Jesus…the equal opportunity offender: Part Four

Our series: Jesus…the Equal Opportunity Offender picks up with this question:

“What if we struggle to accept Jesus’ offensive ways?”

(If you haven’t checked out the previous posts, find them here.)

Jesus addresses those dissatisfied by His methods in the next verses of Matthew 11:

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Jesus is saying in as many words, “Woe to you who see good works, who hear the testimonies of the church, and act like dissatisfied children who don’t repent.”

Apparently, being offended by Jesus includes a lack of repentance.Tweet: Apparently, being offended by Jesus includes a lack of repentance. #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11 #Part4

Now in this context, the dissatisfied children Jesus is speaking about are the religious leaders (the wise and understanding).  They had been kept in the dark.  They were the confused and dissatisfied (with how John had come, with how Jesus had come).

But it is God’s gracious will that His way has been revealed to little children:

“25 At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.'”

To the children who are ready to accept his potentially offensive ways…

to the children who are in the wilderness looking for Him…

to the children who are willing to hear the abrasive message of repentance…

to the children who wrestle and submit in repentance…

to the children who are suffering, hurting, enduring the discomfort…(all of us, really)…

He makes this grace-filled invitation:

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus is such an amazing poet. He’s been talking about all of His offensive methods for the entirety of the chapter…and then this verse!

We have come to hear it in church and immediately exhale…”ahhh, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest… YES!”

But upon careful inspection, Jesus continues in the same way as the previous verses using an image of slavery and controlled labor to give a message of freedom and mercy. Tweet: Jesus continues in the same way, using an image of slavery & controlled labor to give a message of freedom & mercy. #Matt11 #yoke  The same imagery is seen in the message of the cross:  an instrument of death through which we are given life.

It’s more wilderness, more uncomfortable clothing…a backwards method.  It’s Jesus’ way of doing things.  But, if we accept the offense, it’s a gracious and merciful invitation to LEARN from Him.

When we yoke ourselves to Jesus, He does the heavy lifting.Tweet: When we yoke ourselves to Jesus, He does the heavy lifting. #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11 #Part4

Imagine a little boy and his daddy cutting the grass with a push mower. The boy is not really doing anything.  The daddy is doing all the work.  Yet, the son is receiving the satisfaction of completing the hard task and he is learning from his daddy how to cut in straight lines and turn the mower around a tree.

Or, imagine moving furniture with someone who is 10x stronger than you.  You really aren’t doing much.  They are carrying the brunt of the couch, but you gain the satisfaction that comes form completing the task.  You also learn how to work with others, how to watch the corners when going up the stairs, how to flip a mattress on end to fit through a door. You learn things from the experience that will allow you to be more of a help when the next friend needs help moving.

As mentioned in posts 1 -3, in our weariness or burdens we can ask, “I hear stories of this Jesus…has He really come? I don’t feel any relief from the pressures of this world!” Jesus answers us , “Yes! See all that I’ve done and continue to do!”

But, knowing our weakness and proclivity to dissatisfaction, He warns against discontentment–not being satisfied with Him, not trusting his “backwards way of doing things”.

He always has our best interests in mind.

Not all suffering comes from the Father, for sin has produced all kinds of suffering and trials that I believe He would rather us not endure.  BUT, we cannot forget Romans 8:28:


“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

He gives us an illustration that through suffering, He will carry the heavy load of it for us.  We will get to be a part of the suffering, because there is good stuff to learn in it…meekness and lowliness of heart to name two… AND, the satisfaction that we made it through.

We gain the irreplaceable experience that makes us an asset to the body of believers.  So that when those around us are tempted to look to another, we can share a story that bears witness to Jesus’ power.Tweet: Burdens give us an irreplaceable asset to the body: a story that bears witness to Jesus’ power. #EqualOpportunityOffender #Yoke #Matt11

If I needed to move furniture and someone came in and just did it for me, I wouldn’t gain anything, except softer hands (like the softer clothing mentioned earlier in Part 2).

Jesus doesn’t want us to be soft-handed wimps. We are to be servants, down knee-deep in the nitty-gritty.Tweet: Jesus doesn’t want us to be soft-handed wimps. We are to be servants, down knee-deep in the nitty-gritty. #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender

In fact, later in Matthew Chapter 23, verses 2-4 he addresses a crowd of people and his disciples speaking of the pharisees saying:

“(they) sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

He doesn’t want us to be like the pharisees, unwilling to lift a finger. That’s not how He does things. The people wanted an earthly king, but Jesus came as a servant. The people wanted a religious rule-follower, but He broke all the rules to show mercy to others. We often want Him to come and make our suffering disappear and avoid any lifting at all.

But instead He says, “It’s good for you to walk through this.  I will be with you…carrying most of the weight, in fact, but it’s good for you to have that cart behind you. I will send my messengers into the wilderness. I will dress you in uncomfortable clothing and give you a hard-to-receive message.”

Thanks, Jesus!?!?!?

But we have…to… trust… Him.

There is good not just at the end of our suffering but good while we are in it, and He provides rest for us, and a light yoke to Him in the midst of it.

BUT, HOW?

HOW does He make our burdens light???

When the downpour of all the rain in our area last October finally ceased, at first glance, our yard appeared brown and dry and malnourished.  It looked as if under the weight of all that water it had been damaged.  However, it wasn’t brown grass that I was seeing.

IMG_2511

It was pine needles.

The weight of the water knocked thousands of tiny, lightweight needles out of the pine trees putting a protective blanket over the grass. In all actuality, the grass was thriving from the abundant moisture. From the outside, it looked like it had suffered terribly, but within, it was experiencing great growth.

So it is with suffering and the burdens that lie in our carts.  With an untrained eye, it can look like the world and our lives have gone to pot.

But upon closer look, with great intentionality and training, we can see the good lying beneath…under the suffering.Tweet: But upon closer look, with great intentionality & training, we can see the good lying beneath-under the suffering. #EqualOpportunityOffender

We can see that while from a distance the blanket of needles looks overwhelming and suffocating, in reality, each needle is feather-light.

It is Jesus and His word who train our eyes and hearts in seeing this distinction.

This is how our burden becomes light: He unveils the good and helps us deal with one needle at a time.Tweet: This is how our burden becomes light: He unveils the good and helps us deal with one needle at a time. #EqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11

When we feel weary and burdened, it is especially essential to invest time yoking ourselves to Him so that He can carry the brunt of our load.  We do this by spending time reading and learning from His word, listening to Him in prayer, and worshipping Him with our hearts.

But remember, it’s a yoke!  So it might feel offensive at times.  His words of truth might challenge us,  might steer us onto a different path than we would have ourselves go.

Does He have our attention?  Will we let Him offend us and our worldly ways?  Will we sit still long enough for Him to put on the yoke?  Will we allow contented suffering due to His promise of true rest?

Spend some time with me ‘yoking’ to this:

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5: 5-11

Jesus: the equal opportunity offender: Part 3

Merry Advent!

This is the third post of a four part mini-series on Matthew 11:28.  If you’ve missed parts 1 and 2, catch up by clicking the numbers…it will help make sense of this post.

We left off at verse 16 in Matthew 11. Jesus explains what we do when we are offended:

“16 ‘But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.’”

Because John the Baptist and Jesus came in a way different than the people’s expectations, they acted like children: never satisfied.  I have a child (who shall remain nameless) who sometimes is never satisfied.  I can offer ponies and lollipops, yet in those moments of discontent, nothing is ever enough, nothing will ever satisfy.  Usually, when in the thick of those dramatic episodes, the child has no idea what’s even lacking or what need should be filled.

Without understanding what’s missing, there’s no knowledge of what will satisfy.Tweet: Without understanding what's missing, there's no knowledge of what will satisfy. #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11 #Advent

John didn’t eat or drink and they labeled him a ‘demon’. Jesus came eating and drinking and they labeled him a ‘glutton and drunk’.  Make up your mind, kids!  They didn’t understand what they were looking for–so even when it was staring them in the face, they were dissatisfied and… whiney.

Ellicott’s commentary says it this way, “Like so many of our Lord’s other sayings, the parable stretches far and wide through the ages. The evil world rejects all who seek to overcome its evil, some on one pretext, some on another; but true seekers after wisdom will welcome holiness in whatever form it may appear, cheerful or ascetic, Protestant or Romish, Puritan or liberal, so long as it is real and true.”

The offensiveness of Jesus’ coming continues to press into us.

Are we willing to welcome holiness in whatever form it may appear?Tweet: Are we willing to welcome holiness in whatever form it may appear? #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11 #Advent

What if it’s the loss of a job?  What if it’s a move to a city far away from family?  What if it’s illness?  What if it’s marriage troubles?  What if it’s our sin laid out on the table for all to see?

These questions aren’t easy to answer, especially when in the thick of the wilderness or in the midst of uncomfortable clothing.

Or, when we don’t even know what we need.

As advent begins, I think about the uncomfortable coming of Jesus.  God sent Him in the most culturally offensive way at the time…through an unplanned pregnancy.  Mary could have easily been discontent with her situation.  The carol, “Mary Did You Know” makes me laugh.  Really?

Let’s think about that question.

Umm, no. She didn’t know. She had no clue what she was happening to her. She found herself in an unplanned pregnancy, on the verge of divorce before her marriage even began, and confused.  Her situation was likely offensive to her plans, to her family, to Joseph.

No, Mary didn’t know that the Messiah was coming with such offense.  But in her unplanned circumstances, in her isolation, in her confusion…Jesus came–in the pit of her stomach, He came. The young girl had no idea what laid ahead for not only her body, but also for her heart.

The angel may have opened her eyes to see the baby growing in her belly, but Mary likely envisioned her son sitting on an princely throne, not pinned to the offensive cross covered in his own blood.

He comes this advent into our lives despite our preparation.  He comes in a way that will likely cause us to whine, to complain, to be dissatisfied…perhaps offended.  Do we even know what we are looking for this advent?  Do we come with only an expectation for Him?  Do we understand that He is the only thing that our souls are truly longing for?

How will we receive the news of His coming…that which will most likely come in a way that alters and bristles our plans and expectations?

May He stir in the pit of our stomachs and hearts.  May our eyes be opened to the new life growing within us. Tweet: May He stir in the pit of our stomachs and hearts. May our eyes be opened to the new life growing within us. #Advent #AnOffensiveComing And may our hope be set in His plan, whatever offense it may contain.Tweet: May our hope be set in His plan, whatever offense it may contain. #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11 #Advent

Jesus…the equal opportunity offender: Part 2

In Part 1, we pondered our temptation to “look to another” when we doubt the coming of Jesus into our situations and circumstances.  Jesus addresses the question in the next verses of Chapter 11, sending a message back to John:

” And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them'” (Matthew 11:4-5).

It’s as if Jesus tells John to go listen to more testimonies. “Test it. Check out the stories. Here are more accounts of my miracles. Yes, I’ve been doing all that you hear.”

I think this is important for us to hear. When we are in the context of suffering or carrying a heavy load, we sometimes don’t believe that God can truly bring healing or relief. This is when we need the body. We need the church. We need each other’s stories and experiences.

We must give testimony to how Jesus has worked in our lives so that we support each other in the belief that anything is possible with Jesus.Tweet: We must give testimony to how Jesus has worked in our lives so that we support others in the belief that anything is possible with Jesus.

Then Jesus says this:

” And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

What is this all about?

Over the next few verses Jesus essentially says, “Here’s how I work: in ways that are offensive to the world and for those of you who aren’t offended by that, kudos.”

Here’s how you know it’s Jesus: He will probably do something to offend the systems and ways set up by the world.Tweet: Here’s how you know it’s Jesus: He will probably do something to offend the systems and ways set up by the world. #equalopportunityoffender

Jesus is an equal opportunity offender.  Blessed are those who trust Him and are not offended by Him. Blessed are those who choose His ways and not the world’s ways.

Then, he gives examples of how He rubs against our typical ways…and I like to read these next verses with a little sass:

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?  What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
  who will prepare your way before you.’  Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John,  and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear,[e] let him hear” (Matthew 11:7-15).

Mic drop.

The people had to go into the wilderness to hear of Jesus’ coming from a man dressed in honey soaked camel’s hair.  Church planting 101 says to start your church in a highly visible area, but Jesus sends people out into the wilderness.  His messenger, John, wasn’t wearing soft, comfortable, hipster-church-planter clothes.

John was sent as distinctly uncomfortable and his message was abrasive to the heart’s palette: “repent”.Tweet: John was sent as distinctly uncomfortable and his message was abrasive to the heart’s palette: “repent”. #equalopportunityoffender #Matt11

Verse 12 says:

“The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, the violent take it by force.”

Jesus wasn’t talking about literal violence. He was painting a picture of his ‘church plant’.  The people were so eager for the kingdom of heaven, they had the same fervor for it as a mob has trying to siege a city.

Jesus was explaining that He had come in the most absurd way, offensive even, and the people couldn’t get enough of Him. (And it’s important to note that the people who were eager to accept Him with no offense were the broken, the ill-reputed, the socially downcast.)

He says, “if you are willing to accept it…He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Are we willing to accept that God’s message of love might come in a package that offends, that is abrasive, that is uncomfortable, and could look a whole lot like suffering?

“Let anyone who has ears, hear”…that phrase is a proverbial statement that’s asking for the deepest of attention of the audience.

Does He have our attention?

HE DOESN’T COME IN A POLITE WAY! No one escapes the wilderness. No one escapes the uncomfortable Jesus.  But what he has for those who aren’t offended by Him is ultimately miraculous healing of heart and soul and good news.

Are we are willing to accept the backwards message of Jesus to settle on us?

Are we willing to not have our trials and sufferings, our heavy loads offend us?

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  He is the ‘equal opportunity offender.’ At some point, he rubs us all the wrong way…because He is all truth and we are all sinners. We are bound to butt heads with Him.  Our flesh is bound to wrestle over the truth.

Do our conversational battles with Jesus tragically end in offense?Tweet: Do our conversational battles with Jesus tragically end in offense? #equalopportunityoffender #matt11 #proverbs18nineteen

“A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19).

Are we offended by the truth? 

Are we unyielding, resistant to transformation and a bending to Jesus’ words?

Are we held captive behind bars of an unyielding spirit of quarreling?

Are we the mob who can’t get enough of Jesus, or are we the stubborn strong city that can’t be overcome by Him?Tweet: Are we the mob who can't get enough of Jesus, or are we the stubborn strong city that can't be overcome by Him? #Matt11 #Prov18nineteen

Jesus…the equal opportunity offender: Part 1

The other day, I tried to take a nap in a grocery store parking lot, in a semi-reclined Suburban passenger seat.  The  broken A/C was blowing hot volcanic gas on the right side of my face.  My legs were curled up and my aching 30-something-year-old, four-child-bearing-hips were cramping.  It was uncomfortable rest.  Almost offensive.

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

Have you ever wondered why Jesus uses the imagery of a yoke when he invites us to rest in Him?

A yoke is an instrument used to bind and drive animals, so why does Jesus say this? It seems pretty backward. Almost offensive.

Way back in the beginning of Matthew 11: 1-3:

“When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.  Now when John (John the Baptist) heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'”

John the Baptist was in prison, (most likely an uncomfortable place) hearing stories about Jesus and wondering, is this really the guy? (As a side note here, this is such a comfort to me. This is the man promised to  prepare the way for Jesus and even he had questions and uncertainties.) He asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

That question is amazing: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look to another?”

Let’s get real for a minute:

Have you ever been in the context of uncomfortable circumstances and wondered, “Is God going to show up?”

Have you ever sat and listened to someone else’s amazing testimony and thought, “But is that the same God I seem to be waiting on to do some miraculous thing in me and my situation?”

“Is the Jesus I hear everyone else in the church talking about, really the ‘guy’?”

“Is He really the way out of my suffering?”

“Should I just look to another?”

We are often tempted, especially in times of weariness or heavyladen-ness, to “Look to another”. Tweet: We are often tempted, especially in times of weariness or heavyladen-ness, to “Look to another.” #JesusTheEqualOpportunityOffender #Matt11

I know I have.  We are going to see that the rest of Jesus’ words, all the way up to his invitation of rest (offensive rest), are an answer to this question: “Should I look to another?”

But before moving on to the rest of His words…today, let’s uncomfortably rest on these questions:

*In what ways do we look to another when we are tired of waiting for our circumstances, suffering, or trial to change?

*How quickly do we give up on Jesus and His ability to work miracles, turning our eyes to another hope?

*Which ‘others’ do we look to for salvation from our weariness or suffering?  (Job, spouse, change of circumstances, physical fitness, kids, alcohol, sex, a home-run sermon, an amazing worship service…???)

*Why are we so quick to forget that He is the promised One?