple emptied one basket, he would go back for more where that came from. Their resources had given out for a very long time, but Jesus’ resources kept coming.

Phase 7 – leftovers (43).

In fact, Jesus kept giving long after all the people were satisfied. By the time everybody put their napkins over their plates and said “no more” each disciple was left with a basket full for himself. The final lesson the disciples learned that day was that God has power to do all that needs to be done, and more. The Apostle Paul said that God “is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think.” But he also said the power available for such miracles is “the power that is working within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

I want us to think about how we as a congregation can apply the lessons that the disciples learned that day. One way we can do that is to look around us and discover needs within our community that are not being met by anyone else. Then let’s brainstorm. We should not ask ourselves whether we have the practical resources to meet all those needs in our budget. No, we should ask this question: “Do we have the resources and personnel to start this ministry and the faith to let Jesus finish it?”

Jesus performed his miracles as demonstration to prove the truthfulness of his proclamation. He still wants to do that. He has called us to be his witnesses and has empowered us with his Holy Spirit to share his gospel. The disciples learned to demonstrate their care for others and in so doing they proved the power of Jesus Christ. There is a community outside these walls, and it is waiting to see us prove that Jesus is who we say he is. Let’s get our baskets ready!


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Zechariah’s Story

Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

During this month I plan to share the Chrismas stories — not the ones written by Charles Dickens or sung by Gene Autry. No, I want us to go back to the Christmas stories written by Dr. Luke. When the Holy Spirit moved him to write his Gospel, he consulted a number of witnesses to the events of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Today’s story is that of Zechariah. We don’t know whether Luke interviewed Zechariah himself. He probably got his information about Zechariah from Mary, who was related to Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth. Zechariah’s story is not directly about the birth of Christ. It’s about the birth of Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist. But when we tell our children and grandchildren about Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the angels, the wise men, and the baby in the manger, we often include this story, and rightfully so.

Zechariah’s story belongs to the Christmas story because it was one of unfulfilled faithfulness(5-7).

5 During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. 7 But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had grown old together, faithfully doing the work assigned to them, but Christmas had never come for them. As a priest, Zechariah served many families with many children, but he never had the happiness of raising a child himself. He and Elizabeth went year after year watching other families enjoy the wonderful process of physical and spiritual growth in their children. But they always watched others, never experiencing the joy themselves.

No doubt some people wondered if Zechariah of Elizabeth had been guilty of some secret sin that kept her barren and them both unfulfilled. But they knew that they had been faithful, “both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” But they were old now, and well past their “use by” date.

Politically, it didn’t seem like God was doing much for Israel. They were still under the domination of the Roman empire, and Caesar insulted Judea by making a foreigner their king. Herod was an Idumean. He was a puppet of Rome — a man so cruel he had to order a large group killed on the day of his death so that there would be mourning. It had been a long time since Judea had been ruled by one of David’s descendants. It didn’t seem like Christmas was coming for the nation either. But it was.

Zechariah’s story belongs to the Christmas story because his date with destiny finally came (8-11).

8 Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. 10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him.

There were so many priests at that time that they had divided themselves into 24 groups and took turns officiating at the temple. Zechariah had probably made the trip to Jerusalem many times. He had no reason to believe that this time was going to be any different than the others. He had never seen Gabriel before.

Incense was a symbol of prayer. We are told that outside there was a crowd of people interceding as Zechariah presented the incense inside. Everybody was praying, but we don’t know how many were actually expecting anything to happen. Zechariah was probably praying for his nation. After all, he was a priest, and that was part of his job. He was busy at work, and he liked being busy at work because it took his mind off his personal sadness. It is just at that very point in time — “too late” — when God chose to bless old Zechariah.

But Zechariah’s blessing came with tremendous responsibility (12-17).

12 And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. 14 Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”

The name Gabriel is a lot scarier in Hebrew than it is in English. A Geber is a young, strong man, the kind of man who is fit for battle. Gabriel was God’s soldier, who stands guard in the presence of Almighty God. Anyone who saw this angel would naturally be visibly shaken and seized with fear.

But thankfully, the news Gabriel comes to share that day was good news. His prayers would be answered, and he was going to have a son. Finally, he would have the chance to experience the joy and gladness that he had only witnessed in others in the past. Elizabeth was going to bear a son — and not just a son. He would be a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord. He would be one of the few — the proud — the Nazarites. They take a vow never to drink alcohol, and he would take that vow.

John would be his name because he would be a sign to everyone that Yochanan — Yahveh has been gracious. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. The phrase in Greek is ek kolias — from the uterus. This was fulfilled literally because when Elizabeth met Mary, John jumped inside her. So, if anybody wants to argue with you about what the initial evidence of being filled with the Spirit is, just take them to Luke 1:41.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

John recognized his Savior even before he was born. He gave his mother a kick, and She was filled with the Spirit too. He dedicated his life to turning many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He served as “forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”

It was Zechariah’s responsibility to raise that young man for that tremendous task. To whom much is given, much is required. That’s how God’s gifts work. When Christmas comes for us, we are blessed. Then we are responsible for blessing others.

Even though he was blessed, Zechariah struggled with unbelief (18-25).

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place.” 21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place. 22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home. 24 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.”

Zechariah was tempted to do what Gideon did — to test God to see whether or not he would be faithful to his promise. He misunderstood the story of Gideon. God did allow Gideon to ask for proof, and he gave him the proof. But Zechariah did not need any more proof than what he was going to be given — the child himself.

Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be silent until his words would be fulfilled.

Zechariah overcame the consequences of his unbelief (57-66).

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother replied, “No! He must be named John.” 61 They said to her, “But none of your relatives bears this name.” 62 So they made signs to the baby’s father, inquiring what he wanted to name his son. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64 Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue released, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 All their neighbors were filled with fear, and throughout the entire hill country of Judea all these things were talked about. 66 All who heard these things kept them in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the Lord’s hand was indeed with him.

When the time finally came, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both able to proclaim that God had been gracious to them. They did it by naming their son Yochanan — Yahveh has been gracious. Zechariah’s unbelief had resulted in his being temporarily unable to speak. He had lost the opportunity to brag about the boy. You better believe that they both made up for that lost time after he was born.

Zechariah’s experience led to praise for God (67-75).

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. 69 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant — 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham. This oath grants 74 that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.

Zechariah understood that whatever role John would have, it was just the beginning. The Messiah was coming, and God’s salvation was coming with him. He praised God not just for what he had done, but also for what he was going to do. You and I need to learn the same lesson. It is one thing to praise God for our personal salvation, bought by the blood of Christ. But we also need to catch a glimpse of the fact that our story is just part of the bigger story. Our blessing is part of the bigger blessing of a people redeemed for eternity and a new creation.

This section is also remarkable in that it mirrors many of the kinds of prayers that Zechariah and the other priests would have prayed in the temple. But with one difference. These words are prayers turned into praises. It is not “God, come help” but “God has come to help.” It is not “God raise up a leader from the house of David” but “he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”

Zechariah’s experience also led to prophecy about his son (76-80).

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.

All those months while Zechariah was unable to speak, he was preparing to announce this prophecy that the Lord gave him about John. The dawn of a new day was coming, and John was to prepare his people for that dawn.

John the Evangelist wrote about this in his Gospel. He said “A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:6-9).

When I read the story of Zechariah, it comforts me by reminding me that no matter how long I have waited for God to answer my prayers, he has not forgotten them. Even if I have had moments of unbelief, I know that one day I will testify that God has been gracious. No matter how long we wait, it is never too late. Christmas is coming. The dawn of a new age has come, and someday Christ himself will come. He will right every wrong, and answer every prayer. He will make all things new. Until that happens, our only job is to remain faithful, even if our desires are not yet fulfilled. We learn to do that from Zechariah’s story.

the battling seeds

the battling seeds

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An Advent meditation excerpted from “Christ as the Seed of the Woman” by Daniel Moore, in Meditations for Advent, 1884.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt
bruise his heel. ” — Genesis. 3:15.
“That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil .” — Hebrews. 2:14.

“The two seeds are severally contending for empire: and neither can have a throne, except on the overthrow and destruction of the other. The Seed of the woman avowed this to be His purpose from all eternity. To this end came He into the world, -to crush, to break, to overturn, to abolish. “For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

“See a fulfillment of the prophecy which has respect to the bruising of the “ heel” of Messiah, in the wounds, and scars, and stripes, which Christ was to endure in His lower nature. These began with His life and only ended with His life. From the first day of our Lord’s manifestation, the seed of the serpent began to contrive against Him his deadly plots. First, Herod was set on destroying the child Jesus in infancy. On commencing His public ministry, the Holy One has to sustain those forty days’ fierce encounter in the wilderness. On coming to His own city Nazareth, the maddened populace is stirred up by Satan to “cast Him down headlong” from the brow of the hill. (Luke 4:29). And, in all the subsequent trials and insults, endured by the Blessed Saviour, we see the work of the subtle serpent of evil, devising new plots and agencies to bruise and distress the human soul of Christ. He moved Herod to mock, Pilate to scourge, and the priests to revile, and the rabble to shout. He was with the false witnesses who accused, and the apostate disciple who betrayed, with the thief who cast railing in His teeth, and with the heartless soldier who pierced His side. Yes, behind all this machinery of evil did Satan plant himself. Mistaken, short-sighted, utterly suicidal as his policy was, it originated in that sentence promise of Paradise. It was so “written in the bond.” Our salvation had been an imperfect thing without it. All that was mortal in the Incarnate One, all that was capable of suffering, all that belonged to the nature which He had assumed, was to be bruised, insulted, dishonored, shamed. Hunger pinched Him. Thirst distressed Him. Fatigue wearied Him. Pain rent His limbs, and anguish cast down His soul. Oh! it was indeed the sharpness of the serpent’s tooth He felt, when, out of the deep agony of His spirit, He cried out: “ Father, save me from this hour.” But instantly the thought occurred: “For this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27). The Scripture had said that thus it must be: “Thou shalt bruise His heel. But then, blessed be God, the Scripture had also said: “It shall bruise thy head. “And here the triumph of Divine mercy culminates. The two parts of the sentence are found to be correlative: that is to say, it is the very bruising of the heel of Messiah, that leads to the crushing of the head of the serpent. For how stood the case? The head of Satan, that wherein his great strength lies, consists in his having the power of death, — a death of which the sting is sin, and the strength is a violated law. But the bruised heel of Christ has rendered both of these powerless. His submission to all the experiences of the Incarnation was a perfect satisfaction to all the demands of the law, and His death upon the cross provided an infinite propitiation for all sin. Hence, as the Apostle argues in his Epistle to the Hebrews, Christ has purchased salvation for every man by tasting death for every man. By making His righteousness ours, and our sin His, He casts in His lot with us. “For both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one :(Hebrews 2:11). He has made us one, says the Apostle, to this end, “that through death,” that is, His own death, ” He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Here, then, we have the prophetic promise,— the sentence-blessing laid out in its complete fulfillment. Satan is allowed to bruise the heel of Messiah, but meanwhile, and in the very act of submitting to this bruising, Christ is Himself bruising Satan in his most vital part. He is casting out the god of this world. He is destroying him that had the power of death.


Narrow Lane by Michael Trolove is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0


Matthew 7:13-14 NET

The typical way of explaining the words of Jesus in today’s text is that when he talks about going through the narrow gate, he is referring to those who want to be Christians. All other religions take the wide gate and walk the spacious way to their own destruction. But there is a problem with that approach. These are the words of Jesus directed toward the apostles who had already sworn their allegiance to him as their master. Everyone that he spoke to had already committed themselves to enter his coming kingdom.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

So, what Jesus is talking about in today’s text is two ways of trying to enter the kingdom: the hard way and the easy way. The gate to the hard way is narrow, so people are less likely to choose it. The gate to the easy way is wide. It is very popular. He warns that only those who enter through the narrow gate will find life on the other side. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Look at what Jesus says after this:

  • “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.” (7:15).
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!'” (7:21-23).

Leaders of the easy way are false prophets, but they look genuine. They prophesy and exorcise demons and do mighty works in Jesus’ name, and call him their lord. Jesus does not know them, and he didn’t send them, but they will be here claiming to do his will all the same. Inside they are wolves, not sheep.

These false prophets are a problem because they will appear within the visible church. If they actually represented other religions, we would not be tempted to listen to them. But they will come to us in sheep’s clothing. Some will actually be convinced that they are true believers.

How will we know a true Christian leader from a false one? Jesus also answered that question:

  • “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” (7:16-20).

The leaders of the easy way will look like any other tree of the orchard, but the fruit they bear will be bad. The lives of those they lead will be disobedient and ungodly. That is how they can be recognized. The promoters of the easy way will end in destruction – by fire. The people who follow them will suffer the same fate. They will have built their houses on the wrong foundation, and it is only a matter of time in a world of rain, floods, and winds before such shoddy workmanship will be revealed.

Our Lord wants us to seek his kingdom the hard way, not the easy way. We see that in today’s text.

The wide gate is the default (13c).

Jesus said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” In modern terms, it is the default — the choice that everyone makes unless presented with some reason not to. This would be no problem if the gate one chooses does not matter. But it does matter. The default gate leads to a spacious road — a road where there is plenty of room for lots of people to travel on. Unfortunately, the destination of that road is destruction.

There was a large crowd listening to Jesus as he preached the sermon on the mount to his apostles. Many of them were considering committing their lives to Jesus and becoming his disciples. He was warning them that simply deciding to follow him was not enough. There would be many hard choices that they would have to make. Life as a Christian would not be easy. They would be tempted to casually accept Christ as their savior, and then live their normal lives otherwise. Jesus warned them that the Christian life is not a normal life, and if they tried to stay normal, it would lead them in the opposite direction, no matter what they professed.

That is his message to you and me today. The default gate is always accessible. There are no obstacles to it. It is the easiest choice to make, and the life it promises looks like the best of both worlds. We can get our names on God’s list, but can still live like we want to.

But the problem is…

Those who enter the wide gate will be destroyed (13b).

The future destiny of those who are looking to enter the easy way is clear and plain. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Jesus is not the only one who said that the fate of the lost is destruction.

Paul says that they are “objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22). He says their “end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). He says they “will undergo the penalty of” permanent destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Peter agrees with Jesus and Paul on the fate of the lost as well; He says that “the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7).

Now with all this evidence in favor of what Jesus said about the fate of the lost, it might come as a surprise that most churches and most preachers are afraid to say what I just said. They insist that when Jesus and Paul and Peter talk about destruction they mean something else. Don’t believe it. Destruction means destruction. The second death is a second death, which will be permanent because there will be no resurrection from it. That is why choosing the right gate is so important.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter (14a).

Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult.” We have been studying the commands of Christ for many months now, and we can all agree that once we know what Jesus actually commanded, obeying those commands will be tough. He tells poor and suffering people to rejoice. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary people to influence the world when the world wants us to just be like them. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary Christians that their righteousness has to exceed that of religious professionals. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to reconcile with those who make us angry. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to stop lusting and be faithful to our spouses. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to be true to our word. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to love our enemies. It’s hard for us to do that.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter, but unfortunately…

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life (14b).

He said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” You and I have a choice. It’s not a simple choice of claiming to be a Christian or not. Remember, everyone that Jesus was talking to in today’s text had publically committed to following him. But Jesus warned them that there would be false teachers who would try to trip them up. He warned them that there would be those who claimed to be sheep but were actually wolves. He warned them that if they wanted to build true Christian lives they would have to build on the rock, not the sand.

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life. People will tell you that everyone has a permanent life, and the issue is where you will spend it. Do not believe that lie. Only one way leads to life. The other way — the spacious way — the easy way — leads to destruction. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. Two permanent destinies.

Paul spoke of those two destinies. He said, “the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you are not in Christ Jesus, you won’t have life. Your payoff is death.

John spoke of those two destinies. He said that the “one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life” (1 John 5:12).

The author of Hebrews spoke of those two destinies. He said those who shrink back will perish, but those who have faith will preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).

Peter spoke of those two destinies. He said that those who are born again will be resurrected and receive a permanent inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). But the ungodly will experience destruction (2 Peter 3:7).

Now that we know what is at stake, let us return to the command of Christ highlighted in today’s text.

Christ commands us to enter through the narrow gate (13a).

Suppose you have decided to become a Christian. That is a good thing. You want to enter the kingdom that is coming down from the sky. That is a good ambition. Jesus warns us that there are two ways to take, the hard way and the easy way. The easy way will be a well-beaten path, a wide gate, and a spacious road that lots of people have taken before you. It will not make any demands on you other than what you claim. You claim to believe in Jesus — there will be many others on that road who make the same claim. You want to be a good person — lots of good people take that road.

It would seem to me that if we are really serious about entering the kingdom we would follow the instructions of the king. The king tells us to stay away from the wide gate. He warns us to stay off the spacious road. Actually following Jesus is going to be a tight squeeze. Staying on the narrow road is going to be a hard thing to do. But our king commands it.

When he returns, king Jesus is going to gather all the nations before him. He is going to “separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). He will know every soul. He will determine who has taken the easy way, and who has taken the hard way. He will put the true sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. The goats will be condemned to the permanent punishment of the second death. The sheep will inherit permanent life. The choices we make today will determine which destiny we will experience.

Brothers and sisters, don’t take the easy way. Enter the narrow gate!