YEAR 2, WEEK 3, Day 1, Monday, 16 January 2023

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Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 16 January 2023:

2 Chronicles 14:1-5 – Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.

True leaders lead others to obey and seek the LORD. Faith leads away from substitutes for God and toward obedience to God.

2 Chronicles 14:6 – He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace.

Only the LORD can give you rest and peace. In God’s rest and peace, conditions are set to grow only stronger.

2 Chronicles 14:11-15 – And Asa cried to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’ So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians….

God provides when His obedient people cry for help.

2 Chronicles 14:18 — And Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.”

Again, when you are doing God’s will and people oppose you, they are attempting to oppose God and have no chance. No one can thwart God’s plan. Faith is not only trusting God, it is walking in the will of God and watching God work through His power to accomplish what you couldn’t in your power.

Matthew 11:1 — When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Healthy churches are heavily engaged in discipleship, teaching believers how to follow and obey Jesus and how to subsequently teach others to do the same (multiplying disciples). Discipleship is a life-long process of growth for all Christians facilitated by meaningful relationships among fellow believers, guided by the Holy Spirit. Today and throughout this year’s readings, we will learn from Jesus’ example what discipleship should look like. An important part of our personal discipleship training is learning how to make disciples as Jesus did.

In our future readings, Jesus will give us the Great Commission – “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) Jesus commissioned His church not to make believers only, but rather to make “disciples” who had been taught to observe “all” of His commands, to become Christlike and nothing less (Romans 8:29). Teaching to this level is no small task – it takes leading by example and much time, energy, and effort. Jesus demonstrated how to make disciples who, in turn, make disciples.

A military mantra for instruction is, “Educate; demonstrate; replicate; evaluate; and remediate.” This means, teach them; show them; have them do it; evaluate them while they do it, and coach them to higher levels of performance. Jesus appears to use a similar approach with his twelve disciples.

We observe in Matthew that Jesus begins his ministry by teaching and healing. Then, He begins explaining the cost of following Him (Matthew 8:18-21). In chapter 9, Jesus picks His disciples. Then, after much demonstrations and teaching, Jesus sends out His twelve apostles in twos to likewise teach and heal. Chapter 9 of Mark records that, though empowered by Jesus to heal, the disciples fail in at least one case – “And someone from the crowd answered [Jesus], ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute…. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:17, 18) Jesus heals the man’s son and then quietly remediates His disciples, helping them understand what they needed to do differently – “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:28, 29) Next, Jesus continues to teach His disciples before going out with them again into the field. Jesus appears to repeat this general process over time much like a coach.

A few additional observations:

1) Jesus picked only 12 apostles. It is very difficult to truly disciple more than a small group.

2) Discipleship is much more than just classes and small-group discussions. In fact, most discipling is done ‘on the job’ and ‘in the field.’ Football players don’t get better at football by just talking about it, neither do disciples get better at spreading the Gospel only by sitting in small group with other Christians – both athletes and disciples need to practice under the watchful eye of a good, experienced coach.

3) Jesus didn’t send His apostles out until they were ready, but as soon as they were ready, He sent them out into uncomfortable, challenging situations. Leaders know “there is no growth in the comfort zone, and there is no comfort in the growth zone.” Who is encouraging you out of your comfort zone? Who are you encouraging out of their comfort zone?

4) Discipleship includes both successes and failures. You don’t get better at anything without making a few mistakes. As the adage goes, “Repetition is the mother of skill.” When the disciples failed, Jesus was there to coach them and send them out again.

5) Jesus sent His disciples out in twos. Accountability partnerships and peer-to-peer counselling are key. We interact with peers differently than we do with the teacher. We are usually more transparent with a peer and more comfortable failing in front of a peer. We are also usually more comfortable receiving assistance from a peer. And even is a small group we generally have greater accessibility with a peer. Two-man fighting positions are always more effective than a one-man fighting position.

- Proverbs 27:17 -- Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

6) Jesus walked daily with a small group of disciples for years. Discipling others is a big, long-term investment that involves close, meaningful, fully-committed relationships. Jesus knew His disciples better than they knew themselves. He continued to coach them, and He abandoned none of them, not even Judas.

7) The power of multiplication: Jesus’ plan to spread the Gospel to all nations started with a full-time investment in twelve. Yes, He preached to large crowds and reached out to many personally, but His primary commitment was in preparing His twelve to replicate His example and multiply. To highlight the power of multiplication, someone once asked, “Would you rather receive one million dollars in one month or a penny doubled every day for 30 days?” The answer to this obvious trick question is not so obvious – doubling a penny every day for 30 days results in a total of $5,368,709.12! To take the metaphor one-step further, if these pennies were people, one person would spend thirty days with two other people, rather than one person engaging a huge crowd of people only once in a month. Which approach would be most likely to produce real change in a person’s life? Unfortunately, we tend to give notoriety to the person who can attract a large audience but little credit to the person willing to faithfully disciple a small group for years. However, the disciple-maker produces lasting, powerful change in lives. Case in point – I bet you remember the name of your first or second-grade teacher. Why? That person taught you (and a small group of others) every day for nearly a year – teaching, encouraging, testing, and remediating you. We remember fondly those people who truly invested in us.

Who is discipling you, and who are you discipling? Who are you intentionally walking with as an accountability partner? Who has invested in your spiritual development in a positive way, and in whom are you investing? How committed are you to these relationships, and are they multiplying?

Matthew 11:2 – Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples

Even John the Baptist had moments of doubt. Concerning John the Baptist, Jesus said there was no greater man born of woman. Don’t be surprised by your doubt, Jesus isn’t. We are all like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe; help me my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Your sanctification involves growing in your faith, which only happens through challenges. Stepping out in faith is hard – it requires trust. Trust requires “knowing” Jesus – the more you know Him, the more you love Him and trust Him. Jesus said, that the path (an proof) of loving Him is obedience, which will require you do often do what you don’t want to do. The more you are willing to “trust and obey” the more the faithfulness of God is revealed, and the more your faith grows that you will be willing to take another step forward in faith and closeness to Jesus. Trust and obey!

Matthew 11:4, 5 – 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.”

Miracles are not primarily for those who are blessed by them but rather for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

Matthew 11:11 – 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.

John’s ministry on earth only lasted about six months, and he gladly watched most of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus; then he was wrongly accused, imprisoned, and executed. While some might call him a flash in the pan, Jesus said that John was greater than all the previous Bible greats – Noah, Moses, Elijah, David, etc. Beyond this surprising statement, Jesus goes on to say that you and I can do even greater things than John the Baptist – we have the Holy Spirit within us, and the authority of Jesus Christ. Our mission is the same mission John the Baptist had – to proclaim Jesus. John gave it all he had for six months and received Jesus’ highest compliment. What will you do in your day?

Jesus acknowledged the fidelity of John the Baptist but did not save John from physical death. God does not remove life’s challenges from our lives. He walks with us through them and draws us closer to Him in an eternal love relationship.

Matthew 11:12 — From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

This unusual statement made by Jesus appears to be related to two other verses:

  • Luke 16:16: The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
  • Matthew 23:13: But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

The Greek for ‘suffered violence’ is ‘biazō’, meaning, ‘to force, crowd, or press oneself into.’ The Greek for ‘the violent’ is ‘biastēs,’ meaning, ‘the forcer’ or figuratively, ‘the energetic.’ I believe that when Jesus speaks of the violent taking the kingdom of heaven by force, he is talking about the total commitment of the true believer who puts everything on the line for heaven and presses towards to kingdom with all of their might, even at the price of their lives. In Matthew 11, this verse marks a contrast between the attitude of John the Baptist and the majority of his generation who act like children in the marketplace playing games, and unserious, uncommitted lot. (Matthew 11:16) Jesus then announces ‘woe’ to the unrepentant cities. (Matthew 11:20-24)

In Luke 16, Jesus talks about those who force their way into the kingdom after a discussion on wholehearted commitment – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much…. No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13) Immediately following Luke 16:16, Jesus says, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” Finally, in Matthew 23:13, when Jesus proclaims ‘woe’ to the Pharisees for attempting to “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” he is condemning those who use religion to exalt themselves above others and who maintain the appearance of godliness but whose hearts are selfish and unloving; these do not enter the kingdom themselves because they have not truly committed in their hearts to God but rather are serving the master of self.

Jesus’ message is that the true Christian is all-in, fully, wholeheartedly committed. This is serious business – “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27-33) Are we children playing in the streets or are we warriors?

Matthew 11:17, 18 – “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.”

People come up with a million reasons why they don’t accept Jesus and follow Him, but the truth to Jesus is self-evident.

Matthew 11:19 – 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.

Jesus led a joyful lifestyle, though at times he went with absolutely nothing, had no place to call home, and continually challenged the hypocrites. His joy came from His relationship with the Father.

Matthew 11:20 – Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.

Jesus expected repentance.

Matthew 11:20-26 – God has given men all the evidence they need to believe in Jesus. It is a heart issue, not an intellectual issue that separates men from the Truth.

Matthew 11:27 – 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.

If you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know God. There is only one way to God – Jesus Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30 – 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 your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

If Christianity exhausts you then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship. There is a greater exhaustion beyond physical exhaustion – emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Sleep and temporary sabbatical will not rejuvenate your soul – you must find rest in Jesus. Jesus was essentially homeless, always on the go, and often with very little to eat. He often prayed throughout the entire night, and He rarely had any privacy. He also faced relentless opposition. However, He was at peace. He wasn’t grumpy, didn’t complain about not having enough time in the day, didn’t complain about being underappreciated, didn’t complain about being treated unfairly, and didn’t go into self-pity mode. He was a beacon of peace, joy, and rest. In the midst of it all, He received the rest and strength that could come only from the Father. If you are weary, find rest in Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30 – 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 your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Those who know Jesus can be recognized by the peace that they have which transcends understanding, a peace that makes them gentle, humble, and calm. How do people see the impact of Jesus Christ on your life?

“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 16 January 2023: Today, assess how well you are fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples. If you are not being discipled and discipling others, take the appropriate next-steps today. Today, consider what is robbing you of joy and peace and surrender it to Jesus. Walk with Jesus and have peace in your soul. (Matthew 11:28-30)

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