He Is King
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. 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. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “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 17:24-27 (NIV)
This passage focuses our attention on Jesus’s acknowledgement of His total self-awareness. And as much as we want Him to be so familiar to us, Jesus is not afraid of reminding us of His distinction. He can walk with you like a brother or a sister. Jesus can relate to you like a friend. Jesus can guard and protect you like a defender. He can listen and empathize like a companion. But He doesn’t want there to ever be a mistake when it comes to the totality of our interpretation of who Jesus is. He says, “Aside from all these things—friend, protector, companion, and supplier—don’t forget this: I am the King.”
The tax collectors would have a totally different approach if they understood who they were making an inquiry of. Jesus is the King.
Today I want to remind you that your life is going to be impacted only at the level of your perception of the Lord Jesus Christ. However you see Jesus in your life, that is the limit and the scope, the height and the depth, of the potential and possibilities in your life.
Your prayers, your pledge, your participation, your promises, your priorities are all shaped by how you see Jesus. And I’m here to tell you, amidst all that you see Him as, you need to also see Him as the King.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.
Matthew 15:35-38 (NIV)
Despite what some may conclude, the account in Matthew 15, where Jesus feeds 4,000 is not the same as the story we read in the previous chapter, where Jesus feeds 5,000. The supply this time is seven loaves and a few small fish, not five loaves and two fish. The leftovers filled seven baskets, not twelve baskets, as in the case in the other episode.
Apart from these numbers, the accounts seem much the same, so the question to be asked is, why repeat such a similar narrative?
I think God is teaching us that repetition is powerful. It’s powerful for us to learn about Him, about ourselves, and about His purposes in our lives.
Why does God bring total resolve to some things while letting other things keep revisiting us spontaneously within seasons? What is the spiritual value of experiential repetitions? What is God perhaps trying to teach us?
You and I don’t repeat anything in life—pain, hurt, conditions, encounters, altercations, traumas, successes, victories, enlightenments, disappointments, or joys—that have no spiritual meaning. I guarantee you that God attaches spiritual purpose to the repeated experiences of your life. So don’t let the struggle of it nor the familiarity with it make you either ignore it or take it for granted.
Those experiences are shaping you. Maybe the repetition is teaching us to acknowledge growth, to admit what was missed, or to really heal from brokenness. Or maybe God is trying to let you see that you’ve stowed away what He told you to bury permanently. Maybe it’s revealing that you have brought into your proximity what He intended for you to bring into your life more intimately. Maybe the repetitive experience is because you gave what was necessary for others to be okay to feel secure, but you didn’t get anything for yourself—or that you focused so much on yourself that you didn’t get the opportunity in it that was intended for others.
God lets you go back through some things because they will help you mature you to be a better version of yourself.
He Sees You in the Storm
He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.
Mark 6:48 (NIV)
After speaking to the multitudes one evening, Jesus dismissed the crowds and instructed the disciples to sail to Bethsaida. Obeying, they embarked after a full day of ministry. An hour into the journey, a storm struck, leaving the disciples stuck between shores, expending energy but making no progress against the fierce wind.
Jesus, praying on a mountain, observed their struggle. The disciples were stuck in the middle of the storm. They were exhausted, frustrated, and vulnerable.
The disciples’ plight is an image of life’s challenges—effort without progress, conversations leading to frustration, financial endeavors going nowhere, struggling in the middle, feeling spiritually vulnerable.
Jesus understood their fear, recognizing the fact that the middle space tested their faith. He couldn’t leave them vulnerable to temptations, so He intervened, walking on water to demonstrate His power and calm their fears.
In the same way, Jesus offers encouragement for those stuck in life’s middle. We should interrogate our fatigue, frustration, and fear with faith. Ask questions before quitting. Challenge your interpretations and use faith to guide your perceptions. Life may feel like rowing against a storm, but faith in God’s constant presence and the possibility of growth anchors us.
When you feel stuck in the middle, have faith to believe that this challenging space is not insurmountable, because nothing is impossible with God.
He sees you in the storm, and He will not leave you helpless.
Hope for the New Year
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.
Jonah 2:1 (NIV)
Like Jonah, you may have been swallowed by life’s experience and are lying in the dark recesses of the fish’s belly, so to speak. But here is the good news that Jonah’s example offers: God can bring you back.
It doesn’t matter how submerged you are. He can bring you back.
He is the escape out. He is the path back. And He is the destination as well.
As we begin a new year, I want you to stop being so hard on yourself because you can’t offer a perfect performance every day. Your testimony is not the sum total of perfect performances in life. Your testimony is the gift of resurrection that you have received. We are all going through these Jonah-type experiences, being swallowed by life’s realities. They’re draining, they’re perilous, and they’re threatening. They hit us hard, and they make enormous withdrawals causing large human deficits. And if you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t nurture the revelation that Jesus shares, you’ll never ever believe or experience reemergence.
We know people like this, don’t we? We know people who have gone through things and the season has passed, but the emotion remains. We know people who have gotten past something they just can’t get over something. God has taken them from grace to grace, but they have dragged along from grace to grace the baggage of all of the regret and the mourning and the horror and the abuse and the hurt. And even though he who the Son sets free is free indeed, too many people are in a prison.
But take this lesson from Jonah into the new year:
There is a path back from death. There’s a path from darkness. There’s a path from draining experiences. There’s a path from depleting encounters. Only Jesus offers it. That path is resurrection. When your doubts and suspicions are high, Jesus is in your life to give you liberty and to give you license to walk in Him by faith and make your journey from death to resurrection.
What a Privilege
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Matthew 1:24-25 (NKJV)
When we think about the account of Joseph, we often focus on the interruption that God brings to his life—the change of plans, the altered agenda, the community speculation and chatter regarding his character and honor, the parental obligation beyond the norm. We often focus on the obedience that was necessary, the tough nature of this divine assignment, and the sacrifice that it required.
However, a fresh reading brought me a new perspective on this story. When I wondered how Joseph could have been so okay with it all, it made far greater sense to me when I thought about Joseph’s immediate response as an embrace of a great privilege. I kept thinking, “Joseph, I understand why you accepted the assignment. You never saw it as an interruption. You didn’t see it as the unexpected. You didn’t greet it as the unwanted. You treated it like a privilege.”
What an honor, what a blessing, what a humbling thought that God purposed human redemption and included Joseph in its facilitation.
Each of us, like Joseph, is in some way called to steward a tough assignment. We are invited to accept in obedience the space and time where we have been assigned—but we can’t steward it powerfully until we can mature beyond seeing these assignments as interruptions and start thanking God for them because of how privileged we are for God to trust us with them.
Do you know what a privilege it is for God to trust you with your kids? Do you know the privilege it is for God to trust you with the job He’s given to you? Do you know the privilege it is for you to be in the generation to which you’ve been assigned?
Stop thinking about the work before you in terms of burdens, struggles, or calamities. It is a privilege for God to have birthed His purpose in you and let you live your life attempting to push it out.
How do we handle the tough assignments God gives us in life? By acknowledging how privileged we are and how much confidence He must have in us to accomplish them.