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When we read the words uttered by Jesus as recorded in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear things that we rarely hear in church, especially in the West and in churches influenced by the West. In a typical church, especially a “seeker” church, we usually hear messages about God’s unconditional love. We are encouraged and comforted to hear how the Lord desires to save us, heal us, restore us and our loved ones, and provide for all our needs on earth.
To be sure, there are many hurting people who need gentle comfort and encouragement. To such people we want to minister God’s love and healing. In Scripture we do see Jesus ministering the Father’s compassion to the crowds who came to him.
Matthew 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
My beloved 94-year-old mother has been living with my wife and me since 1993. She has worsening dementia, is very fragile, and needs constant care. She knows that her time in this life might not be much longer, and from time to time she is afraid. All her life she has been dogged by fear, and now one fear is not knowing where she will be going. Since Mom knows the Lord Jesus, I keep assuring her over and over, once through tears, that she has already found the way to the Father’s house. All we do now is take care of her with great patience and gentleness—loving her, comforting her, and assuring her of God’s love through His Son Jesus Christ.
Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.
Similarly, evangelistic messages to crowds today will likely contain such comfort to the lost and the hurting.
However, Jesus’ words to his disciples as recorded in the synoptic gospels were usually quite different. Let’s look at some examples of this.
Luke 12:22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: …32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Now the hard part
In Jesus’ words so far here we have yet another message of comfort. He encourages us not to be afraid because God is pleased to give us the kingdom. But listen to what Jesus said next.
33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
To whom actually is God pleased to give the kingdom? It is in fact to disciples who sell their possessions and give to the poor, who store their treasure in heaven. A moment’s consideration will tell us that this is a very hard saying for Christians in the West, especially for those who have attained the American Dream. For a study on this, please click on The Parable of the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus’ teaching here was not directed to a crowd of assorted people, but to his close disciples. But look what he once said even to large crowds following him.
Luke 14:25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Hating your own life in this world
If we want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we must hate our own lives in this world. Rarely do we share such a message to the crowds at church. We would rather use the occasion to draw the lost to Christ through a message of comfort and encouragement. One problem of course is that most of those in the church crowd are already or should be believers. Instead of milk, they need to be fed solid food in order to grow to become mature disciples.
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Nowadays we rarely teach people to deny themselves and to lose their lives for Jesus Christ. Such a teaching will not bring the crowds. We would rather teach people about God’s diverse blessings for them on earth and how to secure them. Such messages indeed tickle people’s ears and will bring people back for more. We do this because in America there can be intense pressure to increase the numbers in a church, and this ostensibly “for the sake of the harvest.”
Listen to what Jesus said next to his disciples.
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
How often do you hear about eternal rewards in the age to come?
Jesus then spoke about his glorious coming. At that time he will reward each person according to what he has done. But the subject of heavenly rewards is rarely taught in churches today. Instead, we focus almost exclusively on how to involve God in a practical way in our lives on earth. While this is well and good, Jesus however often spoke of eternal rewards for obedient and fruitful disciples. Jesus taught moreover that the rewards would not be in accordance to what people believed, but to what they had done.
Today there is much emphasis on faith and grace, but little teaching on the works which should accompany that faith and which should be done as a result of that grace. However, Jesus taught his disciples time and time again that their heavenly rewards would be based on their works of obedience and the producing of good fruit. It is arguable that today we are not making disciples of God’s people, but instead pampered church-goers who for the most part are barren of any good fruit.
Matthew 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
This is another message Jesus taught his disciples that we will not hear in most churches on a Sunday morning. It’s hard—although not impossible—for the wealthy to be saved. Since we obviously do not want to lose our wealthy members, we avoid or go around such difficult topics on Sunday morning. It makes much more sense to preach God’s grace. “Just ‘believe,’ and you will be saved and blessed. And don’t forget to tithe.”
So when are believers discipled?
Perhaps discipleship classes are held during Sunday School or at our mid-week services. Unfortunately, however, many church members only attend the main service on Sundays. They are never discipled to maturity and do not produce good fruit for the kingdom of God. They remain in a constant state of spiritual infancy or adolescence. For the sake of numbers and outward success, the Church of Jesus Christ has been dumbed down.
Luke 12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: …
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Jesus taught his disciples to fear God—the One who has power to throw us into hell. Such topics are assiduously avoided by most contemporary preachers who would much rather teach people about God’s unconditional love and blessings. The expression being “thrown into hell” has been relegated to the prehistoric age of 19th century Baptist preachers. We 21st century believers have gotten over such politically incorrect hate speech. After all, God is love. We now even have a convenient theological basis for no longer teaching about the fear of God. If we fear, we are told, “we are not made perfect in love.” (For more on this, please click on How to have Confidence on the Day of Judgment).
We offer here a stunning illustration of a politically-correct Church as incarnated in the “Emerging Church” movement—a trend not surprisingly born in the politically-correct culture of the West. In referring to Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, a leading proponent of this heretical movement wrote, “I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to ‘cosmic child abuse’—-a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” (Taken from A perspective on Steve Chalke, “The Intelligent Church” and the Emerging Church movement.)
A generation deceived by the American Dream
We are clearly not making disciples as Jesus commanded us. We are not training workers for the harvest and foot soldiers for battle against the powers of darkness on earth. Rather we have bred a generation of mostly pampered and helpless Christians who are looking for a life of heaven on earth. They barely make it into the kingdom of God if at all. They claim to have faith. But where are the works which should accompany genuine saving faith? (James 2:17, 26). For more on this, please click on The Age of (Extreme) Grace.
We have been deceived by the American Dream. The Dream has lasted for the better part of a century but the bubble is about to burst. What happened to Old Testament Israel will happen to America. Reality—the darkness and evil of this present world—will hit us hard. Christians are not being prepared to survive the last days. We are still hoping that the American Dream will be revived, but bubbles cannot endure long. The Church has taught us how to enjoy God’s blessings and the Dream. We have been dumbed down. The Church has not trained us to fight and win the battle of the end times.
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Assigned a place with the unbelievers
In Luke 12 Jesus taught his disciples the parable of the faithful and wise manager. But today teachings focused on our solemn and serious responsibility before God as his managers are few. Instead, we teach God’s people how to receive his grace and blessings in order to survive and thrive on earth. Like sheep we are constantly being fed. We are rarely commanded to serve and to fruitful works for the sake of the harvest. Is it far-fetched to draw the comparison to “sheep being prepared for the slaughter?”
Someone may argue that church-goers in fact do serve. Yes, they serve food to the poor once a year at Thanksgiving.
Now let’s look at this parable which is most startling.
Luke 12:42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
If we obey God’s commands and faithfully discharge what has been entrusted to us, we will be rewarded very generously in the age to come. This parable does not refer to rewards on earth but rewards in the age to come.
45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
This is another teaching Jesus gave his disciples which is largely ignored by the Church. If we are not faithful in discharging our duty to the Lord and instead begin to enjoy our lives in this present world like unbelievers—“eating and drinking”—we will not be ready for his sudden return. We have fed God’s people a sugar-laden diet devoid of nourishment. The Lord will assign some of us a place with the unbelievers, where there will beweeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51). If taught, this teaching may cause a stir among church leaders.
Who will have to account for this serious omission?
This parable is a most uncomfortable teaching since it allows for the possibility that some Christians—even those who serve in church—will not enter life, but find themselves weeping and gnashing alongside unbelievers in the age to come. It does not accord with the present-day teaching of the Church on grace and it does nothing to comfort and reassure church-goers. It is essentially ignored by the Church.
The alarm must be sounded. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
Moreover, in certain meetings and ministries today there are various supernatural manifestations which are not taught or supported in Scripture. Is it really now the time for manifestations such as “gems from heaven”, gold dust, gold teeth, perfumed oil, re-packaged New Age theology, and so forth? Do these truly equip the Church to heal the sick, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations? Or are they false miracles to deceive the elect, or at best a distraction from the task at hand?
There is a time and place for gentle encouragement and comfort. But the Church has gone to the extreme of entertaining and pampering the Lord’s people—and that with sometimes questionable means—while failing to turn them into fruit-bearing disciples.
The enemy has used fallible teachers to dumb down and cripple the precious Church for which Christ shed his precious blood to redeem for himself. The foolish servant of God who is not properly feeding God’s people will have to account for this.
The Politically Correct (PC) Church
Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Because of this scripture, Christians refuse to judge. We tolerate every false prophet and false teaching under heaven. It is reminiscent of political correctness in western culture where every form of aberrant sexual behavior is sanctioned in the name of understanding and “tolerance.” The Church has gone down a similar path in tolerating questionable teachers. We say that whoever is not against us is for us (Luke 9:50). Under the guise of love and unity (John 17:21), we do not speak out against doctrines and practices which are unscriptural. But look what Jesus teaches in the very next verse.
Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Scripture says that there are indeed conditions under which we may judge someone else. If and when we are ourselves are not guilty of the fault, then we are allowed to judge someone else. That we in fact should make judgments is clearly commanded by the Lord later in the very same chapter of Matthew.
Jesus commands us to watch out for false prophets
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Jesus could not be clearer with his warning about false prophets here. He tells us to watch out for them. He describes them to us. On the outside they look like believers, but on the inside they are “ferocious”—ravenous and covetous. They think that godliness is a means of personal financial gain. He teaches us how to discern them. This is because he wants us to exercise good judgment in order not be deceived by them. Clearly, we are to judge false prophets.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
False prophets know how to pray to the Lord. Some of them can prophesy, drive out demons, and perform various miracles in the name of Jesus Christ. They may have “successful” and well-known ministries. But the Lord knows them not. They are modern-day Pharisees whom Jesus condemned in the most scathing and politically incorrect manner possible. “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33) For more on modern-day Pharisees, click on Who are the Pharisees of Today?
Already in the Church today are many and assorted false prophets and false teachings. But because of Christian political correctness we do not judge them or speak out against them. Our silence will cause others to follow them and stumble. And we will be held accountable.
A sister’s testimony on the internet
“Honestly without mentioning names, I knew some TV evangelists personally when I lived in Texas. They were on TBN [Trinity Broadcasting Network] on a regular basis, and they still are today. I was so saddened to see how they really live. They had very expensive homes and expensive clothes, cars etc…. It wasn’t what they had that saddened me, it was the attitude they had towards others who did not have nice things. These people were very prejudice. When we were driving down the road together in their car one day, we passed someone who was in desperate need and they just kept on going. I asked why they didn’t stop to help these people who were in real trouble, because we were not in any hurry to get anywhere. They said they don’t like giving out handouts and that people tend to expect it all the time. My heart broke!
I didn’t see any love or compassion coming from these people in person at all!!!! They sure do put on a REAL good show on TBN!!! That is the honest truth!!!!! I watched one TV evangelist’s wife complaining about so many different things and popping lots of pills all the time. I am not saying these people are going to be perfect, but the fruit I saw CONTINUOUSLY was NOT what you see on TBN. You think that [we are being] judgmental concerning these people??? Try being with a few of these TV evangelists for one day and see what they say about other people……..it would literally FLOOR you!!!! They sound WORSE than the Pharisees!! I am telling you the TRUTH!!!!!
I chose not to watch TBN anymore after KNOWING these evangelists personally for a couple of years….in fact I used to clean house for one and I would often over hear conversations from them that would make you nauseous. TBN is corrupted so bad!!!”
[This testimony can be viewed here. Scroll down to posting #7.]
The prosperity gospel
Jesus never taught us to pursue “the American Dream.” Quite the opposite, Scripture tells us to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We are to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. But the American Dream has invaded the Church in America. We are taught to pursue and expect earthly blessings from God on earth. We want heaven on earth. We want to be pampered and enjoy life NOW. But Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). This is especially true in view of what is now happening in America.
The prosperity gospel which has become so popular in many churches in different parts of the world was made in America. It is arguably a child of the American Dream, which holds that every American has a near birthright to the good life provided they are willing to play by the rules and work hard. This in itself is not necessarily evil. However, likely borrowing from the protestant work ethic, the prosperity gospel holds that every Christian can be a millionaire or enjoy life like one provided he or she has faith and gives generously.
Such a message has obvious mass appeal. What wait for your “pie in the sky” when you can have a big slice of it now? Why wait until we have sufficient income to buy the house as a wise steward should, when instead we can sign the contract now and then just trust God to provide the mortgage payments miraculously? The prosperity gospel has not surprisingly spread like wildfire and corrupted churches around the world, especially in poverty-stricken Africa. Needless to say, it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures.
The magazine The Atlantic posted an article which proposed a possible reason for the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2008 which arguably precipitated the current economic recession. The article is entitled “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” The author of course was referring to the prosperity gospel which “fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism.”
Jesus trained “Special Forces” for the kingdom of God
What Jesus taught his disciples as recorded in the synoptic gospels is hardly heard in the Church today. Jesus taught and trained his disciples very strictly to equip them to take over the great responsibility of the Great Commission after he left. He could not afford to pamper them.
On one occasion, they failed to perform the miracle of casting a demon out of a boy. Observe how Jesus reacted.
Matthew 17:14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
17 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”
Never would we react in such a way if a Christian had failed to cast a demon out of someone. We would instead comfort and encourage the Christian by saying that it was not God’s will or God’s time to heal the person—or more likely that the person had sin his life or lacked faith.
On another occasion, Jesus even rebuked Peter for failing to complete the miracle of walking on the water. He also rebuked his disciples for crying out to him in fear to save them from the stormy seas when they were with him on the boat on the Sea of Galilee.
The Church must also provide this high-level “Special Forces” training as well to equip God’s people for the last days.
Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.