Angels

You have at least one angel who knows the face of God in heaven. I’m not sure how many angels you and I have encountered in our lives. No doubt there are many unknown moments but which are very much part of our story.

This seen world is not everything. What is as real as what we think is real is the unseen world. A world of beings that are in the presence of God and are sent to this earth to carry out tasks for Him.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18 v 10)

God’s angels have protective roles: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:11).

God’s angels watch us: “We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” (1 Corinthians 4:9)

God’s angels are involved with our story of life. The early church believers thought that Peter’s angel had come to them instead of Peter when really an angel had released him from prison (Acts 12:15).

There is all around us an intense spiritual war which we can influence through our prayers, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:3-4)

And there are many!

When God comes He can come in an unrecognisable way, vulnerable and in weakness. He came as a baby. However when God comes He can also come with power and strength, loud and bright. Look at this verse showing how He came with the law in Mt Sinai: “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.” Psalm 68:17. Tens of thousands and thousands of thousands! That’s a huge number! Look at these verses: “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.” Jude 1:14 and then again in Daniel 7:10, “A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were open.”

God has much at His disposal. He has a vast army. He is strong, powerful, awesome God. We cannot see that number, it is infinite.
Let’s magnify our God today. We cannot make Him bigger but we can see Him bigger.

And let us remember to treat people well, especially the ‘little ones’ for they have angels who stand in the presence of God!

The unknown copyists

Take a look at our next verses …

“10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11] [a] 12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (Matthew 18 v 10-12)

  1. Matthew 18:11 Some manuscripts include here the words of Luke 19:10.

 I am certainly not qualified to write on textual criticism nor are my morning blogs meant to be that deep! However this anomaly before us has got me thinking this morning. But first here are some basic points:

  • The missing verse is, For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. (NASB) Matthew 18:11 and is also found in the KJV.
  • The verse is taken from Luke 19 v 10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
  • The added verse comes before a parable of the wandering sheep and helps as a title or introduction to it.
  • The missing verse does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.
  • It doesn’t affect anything about our Christian doctrines or the person of Christ.
  • We do not have the original manuscripts of the New Testament; we have copies of copies as do other ancient documents but the Bible stands alone as being the most accurate with scholars saying it is 99.8% accurate and no doctrines are effected by the small textual inaccuracies.
  • Chapters and verses were added by the copyists to help us find our way around the Bible.

There is so much more to study and the benefit of the internet means we have no excuse!

But here is what I thank God for today: the copyists!

The unknown and unsung heroes of the Bible are those copyists who painstakingly sat to do painstakingly amazing work of copying the Bible. Yes a few textual errors occurred but these can be seen as just typos in our language today. The materials that they used were perishable and coupled with the fact persecution was often experienced and their writings burned the need to copy copies by hand continued in order to preserve this beautiful Bible we have today.

May we all be wonderful copyists of the Bible! Perhaps not a transcribing one but a lived out version of the Bible so that the world can see God. Yes there will be human error and we won’t be the perfect copy but we are getting better at this life. People are always reading us in some way.

Have you done self-surgery yet?

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18 v 8-9)

So we haven’t done this yet have we? We haven’t cut our hands and feet off, we haven’t plucked our eyes out and thus saved ourselves from an eternal fiery hell.

If we were to start where would we stop? We would have no body parts left for sure!

But perhaps our understanding of these verses have caused us to try harder, to stop this, to stop that, become better, work harder, do more, go without and if we do all this then we will enter the kingdom of God.

We have certainly done that and we are up for trying even harder today.

But what if we have understood it wrongly?!

Let us remind ourselves of the scene:

Jesus has again revealed that he will suffer, die and rise again.

The disciples not understanding have spoken about who was the greatest among them.

Jesus warns them in their leadership position not to make the little ones stumble because if they did their own lives will be seriously affected, they would be the ones to stumble.

So what is the hand, the foot and the eye?

Is it certain sins that we have tried to rid ourselves from?

Or is it self-righteousness towards others? Is it the desire to become greater than others? Is it a lack of serving others? Are these the sins that need cutting off? Are the sins against others what is being focused on rather than the sins against our own bodies?

But if you don’t agree, go ahead and keep cutting off your body parts!

Powerful warnings for powerful leadership

Be careful what you demand and what you strive for.

Make sure the trophy you seek is that of the righteousness of Christ.

Not all trophies are to be celebrated. Behind narcissistic, coercive and manipulative trophy cabinets lie the relics of drowned leaders who desired to be powerful.

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung round their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!  (Matthew 18 v 6-7)

Jesus is speaking to the 12 disciples, the leaders of the church.

The little ones are those who give a cup of water. Those believers who may not be as significant as the 12 disciples or similar large ministry in the church.

The little ones are those who come under the influence and care of people with greater seniority. They are represented by the child standing among the disciples.

The little ones are new believers of Christ.

To cause to stumble is to entice them away from following Jesus through temptation.

To cause them to stumble is to put needless pressure on them to perform to such a degree that it becomes inevitable that they will fall away.

To cause them to stumble is to discourage them from following their plan and purpose in God.

Why would any leader do this? Desire.

Why would any leader do this? Control.

Why would any leader do this? Self-righteousness.

The millstone is a form of execution that is a slow and painful death reserved for those leaders who make the little ones stumble.

The millstone means you are being removed from the scene of life.

The millstone means you will never make a come-back to the exact place you once were.

Avoiding selfish ambition to be great

Jesus has said he was going to suffer and they want to talk about who is the greatest. Perhaps Jesus mentioned one of them would betray him and they all argued at who it would be. Whatever actually happened the whole team were battling over their positions. Even Peter, James and John who had been chosen to go up the mountain of transfiguration were not content to be in the close circle of Jesus, they too wanted to be number 1. They were full of ambition. Still today even leaders want to be a higher leader, members want to be pastors, Pastors want to be apostles, apostles want to be bishops, bishops want to be archbishops and archbishops want to be Popes. That’s in the church but it is everywhere. Naked, raw ambition, climb the ladder, get to the top, it is better up there. Ambition is a killer of the church.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18 v 1-5)

Here are 5 actions to take to avoid selfish ambition:

  1. Stop looking in the mirror – Find another visual aid other than yourself. Jesus brought a little child amongst them.
  2. Have some self-awareness – This might sound strange because it is an inflated self-awareness that leads to desires of greatness. Jesus told them to change. Unless we change where we are sitting and get a different perspective we will miss the point. How do people experience me? This is the question that leads to self-awareness.
  3. Become vulnerable again – Acknowledge you don’t know it all, have it all and can do it all. You need others in your life and you need Him. This child was dependent on parents, had many things to learn and was incapable of doing life their way.
  4. Practice lowliness – From a lowly humble position comes lowly thinking, lowly speech and lowly actions.
  5. Honour those beneath you – Welcome a child, Jesus says and if you do then you will welcome Him. The presence and the power of the Lord is always to be found in the unlikeliest of places and not on the stages of this world.

The revealing question on greatness

In the seventies Muhammed Ali taunted his opponents by proclaiming he was the greatest. It was showboating.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18 v 1)

They had all got their own healing stories. Of course Peter was the one who had the revelation of who Jesus was. Moreover he along with James and John had been chosen to accompany Jesus on the glory mountain. Some of the other disciples had failed to drive out the demon from the young boy who was having seizures. Mix some jealousy and derogatory remarks in there with more than a sprinkling of condescension and you soon have set off a battle of the giants to see who actually would be the top dog.

Here are 5 traits for those carrying a desire for greatness

Being wrong or getting it wrong is not an option – You will be willing to lie and deceive your way out of being known to have failed.

People become objects for the great plan – You continually ask how can this person you are speaking to help your plan to work rather than asking how you can help them be the person God has called them to be.

You despise greatness in others – Comparison is never far away and you find it hard to truly get excited about someone else’s success.

The spirit of entitlement sits alongside your greatness – A worker deserves their wages etc. You have proof texts and workaholic stories that prove you deserve the praise and the prize. Gratefulness is far away.

Insecurity is your driving force – Unacknowledged it sits beneath the surface and it looks at the past, present and the future and infiltrates every decision, reaction and response.

Offence and freedom

We come to the end of this very short passage, which is very unusual and only found in this gospel. Interestingly if the ex-taxman wrote this gospel then perhaps this is why he included it. There is no evidence that Peter actually went and did this miracle so maybe the point is not the supernatural foreknowledge and provision but what the message behind it was.

This temple tax was supporting the atoning sacrifices and the collectors were trying to catch Jesus out. Peter probably fell into assumption and Jesus clearly states that there is no need for the Son of the Father of the house (temple) to pay the tax nor his disciples pointing to his ultimate atoning sacrifice which pays the price.

“But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17 v 27)

The response of Jesus was to make sure that the unenlightened ones don’t stumble, something that the Apostle Paul would pick up on many occasions regarding pagan food and wine so that the gospel message is lost.

Just because we don’t have to doesn’t mean we don’t.

Jesus has given us freedom through his atoning sacrificial work on the cross but this doesn’t mean we are now focused on getting what we want or not doing what we should.

Freedom is meeting the needs of others.

Freedom is from self-centredness, only Jesus could do that for us.

Freedom enables us to sacrifice for the good of others.

Be kind.

Assumption

The tax-collectors have challenged Peter over whether Jesus pays the temple tax. Peter immediately says Jesus has done. But was this him covering up for his boss? Was this an assumption?

“When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered.” (Matthew 17 v 25-26)

Jesus has been listening to what was said at the door. Or did he just know?

Rulers collect from their subjects not their sons. The temple belongs to his Father, so as His Son he is exempt. The clearest statement of him being the Christ yet. There will be no need to go into the Temple to sacrifice because the Son is here to lay down the ultimate sacrifice. The Son pays the price and the disciples no longer have to pay that tax.

But here is the point: the maintenance of God’s work did not ultimately depend on them, but Him.

Today, we are free. Not that we don’t pay our tithes and offerings to the work of God. Not that we don’t pay the taxes of our land. But we are free from thinking that we have to by our own efforts keep the work of God going in our life. We are His. Let Him be who He is in you. The price has been paid. You don’t have to work for your relationship with God anymore.

Oh and the first thought?

Peter assumed Jesus paid the tax or did he know he hadn’t and was covering up for his Lord?

Let’s be careful on what we think we know. We are not that clever. We don’t own God. He is above and beyond, transcendent, beyond our finite minds. We don’t have to cover over, assume or even lie! He is God.

Duplicitous

As a preacher I don’t think I have ever spoken an exact message about the dangers of duplicity. Perhaps I should because it has always been with us. It takes wisdom and knowledge to combat this deceptive character trait.

We move into a new story today:

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied.” (Matthew 17 v 24-25)

Duplicity comes from a Latin word meaning “double”.

A duplicitous person is a two-faced person. They are intentionally hiding their true feelings or intentions so as to try to make people believe something that you are saying or doing that is not true.

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:3)

The temple tax was originally a half-shekel offering for the support of the tabernacle. It was equal to the Greek silver drachma coin. The temple tax equalled 2 drachma and was paid with the most common coin, the denarius, which was a day’s wage. If there was 2 people then you could pay with the 4-drachma coin (which is shown in v27).

This opening question of the temple tax-collectors reveals a short story of the Kingship of Jesus, His grace to our lives, the power of His payment and the freedom He gives us. All that is to come. But look at the question again: “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” It is a trick question. It is duplicitous. Two-faced. If it is NO then that leads to the confirmation that Jesus opposes the Temple. If it is YES then the next question will be, ‘then where is it?’

Do you ever feel tricked? Do you ever feel like you are playing mental gymnastics when talking with someone realising they are trying to trip you up? Do you ever wonder what the hidden agenda behind the comments and questions you are hearing?

Duplicity. Two-faced.

Peter fell straight into their trap by answering ‘YES’. Ever been put on the spot and you choose the easy option? Duplicitous people lay traps and the innocent continually fall into them. There is one person that cannot be trapped of course and that is Jesus!

The response of Jesus will guide us how to deal with it.

What is your attention on?

Make sure you embrace all the facts.

“When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.” (Matthew 17 v 22-23)

This is the second time that Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him.

They are filled with grief.

Why?

It seems they are grieving only because they have heard the first part of what will happen to him.

Perhaps they are grieving because of how this will affect them. After all they were hoping Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppression and bring about a new day.

But then maybe there is some development here because the first time (Matthew 16) the reaction was that they would never let Jesus die. So at least it could be said they have progressed to fatalism!

Whatever the reason they are grieving because they haven’t understood resurrection.

How often we look at what is happening in the moment and fail to step back to see that God is actually bigger in our life than we realise. The Friday is a dark day but Sunday will follow soon. We have valleys of shadows of death but there are streams of quiet waters also. Thankfully the disciple’s lack of response to the resurrection of Jesus didn’t impact on it happening. God made it happen and He will keep on producing the good in our lives even from bad situations regardless whether we grieve and cannot see His hand or whether we embrace the sufferings realising there is purpose and hope within them.

So if you wake to a bad day and your situation isn’t what you wanted then take a deep breath, wait, don’t kick back, don’t fall to pieces, remember God is mightier than your bad day. He is above this. He carries resurrection power. Focus on this and you will make it through.